Thursday, April 22, 2010
The Empathic Civilization
Happy Earth Day! I was 17 when the first Earth Day was celebrated. It was a tender age at which to receive the shocking news that the way we lived was extremely destructive to plants and animals. I knew war was not healthy for children and other living things, but my basic belief at the time was that sex, drugs and rock 'n roll would save the world. I had never considered the impact of the gluttonous, wasteful American lifestyle on all the other species we share space with here on this beautiful planet.
When my mother, and so many other early feminists, bought piles of war is not healthy medallions, bumper stickers, posters, pins, tote bags and t-shirts, I'm sure they were - at that moment in time - completely unaware of the truth that the production of all that junk was equally unhealthy for children and other living things, such as animals and plants, rivers, forests and oceans. I'm sure she only thought about how important it was to make the statement.
Until the 1970's, we drove around in gas guzzlin', super charged cars without giving that practice a second thought. In fact, taking a "Sunday drive" was thought to be a lovely idea.
The food we ate? Oh. My. God. The late '60's was a truly hideous time in terms of consciousness about food. Hamburger Helper. Canned veggies. Old, withered looking iceberg lettuce with transfat filled "creme" salad dressing, high fructose corn syrup in everything, margarine, TV dinners, "soft serve" ice cream, Cool Whip, instant coffee with "cremer" - an awful powder made from god knows what. "Instant potatoes?" What the hell is that? Fake food and fast food were all the rage. No one I knew tried to figure out where their food came from, or how wholesome it might be.
According to dictionary.com, the term endangered species was not part of the American lexicon until 1965 and did not come into common use until at least ten years later. Though organic farming was coined in a book in 1940, no one I knew used that term or thought about the impact of pouring pesticides on food until after the first Earth Day. I know there were earth saavy people before that, but I didn't know any of them. Now I don't know anyone who isn't aware of these issues.
I love watching films from the early 1960's. When someone is ill or faints, a caring person will inevitably pour brandy down their throats. When they wake up, someone will hand them a cigarette. People in 1960's movies smoked cigarettes while in the hospital. Wow. Hmmm ... unclear on the concept, eh? When a film character is experiencing grief or sadness, inevitably a caring someone will say, "Stop crying. Here. Have a martini and a cigarette." Wow.
So many things have changed since the first Earth Day. I think Jeremy Rifkin is correct when he says that our species is capable of great empathy. It was from our kind hearts that Earth Day was created. It's true that we were so naive then. But we started waking up at that time, and have been in the process of becoming more empathic every year, to children, animals, plants, rivers, bays, oceans and the land, too. American consciousness is much more evolved than in the "good old days." It is! Believe me.
Hug a tree today, yes? I say yes. Happy Earth Day! And many more.