I'm contemplating, as I often do, what to do next with my life. Right now that means deciding whether to continue working at my job.
Most of you are probably well aware of the "ecological crisis". I find it good to be reminded of these things and just sit with them for a bit, because I don't always have to see them in person and it's possible to forget.
We've poisoned the air and groundwater and the ocean water of most of the earth through developing and using toxic chemicals and industrial processes. Since we're rich in the US, most of this has been moved away from here and is now done in South America, Asia, and Africa, where most of the people are oppressed and in poverty, and have even less power to stop it. This makes it a little harder to see from here.
In vast numbers around the world, people who once grew their own food have been driven off the land, or killed, or moved into cities and into debt to become consumers. While I might not be the one with the gun driving them out, when I pay for ordinary things in America I pay the companies that pay the guys with the guns.
Most of these things have accelerated in the last 20 years as technology has allowed us to multiply our efforts. Forest is being destroyed faster than ever right now. Fertile land is turning to desert faster than ever. The oceans are being killed off and polluted faster than ever. We're dumping more trash than ever. We're mining and extracting more finite resources than ever. There are more factory farms packed with animals in pain. There are more human refugees than ever.
But aren't we right around the corner from having new technology that will let us solve all of this?
Your guess may be as good as mine. I think we already have the "technology" needed to live in a sustainable and much, much more beautiful way on the earth, even with seven billion people. Trees and plants, for example, are incredible sustainable solar-powered air-cleaners and soil-restorers and carbon-sequesterers, plus providing food and habitat for us and all the other creatures. But our current trajectory is toward more industrial technology that is used to make a profit. And to make a profit, on some level, means taking nature (life) and converting it into resources and products that can be sold, accelerating this destruction. Even "green" technology, like solar panels and wind turbines, require horrible pollution to create -- even if they are better than digging coal for the same amount of energy. And of course, most or all of these green technologies are also focused on profit before anything else.
How does your job contribute to the problem?
To take the most obvious angle on it -- we make most of our profits through advertising, which is a crucial part of the industrial/consumerist system that provides the financial incentive for most of this destruction and horror. So my job is to help this system run more efficiently. Plus a good one third of the money I make goes to taxes, half of which go to war.
I could use the remaining money I get to try to do something good. This was my noble intention until recently -- "earning to give". But now I see that my earning the money is contributing to the destruction that I would then try to undo by using the money I earned. It doesn't make sense.
What would you do instead?
I don't know exactly. But just as a strawman, if I stop working a regular job, buy almost nothing except [local, organic, unprocessed] food, and just go around helping with Food Not Bombs or whatever else? I think I'll find other interesting things to do, in fact I have a lot of ideas and plans floating around. But as a baseline, I could do this, and the amount of earth that is destroyed on my behalf each year will drop tremendously -- as I suspect it has this summer.
How could you give up work that you enjoy, a team of coworkers that are incredibly fun to work with and extremely talented, a career that is respected by most people, and a comfortable life where all your physical and financial needs are taken care of?
:| It's not the easiest thing. But I do enjoy other things, there are awesome people outside Google, there are some people who would understand leaving, and a comfortable life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sunshine and birdsong and dirt and grass and the smell of rain and the taste of wild berries are also there outside the comfortable life.
What are you really thinking about?
I don't spend most of my time thinking about technology and destruction and all that. I love the trees themselves, and the birds, and the people, and the poetry, and the music and mountains and rivers and all the rest. Most of this summer I've been spending my time up close with what I love. I love this line from Rumi:
"The purpose of every gathering is discovered: to recognize beauty and to love what's beautiful."
This is what we really want to "do", isn't it? This is why we go to the mountains. This is why we spend time with those we love. This is why we watch [videos of] cute animals. This is why we gather to cook food and make music and watch eclipses. I can give my attention more toward what is beautiful. And I may help others around me to do the same. And then we won't need as much of the stuff that is destructive. The real juice is in what we gain, not what we avoid. Life can be much richer than most of us are used to. I've tasted this.
It'll still be complicated and difficult. It's not like leaving work automatically flips life from dry to rich. I had many rich moments while employed, mostly in my free time, mostly out in nature or with people. And I've had my dry moments this summer, if fewer. I'll still wrestle with my conditioning and culture which tells me that success, work-ethic, accomplishment, reputation, and so on, are most important. I must be true to the deepest call I can feel.
There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground. May this be one.