“Andollo, a self-described Christian pacifist freegan vegetarian anarchist, never stops thinking of ways to live more lightly on beleaguered planet Earth.”
The article cursorily describes my particular brand of environmental activism: composting, foraging (euphemism for dumpster diving?), minimizing consumption, and grey water recycling.
Better than zero impact “is having a positive impact,” said Andollo.
Still reeling from having read the article first thing in the morning, I received an e-mail from my sister exhorting me to “do something profoundly useful with [my] radicalism.”
Radicalism? This word made me uncomfortable.
Now I am well aware that some people regard me a radical. But it should be noted that the term radical is relative. For example, some conservatives in the US have no qualms calling Obama a radical liberal, whereas he would be considered a moderate conservative throughout Europe. Similarly, some consider me a radical because I dumpster dive or make my living as a busker. But I know that there are many folks far more radical than I. One of my freegan friends in NYC doesn’t use the subway. Ever. She walks everywhere she goes, sometimes from Harlem to downtown Manhattan. Many other freegans squat, refuse phones and computers, or volunteer to save buffalo in Montana for a few months each year. I can’t touch these people.
So the radical exists on a gradient where s/he is identified only in relation to others on the gradient. To some, I’m a radical; I just see myself as a regular Joe, doing what I can to make a positive impact. If that makes me a radical, it is more telling of our culture – an indictment that it is normative not only to have a negative or neutral impact at best, but to be ambivalent or complacent about one’s impact altogether – than it is of my own character and so-called activism.
Nevertheless I am indeed proud of the work I do to make my world and city peaceful, just, and otherwise better. So what was it about this word – radicalism – that so irked me? If not the root, it must be the –ism on the end.
Now I don’t usually shun the suffix. I’ve found that it can be very helpful in describing my political philosophy, acknowledging my subscription to anarchism. And I certainly take no offense to environmentalism – indeed I am proud to be positively associated with such, even in a citywide publication like amNY. So what was the problem?
Simply: -isms denote a belief system or structure. The problem with the word radicalism is that it boils down a conscientious lifestyle to a philosophy not about peace, justice, and progress, but about some kind of radical ideal. As though to be radical is an existential pinnacle to be reached, an end in itself.
I, for one, have no interest in this notion. I’m just an ordinary guy listening to his conscience. I don’t hope to be a radical, I only strive to be a decent human being. In this endeavor I may appear a radical in comparison to others, perhaps. But if I’m a radical, then I’m only a very ordinary one! I’m not a hero, I don’t have super powers, and I’m hardly up to anything that your average person couldn’t do, should s/he feel so compelled.
I suppose the “ordinary radical” conjunction, so closely associated with Shane Claiborne’s Simple Way community in Philadelphia, is finally beginning to make sense to me – living a life of radical love and existential responsibility is really quite ordinary!
Click here for part 2. http://bit.ly/fGYKBP