In an old Guardian piece someone sent me, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek describes how our “ethical acts” don’t really amount to much:
“Like when you buy an organic apple, you’re doing it for ideological reasons, it makes you feel good: ‘I’m doing something for Mother Earth,’ and so on. But in what sense are we engaged? It’s a false engagement. Paradoxically, we do these things to avoid really doing things. It makes you feel good. You recycle, you send £5 a month to some Somali orphan, and you did your duty.”
Žižek thinks of these acts as mere distractions that maintain the status quo. But buying organic doesn’t really make me feel good. It depresses me that our world is defined by these labels — conventional (industrial) / organic (natural); rich / poor; black / white; smart / stupid… The list is long and arbitrary. But what isn’t arbitrary is our collective headlong leap at destruction, our willful disregard for the life support systems that sustain us and our rapacious appetite for the limited resources that supply us. Our contempt for nature and our disregard for the consequences continue apace, grow and exceed even the worst predictions. So, yes, recycling is a pathetic gesture in the face of all of that, and buying an organic apple even more so, but you have to start somewhere. Or you don’t.
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