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Apr 242017
 

I’m not sure, but I think I was recently on the receiving end of some “mansplaining.”

That word is almost a decade old and so probably doesn’t deserve scare quotes or require further explication. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to put quotes around it and offer a definition. I guess I’m a linguistic conservative.

Artwork by Ron Mader, licensed under Creative Commons.

Just in case you’ve been living in an isolation chamber, here’s how the good folks at Merriam-Webster define the word.

It’s what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does.

Women tend to know more about this phenomenon, by dint of experience, or so I’ve been told.

A lecture from an alternate reality

It happened as we were getting ready for the annual hike of the Lafitte Greenway. I struck up a conversation with a complete stranger. Friendly guy. We were talking about composting or collecting rainwater or some other eco-positive topic. He said that he sent virtually no garbage to the landfill. I was impressed, and I congratulated him.

“Being environmental is good,” he said, “as long as you don’t take it too far.” Or something to that effect.

“I guess,” I said. “But when I look around at our society as a whole, I don’t suppose we’re in too much danger of that!”

He disagreed. Not in a rude way. He was very affable and breezy. But as he went on at length about his perspective on environmental issues, I began to feel like I was receiving a lecture from an alternate reality.

As my new acquaintance would have it, Americans have “virtually zero impact” on the environment. No, it’s China and Mexico that are the real problems. Of course, he cautioned me, you have to be careful where you get your news. “You can’t believe anything from the liberal media.”

On and on he explained to me how the the world works, never asking my view, never apparently even considering that I might have a view, that I might even have thought about these issues before.

Approaching true zero

Anyone who’s read this column knows that I have plenty of opinions, especially on environmental issues, and that I am an organizer for the Green Party and a proponent of Earth-based spirituality.

The ironic thing is — and I swear I’m not making this up — I’d watched Zero Impact Man on DVD just the night before. This is a documentary from 2009 which follows Colin Beavan and his family in their quest to live with zero environmental impact for one year.

“No Impact Man” – Official Trailer [HQ HD]

Coming to Theatres on September 4, 2009 Starring: Colin Beavan, Michelle Conlin Author Colin Beavan, in research for his new book, began the No Impact Project in November 2006. A newly self-proclaimed environmentalist who could no longer avoid pointing the finger at himself, Colin leaves behind his liberal complacency for a vow to make as little environmental impact as possible for one year.

In order to approach zero impact, the changes this family makes in their lifestyle are pretty extreme, at least by my standards, and (I would guess) by the standards of most Americans. Could you go for a year without consuming electricity? How about no toilet paper?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

So that’s what was on my mind as I stood there on that Saturday morning, hearing about how Americans have “virtually zero” environmental impact. The contrast between Beavan’s experiment and my new friend’s monologue couldn’t have been more stark.

Eventually I did interrupt to ask a question, which I posed just by way of experiment: “Scientists say we’re living through a major extinction event, with huge numbers of species going extinct. What do you think of that?”

No, nope, not a problem.

I asked what he thought of E. O. Wilson’s recent proposal to set aside half the land area of Planet Earth as wild, undeveloped terrain, free of human influence.

His response was a single word: “Why?”

The real question

I didn’t argue. I just told my buddy that he’d given me a lot to think about, and I’d have to do some more research and re-examine my thinking.

It may come as a shock and surprise to some, but that was a sincere statement. Despite being highly opinionated, I don’t walk around all smug and cocksure, thinking I know it all. I try to be informed by evidence, and if science contradicts some cherished opinion of mine, I discard it.

So what about this question of Americans having virtually zero impact on the environment? I did a little research, and quickly found this unequivocal statement.

Americans consume far more natural resources and live much less sustainably than people from any other large country of the world.

That’s from Scientific American. I could provide further citations to bolster my perspective, but that’s beside the point.

The real question I’m hoping to raise here is this:

Is “mansplain” the right word for this instance? Can someone “mansplain” to me, even though (by all appearances) I’m a dude myself? Or is there another word for that?

Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband, a father and a resident of Mid-City. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Greenway, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle. More at BartEverson.com.

“No Impact Man” – Official Trailer [HQ HD]

Coming to Theatres on September 4, 2009 Starring: Colin Beavan, Michelle Conlin Author Colin Beavan, in research for his new book, began the No Impact Project in November 2006. A newly self-proclaimed environmentalist who could no longer avoid pointing the finger at himself, Colin leaves behind his liberal complacency for a vow to make as little environmental impact as possible for one year.

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