Saturday, December 29, 2007

yes, meek adjustments

I want to write here explicitly about Meek Adjustments, not my blog but the general idea, capitalized in the way of Arundhati Roy in the God of Small Things - indicating an large, established, almost personified concept.

For Meek Adjustments have been all I can muster since I entered the stunning vacuum that is post-graduation life. Life.

Meek adjustments are my only ammunition against despair.

They are a very vegan concept: that through small changes one might approach a large problem. Upon graduating I felt myself so beset by problems that I could not live with myself if I did not address. They are enumerable, but each is impossible: (1) environmental degradation, (2) global poverty, and (3) my participation (via taxes and complicit citizenship) in the American Empire. I believe that's it. Three problems.

One could dedicate decades to solving any one of these problems. I spent a summer researching possible avenues. Join the coalition for the Peace Tax (3)? Accept a job offer with Digital Study Hall (2)? Use my technical education to pursue a career in alternative energy or environmental consulting (3)? Declare bankruptcy and become a full-time activist living on the streets (1,2,3?) ?

I have done none of these, and every day feel some guilt for that.

The fact is that I want too badly the refined privileges of being an American citizen with good credit standing and plenty of horded financial resources: I want a warm room in which to read Whitman, sketch lines of poetry on a large monitor, and fall asleep deep in the valley of one of Infinite Jest's long sentences.

I refuse to accept the notion, however, that this means I can change nothing. For me it is the meek adjustments we all make, our daily cultivation of actions, however small, from our beliefs, that constitutes the movements that constitute a movement. I hope it will be illustrative for me to share how this figures into my life:

  • As an environmentalist. I simply cannot live a sustainable life in this society. I consume fossil fuels. I purchase gasoline. For those things I am deeply ashamed, on so many levels. But I may choose to adjust in spontaneous moments, to ride my bicycle to the grocery or wake up early to take the train to work. It is a constant effort. I buy gasoline from Arco (BP) and not Exxon Mobil or Shell or Conoco Philips. These compromises are literally my only hope.

  • As a human rights advocate. I don't purchase clothing from sweatshops, which means I purchase almost no clothing. I wear hand-me-downs to a job interview. I choose not to eat animal products, to alleviate animal suffering and labor abuses on humans.

  • As an anti-imperialist. I wish that I could avoid paying taxes and funding guns. (I could, if I revoked my US citizenship and joined the Lakota Nation. Perhaps that will be the next meek adjustment.) Instead I'm pursuing alternative media, KPFK, Democracy Now, Mother Jones, and the Nation, so that I might cultivate an anti-state position from which to speak out against American hegemony and war.

  • As a friend, a co-worker, a roommate. This last thing is perhaps the most important. I am learning how to talk about my convictions with others. Is that an embarrassingly simple and conventional struggle? I don't find dissent easy. But I have to try, in pedestrian and unimportant conversations, to speak honestly, despite enormous pressures to conform.

For me, a meek adjustment happens in the moment one is confronted with an easy, usual choice, and a harder, more deliberated choice. I.e. turn the water off while soaping, or leave it on? I.e. finish the leftovers and redirect waste, or go to In-N-Out? I.e. nod and smile, or object? Each individual choice does not encapsulate a dichotomy between right and wrong - that is not what I mean; but the aggregate of all the choices is a slow approach toward what's right. And for me the conceptual shift from an all-or-nothing framework to an all-day-every-day framework has been a lifesaver.

No, I am not in the picket line, I am not on the streets campaigning, I am not renouncing all my worldly possessions. But I am actuating a certain consciousness that is at once progressive, anti-state, pro-poor, pro-indigenous, pro-environment, feminist, queer. I am actuating it in a world that constantly discourages me from doing so. As New Year's resolutions approach, I say let's seize the reminder that its what you do habitually that counts, it's what you strive for daily, not once-a-yearly.

I know that many are resisting, meekly, as I am. Some are resisting boldly: going to prison or sacrificing their reputations or even dying. Despite these differences I still think we resist together. I claim that our collective actions, our shared amalgam of conscious choices, constitute a movement. I hope that we keep struggling.

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