04 March 2008

At war with our own culture

Yet another angle of this story I've assigned myself is that we have always made so many choices about living in the modern world, so many compromises about our health. I will recycle all my paper and glass but I will keep buying plastic stuff too. I will take only the most biodegradable dish soap camping, but I'll blow five gallons of gasoline to get up to my campsite plus a few more to get back home after, and all that that entails.

I think about lifespan when I change the kitty litter, a task during which I try to breathe as little of the dust as possible. Yet it is inevitable with all the changing and the sweeping and the vacuuming that dust will fly, and I do breathe some of it, wondering all the while whether the exposure to these chemicals will shorten my life (gross-out alert: although I have far more immediate worries about whether cats are really engaged in a long-term project to train us so they can eat our brains). And at the same moment, my partner in time is exposed to another set of chemicals and compromises because he has a corporate job and bikes back and forth every day. I can say with great certainty that all those buildings in all those office parks and plunked down at the edges of the city centers expose their occupants to wildly varying conditions. I believe a great tragedy like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was to its century as toxic conditions in seemingly innocuous atmospheres are to this century. Really, this kind of poisoning is a violation of a right I feel we don't even realize we have: the right to a safe environment. Which to me is the ultimate statement of nonviolence, an idea I keep coming back to, because there is nothing else. "You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars! You have a right to be here!" (cue "Desiderata" as recited/sung by Les Crane -- and then the parody, "You are a fluke of the universe. You have no right to be here...." along with which I still remember laughing until I cried back when I first heard it as a kid -- but I digress, again).

In urban environments especially I feel we live in this supersaturated agora in which we are not just asked to make a few choices about lifestyle but rather are bombarded with these compromise-inducing options at every turn. Daily we face food that is more convenient than nutritious. We see an obliviousness to special needs and allergenic substances that still has a long way to go (I know, I'm projecting on this one). Direct-to-consumer drug advertising is one huge example of this bombardment -- how many of us have had the experience of looking at that sad little animated character and envisioned the lightness of being experienced by the sunny actress at the ad's close (for yes, we're not total rubes, here: we know Hollywood just puts people in these scenes as placeholders), yet casting ourselves in that tiny moment of unreality TV remains an improvement on what we are experiencing for real. How can we not consider asking our doctor for the "little [color of your choice] pill" we see right there in that ad that suggests that our problems can be solved (but not without the warning beats of all those icky side effects and adverse reactions and compromises we stand to allow into our lives if we choose this particular route to "wellness")?

Conspiracy? Nah. Just follow the money.

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