See The World, Ruin The World – An Unpopular Observation

I grew up valuing and even idolizing the idea of world travel. When I was young, I envied the few friends whose families took them to different countries. I was awestruck by high school friends who became exchange students. I chose a college with a focus on Internationalism and wanted desperately to study abroad. It never happened, for various reasons. In my 20’s, I finally did travel outside the United States, to Montreal, Paris, and London. I also saw some of the cosmopolitan cities of the US – New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Boston.

The cachet of foreign travel had me sold, although I rarely had the money or time to pursue it. Meanwhile, my childhood family vacations amounted to piling five kids into the back of a station wagon and driving across the Midwest (which was exciting to me, if more modest than my dreams). I didn’t fly anywhere until a high school trip to Washington, DC. I have only flown a handful of times since the increased travel restrictions following the 9/11 attacks. The process of getting through any airport is very unpleasant now, with long lines, invasive searches, and extra hassles. To me, that has taken much of the joy that I once had over flying.

But I still want to see so many places. I have years worth of unused frequent flyer “miles” to use and I decided a while back that in a few years (the year I turn 50) I want to go back to Europe. I want to check off a few more places on my long list of places that I want to see. In part this desire is still tied up in my own striving to be what I see as a worldly person, well-traveled, sophisticated. In part, it is because I have actually gotten significant enjoyment from my travels in the past, even in spite of the hassles of the logistics of travel.

But there’s a problem with this. I increasingly have begun to wonder if, as an environmentalist, I can support our current culture of cheap and easy airline travel. I know this is not going to be a popular thing among so many of my friends, but flying is incredibly destructive to the environment, and I need to radically rethink its virtues and desirability.

Take a look at these recent articles that I have come across. They will be better at presenting the data about it than I could be:

Every Time You Fly, You Trash the Planet from Fivethirtyeight.com.

A Climate Scientist Who Decided Not To Fly from Grist.org.

Travel broadens the mind and challenges one’s assumptions, as common wisdom goes. On some level, we believe that seeing the great sights and sitting down for a coffee with a person from another world paving the road to world peace and understanding. And of course – it certainly can do these things, when minds and hearts are open. I hardly think that most people who fly repeatedly for business, to very tourist-driven resorts, to events filled with people who are quite similar to themselves – these are probably not travel experiences that expand and challenge who we are.

But flying has become so commonplace, so expected. People even speak of airline travel as a “right”, which is a strange concept – do we really have a right to trash the planet?

Various organizations, including government agencies, talk about flyer’s “bill of rights”. I know, the rights are to be treated fairly as a consumer, and I’m behind that, but should participating in such a destructive practice be thought of as a “right”?

But, in truth, we may not need to travel around the world to experience others. For me, I live in Chicago and people from around the world are here. I have people speaking Spanish or Polish on virtually every train ride. We have ethnic enclaves all around the city. And of course there is great diversity in our domestic population – people of different races and economic classes, different religions and subcultures. We can drastically cut down on flying and still be open to people who live radically different lives than we do. Of course, I do understand that if flying becomes less commonplace, there may be less diversity in cities in the longer term.

I am still struggling with this. I know I have already on some level made a choice to back away from flying. As I said, I haven’t done it in years, and the last time was for work. After that trip, I made it clear to my supervisors I didn’t care to do that kind of trip if it can be avoided. But I have not yet totally rejected the possibility of airline travel in the future. There is still so much in the world that I would love to see. But I will not take it for granted, or treat it as something to be taken on casually.

To the Divine Youth

In the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, we celebrate the faces of the Eight-Fold God according to the season. We are in the season of the Divine Youth, and he will be welcomed at our Spirit Song celebration on February 20th.

I wrote this prayer and meditation on what the Divine Youth can mean in my life.

____________________________________________

 

Divine Youth,

Show me the Wonder of a new born child.

Let me see the common things of the world in a fresh way.

Bring me to a state of mind that is clean and innocent.

 

Let me discover how the snow feels when I pick it up. Or how mud feels when I squish it between my fingers. Let me feel how a dog feels when I pet the fur and how the dog’s tongue feels licking my face. Let me spin around again and again until I am dizzy.

Let me taste without memory or prior ideas of what I like and don’t like. Let me taste applesauce or olives or clean pure water like I’ve never tasted them before.

Let me smell a flower, baking bread, an old book, a fart – just smell and not let the thousand memories overwhelm the simple experience of smelling.

Let me see something right in front of me, so common that I forget to see it.  Really look at it. What color is it, what size and shape? Is it shiny or dull? Turn it upside down and open it up to really see it. If it’s worn or broken, don’t even think about what it was originally – see it for what it is in this moment.

Let me listen to the sounds around me with fresh ears. The hum or thumping of machines. The chirping of birds. The low roar of traffic. Is there music playing or is someone talking – don’t make out the words. Listen to the rhythm and pitch. How does it make me feel? Do I want to dance? Do I want to cry? Is someone making a point or are they trying to soothe? Let it wash over me.

 

Divine Youth,

Let me experience and puzzle over feelings and tastes and smells and sights and sounds.

Let me set aside what I think I know and see the world with a new vision.

Let me feel Wonder.

Challenge Gender Essentialism

My friend Theo has a new blog called Queerwitch, which is well worth checking out. A recent post is a rant (of sorts) against gender essentialism. I whole-heartedly agree with this critique.

If you’re a little lost on what the term means, there’s actually a nice write up here. That author has some great insights about how it affects sexuality and relationships, but gender essentialism can creep into almost everything.

 

There are so many examples of needless stress on gender identification that we encounter in our daily life. One subject that has gotten a lot of attention lately is the “boys’ toys” vs. “girls’ toys”. It seems pretty obvious to me that you should let your child play with whatever toy interests them, regardless of gender assignment.

how-to-tell-if-a-toy-is-for-boys-or-girls

Here’s a helpful meme that I stole from somewhere

 

Why is it that on so many forms, from the vital to the mundane, one of the first questions asked is “M/F”, with no opportunity to avoid answering, or to provide any nuance? I can understand why your doctor’s office may ask – it may be relevant to certain medical conditions – but they should be ready to accommodate an answer that is more nuanced than these two simple categories. But why exactly is this important for a Drivers License or a Sweepstakes entry? Why is it the first question that people ask when someone has a new baby? How exactly is sex/gender important in those situations?

 

There is a vegan author of some note. I have met her and she is a very pleasant person. I own one of her books. I love that her work is to make veganism more mainstream and accessible. She has a podcast that I started listening to, but I had to stop. Virtually every guest, every person that she spoke about was praised as “a perfect Lady” or “a real man’s man”, or some such gender-based compliment and descriptor. It began to really annoy me. This constant refrain of praise of people because they manifest some type of gendered ideal began to wear on me. If that is so praiseworthy, then isn’t the implication that people who don’t fit into her nice gender roles are somehow less praiseworthy? I’m fairly sure that wasn’t her conscious intent, but the messaging around gender was so persistent.

 

Even people who should be more aware of gender issues – LGB people, self-described Feminists – do this kind of gender coding and shaming. There’s a horrible meme going around now showing a bearded, plaid-wearing man (a “lumbersexual” in certain circles). The punchline includes something like “if you don’t know how to change a tire, then you have to shave”.

amfar

Is Conchita going to change a tire?

I don’t even think that people realize how ridiculous it is that they are somehow offended that some guy with a beard may not fit their expectations of “manly” skills. A skill like changing a tire has absolutely nothing to do with gender and it definitely has nothing to do with facial hair (and frankly it has nothing to do with being a lumberjack). What is the point in policing this?

 

I have already written about respecting people’s self identity around gender and sexual identity. This is a closely related topic. Trans people frequently deal with gender based shaming and harassment. Some people feel the need to police gender identities and frankly, there’s no real justification other than the harasser’s preconceived ideas and invasive sense of entitlement to pass judgment on others. The issue of public bathrooms can be huge – and not because trans people are causing trouble in any way.

 

If you are tempted to tell someone to be more “ladylike” or to “man up”. Stop yourself and think. If you are correcting this person, does it have to be about policing their gender? Would that behavior be acceptable in a person of a different gender identity? If the problem really is about behavior and not a gender expectation, then frame the comment appropriately – and fairly. If you are making decisions for yourself or others and you are basing it on “women like this activity” or “men like this activity”, stop for a moment and think. Isn’t it possible that people may have broader interests that aren’t just defined by sex and gender? Do yourself and those around you a favor and let go of those narrow confines.