Guys, I woke up this morning and I think my life changed. A lot. Not for the better, but for the clearer.
I woke up hung-over to the cow’s udders, utterly despairing the state of humanity/my head/my liver/what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life/is this real?!/what is real, really?!/what if we live in the Matrix?!/I need coconut water/maybe I should move to Thailand/I should check Facebook.
I may need to slow down on the wine. That’s one conclusion to draw. However, this particular – and thoroughly debilitating – panic attack lead to a ragingly overwhelming epiphany.
Let’s start from the beginning. I began cruising my usual sites. I spent half-an-hour on Facebook oscillating between contempt and envy, weeping at the plethora of baby/engagement ring/baby-bump/happy new parents/we’re getting married pictures that have begun to plague my day-/night-mares.
Then I started to read real news: a story about someone tossing a kitten onto a Toronto highway over the weekend. The kitten was, hell, 10-12 weeks old, or something. What world do we live in where people toss kittens out of car windows? What sick bastard does that?
I clicked a link-to-a-link-to-a-link and I ended up reading about the global decline in species over the last 40 years. We’re talking 52%, actually. Freshwater species? A 76% decline. SEVENTY. SIX. That means that for every 4 fish that used to hang out in Rice Lake – while my fat little Polish butt was jumping on their homes off shoddy home-built docks – 3 of them no longer exist. I would never have jumped all over their watery homes if I had known that 3 out of 4 of them would no longer occupy space on this planet. Being almost 30 years old, I have been alive for 75% of that time. That means that I am, on a very real level, responsible for 75% of those extinct species. I am a murderer. I know that animals are dying and I still perpetuate all the behaviours that ensure their demise. In fact, we are all cold-blooded animal killers. We know that our endless consumption and production and environmental devastation is killing everything in sight, but we still buy everything in fucking sight. This is bad news. It’s dark and twisted behaviour. It’s sadistic. You know what I thought? For a split second, I thought to myself, “we may as well start throwing kittens onto highways.” Think I’m being dramatic? Read the report here.
This inevitably lead me to explore some other twisted and messed-up carnage caused by my (our) incessant need to buy, buy, buy at Wal-Mart/Joe Fresh/H & M. Turns out I am also a people-killer. Cold-blooded, actually. I’ve been learning about globalization – the incessant campaign by huge corporations to get cheap labour from desperate people, in desperate poverty, in desperate places – since I was 14 years old. I know that in 2012 a Bangladesh factory fire killed almost 200 people. I know that a year later a factory collapse in Bangladesh killed 1,100 people. I am well aware that in 2014 the Huffington Post reported that conditions were still dangerous and people were still going to die. I know that. But I really needed that black skirt from Joe Fresh – my third one – so I bought it anyway. That makes me a people-killer. Pre-meditated. I pretend not to know that people die so I can buy a skirt for $20.
The hang-over was quickly morphing into more than a wine hang-over – a terrible and dark life hang-over. I read about how our Western system of living is carefully designed to construct us as tired, unsatisfied, sad, creatures that have to buy things in order to identify with something, anything, other than the meaningless lives we live. The article, aptly titled ,”Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed,” pretty much erased any last idealized, “But.. but… but,” excuses my brain was trying to come up with to salvage an already terrible sense of guilt and futility.
Hesitantly, I crawled across my room and I looked into my closet. I was attempting to assuage my sense of guilt by proving to myself that my closet was barren, the clothing sparse and dated, that I was a responsible citizen/steward of the Earth and all the people on it. Instead, I looked into my closet and I saw piles of useless clothing and endless death. Everywhere. As someone who tries to consciously purchase only things I ‘need,’ shop only when absolutely necessary, I was floored. I looked in and, nestled between countless pairs of Lulu Lemon tights, Joe Fresh skirts, and dresses I hadn’t even worn yet, were legions of dead animals. There, in the depths, next to $300 sweaters and $200 jeans (and I don’t even think I’m a shopper!) was a pile of dead people – mostly women and children, who had that desperate look of poverty and inevitability in their eyes as they lay their heads on my twice-worn, cheaply bought, shitty clothing. I tried to look away but I couldn’t because right under the pile of cheap, plastic “summer shoes” floated the Great Pacific Garbage patch – the world’s biggest landfill in the middle of the Pacific ocean – and I’m pretty sure a dolphin just choked an old flip-flop of mine.
You know what else I realised as I sat back on my bed, vision clouded by a new sense of personal villainy? I realised I was a mindless consumer and I was responsible for the actual death and destruction of someone, something, somewhere. I couldn’t help but look at those t-shirts and wonder whose little hands had made them – was that person even alive now? Were they living in a slum? Were they dying of some entirely preventable human condition – like hunger – while I was too fat from eating Starbucks cinnamon buns to fit into the t-shirt anyway?
I realised that I was going to post this blog and people would call me dramatic. People are going to dismiss me as some left-wing-hippy-liberatarian-treehugger-weirdo who was pretending to see things in her closet. People are going to construct me as an enemy to capitalism, as someone who wants to ruin the economy and throw us all into a pit of poverty and despair and unemployment. But, I’m not dramatic. The facts are there – they’re everywhere – this economy is fucked and because of that so is our world.
I have given up caring what people think. I look around and see destruction and death and people fighting over televisions at Wal-Mart at 6am while their fellow citizens are being shot and choked to death for being black. God forbid they go out and riot for anything other than an LG flat screen – who has time for activism when there are sales?! I am sick of people screaming over new electronics, trampling each other for the latest goddamn iPhone while there are Indigenous communities in this country who don’t have running water. I’m sick of myself. I’m sick of my closet. I’m sick of buying things to make myself happy for 15-seconds. I’m sick of feeling inadequate because I don’t have the car, the shoes, the bag, the stuff. I’m actually also sick, quite literally. We all are. This environment and the toxins in it are killing us.
Our precious economy is entirely based on mindless, infinite consumption of very finite resources. Yes, when this system fails us (and it inevitably will), this economy will falter, grind to a halt, have to re-invent itself, have to start from scratch. People will lose jobs and we won’t be able to live in million-dollar homes or have 3 cars parked in the driveway. Little Joey might have to wear his soccer cleats for an entire season without getting a new pair. We may have to keep watching ‘Friends’ re-runs on 47″ televisions and might not be able to upgrade to 50″. Personally, I’d rather the difficult task of re-building an economy based on sustainability than the far more difficult task of trying to come back to life after the human race has died off. Death is pretty permanent, economies are not.
I suspect that if we focus on re-building a sustainable economy we might actually find that income gaps will equalize. We may find grinding poverty (where people eat once a week and drink water infested with parasites), and lavish, opulent wealth (gold toilet seats) will equalize so that we are all happier and healthier. We may find that marginalization won’t be a reality for 99% of the global community. It won’t be necessary to keep people poor so that we can keep prices low.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I am killing animals, and other people, and fish – but I am also killing myself. Do we really believe if this world cannot sustain 76% of the freshwater species – species created by evolution for 1000’s of years – it can sustain us much longer? The evidence is overwhelmingly against us.
I did stumble on a glimmer of hope: Patagonia. Patagonia is encouraging its consumers to re-evaluate if they need to buy a new coat or if they’re just bored and buying it out of pure want. It’s also selling used Patagonia gear in some of its stores. The Worn Wear campaign asks us to consider the amount of gently used, perfectly good, clothing that is out there and to purchase that instead of contributing to more waste. Ask yourself not what you want, don’t soothe those feelings of emptiness by buying cheap shit, ask yourself what the world needs.
I am going to start. I am going to do the, “Nothing New Challenge” in 2015. I am going to buy everything used for a year. The exception is consumables because I can’t buy used food or shampoo – that would be awkward. No new stuff. I am going to prove that life can be full without it. I don’t even think it will be that difficult – there are thrift stores everywhere, there are social media sites that specialize in selling used stuff, refurbished electronics exist, and I could probably arrange a clothing swap so we could all clear those dead things out of our closets.
I suspect that having to search for something used will cause me to critically examine my level of ‘need’ for it. I also suspect that this new level of consciousness will bring a sense of fulfilment that no amount of $6 tank-tops from H & M ever would. That’s my resolution.
Nothing New starts January 1, 2015. I don’t want to be a force of death and destruction any more. I want to be a responsible steward of this planet.