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Economic Self Interests vs. Ethical Benefits

Srucara's picture

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Aldo Leopold states of Ethics: (in his The Land Ethic) "We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love or otherwise have faith in" and that "Ethics are possibly a kind of community instinct-in-the-making."

I agree that our current societal values depend heavily on economic-self interests with respect to our individual and collective impacts on the environment and land-ownership. If we do not see an immediate benefit of an action base don self-interests - we will not engage in it. To give a simple example, this is why on a warm sunny day, we might decide to throw our wet clothes in the dryer and come back to dry clothes in an hour rather than make use of the sunshine and hang them on the balcony for a few hours (and save energy and offer long term benefits for our clothing fabric material as well). Generally it seems that the choices that we make are based on immediate-self interests and a view of ethics as Leopold puts it, may help us make different choices. Ethics can be seen as more communal values based on ideas and beliefs an interconnected peoples may support. If a communal value was to reduce energy consumption - then perhaps we would choose to dry our clothes outside. I have a funny story to share about this, in fact:

Over the summer, my grandmother had visited me in Pennsylvania from India. When I was a child, clothes were washed by hand - and dried by hand. My grandparents, in consistent with their values and beliefs - still do the same (washing clothes by hand). So, in my house, my grandmother insisted on washing her clothes by hand and drying them in the sunshine. She would wash her sarees with her own hands and then hang them on the balcony on our deck. Soon, our next door neighbors had sent an angry letter to the Home Association that my grandmother's act of drying her clothing on the balcony "was an inappropriate and uncivilized act unfit for the community at large." Soon, we had received a warning from the home association to stop drying our clothing on our balcony immediately. By this time, fortunately, my grandmother had left for India and did not have any knowledge of this incident. I however, was saddened by the lack of value my neighbors saw in using more environmentally conservative methods in living.

I think an essential point of change and transformation lies in societal ethics and communal values - if we can begin to adopt ethics that allow us to place more sustainable concepts and ways of living at the forefront and place less sustainable - economic-self-interest-oriented ways of living towards the back, we can begin taking steps towards a more holistic, respectful, and fulfilling relationship with the environment. These steps can be as simple as drying clothes outside on a warm sunny day, or even allowing someone else to do so.