Paradise Comes with Responsibilities

My adopted hometown, Daytona Beach, has just been named “One of the Top 10 Most Affordable Beach Towns in the USA.”

A neighbor and fellow activist posted this news item on a local forum, together with her comment, “Not exactly proud of this. And it belies the need for affordable housing. What comes with this ‘accolade’ is a host of problems that we ignore. A rush to the bottom isn’t a good thing in my opinion.”

My city has long had this “affordable beach town” reputation. This idea, and various issues connected with it, have therefore been on my mind for a long time.

“Paradise” comes with responsibilities. Not enough people seem to know that.

And specifically I mean:

1) Responsibilities to the local environment/ecosystem — the land, the water, the air — and all plant and animal species who inhabit it.

2) Responsibilities to the full human ecosystem, including residents of all income levels, occupations, & life-circumstances.

Along with its reputation as a low-cost paradise, our area also has an image (shamelessly fostered by tourist bureaus) for no-strings-attached hedonistic pleasure, as expressed in PR phrases like “The Fun Coast” and “Wide Open Fun.” This mindset is so normalized that it even took me (a person who notices and questions such things) a while to notice and question it. We take entire places and effectively, with this attitude, turn them into unreal, cartoonish non-places. “Conscience-free zones.” It’s obscene, actually. A profanation of place.

No one should get to arrive here and just enjoy the sunshine and swimming, but not care about the people and other creatures who already live here. No one should get to arrive here, then actively set about making life harder for, or even trying to eradicate, the people and other creatures who already live here.

No one should get to come here (whether to visit or to live) and feel like they “shouldn’t have to see homeless people.” No one should get to move here — buy a piece of paradise with their out-of-state-rich money — and then speak out loudly against affordable-apartment developments; expanded shelter options.

No one should get to move here and scalp the forest and wetland vegetation, evict all the wild creatures with the flick of a backhoe, and replace that richness with a graded-and-filled “green desert”: mile upon mile of treeless buzzcut chemical-carpet interspersed with blobs of dyed orange mulch.

No one should get to come here and expect to never again have to think or deal with any discomfort “because we worked hard all our lives.”

Paradise comes with responsibilities.

This is true not just for my city and other beach towns, but also for mountain towns, desert towns, and any other place where people move to “find paradise.” It’s true for your place as well as mine.

Even if your place isn’t widely considered a paradise, it’s true of your place too. No one should get to move to your part of the world and take over it. Gentrify and sanitize it socially, economically, horticulturally, biologically, ecologically. The way we “modern” Anglo-Euro humans have been doing for centuries, everywhere.

What gets called “modern” is actually gross, brutish, and primitive.

Colonize, that’s the word. We have built a consumerist, colonizer culture, and our task is to make a turnaround before it’s too late for us.

Paradise comes with responsibilities. It occurred to me just now that this applies not just to places, but to the entire planet; to Earth itself. As citizens of this magnificent blue-and-green sphere among the stars, we live in paradise. And paradise comes with responsibilities.

Furthermore, it just occurred to me that this concept of paradise-responsibility applies not only to the entire planet, but across time as well. As inhabitants of the present time, we live in paradise. Information technology gives us unprecedented access to all the wisdom of all people all over the world, and throughout history. Living in this temporal paradise comes with responsibilities.

We owe it to our ancestors not to squander the fruits we’ve inherited, which come from their hard work and sacrifice.

And we owe it to our descendants, to all future generations, to leave them a healthy planet. To not kick our consequences into the future; not pass the buck; not saddle them with the reeking garbage-bags of our selfishness.

Further Exploration:

• On the subject of responsibility to the future, a wise and lovely friend (thanks, Reverend Kathy!) recently turned me on to an amazing TED Talk: How To Be A Good Ancestor. The speaker, Roman Krznaric, talks about how we modern consumerist humans are literally “colonizing the future” with our destructive habits, and how we can stop that. He proposes the concept of going against the harmful norm by becoming “time-rebels.”

“They Want To Start Paying Mother Nature for All Her Hard Work.” (By Catrin Einhorn, “Continuing to ignore the value of nature in our global economy threatens humanity itself, according to an independent report on biodiversity and economics, commissioned by the British government … ‘Even while we have enjoyed the fruits of economic growth, the demand we have made on nature’s goods and services has for some decades exceeded her ability to supply them on a sustainable basis,’ Dr. Dasgupta said. ‘The gap has been increasing, threatening our descendants’ lives.'”