Giving Up On Moral High-Groundsmanship

[I wrote this post about four months ago, but I had a hard time pushing the “Publish” button so I wanted to give myself some time for reflection. On re-reading it, I still agree with what I wrote then, even though writing about my rejection of sanctimony hints at its own underlying form of sanctimony.]

On Friday I was doing one of my market deliveries and had the surreal experience of arriving at my afternoon stop to find the parking lot bustling with employees of the world’s most famous (or infamous) purveyor of herbicides and genetically modified crops, all busily working to beautify and renovate a community garden. An organic garden at that! Everywhere I looked I was surrounded by a corporate logo that stands for a set of agricultural ideas I reject as irresponsible and immoral.

I’ll credit Nathan Hill for a quote that took all the steam out of my impulse for outrage. I re-listened to his book The Nix this summer while working on the corral project. Hill has a gift for unsettlingly memorable lines, but this one’s a gem:

“Everyone gets to be offended in their own special way . . . It’s no secret that the great American pastime is no longer baseball. Now it’s sanctimony.”

Nathan Hill, The Nix

I wanted to be indignant and offended and righteous. But I am glad to have had this line rattling around in my head, to realize that people are complex and that each person’s reasons for being in that situation at that moment were beyond my comprehension and well beyond my criticism.

So we talked. And it went well. We had a chance to discuss food, and what we do on our farm, and how we do it. The discussions were good and cordial and just what I’d want them to be.

I’d like to be a person who doesn’t prejudge others by the corporate logos on their T-shirts in the first place. I doubt that I’ll ever be that mature. The impulse to judge is too deep, too instinctive for me to overcome. But I hope I can train myself to quickly substitute kindness in place of sanctimony.

I realize that this multinational company is an enormous organization and that in all probability none of these folks were the ones working in the lab to design the next big agrichemical to destroy plants and soil biology. At the same time I believe the company they work for is guilty of criminal behavior and has participated in and profited from social, political, and environmental corruption. But which of us are guiltless in all our associations, in all the byproducts and consequences and externalities of our lives? And more importantly, why should I be the one keeping score?

Herb bed weeded by the employees

2 thoughts on “Giving Up On Moral High-Groundsmanship”

  1. Thanks Dave. One of my dearest friends, John Cool (since passed and yes, that’s his real name) once called me a “sanctimonious twit” after I had offered my sage advice as to how he might better live his life. It was some of the best feedback I ever received and has served me well over the years since. Like you, I am far from where I wish to be but I am still walking in the right direction.

    I retired in December, 2019 and I am now devoting more time to stewardship of my corner of the earth. I will make plans to visit your corner of the earth in the year ahead. Be well.

    1. Please come; you’d be welcome. We’re not far from summer vacation spots in the Adirondacks or Cooperstown. And congratulations on your retirement. I’m glad that worked out for you.

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