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What a Humane World Looks Like: Taking on the System(s)

Written by Marsha Rakestraw | 2 Comments | Published on October 23, 2012 | Filed under Humane Connection
The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Humane Education website at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2012/10/23/what-a-humane-world-looks-like-taking-on-the-systems/
Note: I’m out of town for a family emergency, so please enjoy this repost from 3/18/2010. ~ Marsha
I’ve been thinking a lot about systems lately. In the “green” world there is so much emphasis on our individual choices, and it’s essential that we make choices that do the most good and the least harm for ourselves, other people, other animals and the earth. But, even if we were to become model choicemakers overnight, it wouldn’t be enough, because there are so many systems in place that make it difficult or impossible to make truly humane choices. We may not support those systems, but we’re still complicit in them.Here’s an example: How many of you have a cell phone? How many of you have kids who have video game consoles? How many of you have airbags in your cars?Now, how many of you support civil war? How about slavery? Genocide? The destruction of the environment? The killing of gorillas?

Of course we don’t – none of us does. But, there’s an ore called coltan that is used to make electronic components in products like cell phones and air bags, and one of the places that coltan is mined is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mining coltan has contributed to civil war and genocide there, to the use of slaves (including children), to environmental destruction, and, because the miners need something to eat, they hunt gorillas for food (not to mention destroy their habitat), so there’s the decimation of another species.

We don’t want to be a part of that death and destruction, but we are because we use these products. The systems in place often don’t allow for any better alternatives (other than not using these things at all).

Yesterday I had the Tab key on my laptop replaced. A couple weeks ago it just popped off in the course of normal use, and one of the little “teeth” on the back of the key-cover broke. I contacted the company from which I purchased my laptop (fortunately, it’s still under warranty) and asked them to please send me a new Tab key. Nope. Can’t do it. They have to replace the entire keyboard, they said (as well as send over a tech guy to do the work). I respectfully mentioned how wasteful and ecologically destructive it is to replace the entire keyboard, when I just needed a single key-cover replaced. Sorry, that’s their policy.

So, the tech guy came over yesterday and replaced the entire keyboard. Fortunately, he told me he keeps the old keyboards and finds a use for them, so mine wouldn’t be going into the landfill just yet. That was a relief, but still. All that waste because of the way the system is set up.

I have two sets of friends who have been trying to adopt children for more than a year now. The system is complicated, and though it’s meant to benefit the children and ensure their safety, it often means those children are left in dire circumstances for much longer. My friends have had their hopes raised and then crushed many times, because — after a ridiculously long process — they were told they might be able to adopt children X and Y; but then, those children are given to someone else instead. Repeat. And, it’s not like anyone is intentionally trying to prevent children from finding good homes — just the opposite. But the way the system is set up impedes that process and discourages more people from adopting.

Look at all the systems we’re surrounded by: education, immigration, criminal justice, child welfare, food, housing, transportation, political, media, and so on. There are so many systems that condone and perpetuate discrimination and violence and destruction and cruelty; when you look at all our different systems, you can see how challenging it is to be able to make good choices, even when you really want to.

That’s why it’s so important that we who passionately want to realize a compassionate, just, sustainable world don’t stop at our own choices, but strive to transform these systems, as well. Look around your community. What systems need help? Brainstorm some ideas, find some like-minded folks, and start creating a positive transformation.

A lot of my humane education work has been focused on educating and empowering the individual, but I’ve decided I also want to do more work in my community for systemic change. I’ll keep you posted.

~ Marsha

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About Marsha Rakestraw

Marsha is IHE's Director of Online Courses and Education Resources and part of the online course faculty. More

Contact Marsha View all articles by Marsha Rakestraw


Anne Kelly says:

We have to look at the motivations and incentives affecting the way society works, and the natural human nature driving this arrangement. How have we evolved into this situation?A natural characteristic is to achieve individual success. People are able to ignore the plight of others, and of nature, if they’re quality of living is improving. So one goal is to understand what life experiences change a person to make them prioritize what is good for the larger society, and what is good for nature and animals. Another goal is to change the incentives. There is slow development to prioritize human options, “green” cleaning products and such. It’s just so difficult for people to know what to trust. And that is the challenge for everything these days. From political candidates, to product performance, to environmental impact. Even as these practices become revered by the public, people find a way to create an illusion of meeting good practices (such as using the terms green and natural, which are not regulated, on their products). It seems to easy for people to hide the truth, and too much work for people to spend time looking for the truth. Ideally, there would be an independent party to research such information and make it available, a little like regulators. But how do we fund this organization, and how do we prevent influence from the groups being evaluated? There are a number of groups attempting to provide this kind of information. But the number of groups with overlapping tasks also make it difficult for the average person to know where to find reliable information. Competition is this realm hurts everyone involved.It’s amazing how people can always wish for more. With every achievement, it’s not enough to say life is good and now to address environmental, social, and animal rights and injustices. If only there was a way to change people’s preferences for personal improvements, to identify with the need to make improvements in these global issues.Do you think the answer is psychologically based?

My husband and I have a little sign in our vestibule that says “System Change – Not climate change!” referring, of course, to all the things in our present day culture and society that contribute to climate change. But the sign also can signify the need for, as you have pointed out, “system change” in almost every aspect of our lives. We do quite a lot such as being vegan, limiting our use of electricity and oil, driving a hybrid, growing a garden, recycling, reusing, rethinking…but it isn’t enough somehow. We also write for Amnesty International and belong to PETA, demonstrate for keeping our coastal waters clear of oil tankers, and many other activities. It feels overwhelming at times, yet every small victory adds to the desire to keep trying and not fall into despair. It is almost impossible to not be contributing somehow to all the ills in society (even trying to buy necessities responsibly is so hard – if it is not a harmful product it still was probably made by some poor sweatshop employee in China!). I think educating our youth is a step in the right direction but it is an uphill battle. Yes, as Anne said, maybe it is “psychologically based” this tendency of our species to always want something better, to want more, and to get it even at the expense of others.