Thinking about “What’s for lunch?”
I’ve recently been in some discussions around transitioning to being vegetarian/mostly vegan. Part of the discussions revolve around the available evidence for the state of affairs with respect to our food production. Two heavy-hitting potential sources for perspective can be found readily on the YouTube: the movie Earthlings (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeSA2j4oiDA), and a video lecture presentation by Gary Yourofsky (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es6U00LMmC4).
Watching these sorts of things is not fun, and people know it. We intuitively know that when we expand our awareness and broaden our perspective, we cannot remain the same. HOW we don’t remain the same is up to us, there is no script given to us by the universe telling us unequivocally how to act. The apprehension around this feeling of inevitable change (which is completely understandable), can deter us from seeking new knowledge and perspectives that are different than whatever perspectives we currently entertain, and which are already integrated into our daily lifestyles, choices and self-image.
In the face of this apprehension, when presented with an opportunity to entertain an alternative perspective, the following kind of thought might occur:
“Ok, so I will think about it…watching it that is. And how do you know that there is not an intended bias put in that distorts the situation? There are horrible examples of almost everything (parenting, professors, sanitation…) but that doesn’t mean it is ALL like that.”
This is quite true: a few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch, and everyone is biased. There is quite overtly an intended bias in the lecture/films. This is, indeed, the point: they are biased towards treating animals decently, towards environmentally sound choices, and towards developing the “humane” part of the human being. In other words, being biased towards knowledge (vs. ignorance), towards compassion, and towards care for the world is something very different than a bias towards maximizing corporate profit, for reduction of knowledge (systemic practices of hiding the nature of the processes by which our food is created), and for reduction of ethical considerations around food choices.
This difference should be pretty clear. There is always distortion; that is the nature of being a human. But because that is a given, we have the ability to take a second-order view: we can’t eliminate distortion (doing so would itself be a distortion), but we can become active curators of the processes by which our views get distorted. By entering into these admittedly subtle processes, rather than ignoring them, we can gain some measure of freedom. This is essentially saying that the question is–quite centrally–an epistemological one.
This is one of the most basic psychological principles: what you DON’T know about yourself influences you more deeply and directly than what you DO know about yourself. Just like individual therapy was created to help humans take an active stake in self-knowing, so that we can have more freedom in the way we conceive of ourselves, and just as family therapy (systems-oriented therapy) took that to the next level and showed how it is not enough to have self-knowledge (because the family system is always more than individuals and individual dynamics), so too there is a burgeoning field of ecotherapy, in which the next logical step is taken, towards recognition that individuals and family systems are embedded in, and co-evolve with, even larger contexts (and spiritual psychology takes that beyond the Earth to even higher realms).
Each expansion is accompanied by greater awareness of the systemic connections between levels, so that what at first seemed totally individual (“what I want for lunch”) becomes inextricably connected to all the other systems, and not in a vague, wishy-washy way, but by virtue of various streams of evidential data and shared experiences. So, the very true fact that “it is not ALL like that” simply means that if we don’t want to be supporters of the places where it IS like that, we need to become aware of the myriad elements of the particular systems in which we partake, so that they are no longer part of an unconscious or semi-conscious “given” context for our actions, but become available consciously as one of a possible number of other contexts in which we can act (and create!).
The entire world is already paying the increasing price for the lack of this work (global climate change being a major example). The weird key is that it is the individual human being (always in larger contexts, but still individual) who represents the capacity for the world to wake up to itself, to see itself as a whole, and to begin to evolve in less systemically destructive ways. So human beings have a particular responsibility to develop just this capacity to see–as individuals–beyond their individuality, to hold in consciousness the various polarities necessitated by life, to recognize the connections between all the various living and non-living systems, and how this all calls for the creation of new ethical distinctions that, when acted upon, help create a better world for the whole, rather than just some few parts.
The time for ignorance is quickly coming to an end; human systems are too globally interconnected, too vast and dehumanized in their processes, to let them continue without better guidance. Knowingly choosing an answer to the question “what’s for lunch?” is exactly what this guidance looks like on an everyday basis. If humans don’t begin to collectively (as individuals!) ask that question in some form, then the fate of the world will be given over by default to exactly the same kinds of unconscious or semi-conscious processes that are behind the vast majority of the world’s problems. The world itself is in need of a kind of therapy, but it is human beings who are the only ones capable of both being the therapists and the clients in this situation. We have to create the therapy and administer it to ourselves, on behalf of the world. We can’t sit the ducks, polar bears, bees and amoeba down in the chair and explain to them what they need to do to change so that the world can evolve together in a more peaceful and healthy manner. We can only do this to ourselves–not ourselves as individuals only, but also as representatives of the rest of the entire world that can’t speak for itself without our help. This calls on human beings to undertake a path towards wakeful compassion that extends our individuality beyond the walls of our skin, beyond the walls of our limited mental representations of self, so that we become facilitators of ways of being that are systemically, integrally wise.