The We, The I and The Dirt
by: Simon Davis-Cohen Posted on: October 21, 2010
There are numerous reasons for valuing dirt, water, air, flora and fauna. These reasons can be both selfish and selfless. The selfish motivation, which I will call the I, asks “how does this affect me?” The selfless motivation, which I will call the WE, does not distinguish between its interests and the interests of others. When it comes to caring for a forest, for example, there are both selfish and selfless reasons for doing so. The selfish I tends to view a forest as a resource, while the selfless WE merely loves it. The selfish and selfless motivations are both valid, both can be lead astray and both are concerned with the forest’s health.
The selfish I places its importance above the natural world. The I asks, “how does this forest affect me?” After deliberating, the wise I realizes that the forest is essential to humans’ happiness and health. Thus, the self-concerned I is inclined to promote healthy dirt, water, air, flora and fauna.
Unfortunately, our selfish tendency can be near-sighted or misguided, leading us to either act contrary to our long-term self-interest or not recognize a self-interest. Such a near-sighted or misguided I might overlook the importance of a forest, or not see the common ground it shares with the WE, a mistake the wise I would never make.
Then there is the WE, which like the I, can be wise or misguided. The WE is deeply connected to the natural world, but the misguided WE allows these beliefs to distance itself from the I.
When the WE ponders its place among the natural world it finds it difficult to distinguish between its interests and those of the dirt, water, air, flora and fauna. Thus the WE, like the I, makes the business of these essentials its own, but unlike the I, which does so because its interests are dependent on the forest, the WE does so because its interest is the forest.
The WE’s train of thought is reasonable, for it sees that we cannot separate ourselves from the natural world. But, like the I, it can also be near-sighted and act contrary to its true interests. Sometimes the WE paints its struggle as selfless, as in, for example, the act of “saving” a tree. This can prevent it from connecting with the I, which would ask, “how does this tree affect me?” Even though such a question can be answered quite simply, the WE’s occasional inability to do so tragically alienates itself from its old friend, the I.
Although the WE’s motivations for caring for the natural world are not selfish, it has a selfish-interest for doing so. And although the I’s initial motivations are not selfless, protecting a forest is. No matter how we approach our place in the natural world, we see that all paths lead to the dirt. And so at Read The Dirt we will not focus on what divides us. Instead we focus on the ground, where all paths lead.
Read The Dirt is concerned with humans’ well-being, actions and ideas. We are interested in what a forest does for humans, as well as humans’ role in the forest. Because we are the most powerful members of the natural world, we think our actions, ideas and conversations are quite relevant.
We are defined by how we use our power, so let us use it wisely.
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