Monday, March 10, 2014

Joy Williams On the Morality of Environmental Issues

I teach a book called Ill Nature by Joy Williams to my writing classes. It's unique in that it includes both ranty, in-your-face essays, as well as narrative and ruminative essays; that contrast helps students see two ways of approaching any topic important to them, while making the writing more likely to win folks over. I always suggest that a combination of the two styles might be best.

Regardless, David Gessner once did an interview with Joy, and one of her responses has been a guiding light to me this winter as I work on a new book:

Gessner: Can you discuss the way we marginalize anyone who actually tries to fight for change? And this evolution of the perception of environmentalists as “extremists”? “It is a moral issue,” you write near the end [of her essay "Save the Whales, Screw the Shrimp"]. As a culture we seem to shy away from the word moral—it seems preacherly. How can we address moral issues when the culture looks down on the word?
 
Williams: I never show my work to anyone. When I’m finished, I just send it off. Whereas my friends could have lovingly mauled it and had complaints and suggestions, I choose to put it immediately in the hands of strangers, possibly fiends. This piece denies rhetorical niceties in that it hectors a you—that is you—for wrecking the Earth with habits and wants. But the you is me, and the they is us. We’re all pretty much responsible for the mess we’re in, some deliberately so, some just in the process of conducting normal somnambulist routines.

Pope John II said that “the environmental crisis is a moral issue.” I’m not sure what the new Pope has said on the subject. He’s recently closed limbo, which is where most environmental statutes end up.

I think destroying the Earth and its creatures—our mute fellow travelers—is sinful. If the word retains any meaning at all, it should be applied to the wanton acts we accept and tolerate daily.

2 comments:

Diana Studer said...

was reading today about the Californian drought and the effect it will have on agriculture. And how MUCH water Palm Springs uses, despite WHAT drought!

Benjamin Vogt said...

We don't make much sense, do we, our species? We can. But we don't. 2 years ago here people were SO angry about every other day lawn watering when we were in the 2nd highest drought category the whole summer and rivers were dry. I mean -- really? Shut up. And what other species were screwed as we watered our lawns?