16 ways to avoid being a Transition hypocrite

derelict airplane

If we’re worried about peak oil and climate change, we should give up air travel before it gives us up. Photo: fakelvis/Flickr.

Martin Heidegger was obsessed with authenticity. He viewed ontological anxiety as the impetus for authenticity — a way to move us through our conformity. For Heidegger, we were born into a world of quiet conformity. Initially, everything we do, say, think and believe has been done before.

The activities we regard as worthy of our time and effort (learning, work, play), the ultimate values and meanings we pursue (achievement, love, children), and the particular styles and forms through which we pursue these goals have all been provided by our various human cultures. He states that unless we find ways to wrest control of our own lives from society, all of our decisions will continue to be made for us by the unnoticed forces of the cultures in which we live.

That statement, naturally, leads him to question how we can extract ourselves from our conformity, rise above our enculturation. He asks, specifically, how is it possible to become more whole, centered, and integrated in a world that prevents precisely these qualities from emerging?

Yet, for all of Heidegger’s existential zeal, he couldn’t attain his own ideal of authenticity. Evidence of his not “wresting control of his own life from society” is his having joined the Nazi Party on May 1, 1933, ten days after being elected Rector of the University of Freiburg. Although a year later, in April 1934, he resigned the Rectorship and stopped taking part in Nazi Party meetings, he remained a member of the Party until its dismantling at the end of World War II.

So, the quest for authenticity — or, in more contemporary-speak, “walking the talk” — is not to be under-estimated. It’s real work. It requires showing up, taking responsibility and making some hard choices.

I don’t see enough of it, frankly, in the transition movement. It’s easier to “talk than walk.”

Theories are bounced around, facts cited, statistics quoted and pundits referenced. Doom sells newspapers, so to speak.

In Greek mythology, Thanatos was the demon of death who was associated with a variety of other Greek personifications, like doom, deception and suffering. In classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the Todestrieb or thanatos is the drive towards death, self-destruction and the return to the inorganic. This drive opposes eros, the tendency toward survival, propagation, and other creative, life-producing forces.

So, if we really believe that doom is a viable expression of the endgame, wouldn’t we try to resolve some of this thanatos by“wresting control of our lives” from an inherently sick society? Wouldn’t we want to resolve remnants of cognitive dissonance by making our day-to-day behaviors more congruent with our “talk”?

In that case, we would wrest ourselves away from:

  1. Clothing made in sweatshops
  2. Factory farmed, commercial food
  3. Flying in airplanes
  4. Big box stores that don’t pay living wages
  5. Eating and drinking items that come from thousands of miles away
  6. Using credit cards
  7. Driving our cars within bicycling/walking distance
  8. Watching television
  9. Using cell phones that have tracking capabilities
  10. Taking long, hot, daily showers
  11. Flushing the toilet every time we urinated
  12. Leaving lights on when we leave the room
  13. Accruing debt
  14. Buying things packaged in plastic
  15. Buying electronics that were made by out-sourced labor
  16. Being addicted to convenience and comfort

There’s more, but the above list gives you the idea. Because, as Heidegger reminded us, “unless we find ways to wrest control of our own lives from society, all of our decisions will continue to be made for us by the unnoticed forces of the cultures in which we live.”

— Sherry Ackerman, Transition Voice

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    • R Twitchell says

      And if the water from that long, hot shower can go to a potable water storage system for toilets / purge to garden, then the longer the shower, the more you can water your garden with that water. It makes showers of any length more enjoyable.

  1. permie says

    I agree that those things should be avoided by people.
    But, in permaculture (which is a design system), we see the answer being in design (not personal choice or individual action). A design solution to the problem of air travel is to create an economical and low-carbon alternative, like a public high-speed rail system for domestic travel. Demonizing people for the personal choices they make is not permaculture and will never lead to a positive solution. We DO need to look at our personal choices and make them ethically. But, in the capitalist system, choice is a mirage. We have equally destructive alternatives only. Permaculture shows us the way in creating sustainable and resilient systems through collective action that can lead individuals to ethical choices. Let’s move down that road rather than moralizing about people’s individual actions.

    • Auntiegrav says

      Agreed. People can only make so many intentional choices before they are worn out of them, especially if their brains are already fighting the toxins and information fatigue from typical American culture. We need a design for lowering consumption overall, rather than just a carbon tax or a cigarette tax. We need feedback at the point where decisions are made: the checkout line. That means we need some kind of price differential which makes the goods people buy reflect their actual cost to our future. In other words, a sales tax. The first thing that ‘progressive’ thinkers will say is “sales taxes are regressive”. A sales tax is a lot less regressive than a dead planet and enslaved people. The reason so many poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer is because the poor work for them and buy all of their crap. All of the things on the list are a result of cheap available commodities and services. Cheap food policies have destroyed our agriculture and physical bodies. Cheap fuel has provided air travel for the masses that really don’t need to go anywhere in particular, and cheap labor has made our corporations embrace immorality and waste instead of frugality and engagement with the living humans they depend upon.
      It’s time to get real. It’s time to get real expensive.
      Call the bluff of the Republicans: embrace the FairTax plan and then negotiate the rate upward until the air and water are clean and negotiate the prebate upward until the poor have the resources to be freely engaged in living.
      Yes, I often quote this, but it’s amazing how many times the ideas of the transition movement involve getting people to change their habits. What better way to change the path of consumerism than to make it too expensive to follow it?

  2. Jeremy Goldberg says

    What about using computers and the Internet? So much energy goes into the servers, etc. that keeps the Internet running. I see people and communities not owning cars but using the Internet a lot, including to make their living.

  3. Art says

    Heidegger is another philosopher who lived off the public purse to fill time with aimless musing and self indulgent writing. If he could be so right how could he be so wrong about the Nazi party? Show me someone who made a difference on a personal level, and I’ll take more notice.

    Having said that, it is indeed useful to consider, in the words of Gandhi, “how will what I am to do effect the poorest of the poor?” Will my plane ride help or hinder them? Will my retreating to the wilderness to eat only what I can grow help or hinder them? Indeed it is easy to use public transport where it exists, but where it does not what do you do?

  4. Steffen says

    It was an interesting and fairly well-written article until the 16 sustainability points.
    The the whole argument fell down flat on its face.
    I’m sure all the points can be argued, and are wellmeant.
    But after launching an argument against conformity, and mindlessly following the crowd, what’s up with a 16 point long list, that mixes up everything from conspiracy-theories (don’t watch TV) and paranoia to CO2 emissions? Do you even care about any of this, or are you just being funny? How about chocolate production being linked to human traficking, while we are at it? How do you propose we should imprint your own (cultural) ideas of what’s wrong with the world?
    If the author of this article was paid to estrange people from the sustainability course in general, it couldn’t do a better job of it. All thanks to that 16-points mishmash.
    Get a grip!
    Parts of this, like CO2 emissions, is deadly serious business, for all of humanity, as billions of people will lose their homes, agicultural lands and livelihoods once the ocean levels rise, just a few meters.
    And you’re concerned about gps tracking? Jesus!

  5. James R. Martin says



    Permie said:

    “But, in permaculture (which is a design system), we see the answer being in design (not personal choice or individual action). A design solution to the problem of air travel is to create an economical and low-carbon alternative….

    I’ve had a long interest in ecological design. And I’ve found that ecological design theory and practice works best when the designer also designs in pathways to adoptation and implementation of design improvements. Not to do so too often results in really cool design notions that don’t become implemented. Very often the path to widespread adoptation of innovative designs begins with “personal choice or individual action”.

    An example would be bicycle-friendly urban infrastructure (e.g., off-street urban trails, park-and-lock devices…). A community is unlikely to adopt such infrastructutal changes if few people are seen riding bikes in town. It will likely be doubted that “if we build it they will come”.

    I’m sure you can imagine many such examples.

    I agree that the world needs many integrated design solutions. But it also needs “personal choice and individual action,” and these two are not best seen as discrete. Community scale design is where it is at, and communities are comprised of individuals. Individuals–imbedded as they are in communities–*are* the pathway to implementation.

  6. says

    Actually, I think that often the fear of being seen as hypocrites stops many people from taking a moral stand. Yes, personal choice is important. But I don’t think that personal choice alone, particularly self-sacrifice, is going to save the planet. That is the environmentalists’ myth. Yes, we can make a few changes in our lives- but if the list gets too long and complicated- then we can’t live out lives. I’m not giving up my car- I live somewhere with no mass transit and few sidewalks and I’m afraid to ride a bike in traffic.

  7. says

    And of course these 16 sample points (others could be added) are the very reasons that we will never achieve a sustainable society until it is forced upon us by natural causes or the utter collapse of our current society. If these things are unpalatable to those who lean toward transition initiatives then think what level of care or importance may be attached to them by the rest of the world.
    Bring on the day! Then let us see how attitudes are changed after the dust settles, for those of us who may be lucky or unlucky enough to come out the other end, that is.

  8. James R. Martin says

    Bernie Edwards said:

    “And of course these 16 sample points (others could be added) are the very reasons that we will never achieve a sustainable society until it is forced upon us by natural causes or the utter collapse of our current society.”

    Such cynicism may seem innocent or even “objective,” but I think it is neither. Most of the people who utter this perspective are basically saying “I won’t make these sorts of changes because Those People (others) won’t do so, rendering my ‘sacrifice’ a waste of effort.” A self-fulfilling prophesy is enacted by whole populations in just this way. Personal responsibility is evaded by blaming Them.

  9. John I-Y says

    Transition draws its inspiration from Permaculture. It is an attempt at some psychological and practical preparation for massive changes ahead. It is not Green Wash. It is not about ticking off boxes and feelings good for having done so. Sixteen points? There are of course sixteen million points or as many as you care to nominate. Collapse is complex. There are feed back loops so acting in one way can have unintended contrary out comes. There is nothing authentic about taking a grab bag of stereotyped green wash measures and imagining you are virtuous because you have them covered. Nothing lasts forever and our current civilization is on the way out. This, ultimately is nobody’s fault and the adjustment and accommodation of the emerging ‘new’ is hard and morally complex. Nobody’s very good at it yet.

    • Auntiegrav says

      Nice and cogent. Thanks.
      1. Any species survives or goes extinct because it either is useful to its environment or consumptive of it overall.
      2. Civilization’s first priority is to isolate humans from the risks of their environment and allow them to consume without worry (until they can’t).
      Item 1 is the basis of all actual morality, regardless of the nuances.
      Item 2 is the basis of all imagined human exemptions from the morality of Item 1.
      We don’t have to get rid of civilization, just redesign it to incorporate Item 1.
      The opposite of consumption is generosity, not frugality.
      We not only have to do the 16 items on the list in the article, but we have to come up with all of the things that are their opposites: instead of watching TV, we have to produce entertainment from within ourselves (play). Instead of burning fossil fuels for energy, we have to use our muscles to nurture the plants that produce oxygen and take carbon out of the air. etc etc. That’s what our imagination is good for.
      The lopsided profits going to the top of civilization’s pyramid scheme have to be sent back down to the soil and land and laborers who make those profits into resources for the future. The purpose of a farmer is to care for the land, rather than to extract its value at the highest rate possible.
      This is the essence of permaculture.
      Sustainability isn’t enough: we have to give more than we take. It’s the ratio that counts. If it’s done right, then it won’t matter how many people there are to do it, because the process is self-limiting.

  10. dave says

    good luck with all of that. the world and its people will descend into world war three, global superviral disease and rampant unemployment followed by violent protest, chaos and destruction. save yourselves, you can’t save society, you can’t save the world. my advice; buy a piece of land as far away from society and civilization as you possibly can, and live there. good luck with all of that. but in the meantime, the rest of us will enjoy the most prosperous, comfortable, convenient, luxurious and spoiled civilization this Earth has ever seen. peel me a grape whilst i take another long, hot shower. eat cake. don’t forget to say goodbye.

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