My wife and I obsess about why it is that so many people we know simply will not, indeed seem incapable of comprehending the possibility of, "doing without". I know people who are very aware of climate change, the necessity of everyone cutting their carbon footprint, who would be considered by most other people to be "radical environmentalists"---yet still jump on a jet plane for a vacation in Paris, Thailand or Iceland. It's as if the whole idea that someone should try to "live their values" is beyond their ability to comprehend. In order to understand this problem, I would suggest that it would be useful to consider a religious value that seems to have died out in modern society.
|An Anchor Hold|
OK. So what has this got to do with flying to Thailand on a vacation?
The point I want to make is that at one time it was considered---very broadly speaking---a good thing to tame our desires in order to live in accordance with our values. In itself, living on top of a stone pillar or in a room attached to a church is absurd. But if you do it as a way of showing your contempt for the things "of this world", it is a heroic statement about the depth of your religious faith. It was inspiring to other people. Indeed, Simon initially started living on top of his pillar in order to avoid the mobs of people that went out to see and meet him. These people found his example to be inspiring, if not perhaps, something that they would emulate themselves.
In contrast, people in our society are taught (just like I was as a child) that this is weird, strange behaviour. We are taught to "enjoy" our creature comforts. That "doing without---just because" is weird, strange and even somewhat subversive. (When I was in university I lived without a television set. My family thought that this was so strange that they made a point of bringing me one----and ordering me not to give it away.)
Even more so, in some instances, doing without is seen as bad, immoral behaviour. When I was a teenager I was pretty much indifferent to my personal attire. I can remember applying for a position with a service club where I would be an exchange student in the USA. I found out that the reason I didn't get selected was because I didn't wear a set of "good shoes". As a matter of fact, what I wore---some Adidas sneakers---were the only shoes I owned. I can also remember my parents complaining about the people who lived on the local Indian reserve. They said that they knew many of the people made very good money working in the USA building skyscrapers, but they still lived in crappy houses. I wondered about this for years until it finally dawned on me the the Iroquois weren't materialistic like my parents----they just didn't care what their houses looked like.
|Just another bad day in the Middle Ages|
|Pretty brave guys, no?|
Of course, modern people only see kooks who were voluntarily living wretched lives. But I think it only looks that way from the vantage point of someone who has central heating, nice clothes and good food. If you were living with the livestock, had lice, and had to live on porridge most of the year---and worry about all Hell breaking loose at any moment---you might value the ascetics ability to "rise above" the material elements of life.
I think in a similar way people who really care about the fate of the earth and humanity because of things like climate change should be willing to manifest a little asceticism in their lives. If you really do care, then you should be willing to avoid unnecessary flying. If it means taking a few days to travel by train, then so be it. The discomfort of sleeping in a coach seat or waiting hours for a connection is not nearly as bad as being walled up in a cell or living on a stone pillar for the rest of your life. But it is showing the people around you that you really do care about Mother Nature, and you have enough control over your body that you can suffer a little bit for it.