I was talking with María José the other day. Somehow the conversation ran into two examples where attempts to save the world by minimising harm went too far.
First is fruitarianism.
For me fruitarianism is the ideal, as I feel empathy for plants as well as animals and I don’t want to hurt plants either. As it is, though, I’m just vegan, which I think is improvement enough to be starting with.
Fruitarianism means eating just fruit, though it is often expanded to anything that doesn’t involve hurting the plant itself, so fruit, seeds, nuts, and grains. Like veganism, it’s a diet based around an ethical stance.
When I pick, say, a lettuce, myself, I notice the great value and majesty this living thing has and how much life force and will to live that flows through it. It has a great beauty and I feel it as a part of myself.
Pulling up a lettuce, then, is an uncomfortable act. I can repress my empathy, which tends to be what I do, but then it feels like I’m running away from the truth. It’s the veganism dilemma on a deeper level of sensitivity.
I still eat lettuces, though, and anything that doesn’t come from or comprise an animal, because I don’t really have to face that issue every day; I just buy my lettuces ready cut from the supermarket. Even if I had to, I suppose I’d eventually try and “man up” and not feel for the plants I uproot. It wouldn’t feel too good, but that’s what I’d have to do, at least for a while.
My ideal is to have my own fruit forest and live entirely off the fruit I can pick there, in harmony and love with the plants that sustain my life. It *is* a dream of mine.
However, I know that that’s not what’s happening now.
To eat only fruit, nuts, seeds, and grains that were still industrially sourced doesn’t make sense to me. Industry doesn’t think about the wellbeing of animals, so I can hardly expect it to look out for the welfare of plants. Even if I could buy just organic food, I doubt that would be quite enough. *Technically* the food wouldn’t, well, *need* involve the killing or hurting of plants, but in reality it inevitably would do so.
The sensible reaction here is to not make too big a deal of it. Sure, things are far from ideal. But then again, there are lots of cool things I can do on Earth that might make up for my inadvertant negative impact.
Somehow the conversation went from fruitarianism to extinctionism.
If you thought fruitarians went a long way to avoid doing harm to the planet, think again.
Extinctionists believe that the best way to reduce harm to the planet is to basically attempt to extinguish the human race.
I haven’t read too much into this so I don’t know exactly what means these guys propose, but I think it’s along the lines of strict population controls leading to total human extinction. Uh, good luck to them.
Think about it for a while. There is some logic to it. It’s practically inevitable to cause harm, and probably quite a damn lot of it, just by being part of human society.
We collectively tear up the landscape, destroy forests and entire biospheres, bring thousands upon thousands of species to extinction, empty the oceans of fish, bring up, torture, and kill billions of animals every year, fill the air with poison, alter the Earth’s climate, and on top of it all we don’t seem to have much fun ourselves while we’re doing it. We actually make each other miserable which brings into question the point of the whole exercise in the first place.
Yes – I think the way we can do the least harm, as individuals, is suicide. We drop dead, we stop supporting innumerable terrible things that happen just because of our participation in society.
I’m actually kind of serious. I really do see the logic in extinctionism. In fact, I think I’d be an extinctionist myself if there was just one difference in the way I saw the world: that is, if I had no hope for the human race.
If the human race is just going to continue like this, participation in it just guarantees a perpetuation of terrible harm. I’d swear off having children and probably attempt to minimise my impact as much as possible, perhaps by going to live in a commune. I’d tell everyone not too have children either and pray for the human race to just give up.
Not that there’s much chance of that happening. But still.
The difference though is that I *do* have hope for the human race. I think that it is evolving towards a state of being where it just won’t do those things any more. I also think that I can participate in that evolution.
You can minimise harm by only eating fruit which you grow yourself in a commune and by attempting to minimise the number of human beings that come into the world through you and through your influence. You can even commit suicide. These are all very valid ways of minimising harm. What they miss is that through your participation in humanity’s evolution, you can help bring about a much larger change, a much more important one, one that could potentially make all the suffering and all the destruction worth it.
Minimising harm has a limit; maximising good is unlimited.
For me efforts that focus too much on minimising harm reek of a need to control, a sort of perfectionism that seeks a state of absolute spotlessness, blamelessness, innocence. At its heart, this sort of focus originates from a feeling of not *being* okay, not *being* blameless, in the first place.
That feeling can be questioned. I think we can realise we are okay, we always were, and we don’t need to minimise harm OR maximise good to be okay.
Even a lot of vegans come from this place of non-self-acceptance. They think they wouldn’t be okay if they ate meat. They think others aren’t okay if they ate meat. It leads to a lot of struggle, even if I think their actions do result in a lot of good.
We can draw a line as to how far we’re willing to go in minimising harm. Each person’s line will be different, and of course it can be redrawn in different places as we evolve as people. I think it’s great that we each move towards minimising harm as much as we can in our lives, though I think whenever it becomes so much effort that we start sabotaging our purpose beyond that, we should draw the line.
You see, even if we make a relatively small contribution to the world’s evolution in this lifetime, that contribution will add to others and grow as time goes on. If you inspire 10 people to be compassionate in your life, those 10 people could inspire 1000, and they could inspire a million. If the difference between minimising harm and maximising good looks small in a single lifetime, over the long term it becomes much clearer.
Because — our higher purpose is what makes living here really worth it. The chance of making the world something incredible, something bigger than all of this that we’re going through now. This is the big picture, this is what’s worth putting our effort into. Scrap perfectionism, go for results. On a grand scale. Doesn’t that feel more expansive? 🙂