Some weeks ago No Impact Man had a post succinctly titled Why Bother?.
He was looking for input and comment on the very basic question of whether all our little green activities actually make any difference. The responses got kinda rowdy, and some feelings were hurt before it settled down. Actually, I was glad to see the passion, though most of the hurt feelings were pretty unnecessary.
I commented, near the end, and this was part of my comment: "But yes, Greenpeople- we have an elephant in the room, and we DON'T like to think about it. What it boils down to is; what difference does it make if I sacrifice, and cut, and have one child- so that some jerk on the next block can continue to drive his SUV, using the gas I saved- and have 10 kids and 4 plasma televisions and a jetski?...Mostly what I can offer is- I've been doing it for 30 years- am still doing it- and the bottom line is; I'm an optimist. I think there are ways. But it takes what I call 'pushing on icebergs'."
I have come to understand why great teachers lean towards the extensive use of parables. Somehow, the human brain is just more receptive to a story with a good lesson to it than to plain logic. Stories, and metaphors, reach us better.
My metaphor here is that huge societal problems are very much like icebergs. They are huge; massive, with tremendous momentum and inertia. Walk up to an iceberg (standing on anything you can) and push on it, as hard as you can. You will not see ANY response from the iceberg; it's just too massive for you to affect, you and all your force are infinitesimally small in comparison to the berg.
And yet. Physics; good old physics, should bring you some realizations here- the outcome of which can be positive.
Icebergs - float. They are not attached to the land; and they DO move. Mostly, they move in response to other huge forces; winds and ocean currents. And they tend to go in what looks like random directions.
But like the rest of us, they ARE subject to the laws of physics; if you apply a force to the berg, it DOES have an effect. It has to.
So this big honking iceberg is edging towards you- and if it keeps going the way it is, it's going to crush your boat, which happens to have your family in it. Your boat is anchored fast; you can't just sail out of the way. Do you stand there and watch the berg come? Or do you push?
Granted, there are plenty of folks who would/will just stand there, and watch it come to squash them.
I can't. I'm gonna push on the damn berg for all I'm worth.
Obviously, one little shove IS useless. You have to buckle down; dig in with your feet, get used to the idea that you have to push, and push and push- and no, you won't see anything happening for a very long time. But- Physics is ON YOUR SIDE. If you keep applying force- the berg pretty much has to respond. At least a little.
Another thing that's on your side- humanity. If YOU are busting a gut, trying to turn this oncoming iceberg- SOME of the bystanders WILL join in. It's just human nature. Now- what are the chances you can deflect the berg- if there are 100 people pushing? Better. But most of them won't help- until they see someone already committed. Really committed- and not quitting. More human nature. And sure, there will always be the jackasses who stand by and jeer, and tell you you're crazy.
History- also - is on your side. Immense social icebergs HAVE been shifted out of their course, multiple times. The nicest example is Women's Suffrage. That iceberg had been floating in the male direction only, for THOUSANDS of years. Logic was not responsible for shifting it. It was the emotional commitment of many many people; over many many years. And it started with a few utterly committed women; who refused to quit.
Many of the other examples are not so nice. "Abolition" was bloody and horrific- and in case you haven't noticed, is not really over yet. "Temperance" was astonishing, and ultimately a proof that logic, in isolation from reality, is a disaster. The outcome was not just funny movies, and speakeasies; it was thriving gangsterism, supporting more bloodshed and misery. Gandhi's peaceful persistence also generated bloodshed in the end. Icebergs are dangerous- don't forget that.
I've actually DONE this. Pushing on icebergs. They do move. The main example I'll give you is widely familiar at the moment- good ol' Global Warming. I was a speaker at the 2nd North American Conference - in 1988. Essentially EVERY scary fact and possibility you've heard about recently - was discussed, in detail, at that meeting. Very few people listened to us, and the hot winds generated by the oil companies and capitalists continued to push the iceberg right down its disastrous path.
But; look where we are, after only 20 years of constant, steady pushing, by a very small community. All of a sudden, a whole bunch of folks - thousands of times more than the original pushers- are starting to push too. Frankly, I still haven't seen the berg move- but things are looking up, quite a bit. Boy, though, we wish folks had started to push sooner. Ah, well.
There will never be a sudden huge shift in the iceberg. It's not possible, and we shouldn't expect it. But the direction, and the trends, can be shifted.
Does your one compact fluorescent lightbulb make a difference? Physics says it does. Physics is a good ally.
So. Find a good place to set your feet. Dig in. And push. Don't quit. And don't waste your time yelling at the jackasses to come help- they won't, and the yelling just encourages them.
Just keep pushing. And watch and see- somebody from the crowd will come and start pushing too- right beside you.
I've seen it happen; and I'm still pushing.