Somehow, our notion of “self” has become a notion of individuality. There was a time when human beings identified themselves as members of groups, rather than as individuals. We organized as families, tribes, neighborhoods, towns, and other forms of communities. Community was part of our understanding of “self.” We’ve lost that and our world has become a hyper-individualized, to borrow a term from Bill McKibben, who wrote about this concept extensively in his book Deep Economy.
This blog came into being as a reaction to an article called “Snap into Action for Climate Change” by Mike Tidwell, published in the May/June 2008 issue of Orion Magazine. In one paragraph Tidwell writes:
Getting off carbon fuels—though vital and mandatory—won’t steer us clear of climate chaos. We’ve delayed action far too long for that tidy resolution.
I got to thinking about chaos and inaction. We live in a chaotic time. We have witnessed wars that have been waged over a variety of issues including oil and religion. We have witnessed massive weather events that have snuffed out thousands (hundreds of thousands) of lives in an instant. We have witnessed riots over food supply. This world is chaotic. In the middle of all this chaos most people are inactive. We are not making the positive changes necessary to fix the chaos. So there is chaos and inaction.
And yet, there are small numbers of people who are taking action. The number of people who have taken notice and are making positive changes in their lives in order to help slow down the chaos has risen dramatically. However these legions of people are relatively disorganized. Thus there is Chaos in action.
In the same issue of Orion there is another article titled, “How to be a Climate Hero” in which Audrey Shulman writes about the Bystander Effect. Essentially, humans ignore problems around them hoping that someone else (the other) will fix the problem.
The bystander effect and our notion of self as the individual have got to be connected. I suspect that in another time, when people were more connected and identified themselves as part of a collective, we didn’t ignore problems around us waiting for someone else to fix them.
Could it be that the chaos of our world is the byproduct of our attention to the individual in terms of our notion of self?