Friday, March 21, 2008

Blackoutsabbath is coming!

Happy Spring everyone! Now that the vernal equinox has passed, we have just three months to prepare for Blackoutsabbath.

Wednesday evening, (the 19th) Rufus Wainwright and Friends gave a special performance at the Angel Orensanz Center in New York City to promote the event. Yours truly was happy to be there. As billed, the show was done entirely by candlelight (well, actually there were battery powered music-stand lights, but otherwise, no artificial light). The music was unamplified and wonderful. Rufus has quite a set of lungs, and had no problem making himself heard. Some of the other singers had more difficulty. But all in all, a great show for a great cause. Among the friends were: Harper Simon, Joan Wasser, Beth Orton and Martha Wainwright.

I think many in the audience were there primarily to see Rufus. While we all would have liked to hear more of him, that's not what the show was about. I applaud Rufus for using his celebrity to promote an idea that I think has tremendous value. It was quite honorable of him to organize the event, and then very deliberately step back and let his friends take center stage to promote taking concrete actions for the benefit of our planet.

So what the heck is Blackoutsabbath? As I posted a few weeks ago, this event will occur on Saturday, June 21st. (That also happens to be the Summer Solstice -- the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.) On that day, we are asked to turn off all of our electricity from 12 noon to 12 midnight, and to use that time to enjoy life in a more low-tech, old-fashioned way.

Then, as the sun sets, we light a candle (or several) and make a list of things we can do in the upcoming year to work toward a better world.

The event is about changing individual and collective behavior in order to preserve and enhance this beautiful Earth we call home. In his remarks, Rufus correctly identified the key problem with modern society -- overconsumption. (See my recent post on Affluenza.) Virtually all of our environmental problems stem from this. So we need to change our behaviors.

This sounds like a diet. Diets are often (no, usually) unproductive and can produce an unpleasant reaction. Nobody likes a diet. I think that many of the fans that showed up for Rufus' show weren't really motivated by environmental concern, and were in fact feeling a bit uncomfortable at the idea of dieting--er, reducing consumption, as Rufus suggested.

So diets are unpleasant. What we need is a gradual and gentle modification of our core habits as individuals and a society. The start is to make that list of things we can do on the day of Blackoutsabbath.

Nobody's list will be the same. Each of us needs to start where we are. And we need to take baby steps.

So, Blackoutsabbath is a great idea, and I hope it catches. We hardly realize how much we consume or how dependent we've become on electricity and other modern conveniences. Over the next three months, I'm going to bring up some possible actions that anyone can put on their list. Today, I'm going to start with one that strikes at the root of problem: our conditioning.

We hardly realize how conditioned -- brainwashed -- we are from birth to be good little consumers. Every message we get from the media and our peers makes us want more: more clothes, more food, more toys, more space, more comfort, more cars, more cigarettes, more sex -- whatever. A big part of that conditioning is television. (It's no mistake that one of the songs Rufus sang on Wednesday night was "California," which decries the emptiness of Hollywood culture.) So the first item anyone should consider putting on their list is:

Reduce the amount of time you spend watching TV.

Now, I'm not suggesting that anyone unplug the boob-tube and toss it out the window. Don't try to give up your favorite shows and so forth. Just consider little ways of cutting back. What about all those times you habitually switch on the TV for no particular reason: when you're getting ready for work in the morning, or just coming home in the evening. I'm thinking of all those idle inbetween times. Instead, why not spend those few minutes doing some yoga, reading a few pages of a book you've been meaning to get to, calling friends on the telephone or meditating.

Just a suggestion.

More ideas to come. Make sure you put Blackoutsabbath on your calendar!

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