Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Musings: Ignorance Is Bliss

The roosters were screaming at a one-day-past-full moon that was sliding down in a snakeskin cloud sky when the dogs and I went out walking this morning. We headed east, looking up, where the world was growing light, rather than down, where it remained dark, walking toward the place where the first streaks of pale gold were turning into soft brush strokes of pink, past the goats lying peacefully in dew-damp pastures, past more roosters, past a stream that gurgled softly, toward Venus, brighter even than the brightness of approaching dawn.

By the time we returned, the birds that live in my yard were singing and twittering more loudly than the roosters, and the rosy flush had stretched all the way across the heavens to turn the verdant slopes of Makaleha into rust, the first of many shifts it will experience this day — heck, this hour.

Since interviewing Adam Asquith a week ago, I’ve been thinking about the concept of sustainability, and what it might take to shift western civilization — or more specifically, those of us inhabiting this particularly speck in the Pacific — into a mindset that would make such a way of existing in the world possible.

And I’ve pretty much determined that it’s not going to happen, or at least, not on any widespread scale, barring a catastrophe that leaves us with no other options.

Creating a sustainable Kauai is, like aloha, one of those concepts that is embraced by most in theory, but only a very few in practice, primarily because it requires us to make profound changes first in our values and worldview, and then in how we live. In other words, it demands the conscious attention, hard work, connection to our environment and even hardship and sacrifice that modern life, ironically, strives so mightily to eliminate.

So instead, sustainability has become an intellectual exercise, something some of us talk about. Malama Kauai, for example, is devoting all of 20 minutes to it this evening — the same amount of time it is giving the mayor to discuss his Sustainability HoloHolo 2020 plan in an event that seems intended more to publicize a political alliance that chew on this meaty issue.

I wonder, will the mayor take the bus to the event — oops, no can, it doesn’t run that late, or traverse the side street to Common Ground — or ride a bicycle all the way from Lihue?

And how, exactly, does sustainability fit into miniature golf courses and solar farms on ag land, celebrating the anniversary of PMRF, pumping thousands of dollars into tourism promotion, and a campaign war chest filled with contributions from the construction industry?

Which is all a way of saying that it’s so much easier to talk and plan and chat and mingle than track a wild pig or coax food from the soil or gore the sacred cows in order to totally revamp our completely unsustainable economy.

I don’t mean to knock Malama Kauai, which has done some good things, or even the mayor, who hasn’t, but to point out how this whole sustainability discourse is just that, which is why I tend to dismiss it as a giant waste of time.

And to see the mayor positioning himself as a leader is not only laughable, but wrongheaded, because sustainability is not, and never has been, a top down, centralized endeavor, as a look at the people who are actually living sustainably in this world makes clear.

If we want to get serious about living sustainably, which I am not at all convinced most of us really do, since we’re not yet forced into it, we need to start by looking at how much we can give up, do without. Or as Adam said, rather than debating how to develop energy projects that will keep people on the grid with unlimited electricity on demand, we need to think of how many hours a day we can live with brown outs or blackouts, and then figure out how to meet those reduced needs with small projects that serve individual households or neighborhoods.

Yet all of our talk about sustainability is couched in this giant disconnect of continuing life essentially as we now know it, which we have already seen is clearly not in any way, shape or form sustainable.

Rather than debating which of our ag lands are important enough to save, we need to be planting all of them, because if you look back at the history of the kanaka maoli, who did sustain themselves here with no outside imports, it’s clear that they were growing food in every available square inch.

As Adam noted, sustainability requires an intensively managed landscape, which runs counter to our aesthetic ideals of open spaces and wilderness and lush lowlands, and our modern mindset of humans distinct from nature.

Living on this island in a sustainable way also requires us to cultivate two values that have gone decidedly out of style: patience and delayed gratification.

But first, it requires that we get honest about how we are able to live the way we currently do, which is possible, to use Adam’s words, “only because we have the ability to externalize our needs and demands. We let someone else exploit their landscape. And it’s largely indigenous people that pay the price for it. Our demand is destroying indigenous people and the remaining resources all over the world.”

“Ignorance,” he said, “is bliss. But now that I know that, I know that I have to find another way and teach my children those values.”

When we start talking about and planning for sustainability within the context of those profound value changes, perhaps we’ll be ready to achieve it. Until then, it’s essentially a feel-good exercise -- nothing more than mental masturbation.


Anonymous said...

i love your perspective, and your honesty and this quote
I don’t mean to knock Malama Kauai, which has done some good things, or even the mayor, who hasn’t

Anonymous said...

You'll forgive us if we dissent from your dark vision of a future that rejects your austerity and neo-Victorian admonitions. You're wrong that sustainability means each must track a wild pig or coax food from the soil. (And we're certain you're not sustaining yourself by either of those activities). You're wrong that sustainability means an end to what you might derisively call progress - as if consumer goods can never be made sustainably. And you're wrong that your vision is smarter or more ethical than those of us who strongly disagree with you.

Anonymous said...

One could plan to be unstainable but that is contradictory to the definition.

Once again, I feel pity for you and your lack of vision for our humanity.

Please, just step aside when we get there without you.

Anonymous said...

Malama Kauai is a front for young hippies who are trust fund babies. They are actually yuppies in disguise. They are only sustainable because their rich parents are sustaining them.

Anonymous said...

Lead by example Joan

Is your house off the grid? Do you have water catchment? etc.

You do nothing but sit on your narcissistic high horse pointing out the faults of others.

Despite what you think, people can evolve and are evolving towards more sustainable practices.

Spread positivity and optimism. You will have a happier life.

Dawson said...

"Is your house off the grid? Do you have water catchment? etc."
Translation: STFU.

"You do nothing but sit on your narcissistic high horse pointing out the faults of others."
Translation: I don't want to be reminded of my megawatt-sucking, carbon-crapping lifestyle.

"Despite what you think, people can evolve and are evolving towards more sustainable practices."
Translation: Kauai's government, utilities and tourism industry are doing a great job.

"Spread positivity and optimism. You will have a happier life."
Translation: STFU.

Anonymous said...

Dawson said...
Translation: STFU.

That's not how I read that comment. Joan holds others to impossibly high standards that she does not impose on herself. She's full of ugly, disparaging criticism not only for people who are the problem but even for people who do good work trying to help. She's a nag. She can't think of a positive thing to say. As if saving the world is a matter of sitting on your ass in front of a computer complaining about every one else's efforts. If she didn't work at the food shelf she'd be criticizing those who do for not solving world hunger. Don't any of you sheep get tired of her incessant, ineffectual bitching?

Anonymous said...

Ask Adam about his deal with Bruce Laymon to give credibility to a faux ag subdivision.

Anonymous said...

Come on she loves the attention.
You know the children who will accept any attention a hug or a slap.
But she does use pigen correctly...

Anonymous said...

Loved this one Joan. Another successful thoughts to keyboard.

Especially this one which I ʻve always been afraid to speak out about the ʻlook at me do-goodersʻ:

I don’t mean to knock Malama Kauai, which has done some good things, or even the mayor, who hasn’t, but to point out how this whole sustainability discourse is just that, which is why I tend to dismiss it as a giant waste of time.

Adam has a realistic and down to earth perspective. Itʻs inspiring to listen to him.

Looks like you really pissed off some the neighborhoods stinks on this one. They are oohhh ssssooooo vicious.

Anonymous said...

I like these couple of quotes from another interesting, akamai woman, Agnes Repplier:

"There are few nudities so objectionable as the naked truth."

"The clear-sighted do not rule the world, but they sustain and console it."

It's one thing to respectfully disagree, but some of your critics seem so brainless and mean-spirited while preaching positivity and light, and talking about leading by example, to boot! Puhleez, gimme a break!

Anonymous said...

Hi Joan. Don't let the naysayers on your comment section get you down. You speak the truth where the truth needs to be spoken. You give a voice to the voiceless. Keep up the great work! Aloha.

Anonymous said...

Keep speaking the truth. ..must have hit a nerve.

Anonymous said...

well....... sustainability might be off the grid for ya but there seems to be plenty of complainability to go around for all.

Sustainability is a utopian concept at best in this day and age, and although a noble one, not high on everybody's agenda.

The one thing(s) that is truly worthy of an effort towards sustainability is ones heart/soul. If we work on that the rest falls rightly into place.

Oh yeah, don't forget to prepare for the rupture this saturday May 21st

Anonymous said...

Keep speaking the truth. ..must have hit a nerve.

translation: Keep carping from the sidelines...must have annoyed a doer.

Anonymous said...

Joan, you are the first one to call out the elephant in the room, the thing self-aggrandizing talk radio shows and hot-air politicians feed off like rats in a sewer: sustainability.

Another word that has been contorted, distorted, diluted so much that it is now a misnomer.
And NONE of them truly knows or understands the word/meaning.
So letʻs try a meaningful phrase to replace it: how about, Living Without Corporate Dictatorship.

Anonymous said...

i tried to live walking on kauai. i got up to 50 miles a week. i had objects thrown at me out of car windows, called a fing haole, an ugly bitch, twice cars veered at me off the road as if they were going to hit me and then sped off laughing, a car deliberately slammed and swerved in loose gravel so i got small rocks in my eyes and then a car came on the shoulder and hit me going 60 and kept going. about 6 cars that saw kept driving but the touristr got a pic of his license. kpd laughed at me when i tried to follow up. as a child walking it was the same thing.

Anonymous said...

The prior post ("4:52 am") perfectly captures the futility of "sustainability" measures on 'lil Kauai ... such are the attitudes of the "enlightened local boys"...

How's the cockfighting farm been doing ???

Anonymous said...

I'm calling total bullshit on the 4:54 AM comment. Never happened. Hit at 60 mph you'd be dead. And no one would have passed you by or would the KPD have laughed at you had you survived.

Anonymous said...


I think that says it all. We are too busy watching the drama's on TV news to focus on the real issues here. "What Me Worry?"...and in our culture of plenty...most will not wake up until the Sh-t Hits the fan with a Hurricane, Tsunami, and disruption of food supply to our island from the mainland.

To change the paradigm we all live more cheap stuff, instead of work hard in your yard and grow it...will take a break in our physical reality. Weather or War.

No problem for the rich of course...they will find a way to bribe their survival, but how will the rest survive in the future? Nothing planned ....nothing gained.

Don't shoot the messenger. The writing is on the wall.

We will continue growing our own food and sharing it with our friends and neighbors who also are beginning to farm....using not chemicals to pollute the environment, hope for the best, and support our local organic commercial farms....
...while the "non believers" sneer and jeer and continue to live in the past.

Dr Shibai

Unknown said...

As always I appreciate what I see as sincere attempt at dialogue, Joan. I don't agree with a portion of what you say, but you have opened the door for discourse. There's an edge of cynicism, but I can live with it because I can see the broader point to your musings. I also have great respect for Adam and am often frustrated at the tiny steps others (including myself) seem to focus on sometimes. My only sharp criticism here is of the anonymous commentators. It is flat out IMPOSSIBLE to advance a community discussion on 'sustainability' anonymously, and it is chickenshit to spit at people from behind the electronic fence of the internet. It is also a lot easier to be disrespectful, which, in my view, is one of the more unsustainable aspects of our society. But keep it up, because that way you don't have to answer for your soda slerping/twinkie eating ass while you play nintendo after trolling around the local blogs.

Back to your main point, question is "How do we get there from here?" Do we just tell all those unsustainable consumers to GO HOME and then go back to the land (with, according to you, plastic bags but without the hippie implications) or do we try to move towards it? My view is that the trend will, as you imply, increase with system pressure, but that you have to play within the system as it exists today to one degree or another. I also feel that criticism alone will not get us there. Is the Mayor's plan perfect or even anywhere near? No, it's not. But in my view, it is sincere, and he is willing to share it. That means we can work together constructively.

Thanks for contributing, and I hope your garden is doing well. Mine needs some attention. And by the way, you gutless anonymous commentator, I don't have a trust fund, I just drive an 11 year old car and duct tape it together when it breaks, and otherwise get by without a bunch of money so that I can be part of a community effort to move in the right direction. And I feel lucky about it too.

Ben Sullivan
Malama Kauai

Anonymous said...

"I just drive an 11 year old car and duct tape it together when it breaks..."
There's the problem cars and duct tape twenith century marvels we can't live with out.
Get a horse and cart then call me out for wanting to drive and being able to buy the gas!

Anonymous said...

re: my post at 4:52am I assure you every word of my post is completely true. I would not commit libel regarding the KPD. The van swerved onto the shoulder, hit me with it's mirror and a "slap" louder than a gunshot echoed across the valley. The pack of cars, including the one that hit me, continued to drive. The tourist couple that saw the van swerve, hit me and leave, captured the license plate on their cell phone camera. They returned to take me to the ER. When I followed up with the police 1.5wk later, I asked if they had spoken to the driver and was told they could 'not locate the vehicle' and the man on the phone at KPD chuckled and laughed at me. He seemed surprised at me following up and asking if they needed any further info. from me. I have insurance papers with the man's name yet I have no idea what happened or have seen his name in the 'police blotter'. Of course it could have been another person driving his vehicle, but they could have also been given an alias (considering who the man is) just like the local who inflicted severe child abuse for 13 years since I was six and then attacked me verbally and physically as an adult woman and punctured holes in the steel of my vehicle with a weapon, who was allowed to use an alias name in the newspaper police blotter. (He was also only charged with property damage, not assault.) Also, the police ignored my report that he had abused me for 13 years. Which is too bad, considering his involvement with children. You can call me a liar, but I am have eyewitness testimony.