May 8, 2008
so·phros·y·ne [suh-fros-uh-nee]: moderation; discretion; prudence. I strive for this. I do. Of course, that’s pre-ice cream sighting.
But sophrosyne doesn’t automatically apply to Ben and Jerry’s binges. Following a read-through of this New York Times article, the Daily Score’s Clark Williams-Derry speculates that treading lightly on the planet — and, at times, losing our footing — may be a matter of willpower, too. He writes:
…people have only so much attention to give. Which is one reason I’ve been concerned for a long time about the all-too-common idea that personal choices are key to solving major environmental and social problems. Not only does the “personal choice” frame reduce the perceived importance of systemic and political change — which I think are more effective — but if willpower is truly a zero-sum game, then counting on continual vigilance and unwavering will seems like a losing strategy.
In translation: If I maintain my resolve to avoid gasoline consumption by not owning a car and walking wherever I need to go, I’m more likely to regress in other areas — say, buying an inevitable tub of yogurt that is encased in an oil-bearing, if recyclable, package, and which burned up who knows how much oil in getting from the Oregon-based yogurt factory to Seattle-based me.
Call me crazy, but I’m not convinced that this is a matter of divided attention, nor one of watery willpower. Or am I confusing the issue?
Williams-Derry puts it in terms of last month’s paper-or-plastic post, which I blogged in concert with the recent Seattle proposal to impose a 20-cent per-bag fee at grocery and convenience stores: “on any given grocery run,” he says, “what you put into your bag is at least 100 times more important than what kind of bag you take it home in.” Williams-Derry goes on to suggest that, if the willpower hypothesis holds water, beating ourselves up over our grocery-store take-home can dilute our determination “when it comes time to make the more important choices about where to live and what to drive.”
Of course, is one car-free household (mine, say) really worth a mountain of recyclable plastic yogurt tubs? Or is this an issue not of willpower, but of competing priorities?