My general starting point is that the ends should not be assumed to justify the means, because that’s a slippery slope down to doing whatever you want in order to get your own way. It works with the assumption that ‘winning’ is everything. If you want to go through life as a passably ethical person, then you have to allow for the idea that you can be wrong, and that other people’s needs and views are just as valid. Getting the result by any means just doesn’t fit with that world view.
Most of the time that works just fine. I approach almost all things with an eye to acting in a way I find acceptable in order to work towards outcomes I want. However, we live in troubling times. Eco-suicide is a distinct possibility. The damage our species is doing shocks me on a daily basis. Human injustice, underpinned by greed and apathy, haunts me. Sometimes the urge to shake people and scream at them to wake up, is huge. Not that this would be a likely strategy to achieve results.
All too often, the slow approach of winning people round, being the change and so forth is just too slow. I lie awake at night listening to the boy racers speeding their cars up and down the hills and I know there are far too many people out there for whom the idea of responsibility is a joke. There are so many of us who feel entitled to have whatever we can pay for, no matter what it costs someone or something else. There are so many of us who just can’t keep up with the ethical issues of each choice, either. Doing the best you can with what you have is an exercise in compromise and complicity. I haven’t given away everything I have to feed the hungry. I honestly cannot afford to buy entirely organic.
Which leads to the questions of where my own life fits in this balance of means and ends. The ideal outcome for me would be a gentler, more sustainable world with a good-enough standard of living for all. Time to rest and play, the scope to be well of body and mind. Happiness, community, friendship. I don’t want to live in a world where people work seven day weeks and ten hour days and tend not to have the time, energy or money to go out of an evening. I don’t want to live in a world where people are always expected to push through pain and tiredness to get the work done.
There are so many causes. There is so much needs doing. So many things we need to be more aware of. I’ve adopted a more sustainable lifestyle (no car, no fridge, no washing machine) but it costs me in terms of time and energy. If something needs doing, I’ll show up and give it my best shot. As a consequence, I haven’t had a whole day off given over to rest since the middle of July. I make a point of having some rest time each day because otherwise I court mental dysfunction, but there are still more things to do than there is time, and I end up worn and ragged on a regular basis. How to be a good citizen, a good pagan, a good activist, mother, wife, friend, member of society, and to earn a living, and to have a low impact lifestyle… and needing more hours in the day.
The easiest things to drop are the ones that I enjoy – time out for music, reading for pleasure, sewing for fun, just going to bed early. I’ve had patches historically when the only way to keep going was to withdraw energy from the stuff I did just for me. That way lies the collapse of self esteem and the loss of inspiration. I would like the time and headspace to write novels, but the wild elephants are in peril, and our yellowhammers are nearly gone and I am desperately worried about the hedgehogs, and UKIP are running public meetings locally and people are responding to all that is wrong with hate. No matter how wound up I get, I must not fall into hating, and it would be so easy. People are not an innately loveable species.
If I am not part of the solution, then I am part of the problem. But if I do things I think are wrong in order to go after the ends I believe in, how can I not undermine what I’m trying to do? And if I put me first, at all, those are minutes I’m not giving to trying to help with something, trying to change something, and there is so much work to do, and so much to try and understand about what’s going on. I have no answers.