The Right Thing



It is amazing that growing your own food, buying local and seasonal, and trying to consume less is such a revolutionary act; but it is. Being self-sufficient helps us realize the difference between right and wrong. Self-sufficiency is, in fact, the realization of what is right. Being self-sufficient is the right thing to do because it is a good in itself. I am new to this realization of the need to be self-sufficient, and the most disconcerting thing about realizing this need is two-fold: first, how could I not have realized it before, and secondly being self-sufficient is very difficult in today’s society.


It is an interesting experience to realize that you have been living your life with your proverbial eyes closed for most of your life. The experience is un-nerving yet it is motivating; it motivates you to either make excuses or do what is right. I’ve found that there are a number of ways that we can do what is right, but it takes work.

These days I am reminded of doing what is right in some peculiar ways. I am reminded when I look out my window at the green lawn that surrounds my house: I need to replace it with a more suitable and sustainable landscape. I am reminded when I am weeding the garden or planting food. I am reminded when I am at the grocery store (the failure dome as I now call it) making choices about the food I will buy. Of course, I am reminded of it every time I read the news and often when I talk to friends.


Doing the right thing is not really a choice that we have. We can no longer choose to support the corporate food industry and call it an ethical decision: it is not. That being said, doing the right thing is not easy. We can no longer call ourselves independent simply because we make a good living: we are not. Being independent is not as easy as making a lot of money. We know a right thing when we come across it, and in fact, there is only one thing easy about the right thing: we know what it is. Being self-sufficient is the right thing because being self-sufficient forces us to realize that we are not separate from the world we live in, but a part of that world.


It truly is an amazing experience when we realize our moral beliefs in an objective way. And, as strange as it may seem, being self-sufficient is the way to realize the difference between right and wrong. Being self-sufficient is not right because it allows us to live in a sustainable way, or protects us from Armageddon, or prepares us for the end of society. Being self-sufficient is right because it is good. It is good to live honestly, independently, considerately, and responsibly. Doing the right thing because we can choose to do so is the greatest human capacity. Doing what is right may be difficult, but it is always the most moral choice.




  1. Thanks for another provocative post. I’m struck by the statement that being self-sufficient is difficult in today’s world. I think it has always been difficult, but possibly it is more difficult now because we have such a high standard of living, and therefore broad and high expectations, of what it means to live well, or to live at all. Men and women in the Paleolithic era must have had much lower expectations: I expect not to starve. Meet that basic need sufficiently, something you had no choice but to do yourself, what remained was a long climb up the hierarchy of desires and expectations—I aspire not to be cold at night, I hope not to be attacked by the bear while gathering berries, and I’d like to motivate my fellows to move the latrine further from the mouth of the cave. So self-sufficiency had a smaller area to encompass than it does today, where we expect so much, so many comforts and amenities and outcomes, as a matter of course. And this may be the real failure of human imagination and intelligence—to be unaware of how what we have or desire is predicated on dependence on destructive systems. This is why people can manage to work themselves up when the cucumbers at the “failure dome” aren’t in prime aesthetic condition on a given January afternoon. Forget about the weak nutritional value of the vegetable itself, laden with pesticides and herbicides and genetic modifications that allow it to appear when and where it does. Forget about the wretched soil left behind at the factory farm, let alone the petroleum it took to transport it and the labor of other human beings necessary to convey it. That there should be cucumbers at all in January in North America, and that this should shift from being a luxury to being an expectation—that is a major signifier of why so few people can imagine anything close to self-sufficiency. So perhaps the real trick is turning two knobs at once—dialing down our expectations for living while at the same time dialing up our awareness and capacity to generate what we need and want at the personal or local level. This does not mean one necessarily reduces the quality of life in so doing. On the contrary, and this is the jewel of understanding that comes to those who strive: deep pleasures, great satisfaction, improved health, and an overall social benefit arise when we act to become more self-sufficient. It is indeed good, as you assert, to push back the margin of dependency upon products that demean us and processes that ruin our soil, air, and water, not to mention our psyches and our society. While pure self-sufficiency may exist only as an ideal, increasing one’s self-sufficiency is very possible and offers sublime rewards.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! As you know, I do agree with much you wrote. However, I would argue that in the earlier periods of human history self-sufficiency was a way of life (there was no other). I claim that it is difficult today because doing so requires “unplugging” from a system that many of us if not most of us are not aware of until we try to disconnect, and disconnecting from the comforts and amenities that you refer to force us to realize just how dependent we have become. Early humans were part of the natural system; unplugging from it was not a choice.

      I think that there is an irony here. Those that work for self-sufficiency are in a way disconnecting from a system-wide community that has become meaningless, based upon consumerism and unreal expectations. Of course I cannot speak for all people that are working to become self-sufficient in this manner, but I can say that part of what I am looking for is a meaningful relationship to meaningful people.

      I would agree with your point concerning quality of life, but only add that it is only possible to acquire those “sublime rewards” if only we hold the goal (unrealistic or not) of pure self-sufficiency. As always, I enjoy your comments and am very thankful that you care to read!

      1. In reading the whole thread through, I think we agree on most salient points, and should congratulate ourselves on awareness and self sufficiency with a glass of scotch–brought from far Scotland and tasted as our coal-based heater cycles on. Yeah.

        I think we do not entirely disagree on that last point. An unrealistic goal is only valuable for motivation; if that brings you a sense of the sublime, then good on ye and don’t stop. As noted, we agree on so much here, with the subtle distinction that I meet the sublime by achieving and sustaining a realistic goal. Epicurus, wisest of all philosophers, advocated a lifestyle of self-sufficiency, sustainable pleasures, and ataraxia, or freedom from worry. I take great peace from this

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