Thursday, October 19, 2006

Unask the Question.

Today I reluctantly picked up some groceries at the not-so-friendly (and oh-so-corporate) Albert Heijn, a cultural icon far more ubiquitous than any other in The Netherlands. While one of the most shocking things about visiting a grocery store in the US is the initial confrontation with the illusion of choice, here in NL the mess is tidied up and the choices are narrowed down, often to this or that. This or that usually differs by no more than a few cents. The ingredients (of packaged food, of which we buy rather little) are often the same. Much of what you buy at Albert Heijn tastes like either cardboard or organic cardboard.

Heading out of the shop this evening (with the only kind of fresh parsley one can buy there: wrapped in plastic foil) I was approached by a young woman canvassing for some organization.

She: "Do you live in The Netherlands?"
Me: "Yes."
She: "Do you have a Dutch bank account?"
Me: "What's this about?"

. . . at which point she showed me some of the World Wildlife Fund material she was handing out. I thanked her and said that I had been a supporter for years (true) but had stopped some time ago.

"Why?" she asked, and what I should have said is that WWF focuses on damage control rather than the root causes of environmental degredation.

I should have said that it compromises too often on a range of issues (including logging and seal hunting). I should have said that a tactic based on asking people in our ecocidal culture to cough up a few euros per year (while continuing to maintain their materialistic and consumerist attitudes) was bound to fail. I should have said that an organization set up to protect animals that doesn't explicitly promote not eating them is a contradiction I will not support financially. I should have said that WWF's slick and even cheerful style is discordant with how serious the trouble is. I should have said that WWF's hierarchical structure reveals that it embraces exactly the kind of thinking that put the global environment in the state it's in.

But what I said instead is "WWF's not radical enough."

"So you're a Greenpeace person," she responded.

I guess I deserved that.

Should it trouble me that Greenpeace is the most radical environmental organization that a WWF volunteer could think of? Or that she assumed I must donate money to some organization. I am perturbed by this faulty line of questioning. Such thinking is not unique to inquiring into which environmental organization one writes an annual cheque to. More than once, for example, I have been asked if I'm a democrat or republican.

Or if I was for or against the document erroneously called the EU constitution.

Or if I'm a Protestant or a Catholic, a Christian or a Jew, a capitalist or a communist.

I have been asked if I am pro- or anti-abortion, if I'm pro- or anti-Israel, if I'm pro- or anti-war, and whether I support the troops or not. I have had to identify myself as left- or rightwing, over- or underage, married or single, travelling for business or pleasure. I've been told to love it or leave it, to watch CNN or FOX, to wear Nike or Adidas, to use a Mac or a PC, to drink Coke or Pepsi (or coffee or tea). In the US I am welcome to keep my mouth shut or shout my head off in designated "free speech zones".

But of course the ayatollah of all the inane, black or white, up or down, hot or cold, in or out questions that I have been confronted with is the line that seeks to cut our very planet in two.

Are you With Us or Against Us?

It's a question that needs to be unasked. The world I live in is not made up of ones and zeros, and no lines, real or imaginary, divide it. There is no such thing as a legal or illegal immigrant, "them" or "us", "yours" or "mine" unless we accept the questions posed by these false designations. Separation walls and the fascist laws that go along with them are symptoms of a culture that happily plays heads or tails with entire populations.

Nope. Not me. Too narrow. I am one-hundred percent, without question, pro-choice.


Anonymous said...

Well done, indeed!
You tell us of things wrong;
of almost too many meaningless choices. Pro Choice? Bravo. So you choose exactly......?

Anonymous said...

So Anomyous I think the balls is in your future court, you return it or take your balls and go home, having been for warned of how easy it is to be silently complicit.

Anomyous # 2

RK. said...

I risk becoming wholly disheartened by a society that has become so reliant on the ease of black-and white that it cannot conceive of the necessary intricacies of grey. The complexities that underlay what we call "terrorist" ["dictator", "democracy", "good", "normal"... So on...] are never excavated by the average citizen. They don't think it's necessary. Clinging to the division of identity between that which is economic, political, social: people would rather allow values to be inscribed upon them than to ask the questions about what it is they really want. And so we've allowed a system to be built, brick by brick, unasked question by unasked question, that leaves us nowhere to turn except to the vitiating drug of false liberty.

It's difficult work to rethink questions and dichotomous relationships forced upon us in every-day life. It's work that receives little recognition, encouragement or even credibility -- and yet it's so vitally important. Thanks for the insightful post.

BTW, do you mind if I add you to my blogroll? Thanks Keir.

- Rachel

Anonymous said...

I think "Anonymous #2" has a really important point here.
Maybe if George W Bush would "take his balls and go home", the world -this one anyhow - would be a better place.

Keir said...

Rachel: you're probably familiar with Naomi Klein's No Logo, some great work there on the illusion of choice.

Of course you can add me to your blogroll . . . thanks for asking.