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  • Writer's pictureThe Low Down

Turn individual hypocrisy into political action

I am a hypocrite on at least two fronts.


One is that I live on stolen land, despite my knowledge of the injustice of how the First Peoples were forcibly removed from where I now live, from the land I now “own” and make my living from farming.


The second is that I continue to burn fossil fuels in the engines of my vehicles, despite the fact that I know full well that this activity is contributing to the opening act of climate catastrophe on full display this past week, as forests across Canada burned, sending clouds of smoke southward across the U.S., the GTA, and our own Gatineau Hills and National Capital Region.


I’m sure that in the days of slavery, many a conscience was troubled by the institution, and yet no one spoke up because it seemed too entrenched and the oppression brought tangible benefits to the oppressors, even if they felt guilty at night about it.


Almost everyone I know around me is a hypocrite similar to me, mouthing our concerns over climate change and reciting our land acknowledgements, but continuing to drive our gas-powered vehicles to our stolen homes. It is so much easier to commit a crime when you are part of a mob all doing the same. Still, I know others feel guilty like me.


Guilt not acted on just festers and eventually metastasizes into toxic defensiveness. But guilt, like anger, can be channeled into positive action. Guilt can be like a hunger pang for the nourishment of a more whole world, where the needs of everything alive are provided for.


Our colonial legacy and climate change – both products of a Western worldview of social superiority and ecological exceptionalism – are problems too large for the individual to fix alone; they can only be solved on the political level. In other words, people working together.


But as we’ve seen in the past, sometimes a political movement can be sparked by an act of resistance from one individual. From Rosa Parks to Mohamed Bouazizi to Viola Desmond to Greta Thunberg, individuals with the courage to resist the overwhelming pressure of mob injustice can inspire millions more to follow their lead.


While less courageous perhaps, writers, like Tomson Highway (or me), try to inspire change through their words. At the recent Writers’ Festival in Wakefield, speaking before the wildfires broke out, the Cree writer wondered aloud if it would take fires coming down from the north and burning Ottawa to the ground for the Canadian government to take the climate crisis seriously. During the subsequent fires, thick smoke did blanket the capital, but no fire. Yet.


The Western worldview is playing out to its logical conclusion. Its timber is old and dry. It might only take one spark to set it all ablaze. Got a light?


Sean Butler is a Wakefield resident, writer and farmer at his Ferme et Foret in Rupert.


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