Friday, April 24, 2009

Psst. . . Hey Buddy--you need a carrot?

In the past I've written a lot about a couple of terms--"mainstream" and "counterculture"--and their values as opposed to "extra-cultural" values. In any given society you have the consensus majority values, and you have a group of people who rebel against those values. In the sailing world which is notorious for its factionalism, you have "racers" and "crusiers"--one group that makes a virtue out of going fast and the other reactionary virtue of going "slow." You also have the "high tech" sailors and the "traditionalists"--one group that makes a virtue of using every possible conceivable technological advance and the other group who goes out of their way to use the most ancient and even obsolete tools--except of course, engines. Racers, crusiers, the high tech and tradtionalists are all about those engines. When you find yourself in the crowd of those who "sail" without relying on engines at all, you find yourself in a completely different crowd with completely different values. And, by and large, values that are more explicit and practical. This is the "extracultural" essence of real sailing. It involves wholly different values than what is mainstream and pursues wholly different ends. You'll find few debates about "wood boats" vs "plastic" boats or full keel vs. fin in the real sailing crowd. Use laminate sail cloth, or blue tarps, or coconut husks. No one cares. These aren't ideological issues, they're completely practical ones, and by and large no one really cares how you go about your sailing as long as you do. It's only the mainstream groups--both the pro and con ones--who squabble about such stuff. And squabble they do, especially because they're going out of their way to make a set of values that are pretty silly in the first place more "emotive" and personally meaningful, I guess, by creating artificial conflict. And bickering about those sorts of things at seemingly endless length is a lot less work than actually learning how to sail a boat, for real, in a meaningful fashion, without cheating. I guess that's the appeal.

Once you pull the engine out of the boat the whole gig changes completely. It reminds me a great deal of my current project--sustainability. Once you educate yourself of what sustainability is, and what it takes to achieve it, not only on a personal but a global scale--and you do so in a well informed manner that relys on numbers and not adjectives--the whole gig changes as well. You'll find yourself not in either a mainstream or counter-culture position but an extracultural one. The comparisons one can draw from sailing to sustainability are near endless. And the conversation, among those who are endeavoring to learn such a lifestyle(with all the perils one might face abandoning the engine) involve primarily practical issues. Where the squabble comes in with the mainstream and countercultural crowd who are fighting about the best way to keep their "engine"--ie., a consumptive lifestyle--it seems that here too the commentary on that issue is near endless. As for me, and a growing number of people who have manifest other values, well, we're just planning to get along without all that.

Expect however, as the anchor comes aboard in the chill morning just as the fog starts to lift in the still dark morning--and the steamy mists from one's cup of rapidly cooling coffee are the sole telltails of the day's weather to come--as you drift from the anchorage on the ebb tide in the manner of sailors for centuries past. . .expect no company but the terns. While can be hard and lonely indeed to live on the frontiers of humane integrity, intimate at once personally and with the world--don't unduly begrudge those warm and comfortable ashore. They sleep.

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