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Two more interesting articles from the NYT

June 26, 2007

Here’s one about freegans whom the article describes as

Freegans are scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism. They forage through supermarket trash and eat the slightly bruised produce or just-expired canned goods that are routinely thrown out, and negotiate gifts of surplus food from sympathetic stores and restaurants.

They dress in castoff clothes and furnish their homes with items found on the street; at, where users post unwanted items; and at so-called freemeets, flea markets where no money is exchanged. Some claim to hold themselves to rigorous standards. “If a person chooses to live an ethical lifestyle it’s not enough to be vegan, they need to absent themselves from capitalism,” said Adam Weissman, 29, who started four years ago and is the movement’s de facto spokesman.

Freeganism dates to the mid-’90s, and grew out of the antiglobalization and environmental movements, as well as groups like Food Not Bombs, a network of small organizations that serve free vegetarian and vegan food to the hungry, much of it salvaged from food market trash. It also has echoes of groups like the Diggers, an anarchist street theater troupe based in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the 1960’s, which gave away food and social services.

. Interesting article, and a group of whom I’d not heard of until today.

And another interesting one sent to me by a friend Science of the Soul? ‘I Think, Therefore I Am’ Is Losing Force. Here’s a teaser:

In 1950, in a letter to bishops, Pope Pius XII took up the issue of evolution. The Roman Catholic Church does not necessarily object to the study of evolution as far as it relates to physical traits, he wrote in the encyclical, Humani Generis.” But he added, “Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.”

Pope John Paul II made much the same point in 1996, in a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an advisory group to the Vatican. Although he noted that in the intervening years evolution had become “more than a hypothesis,” he added that considering the mind as emerging merely from physical phenomena was “incompatible with the truth about man.”

But as evolutionary biologists and cognitive neuroscientists peer ever deeper into the brain, they are discovering more and more genes, brain structures and other physical correlates to feelings like empathy, disgust and joy. That is, they are discovering physical bases for the feelings from which moral sense emerges — not just in people but in other animals as well.

The result is perhaps the strongest challenge yet to the worldview summed up by Descartes, the 17th-century philosopher who divided the creatures of the world between humanity and everything else. As biologists turn up evidence that animals can exhibit emotions and patterns of cognition once thought of as strictly human, Descartes’s dictum, “I think, therefore I am,” loses its force.

For many scientists, the evidence that moral reasoning is a result of physical traits that evolve along with everything else is just more evidence against the existence of the soul, or of a God to imbue humans with souls. For many believers, particularly in the United States, the findings show the error, even wickedness, of viewing the world in strictly material terms. And they provide for theologians a growing impetus to reconcile the existence of the soul with the growing evidence that humans are not, physically or even mentally, in a class by themselves.

The idea that human minds are the product of evolution is “unassailable fact,” the journal Nature said this month in an editorial on new findings on the physical basis of moral thought. A headline on the editorial drove the point home: “With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside.”

Once again, science tries to trump God. Harumph. Discuss if you feel so inclined.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2007 8:53 pm

    re: freegans. Back in the 80s, my boyfriend’s bestfriend was a scavenger. He lived completely off of other people’s trash. He was very active in Earth First! and later founded a wilderness movement and magazine, “Wild Earth.” I believed most of what he believed, but found him pretty intolerably self-righteous. When I snapped the bottoms off the asparagus one night, cooking dinner for the 3 of us, he only ate the asparagus bottoms. Please!

    re: evolution, brains, God. I fully accept evolution as scientific fact. I fully accept God as creator. I see no problem accepting of both these things and can’t grasp why people on both sides of the aisle get up in arms. Have they nothing better to think about? That’s my harumph.

  2. episcopalifem permalink*
    June 26, 2007 9:00 pm

    I personally feel like less waste is definitely a good thing. Dumpster diving for food though, feels like taking from the mouths of those who really can’t get food anywhere else. I have mixed feelings about the freegans. I’m attracted to their principles, but, repelled by them at the same time – perhaps because I’m over involved in consumerism myself.

    I’m in agreement with you, LJ, about the God creator vs. Evolution thing. I just think it’s funny watching extremists from both sides try to out prove one another.

  3. June 27, 2007 2:17 am

    Thanks for that pointer to the freegans. It sounds like a great idea to me.

    As for the other article, I don’t think there is anything new about the idea that humans and animals aren’t qualitatively different, or that our minds are a product of evolution. Of course consciousness has evolved, just as our bodies did. I don’t see the news in that.

    I do wonder if whoever wrote that article was just quoting Descartes without having a clue what Descartes meant by “I think therefore I am.” I admit I am definitely not an expert on Descartes, but the “cogito” was not a statement about the uniqueness of the human soul; it was just a starting point for building a philosophical system entirely from scratch after trying to figure out what indubitable point of knowledge he could start with as a premise once he doubted everything. The only statement he felt he could be certain of was that he was a thinking person, and that as a thinking person he therefore had to exist. I’m not sure what that statement itself has to do with the uniqueness of the human soul.

  4. June 27, 2007 10:40 am

    Having worked in a natural (health) food store since 1993 I’ve come across my fair share of freegans (and “straight edge” vegans). The self righteousness of both groups astounds me.

    I find it a little odd that they have a website (freecycle) to post unwanted items. How does a freegan get onto the web? Either they pay for it (supporting capitalism) or they steal it.

    I’m a moderate anti-consumerist. I live a fairly simple life. I don’t buy a lot. I highly recommend everyone read “Affluenza.”

    But freeganism seems a little hypocritical. I’m open to being proven wrong though.

  5. episcopalifem permalink*
    June 27, 2007 10:49 am

    I’m more with you Kay. My goal is to live more simply, and buy less into consumerism. I don’t see myself living such an extremist lifestyle as freegan or vegan. That’s just fundamentalism of another sort, in my mind. Great for you, if you choose to do it. Not okay to vehemently say all should do it. And somewhat hypocritical, especially using technology. (Although, I suppose, it’s probably less waste, and one could get free internet access at the public libraries in most towns).

    Moderation is key to balance, right? We do have an economy to support on some level, so some consumerism is probably necessary. But, I don’t need to believe that if I don’t own a Toyota Sequoia that I’m neglecting my kids, and somehow missing all of their growing up years, as a commercial of theirs suggested a year or two back.

    I have changes I need to make in my life. But, I don’t think I’ll be becoming a freegan soon. Although, I don’t think it’s all a bad idea. Reestablishing a sort of “free” trade piece of the economy is a great way to reduce, reuse, recycle.

  6. June 27, 2007 11:02 am

    I’m not in favor of self righteousness, but I see nothing wrong with people trying to live as simply as they feel can feasibly manage. If the freegans go around telling other people how to live, that would be self righteous and potentially hypocritical if they didn’t live up to their own standards. But if it is just a personal choice that they make, then more power to them. I also think that there is much to be said for some of us trying to opt out of the capitalist pressure for us to constantly consume more, buy the latest electronic gadgets, replace our old gadgets every year, and generally just spend more and more. The technology merry-go-round is dizzying and sometimes it is useful to step off, even if for a while. I don’t live up to that standard myself, but I am a sympathizer with those who try to make their lives simpler.

  7. episcopalifem permalink*
    June 27, 2007 11:09 am

    I see what you are saying, MS. And I agree about the technology thing. The shelf life of tech products is ridiculous. When you read reviews on CNet they already know that something “better” is already on the way – why bother selling the intermediate product?

    Short answer..because they can.

    I’m not into self-righteousness of any sort, but, I wouldn’t look down my nose at someone who lived that lifestyle seriously, and did it for their own principaled reasons. Not to be a radical or reactionary or a rebel. (Although, I suppose those things do have their places…)

  8. June 27, 2007 1:27 pm

    That’s just fundamentalism of another sort, in my mind.

    I’m with you. As far as I’m concerned, it takes an awful lot of energy to adhere completely to a certain kind of lifestyle, or to believe in any one idea absolutely. I tend to come down on the left side of most issues, but lately, when I read or watch the “news,” I tell myself that the truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle.

    By the way, I have friends who scavenge lots of their stuff, or at least buy it secondhand. They’re not freegans, but they have a small house and get by with one car. Of course, they don’t plan to have any kids, so that helps. But they are decidedly un-preachy. They set a good example, I think.

  9. June 27, 2007 4:10 pm

    I’m all for dumpster diving. My house is vintage curb. My ex and I lived with one car for our whole 14 years together — bike, bus, walk, train whenever we could. Live in walkable ‘hoods, etc. Low-flow shower heads, compact flourescents, eat locally grown, you name it. Simplicity is a great spiritual discipline and important for our environment. It’s the fundamentalist bit I don’t like — witness young Adam’s comment in the posting. “There’s only one way to be ethical and I’m here to tell you what it is.” blegh.

  10. June 27, 2007 4:12 pm

    p.s. I’m on freecycle. It’s for anybody, not necessarily the freegans.

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