Friday, November 14, 2008

Our separation from reality

I have often heard people say, "you aren't living in the real world" refering to someone's sheltered life. It is generally considered an insult to say that someone doesn't live in the real world. It suggests that they are sheltered and different. It suggests that they are ignorant of what is real (whatever that is).

I'm going to suggest that very few, if any, Americans are really acquainted with the real world. Sure, we all have experiences that expose us to some brutal realities, but from the grand perspective, we are ignorant of much of what goes on around us. It's not that we are trying to shelter ourselves, but we live in a deceptive culture and, intentionally or not, we are not exposed to what is going on around us.

I think this is going to work better with examples.

When is the last time you saw a chicken or cow slaughtered? What are the sights, sounds, smells and feelings involved?

What are the effects of auto emissions? When is the last time you really examined what comes out of the tailpipe? How does it smell? what color is it? how long could you breath it (please don't conduct any tests to answer that)?

Who made the shoes that you are wearing? What was their working environment? How much did they get paid?

I could think of more examples, but I'm going to stick with these three because I'm a little more familiar with two of them. I also feel that sticking with just three examples will help exemplify the fact that I am not claiming to be all knowing or experienced in the world. I am just as ignorant as the next guy but I'm trying to recognize that and trying to learn.

Back to the examples...

I have never seen a cow slaughtered. I've seen pictures of clean slaughter houses, and I've heard the sounds of a screaming cow as I road by a slaughter house the other night (I assumed it was being slaughtered, but it may have just been unhappy about dinner), but I've never really seen it. I have seen a chicken slaughtered, but it was a long time ago. I remember it running around with its head cut off. I remember lots of blood. I remember being disgusted trying to get the feathers out, I didn't like that at all.

My goal here is not to be gross, but this is a real process that is closely connected to the animals that you eat. Being unaware of it doesn't mean that it didn't happen, it just makes you ignorant to that. I think the meat industry wants us to be ignorant, and I don't think it's good to be ignorant. We should understand what goes into our food.

Another comment related to food, but not meat- I gave out sunflower heads to students in my golf classes as prizes. I was amazed at how many people commented, "you mean the seeds grow in the flower?" Everyone in the class was familiar with sunflower seeds, but not more than 5% knew how they grew.

Now I'm going to talk about car exhaust. I could talk about bike rides stuck behind stinky trucks or other experiences on my bike when the air was less clean than it should have been because of automobiles. I'm not though. I think this is the perfect time to share a story about my first car.

Even before I turned 16, I owned my dream car. It was a 1972 VW bus. I remember taking my bus to get the emissions tested. I was a little worried that I would fail, so I did everything everyone told me to. I warmed it up, and I added stuff to the gas tank. It was running great. I went to the station and they put me up on the treadmill type device (it really just lifted the rear wheels so they could spin). I 'drove' the bus while the guy stuck the sensor up the tailpipe to measure the exhaust. I'm not completely sure how it happened (there are a lot of things that happened with that bus that I couldn't explain), but as the test proceeded, smoke started pouring out of the vents in the dashboard. I continued the test because the engine wasn't overheating and there was no sign of fire (well, except for the smoke). The test continued and it got hard to breath in the bus. There I was with my head hanging out of the bus to breath, just sure I was going to fail my emissions test and have to find a way to get the bus fixed. Just as I was contemplating getting out of the bus and seeking air to breath, the tester came back with the paper that said that I had passed. I didn't tell him about the smoke on the inside, but I would be surprised if he hadn't seen it. In hindsite, I'm guessing that the only reason that the bus passed emissions was because all of the emissions were coming out the dashboard instead of coming out of the exhaustpipe where things were being measured.

The moral of the story is that you can't breath car exhaust for very long. Don't try this at home, but realize that just because your exhaust is going into the open air doesn't mean that we can do that forever without consequences.

The third set of questions was about your shoes. I don't have any idea who made my shoes (I'm actually wearing slippers right now). This is the point that I really want to make. We, the consumer, has been seperated from things that we should care about. If I had to purchase my shoes from the factory, and I saw that the workers at the factory were being treated poorly and and were not making enough money to survive, I would try to find a different factory to buy my shoes where the employees were treated properly. I would pay more for shoes made by a factory dedicated to improving the lives of my fellow man.

In large part, consumers don't have any idea what goes into the products that we buy. We see misleading advertisements and a picture perfect display case. We see prices and sales, but we don't see the consequences of our purchase. We don't have any idea of the reality of those providing us our goods. We are ignorant and separated from reality. At this point, commercial ventures are seeking to keep it that way. I think it would do us all a lot of good to see where our products come from. It amazes me at how difficult that is.

Wow, that is bordering on the world's longest post. I'll try to be concise next time, then maybe someone will read it.


Emily A. W. said...

I completely agree. Remember when you were a little kid and you asked all of those questions? The world was a huge mystery with all sorts of unending riddles.

I think adults need to hang out with kids more often and turn off the TV and video games. They need to stop working away their lives in the pursuit of low quality food and products and dedicate themselves to meaningful activities.

I swear 90% of the population of the United States is half asleep to the real world most of the time. Thats what public schools and daycares have done for us. Killed off any natural curiosity and given us a consumer driven world in return. Weehaw.

cyclingred said...

Interesting things to think about. We are confronted with so many more consumer choices than people who are just barely getting the basics, food, clothing and shelter. It would be mind boggling to imagine where it all comes from.

Recently the Fed Gov. just passed COOL(country of origin labeling) for food products. I don't know the real benefit of that.

I have by the way toured a cattle slaughter and chicken slaughter facility. It's not real pleasant.

The emissions test sounds pretty funny.