Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My new take on "extremism"

I have always considered myself (hmmm...) a level-headed person. I'm weird, but I like me some logic. This logic drove me away from some things: protests, for instance. I thought of myself as "evolved", that protests were for fundamentalists and people who were into public displays of their politics and values above the hard work that should lead from those values. Plus, all those hippies! Those open minds, leaking out!

Recently, I met a fellow recently who asked me what I thought about "attachment parenting". I have had a somewhat love/hate relationship with attachment parenting. It once again seemed fundamentalist, (or it was *portrayed* that way...). All those hippies, never letting their kid out of their sight, forcing it to sleep with the parents on a bed that was not big enough, kids getting claustrophobic; how could that be good? I said none of these things to him, only let him bring up the idea of the "8 principles of Attachment Parenting". I was expecting some serious rules, all of which would need to be observed or I'd be labeled a bad parent for life. Instead, he asked me what kind of parenting I was doing. I told him, and he said to my surprise that I was *already* doing attachment parenting. Then he went over the 8 principles:

  1. Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
  2. Feed with Love and Respect
  3. Respond with Sensitivity
  4. Use Nurturing Touch
  5. Engage in Nighttime Parenting
  6. Provide Consistent Loving Care
  7. Practice Positive Discipline
  8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
Wow! My wife and I pretty much do as much of those as we can, not knowing what it was we were doing; we were attachment parents. I suppose what it taught me was that "common sense parenting" and "attachment parenting" are really pretty synonymous.

Now, there are actual extreme attachment parents out there, and bless them for doing all they can to love their kids. Some things I don't think work for us, (like never letting your child out of your sight for 2 years), but hey, that's your kid and your life. Do what you want as long as you don't hurt people. But the other stuff, especially if taken in the general sense, that's spot on. It's still on the spectrum and you can pick and choose what works for you and your child. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition.

Cut to another form of supposed extremism: hypermiling.

Yep, it's that fetishistic practice of getting every single mile per gallon you can from your car. There I go, degrading it by calling it fetishistic. Anyway, I went to Arizona for my grandmother's 85th birthday and we rented a Toyota Prius. Now, I know what you're thinking: why not a Jetta TDI? Well, they don't rent those very often, and at least it's a high-mileage car. In fact, we got an average of 44.6 mpg for around 400 miles driven. That's pretty good.

Truth is, I think I know why the Prius people get such good mileage. Is it the nifty electric motor? Nope. Is it the super-stealth streamlining? No again. It's the simple fact that there is a real-time readout of your current gas mileage, and that you can see when the internal combustion petroleum-powered engine (ICE) kicks in and when it goes back to clean electric power. You change your behavior almost immediately. I found myself learning the tipping points of the two motors, timing the hills, braking way earlier, accelerating much more gradually, thinking about brake return power.

So, I started to become a hypermiler, without even knowing it! I've always been somewhat of a recycling extremist, but I figured that was okay here in Seattle. Now I'm thinking seriously about getting a readout for my TDI and really gunning for the highest mileage possible. It frankly sounds like a lot of fun. Damn.

Now I can see that there must be some kind of attitude shift required if we're to do anything about this climate change thing, and this world-changing
-for-the-better-thing. We've just got to push through the anti-hype, media blitzing, and peer-pressure assaults that label anything out of our comfort zone "extremist". That's the lesson I've been learning.

I'm coming to the conclusion that there are real and imagined forces lining up to tell you that you shouldn't do this or that because you'll be a "------nazi". Some of these forces are in your own head! You might be thinking, "I don't want to join up with my friends and interested people to do co-housing, they are going to be "consensus- nazis". Or I don't want to pick that dirty aluminum can out of the office trash bin because someone will call me a "recycling nazi". Or "I don't want to tell people how cool it is that my wife breast-feeds and we don't use formula because we might be looked at as unreasonable people, La Leche Leaguers, breastfeeding nazis".

Sheesh! that list goes on and on! Organic foods, solar hot water, biodiesel, CFLs, this is all stuff that when taken to the seeming "extreme" (i.e. actually doing it) is somehow leaving the realm of the logical and entering the shady polly-ana world of dangerous fantasy. But look at all the things I'm listing off:

Attachment Parenting
Recycling everything you can
Using solar power or alternative energy
getting the best mileage possible
eating foods that are as natural as possible

This is all stuff that the culture (even my supposedly "Green" version here in Seattle) has been labeling as extremism in one form or another. They take the most strict fundamentalist versions of things and point to the "slippery slope" of becoming an avid supporter. They denigrate the efforts as "fetish". They pull out that old Nazi saw. Yawn already! I'm seeing that all the stuff that makes sense (logic and science anybody??) is pointed at and made less "sensible" so people can feel better about not giving a shit.

It's freaking lazy to not hang on to your Coke can until you can recycle it later (and also lazy not to simply ask if a recycling program could be started!). It's good for your kid to breastfeed as long as it wants to. It's good to get the most mileage you can from your car. This isn't extremism, it's progressivism!

Now, I don't think people should enforce their own way of life upon another when they need to get to these places on their own and in their own time. I think people should leave their minds open to all kinds of improvements, but do so with desire instead of guilt or coercing. That's the stuff that the bulk of the world is rightly worried about, it's not the science and logic, it's the enforcement and coercion. We want to see the good in it for ourselves, not have it inflicted upon us from the outside. We worry about that so much that anything that smacks of seriousness gets labeled as extremism. *THAT* is the slippery slope, friend. Let's pull our collective heads out of the sand, open our eyes and minds, and judge things for ourselves. That's how we'll move forward. And if you want to get a little extremist on yourself, go for it; as long as you don't force it on others, or hurt anyone in the process.

Peace, seriously.