One week ago i was at a Rage Against the Machine gig. There were actually a lot of bands, 3 days and lots of shows. It was a big event going by the name of SWU: Starts With You.
Then again, maybe it does not.
What the organizers of SWU would tell you is that their event was not just an event: It was a SUSTAINABLE event. We are lead to believe that they were not only after our money, that they wanted to think different or some such. In the end, it was just another show, and basically they just robbed me blind (like 6 BRL for a Coke). That is not what bothers me, though: What really really scares me is that maybe the organizers believed their own advertisement.
So let me give you a taste of what it was like, there: My first image was a tower of Heineken bottles staked some 5 metres high. Then there was the Coke-bottle planting station, and a big Nestle ferris wheel. It was only after all that that we spotted the NGOs tent (where i went just to get the line-up) and the Sustainability tent (which i completely ignored), and then after all that the stage.
That there wasn’t really any «think different» going on should be very clear by that it is a 20% vegetable coke bottle, but still a coke bottle. As in «DRINK COKE». Because, you know, wasn’t the whole sustainability thing supposed to be less consumerist?
But, really, i couldn’t care less. As you might have gathered by my complete avoidance of the “sustainability tent”. I was there just for the show. And it was great. Really, really great. Zack is my hero. Despite all the technical problems (and there were big technical problems). I had a great, blessed time. And i am complaining about SWU here, but this is not out of feeling cheated or feeling that SWU was a bad bargain.
Again, my problem is this nagging feeling that the organizers really believe it “Starts With Me”.
If you want to jump the fence and there is a thuggish guard in your way, well, it kinda sucks but it’s all right. After all, each person thinks in a different way, and for sure the people that put the fence there were getting something out of it. If our interests differ, that’s just part of life. And if they use a stick to enforce it, well, that is a way that works. Not gentle, but reasonable.
The slogan “Starts With yoU”, though, puts things differently. There is ONE right thing to do, and the person that must do it is you. So you must not jump the fence. But now it is not enough that you won’t jump, you must also not want to. You must obey their rules, and you must want to obey their rules. Heck, you might actually be glad to obey!
SWU was just another show. Everyone i met that went there also told me as much. And that is a good thing! Yet another show can be amazing. Or actually: That should be a good thing, but it wasn’t, and it wasn’t because the organizers insisted on that better-than-thou discourse.
When i am not sustainable because i didn’t go to the sustainability tent, my opinion just does not matter as much as the sustainable guy. Because, you know, i am destroying nature. Or something like that. Even if you say that the opinion from the sustainable girl is “just a little” more important than the average hooligan, you are still laying them in different steps of the ladder. You are making one good and one bad.
And whenever i start ranting about this stuff, i’ll always get something along the lines of “it is not GOOD x BAD, it is just sustainable VS unsustainable, and there is no judgement (in the Bible sense)”. So you might say that the SWU organizers cared about sustainability but they were not really diminishing people that don’t.
Sadly, i don’t believe in it.
In the end, you see, it all comes down to beliefs. And i use this word to convey something that you know deep inside, that you know so deep down that you can’t even choose not to. So, again and again: I think that the SWU organizers really believed in their marketing talk. And that is scary.
You can believe in sustainability as you believe in (say) refrigerators, or exercise: You think it is a good thing, generally speaking, and you are willing to put some of your energy into it, but it is not a defining characteristic of your world. You do not judge everything based on this one idea. It is not your centre of orientation.
Or you can believe in sustainability as the 9/11 guys believed in the Al-Qur’ān: You will give your life to it.
Obviously there are degrees of the first kind of belief. For example, refrigerators do shape our modes of living way more than we are aware. And there are, also, degrees of the second kind of belief, the «would die for it» kind. For example, i do not think the organizers in question would die for the «sustainable» banner. But — this being my main point here, and i believe it is very important to be aware of it and to bring this awareness into day-to-day life — there is a essential difference between those two forms of belief.
And the difference is as follows: The first form is just an idea, something that goes through your head, and in that sense it is a very banal thing, just like whether in the bakery around the corner you should ask for normal or spicy mortadella — if we call it just “brain activity” then almost everything can fit there, like emotions and mathematical formulas all dumped into a single big category.
That was the first belief: Data, ideas, thoughts. The second kind is different. It is morality. Morality is all kinds of thought of the form «good» versus «bad». But the important thing about morality is that it has a bypassing capacity in the brain: A moral belief will simply bypass any belief of the other kind.
So for example, you might know 3 different mathematical explanations of the positive social impact of abortion, you might know the 218 letters of the name of god containing an implicit approval of killing the godless child, you might know ethnographic accounts of cultures where abortion is an acceptable practice, you might be confronted with statistics that say abortion is a very concrete, immediate, urgent reality on your own society — but none of that will ever make any difference. Nothing will ever convince you that abortion should be legal.
So, to avoid turning this into an abortion debate (currently raging in Brasil), let’s get back to SWU. I do not think that SWU wanted to be disrespectful of the public. But i think that, as they took sustainability in a moral-belief way, they did not have the option of being respectful to someone that wasn’t really giving a shit about sustainability. And obviously they wouldn’t mistreat someone with a “sustainability my ass” shirt — but the very structure of the event shows a kind of disrespect that is hard to recognize, but extremely violent.
For example: The sound equipment failed in the middle of RATM’s show. It seems that a good sound machine is secondary for a rock concert. Much, much more important, we are supposed to believe, is having a waste recycling centre. That is to say: Their vision of sustainability weights more than everyone else’s wanting to hear the music.
Maybe the sound system didn’t fail during Rage’s show. Maybe it was turned down, because people were jumping the fence into the “VIP area” and the organizers thought that turning the sound off was the only way to cool the mob down. But that does not change my argument, because not only the organizers had to believe that they could cool people down this way, they had to believe that this was acceptable! And the only way that this could be acceptable is if the morality-kind of belief part of their brain was bypassing their capacity to see 50.000 people shouting for the sound to come back!
The problem is: When Zack is shouting, you will not stop to think about sustainability. You wont.
So, as was bound to happen, there was a subtle, but strong, feeling of disagreement there. Which means: People didn’t like it. There were loads of those small things that you couldn’t really criticize but that in the end gave you the impression that there was some dumb uncool teacher trying to make you “behave”, and this, i assure you, is a certain recipe for misrule.
And if i have any solution to this dilemma, it is not to say that morality is wrong: That would be a kind of morality in itself! It is not that SWU should be called something else, it is not a matter of who to blame, it is…
Just as Zin warned us, this is a very delicate issue. To make strict rules for what is morality and what isn’t simply won’t solve the problem. But i believe that we can train ourselves to think in different ways.
Like Resnais says: Learning the laws of gravity does not free us from it, but it allows us to use it differently. To know that we have this thing, this little push to make things into moral issues, inside ourselves can allow us to learn to think in different ways.
I know of no way to do it that isn’t a personal achievement, a quest that has to be won by you, and you alone. I know no recipes to make it easier. And i suspect that only when you meet someone who has a strong moral stance about a subject that you have thought a lot about, where you can see how his view of the thing isn’t wrong at all, but it also is terribly partial, that his view simply locks him inside unsolvable problems, i suspect that until a person finds such a situation he can’t really grasp the full power of moral beliefs.
Morality is not a bad thing. In itself it is a kind of social containment, that helps keeping society together, but when there is too much pressure it can lead to explosions (not really, but to get precise terms here would require another long detour).
In the right light, morality can evolve into ethics. To get there, we must finally admit that we are also cheats and crooks, that we are not right, that we are also reckless and violent and shallow like everyone else. SWU must learn that it does not start with me. And from that we can look at society and find that it is not right, and that it is not simple, but that it is a beginning, and that we can work it to be more like we would like it to.
To get there, we must also not fight morality. We must not get an habit of avoiding this kind of morality-belief at all costs. We only have to agree to consistent communication forms (or, maybe rituals). Because we never understand each other, and we will never be “unbiased”, and there will always be something that we simply refuse to think about.
The fact that morality-belief has always been part of humanity didn’t impede it to create all the beauty and strength that our ancestors did create. Even with this weird flaw we can still be great. What this really means is that, when we begin thinking about what our society “should” be, not about what is wrong with it but what kinds of goals we should hope to achieve, what kinds of dreams we should believe in, what kinds of “utopias” we should strive to make real, than we have very few ideas to guide us — because usually «values» are just masks to morality-belief. So when we start to wonder about this things we have a task that is more difficult — but come on, let’s call it “challenging” and have fun with it!
I set out to just say, basically, SWU sucks! Then a lot of other stuff i’ve talked about in the last few days with a bunch of different friends just jumped in (maybe it jumped the fence!) Now i don’t know whether any of that really helps anyone see what i see, i don’t know that this text makes a difference. Maybe it does even make things worse. Because that is just my point of view, and maybe this point of view is impossible to communicate. Who knows?
But in the end, i have some hope. After all, one week after SWU i went to Natura Nós, another bunch of shows, and… It is funny that the name is almost the opposite — Nós means Us, us instead of you… And Nós also had this «sustainability» self-advertisement, but, i guess, being promoted by a corporation, i guess it can’t even pretend to be moral (though certainly it can’t be ethical either), so instead of creating those high ideals they just do business as usual, and, while doing so, they can start doing a little about whatever issues there are. They even managed to create some sort of group unity so that during Bajofondo’s show many people with tags went up to the stage and danced like crazy, was weird but i guess it was great to the people working.
Close to the end of the show, i was trying to find something to eat and a girl with an organizer shirt came up to me and asked “can I help” with a lot of grace. Such a small gesture. But it made a lot of difference. I guess she just looked at me. People. Just, you know, trying to see us as we are.