Happy birthday! I hope you turn up for the party. We got through the teens with a few bad habits – the question for the next years is: “will we be able to get over it and make a future worth looking at?”
The last three hundred years can be considered a global adolescence. As a whole, we have gone from zero to hero in just short time.
Our teens have been difficult. Growth spurts, violent tantrums, infatuations and the discovery of certain mind altering substances… all a part of learning about life, where each particular road leads one and what happens going down it.
We got through high school – we have the skills – but now we are challenged to use them and build a future. We can’t just continue pretending that everything we do has no consequence. Building a healthy and peaceful future will mean putting down many incompatible habits. For example:
- Unsustainable eating… When I was a teen I could eat as much pizza as I wanted to. Likewise the developed world seems to think that nature has an inexhaustible supply of food. Just as I found out as I moved into my twenties, we are about to realize that we can’t eat whatever we want because there are physical limits and consequences. While the world might feed a few hundred million people a meat rich diet, it will be disaster if the developing world takes up this habit – or if the developed world uses the developing to expand meat production. Scarce fresh water and land will cause disease, malnourishment and poverty. Intensified production will breed super-resistant strains of bacteria and killer viruses. And by cutting into the remaining forests for grazing and feedcrop production we will destroy our lungs at the same time we pollute the air.
- Smoking… when I was a teen could happily ride my bike to school with a smoke hanging out the corner of my mouth. I looked at the grotesque pictures on cigarette boxes and laughed. I was deliberately self-destructive. “There isn’t much to live for on this planet anyway,” I thought as I looked around. It never occurred to me that I could use my time and energy to improve the world rather than wasting my time and money and depleting my vitality with things like cigarettes. Smoking is like GHG emissions (you’ve heard people talk about “the carbon habit”!). Today, we keep on at it with our six foot LCD TVs, lights on in every room just in case we want to go in there, driving the car down the road when we could easily ride a bike or take a bus, eating a GHG heavy diet big in animal content when we could eat about 1/4 less (or none!) and be healthier… list goes on. We destroy the air and our we’ve hurt our lungs (trees, the lungs of the earth).
- Fighting… a teen can be more or less forgiven for getting into a fight. After all they are in the process of learning about emotions, how to deal with them, and the consequences of not dealing with them. I wasn’t a big fighter but some of the people at my school seemed to continue fighting into their late teens. I’d hate to think they were still picking fights today, in their late 20’s. That would tell me that they hadn’t grown up at all. Globally, international fights are thankfully on the decline. Still, it is incomprehensible how we disregard “the other” and accept large collateral damage with a nonchalant shrug. We are desensitized to suffering and pain in general, and that goes for the pain we force animals to endure as well. With clear heads and emotional maturity I doubt people would fight so easily in the schoolyard or bar. Similarly, If we could witness first-hand the suffering of people in affected nations, or we could see behind the slaughterhouse walls, we would realize what an affront to our nature violence is, and feel ashamed at our collective immaturity and insensitivity. All life is precious, human, foreign human, and animal.
- Intoxication… At the age of 16 I started drinking on the weekends. At the age of 18 I started drinking on the weekdays. Why? I’m not sure there was a real reason. It might have been rebellion from a culture I thought didn’t make sense. Or, I probably wanted an escape from reality, or something to make reality seem more colorful. Also, maybe I needed drinking to relax after work. TV and mass media do similar things for us. We are addicted to it because it keeps our minds off issues bigger than ourselves. We like it because it turns dullness into something colorful, thus we never have to actually deal with our dullness. We use it to speak with each other, when there’s nothing else to talk about. We imagine we live in the world on TV. But just as alcohol retards our emotional and intellectual life, TV indoctrinates us in a false world view, tailored to intrigue us but not to challenge us. TV tells us: “you are OK. Stay how you are.” And we like that. The longer we watch TV the less equipped we are to deal with reality and the less we care. The news makes us cynical, believing that we are not worth the planet we live on. But if the news reported reality as it is, it would be far more positive and lead us to think hopefully about the world, who knows, maybe even be constructive about it.
Thankfully for me, I no longer smoke, drink, and I only watch Futurama ;) . My teens may have been extended a few years too many into my twenties. It wasn’t until I found my faith that I realised I needed to alter certain habits in order to really be clear headed enough to see myself and the world for what it was. Now I can dance without drinking (I couldn’t before), and if I try to watch it most TV just seems infantile. I can’t image that people over 15 would watch it.
The world is changing too. But can it change quickly enough? It depends on all of us. We can’t behave like teens beyond our twenties, it just doesn’t make sense, and on the global scale, it won’t work!