In a recent conversation about thrivability, population issues came up. Will co-creating a thrivable world mean that we control population and to what extent? I am sure some could make an argument for a radical altering of the human population as a strategy to get to a thrivable world, considering what a drain on resources so many people on the planet are. This is not what the person in conversation with me was suggesting. However, I can imagine it. And I can imagine the case for it. Do we all die from impending crisis, or do we make some difficult choices about who gets to live so that the species and the planet can continue. Let me be super clear, I do not think that particular choice is feasible nor worth pursuing.
However, something very clear emerged for me in that conversation. We are already choosing who gets to live and who dies. Sure we don’t usually use guns or put them in camps. Well sorta…if you consider refugee camps. And no, we don’t have their names and their ID numbers. But as long as we have the technology to save lives AND we aren’t using them because we claim money is a scarce resource…then we are choosing for people without adequate access to money to die. Maybe not all of them…but far too many than we would like to admit and keep our conscious clear.
Sometimes people have to die for others to live. Sometimes war might even be worth having. I can’t feel right about making some unilateral claim that all death is bad nor that many should end up dying so that some other maintains their right to live. I think this is a messy business. I am talking about life and death here, but it is present in other less charged spaces too – the responsibility we are not owning collectively.
If we know what it takes to save a life, and we don’t save it… then we are already choosing life and death for others. If we know what it takes to save a life, and saving it won’t take anything away from our ability to live… then we have made an “interesting” ethical choice. And we better thank our lucky stars we are on this side of the equation.
Creating a thrivable world is not about becoming responsible for the lives of others and their well being. A thrivable world is about recognizing that we are already responsible for the lives of others and their well being, and then making conscious compassionate choices.
The big example that comes to mind here is malaria. The US used to have tons of malaria in certain parts of the country. Then DDT killed it off, mostly. But before DDT killed it off in Africa, we realized how horrible it was on the environment. So DDT is used in very limited circumstances in Africa (and elsewhere). And we run charity programs – voluntary programs – to disperse insecticide treated nets. In some cases we hope a market option will work (although we killed the DDT market option). Often the charities involved play on our pity and compassion. And it works and is true… Malaria is a horrible disease, clogging blood flow, preventing people from working and learning, weighing down the possibilities of large sections of Sub-Saharan Africa. But we try to hold it at arms length – them over there…those poor things can’t help themselves… Hello? We participated in this situation. Maybe not you personally, but the culture and country you belong to has. We are complicit in it. It is not them over there…the ones we…over here…are allowing to die…because there isn’t enough pity to go around. It is us over there, under a different set of circumstances – ones we are partly responsible for…and it is not pity, but our shame that pulls us under into inaction.
Do we hang our heads in shame, complicit in the collapse of humanity and evolutionary progress? Or do we shake off the malaise, acknowledge our responsibility, and leap forward to help ourselves and our kind? You have both a responsibility to do your part and a responsibility to make sure that others doing their part are networked with you to address the issue. You are one of the lucky ones future generations need most. You may not be able to change all your behaviors, nor live some pure life of no moral gray space. I know I can’t. Can we admit that while we strive for a thrivable future, the path forward is complex, and it requires us all holding metaphorical hands. Together, we can become less complicit in our own destruction. Together, we can hold our heads up high singing halalujah for our actions taken under our shared responsibilities. Together, we can co-create a thrivable world.