“There is no profit in benevolence” is how a slave trader justifies his business in Lawrence Hill’s novel, The Book of Negroes.
John Steinbeck expressed a similar thought in his novel, Cannery Row, “The things we admire in humanity, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while humanity admires the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”
Are Hill and Steinbeck describing qualities that apply to all of humanity or only to an extremely wealthy, influential minority? Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens challenges Hill and Steinbeck, “Humankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” Business, says Marley, must be just.
In 2019 members of the Syilx Nation described how they blockaded a pipeline through their unceded territory. They expected no profit in benevolence. They knew their actions weren’t going to make them rich or earn them any money. Their goal was beyond profit, incomprehensible to those who have degenerated to think only in terms of profit and loss. The Sylix’s concern was the pipeline would leak: one litre of oil contaminates one million litres of groundwater. Leaked oil would irreparably contaminate their drinking water, a necessity for their families, for future generations, and for all life on Syilx land.
Like the Sylix, courageous people are being persecuted for trying to protect BC’s old growth forests as we are fed the false dichotomy that we can have jobs or old growth forests, but not both. We’re burdened with provincial forest policy that insists on prescribed annual allowable cuts above other forest values, loss of forest diversity, ecological neglect, the decadence of old growth forests. Legal lies!
We can manage our forests for sustainable yields, long-term jobs, and higher-value products while protecting old growth forests for their invaluable biodiversity, ecological services, and sheer magnificence. It’s possible to create profitable jobs that restore and build our natural capital rather than deplete or destroy it. We can protect our water, air, land, and our health while generating clean renewable energy at a lower cost than fossil fuels. We can include B.C.’s Indigenous Peoples fairly in land management decisions and negotiate just treaties.
Slavery, gross injustice, hatred, war, high risk of more frequent more destructive environmental catastrophes persist, but so too do random acts of kindness, peaceful protests for social and environmental justice, love, affordable solutions to the climate crisis.
We can shift paradigms so benevolence is profitable and what we admire are the traits of success when we lock arms with the ninety-nine percent. We chose our leaders and the choices on offer range from greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest to kindness, generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling. I choose hope, or in the words of Charles Dickens, “Don’t leave off hoping, or it’s of no use doing anything. Hope, hope to the last!”