Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Crisis of Praxis


NOUN: Inflected forms: pl. prax·es (prksz)1. Practical application or exercise of a branch of learning. 2. Habitual or established practice; custom.
ETYMOLOGY: Medieval Latin prxis, from Greek prxis, from prssein, prg-, to do.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

I came up with the phrase "crisis of praxis" about six years ago when I spent a lot more time reading political science and than, say, British mystery novels and satire. I had found myself in Seattle during the WTO protest in 1999, and as happens during those kind of things, I was interacting with a lot of people who shared a similar goal but who had sometimes radically different ideas of how to go about accomplishing them. Each strategy, of course, was the only proper strategy and anybody who thinks differently is either willfully imbecilic or hopelessly evil. The more I encountered this way of thinking, and the more I read, the more confused I became not only about who was right and who was wrong, but what was right and wrong for me.

I won't bore you with a discussion of Free Will and Sartre-like statements about the perception of Good and Evil. I'll just say that while I am a flawed human being (and fairly unrepentant about it - that is one of my flaws, my lack of soul-devouring guilt) I would like to live my life while doing as little damage to others and the world as a whole as I can. I like to think of myself as a tenant on this planet, rather than an owner, and that I should leave it better than I found it, if I can. That, and having a good time while I'm at it, just about sums up my whole life philosophy.

Simple, eh?

Er, well, not at all. Hence "crisis of praxis" (aka the Existential Dilemma). What do I do, and what do I not do?

I'll give you a basic example: veganism. There are several directions to come at veganism from, whether it be health or animal rights, and there are levels of expressing it. There is simply not eating anything with an animal by-product in it - including refined sugar, which is processed using cow bones - to not using anything that uses any part of an animal at all, including its labor. This means human-cultivated food, without plow horses or oxen, no leather goods, and no wool. Very humane, but there are problems.

What is substituted?

Human labor or petroleum products.

Which do you think is most likely? Most people in fully industrialized countries do not want to live in an eco-village and weave their own cotton and dig their own turnips. But petroleum products and the industrial processes surrounding them are detrimental to the environment, and being part of that environment, it also damages human beings and animals.

So we're back at the beginning, unless we take the eco-village option.

Crisis of praxis. (It'll give you a headache, or worse.)

The way I see it, How Do I Go About It is such a complicated question that each person will have to work out the answer to it as an individual, based on one's particular situation, capabilities, knowledge base, and conscience - hopefully no more than once a day.

I wish you luck. And, of course, a little joy along the way, where ever you can find it.

Me, I'm going to eat the rest of my veggie pasta and knit something.

For somebody else's more erudite take, read this.

1 comment:

Lissy said...