Why I am not a militant anything

Not being a militant anything may be seen as lacking a solid position or opinion, or being “wishy-washy”. However, I feel it is not so much about not having a stand as it is about “life cycle thinking”, navigating through the web of social relationships, and being willing to be proven wrong with sound logic, facts and moral reasoning within a particular context. Allow me to elaborate.

For example, people have asked me:

  1. Are you vegan / vegetarian?
  2. Shouldn’t we all move towards shampoo bars and say no to all plastic?
  3. How do you feel about working with “evil corporations” (e.g. FMCG, fossil fuel, aviation, etc.)?
  4. Do you think capitalism can save the planet?
  5. Would you call yourself an environmentalist?

Now, I won’t endeavor to answer each question at great length in this post, but simply illustrate how things aren’t black and white.

  1. Are you vegan / vegetarian?
    Not strictly, but I am largely vegetarian whenever I cook or buy food for myself. Since moving to the UK in September, I have only purchased meat to cook twice (adobo for my flatmates, because it’s part of how I’d like to share a bit of my culture / country), bought meat to eat twice (the salted beef bagel in Shoreditch — I just wanted to try it one time, but it was so good that I shared one with a friend the next time I went back), and when I was fed meals by gracious hosts who accommodated my need for plants in my diet but whose hospitality and culture I also wished to fully experience (e.g. two Sunday Roasts).
    The decision to be vegan / vegetarian is also very context specific and begs to ask where you are based, what food is available locally, and what plants you choose to include in your diet. And yes, chocolate, cereal, and potato chips technically come from plants but excessively processed carbs (and mock meat) aren’t my idea of plants. Imported and off-season produce (i.e. Strawberries in the winter, mangoes from the Philippines) is not super sustainable either. My reasons for being largely vegetarian are for the environment, and what is more sustainable to eat depends on what is available locally. Here, there is an abundance of locally grown broccoli, cauliflower, “fresh greens”, parsnips, and I try to make the most of those options available. Every now and then, I’ll also have a spontaneous “feeding program” where I cook veg for friends and help them realize the delish things we could make with plants. I am hopeful with this persuasion.
    As author Michael Pollan says: “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much.” And I feel that’s a good enough rule of thumb. Apart from this, I continuously find other ways to reduce my environmental impact by consuming less stuff, biking/walking/taking public transport where I can, reducing flights and waste in general, etc.
  2. Shouldn’t we all move towards shampoo bars and say no to all plastic?
    If it works for you, if you have time to make it / if you have someone to buy it from, and you can afford it, by all means, go for the shampoo bar. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to chastise people who don’t make the same choice for whatever reasons: hindi hiyang yung shampoo bar sa kanila, they have a unique scalp / hair condition / allergic reaction to shampoo bars they’ve tried, they don’t have affordable and available options that work for them.
    Furthermore, having worked with a Filipino social enterprise that has a line of beverages in PET bottles and glass, I also sympathize with the food industry’s dependence on plastic to package and preserve their products, and uphold healthy and safety standards. I’ve also learned that it would be optimal only if the glass is recycled within 300 kilometers of where the waste is generated. [1] However, we also have to think about why we’re even so far from the source of our food, and what the possibilities would be if our food didn’t have to travel so far for it to get to us.
    In a conversation with some friends a while back, I remember discussing how plastic has also just gotten such bad PR because people deem it so disposable. However, if people treated it more like gold, we’d think twice before throwing it away. I suppose in an ideal world, we still wouldn’t have something so artificial and indestructible, but right now, I still can’t imagine what we might do to transport food in airtight packaging or replace medical equipment like syringes and tubes. Good to know that there are innovations in plastic packaging alternatives made with algae or what-have-you, but I’ve yet to see the actual product and process. Ultimately though, I believe the problems in the food system needs to be addressed, and that may take a while. In the meantime, plastic and alternatives to it may still be necessary, but can definitely be reduced.
  3. How do you feel about working with “evil corporations” (e.g. FMCG, fossil fuel, aviation, etc.)?
    I would feel hesitant about it, so I approach such engagements with caution. At the same time, I’d still like to believe there are genuine people with genuine intentions in those organizations. No one wants to intentionally trash the planet and abuse people.
    It’s not until we engage with them in a conversation, and better understand the complex challenges that they face (especially for those businesses whose core products are so inherently unsustainable), that we can hope to steer them onto a more sustainable path.
    Even if it begins as a marketing / PR initiative, I’d still run with it for as long as they commit to a plan of action and actually do the work that needs to be done in order to really claim something newsworthy. It’s just important in such cases to hold these companies accountable and not simply be used as an agent for corporate greenwashing.
    For others though, who obstinately oppose or deny climate change is happening and continue to rape and pillage the planet, well…While we should be nice, we should call people out on their bullshit and get angry when it’s called for. If nice attempts to communicate fall upon deaf ears, then we should reconsider our communication strategy.
  4. Do you think capitalism can save humanity and the planet?
    Honestly, I’m not sure. And again, it probably depends on context as well. How do you define capitalism? Would it be a reimagined version of our current notion of capitalism? What mechanisms/regulations would be put into place where this form of capitalism is rolled out? What resources are available? Who has access to them?
    In the circles that I’ve moved around prior to coming to the UK, we always talked about the importance of social enterprises, and it’s also important to embedding better sustainability strategies and practices in the bigger corporations too. We believed that countries have “developed” through trade and not aid. We believe that business could be used as a force for good, and what has previously cause the rape and pillage of the planet can now be used to help regenerate it.
    But then, we do live in a finite planet, and with capitalism, there is a preconceived notion of ceaseless growth [2], whether it be in big MNCs or smaller SEs. Even if we say we’ll create more jobs in service sectors like education, healthcare, creativity & the arts, and sustainability, won’t all these require some additional resources too? But then what is the alternative? Socialism? How would we redistribute wealth that is already concentrated with the 1%? [3] I could go on with this ongoing internal debate, but I’ll stop here.
  5. Would you call yourself an environmentalist?
    On my Instagram feed [4], I posted about identity, and how it’s good when our commitment to our idealized selves is so embedded in our identity that it compels us to act in a way that is aligned with our deepest values or the idea we have of ourselves in our minds. However, when we become so attached to it that it becomes an “us vs. them” scenario, nobody truly wins. We hold on so steadfastly to our views that we don’t allow ourselves to see things from another perspective or include other necessary people in a particular conversation.
    Would I call myself an environmentalist? I might say I am an environmental advocate in that I speak up on behalf of the environment, but to identify myself as an “environmentalist” in ideological terms sort of presupposes that I would prioritize the health of the planet over the health of people. And while in some cases, it may be nice to just do that, I also say that “sustainability is as much about people as it is about the planet”. For me, humanity is at the heart of the zero waste / climate change / sustainability movement. Furthermore, while I never identified as an environmental activist, I do feel I may begin my share of peaceful picketing with Extinction Rebellion [5] or when I go home, with peaceful climate action groups in the Philippines [6] (and I’d be happy to walk alongside Catholic groups even if I don’t identify myself as such, nor as an atheist or agnostic or any other religion).
    However, while I wish to add myself to the warm bodies in such events, I still wish to be seen as someone that those these groups are rebelling against (i.e. big corps) can talk to without feeling defensive because I’m an “environmentalist”.
Photo c/o Aaron Favila/AP via csmonitor.com

I don’t want to be a militant anything, because that is one thing I loathed growing up: people who were so certain and stubborn and self-assured that they refused to listen to what anyone else was saying. And to be a good communicator, negotiator and influencer, one needs those skills of listening.

Not having a definitive position does not automatically indicate a lack of knowledge (and we could argue that there are hardly any 100% all-knowing, infallible people, and that we should be wary of anyone who claims to be; and that “wisest is he who knows he does not know”, as Socrates said). It is about having the humility to accept new information (even when it may debunk beliefs we had held so dearly).

Context is key. Not having a definitive position is also about understanding the unique context of any individual, community or organization in which we wish to enact change, and trying to meet them where they are.

It’s about engaging with people with a bit more compassion and empathy, and figuring out how they developed and perhaps got stuck in their worldview or situation.

Lastly, when we create events through MUNI, or when I post any sort of online content, my goal is to start a conversation and not necessarily have the last word. Be wary of anyone who gives you across the board answers to anything without asking about the specific context in which the question is to be applied.

And with that, are there things you feel we should be militant about? What would they be? I’d love to know your thoughts! Log in to leave a comment, or connect with me on Instagram, Twitter, or via my contact form.

[2019.02.10 NOTE: I anticipated that there would be those who might question my stand and what I’m conveying with my subject title, and you can see our detailed exchange in this Facebook post. But if you’re too lazy to click the link, wait for a new window to load, and read through comments, TLDR: Be nice, but get angry when it’s called for / when repeated attempts remain unheard, and call people out on their bullshit.]

Links / references:

  1. Is circular economy always good? | Jen Horn https://jen-horn.wixsite.com/info/home/is-circular-economy-always-good
  2. Prosperity Without Growth https://timjackson.org.uk/ecological-economics/pwg/
  3. ‘World’s richest 1% get 82% of the wealth’, says Oxfam https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42745853
  4. On identity via @jenhorn_ on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BtYNMZUFQ6G/
  5. ‘We can’t get arrested quick enough’: life inside Extinction Rebellion https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2018/nov/22/we-cant-get-arrested-quick-enough-life-inside-extinction-rebellion-video
  6. With no sanctions, can pledges save the Earth from climate change? https://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2015/1013/With-no-sanctions-can-pledges-save-the-Earth-from-climate-change

Learning facilitator | Transformational coach | Researcher & writer | I plant seeds and hold space for reconnection and regeneration. | linktr.ee/jenhorn