Monthly Archives: July 2014

“Because 99 is not 100…” by Valter dos Santos

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This excerpt is taken from the Waste Land documentary, which features the pickers of recyclable materials at Jardim Gramacho, a landfill in Brazil. The person featured in this excerpt is Valter dos Santos, one whom I feel has much wisdom.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone could introduce theirselves with their own voices?

Valter dos Santos

I hope you understand me because I don’t have either a primary or a secondary education.

You didn’t ask me, but I’m going to introduce myself. I like introducing myself with my own voice.

I have been a picker here for 26 years. I am proud to be a picker. I’m the Vice President of ACAMJG – the Association of Pickers of Jardim Gramacho. I represent 2,500 pickers who work here at the landfill. I carry this with pride.

Let’s say each household generates one kilo of garbage. And one kilo of garbage generates 500 grams of recyclable material. So a thousand homes generate 500 kilos of material that could be recycled. That’s 500 kilos less of material that would pollute the rivers, the lagoons, that won’t clog the sewers or be buried here in the landfill, [long pause] doing such great harm to nature and the environment.

I try to explain to people what they can recycle and what they can compost and what they should do. People sometimes say “But one single can?” One single can is of great importance. Because 99 is not 100, and that single one will make the difference.

I feel this is so sublime; I wish I could put into words how meaningful this is to me.

Changes

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I made some changes to this place. The most visible one is the appearance. I used the default wordpress theme and disabled the google webfont. It does not look as unique as I want it to because I have not customized the theme. But it will do for now.

The most notable change however is the use of HTTPS. It is enabled by default and if you try to use plain HTTP, you should automatically get redirected to a HTTPS version of the site. This may appear unnecessary, since you do not login to this place nor do you use it for anything particularly sensitive. However, using HTTPS affords some privacy since your connection to the site is encrypted; someone sniffing in would not know what you’re looking at. There are caveats but I think it is better. Just visit the HTTPS version of this website and if you have any bookmarks to posts here, update your bookmarks to use HTTPS as well.

Another change is to the title of the site. Previously it was just my name. Now it’s “A Constant Attempt.” I think this is appropriate for many reasons. It signifies a constant attempt of understanding and re-understanding life, society, relationships with Earth, with non-humans, with other humans, and with our inner selves. It signifies a constant attempt to change and rediscover oneself. In some ways, it signifies my (thus far) unsuccessful attempt to update the site consistently.

It has been a very eventful two years in PhD school. Being away from family, from a comfortable place, and just having travelled, has done me a lot of good. I have been able to question more freely, and to make decisions I otherwise would not have been able to. I have learnt a lot, and to paraphrase some famous person, I am learning that I truly truly know very little. Is a lifetime enough to understand? Is two? I don’t know. It is not necessary to have travelled to learn. There are plenty of people who have done little travelling but have learnt and done a lot; Henry-David Thoreau and Immanuel Kant come to mind. (My ignorance prevents me from naming others, especially women thinkers who were also non-travellers.) But travelling has certainly helped me.

There is a cost, if I can call it that, to this process of learning and changing (or attempting to) constantly. It’s the cost of becoming undecipherable to others. It appears that as far as society is structured now, one has to conform to certain kinds of ideas. Sometimes the ideas are deemed “tradition,” and sometimes, they are so pervasive that even people that one looks up to seem oblivious to the fact they, too, are conforming to some idea they probably should be questioning and fighting. Of course, I am being reflexive here and I am aware of the scary notion that I am definitely conforming to some ideas without questioning them.

The questioning appears to make one un-understandable. Often, it makes one appear crazy or irrational or just a trouble maker, a kind of rebel who rebels for the sake of rebelling. For example, I am vegan now and i know not a greater moral crisis than being a non-vegan. It is an absolute statement but I arrived at this position after much reading and seeing. It is a very deliberate choice.

During a small discussion once, a colleague commented to me how if I went to his home country, his family and relatives would find it really weird when they see me refusing to eat meat. Apparently, they would ask “what, are you sick or something?” The immediate reaction of a woman friend upon hearing that I am vegan said “why, are you brainwashed?” I was taken aback, especially since she was just telling me about herself and how she recently quit her job because of workplace sexism and she was telling me how it would be difficult for me to understand because I am a male. I replied by saying how I think the way we treat animals are extremely problematic. (To her credit, when I contacted her a few weeks ago, she said she thought about it and thinks I may be right and is eating more vegetables now.)

Very surprisingly, I have received a lot of hurtful feedback about being vegan. They appear in the form of direct confrontations, ‘jokes,’ or comments. There is a big problem with how we communicate with each other. I find it very unnerving and vicious. The put-downs, the teasings, and the rationalizations we apply to the person who is making us uncomfortable so that we do not have to do anything about ourselves. If it was a reasoned critique of what I am doing, then that would be one thing and it would be something I am willing to listen to. But it’s often a quick attack that saves them the time of trying to understand me. After all, if I am un-understandable, then there’s no point to even attempt right?

Maybe all this is a necessary cost. There is no dichotomy between right and wrong but there are things that are right and there are things that are wrong. For the most part, we collectively agree slavery and racism is wrong. We do not claim that it is “extreme” to think that slavery is wrong. I similarly think speciesism is wrong. Since I think it is wrong, then perhaps I cannot help it if people think I am being extreme or think that I am weird. I cannot force myself to believe in something I think is wrong just so I can get along with people who conform to morally wrong ideals, and have friends, and be safe.

There is of course danger in believing in something that one thinks is not wrong but actually is. For example, one might believe that it is wrong for people of different races to marry each other. How do we differentiate an idea as right or wrong? Maybe if one is being very genuine about it, and one listens and explores bravely with an open heart, without falling prey to fear mongerism, or to charismatic ideological figures, or to dogma, one can conclude that, for example, racism and sexism is wrong, and that it is ok for members of the same gender to marry.

It is all a constant attempt: a constant attempt at exposition, a constant attempt at living better, a constant attempt of minimising and maybe even eliminating suffering entirely. There is much to be done but it all begins somewhere.