Ethics that focus on human interactions, morals that focus on humanity’s relationship to a Creator, fall short of these things we’ve learned. They fail to encompass the big take-home message, so far, of a century and a half of biology and ecology: life is- more than anything else- a process; it creates, and depends on, relationships among energy, land, water, air, time and various living things. It’s not just about human-to-human interaction; it’s not just about spiritual interaction. It’s about all interaction. We’re bound with the rest of life in a network, a network including not just all living things but the energy and nonliving matter that flows through the living, making and keeping all of us alive as we make it alive. We can keep debating ideologies and sending entreaties toward heaven. But unless we embrace the fuller reality we’re in- and reality’s implications- we’ll face big problems.
Their management and regulation of our lives spans the total spectrum of American experience, from their obtuse Imperial Measurement System, to their irregularity-strangled English language. From their lobbyist-ruled government bureaucracy, to their consumer-oriented religious holidays like Christmas. From their brainless professional sports jocks cast as heroes, to their anorexic supermodels warping the concept of beauty. These are the people who made sugary colas more important that water; fast food more important than health; television sitcoms more important than reading literature. They made smoking a joint in your home a crime; going out in public without your hair tinted an embarrassment; and accidentally carrying a half-filled bottle of baby formula on an airplane a terrorist act. Do you realize 85 percent of Americans still say 'God bless you' after someone sneezes? And that 'In God We Trust' is on every single dollar in circulation? Or that 'One nation under God' is recited everyday in the Pledge of Allegiance by millions of impressionable kids?From our first day alive on this planet, they began teaching society everything it knows and experiences. It was all brainwashing bullshit. Their trio of holy catechisms is: faith is more important than reason; inputs are more important than outcomes; hope is more important than reality. It was designed to choke your independent thinking and acting—to bring out the lowest common denominator in people—so that vast amounts of the general public would literally buy into sponsorship and preservation of their hegemonic nation. Their greatest achievement was the creation of the two-party political system; it gave only the illusion of choice, but never offered any change; it promised freedom, but only delivered more limits. In the end, you got stuck with two leading loser parties and not just one. It completed their trap of underhanded domination, and it worked masterfully. Look anywhere you go. America is a nation of submissive, dumbed-down, codependent, faith-minded zombies obsessed with celebrity gossip, buying unnecessary goods, and socializing without purpose on their electronic gadgets. The crazy thing is that people don't even know it; they still think they're free. Everywhere, people have been made into silent accomplices in the government's twisted control game. In the end, there is no way out for anyone.What seems worst of all, though, is that even the leaders don't recognize this. The greatest danger of the whole mess is that all this Western-American conditioning has been on autopilot for centuries. Nobody is in control of it anymore. It's a mindless goliath wandering the Earth, devouring lives, erasing potential, and following its every whim—regardless of how irrational, obscene, uneducated, enslaving, or backwards its actions are. The American Dream has become a death sentence of drudgery, consumerism, and fatalism: a garage sale where the best of the human spirit is bartered away for comfort, obedience and trinkets. It's unequivocally absurd.
We humans have a questionable track record in our dealings with the environment. Recent studies show that complete restoration of Florida’s Everglades could take approximately 30 years and 7.8 billion dollars. There’s a lot of work to be done–but the damage is not irreversible. Together, through conservation and public awareness, we may be able to correct many of these unfortunate trends. Today, it is not enough to just appreciate nature–we have to actively work to protect it.
To say that the humanities can be a path to truth itself is to challenge one of our most closely held beliefs. We live not only in a scientific world, but also in a scientistic one: a world that thinks that science - empirical, objective, quantifiable - is the exclusive form of knowledge, and that other methods of inquiry are valid only insofar as they approximate its methods. But the humanities and science face in opposite directions. They don't just work in different ways; they work on different things.
We have come to understand the phenomena of life only as an assemblage of the lifeless. We take the mechanistic abstractions of our technical calculation to be ultimately concrete and "fundamentally real," while our most intimate experiences are labelled "mere appearance" and something having reality only within the closet of the isolated mind. Suppose however we were to invert this whole scheme, reverse the order in which it assigns abstract and concrete. What is central to our experience, then, need not be peripheral to nature. This sunset now, for example, caught within the network of bare winter branches, seems like a moment of benediction in which the whole of nature collaborates. Why should not these colours and these charging banners of light be as much a part of the universe as the atoms and molecules that make them up? If they were only "in my mind," then I and my mind would no longer be a part of nature. Why should the pulse of life toward beauty and value not be a part of things? Following this path, we do not vainly seek to assemble the living out of configurations of dead stuff, but we descend downwards from more complex to simpler grades of the organic. From humans to trees to rocks; from "higher grade" to "lower grade" organisms. In the universe of energy, any individual thing is a pattern of activity within the flux, and thereby an organism at some level.
If mind belongs to humans alone, then stones, trees, and streams become mere objects of human tinkering. We can plunder the earth's resources with impunity, treating creeks and mountaintops in Kentucky or rivers in India or forests in northwest America as if they existed only for economic development. Systems of land and river become inert chunks of lifeless mud or mechanical runs of H2O rather than the living, breathing bodies upon which we and all other creatures depend for our very lives.Not to mention what 'nature as machine' has done to our emotional and spiritual well-being. When we regard nature as churning its way forward mindlessly through time, we turn our backs on mystery, shunning the complexity as well as the delights of relationship. We isolate ourselves from the rest of the creatures with whom we share this world. We imagine ourselves the apex of creation -- a lonely spot indeed. Human minds become the measure of creation and human thoughts become the only ones that count. The result is a concept of mind shorn of its wild connections, in which feelings become irrelevant, daydreams are mere distractions, and nighttime dreams -- if we attend to them at all -- are but the cast-offs of yesterday's overactive brain. Mind is cut off from matter, untouched by exingencies of mud or leaf, shaped by whispers or gales of wind, as if we were not, like rocks, made of soil.And then we wonder at our sadness and depression, not realizing that our own view of reality has sunk us into an unbearable solipsism, an agony of separateness -- from loved ones, from other creatures, from rich but unruly emotions, in short, from our ability to connect, through senses and feeling and imagination, with the world that is our home.
Only within the 20th Century has biological thought been focused on ecology, or the relation of the living creature to its environment. Awareness of ecological relationships is — or should be — the basis of modern conservation programs, for it is useless to attempt to preserve a living species unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved. So delicately interwoven are the relationships that when we disturb one thread of the community fabric we alter it all — perhaps almost imperceptibly, perhaps so drastically that destruction follows."Essay on the Biological Sciences, in: Good Reading (1958)
I am no ecological Pollyana. I have borne, and will continue to bear, feelings of wholehearted melancholy over the ecological state of the earth. How could I not? How could anyone not? But I am unwilling to become a hand-wringing nihilist, as some environmental 'realists' seem to believe is the more mature posture. Instead, I choose to dwell, as Emily Dickinson famously suggested, in possibility, where we cannot predict what will happen but we make space for it, whatever it is, and realize that our participation has value. This is grown-up optimism, where our bondedness with the rest of creation, a sense of profound interaction, and a belief in our shared ingenuity give meaning to our lives and actions on behalf of the more-than-human world.
It is very easy to grow tired at collecting; the period of a low tide is about all men can endure. At first the rocks are bright and every moving animal makes his mark on the attention. The picture is wide and colored and beautiful. But after an hour and a half the attention centers weary, the color fades, and the field is likely to narrow to an individual animal. Here one may observe his own world narrowed down until interest and, with it, observation, flicker and go out. And what if with age this weariness becomes permanent and observation dim out and not recover? Can this be what happens to so many men of science? Enthusiasm, interest, sharpness, dulled with a weariness until finally they retire into easy didacticism? With this weariness, this stultification of attention centers, perhaps there comes the pained and sad memory of what the old excitement was like, and regret might turn to envy of the men who still have it. Then out of the shell of didacticism, such a used-up man might attack the unwearied, and he would have in his hands proper weapons of attack. It does seem certain that to a wearied man an error in a mass of correct data wipes out all the correctness and is a focus for attack; whereas the unwearied man, in his energy and receptivity, might consider the little dross of error a by-product of his effort. These two may balance and produce a purer thing than either in the end. These two may be the stresses which hold up the structure, but it is a sad thing to see the interest in interested men thin out and weaken and die. We have known so many professors who once carried their listeners high on their single enthusiasm, and have seen these same men finally settle back comfortably into lectures prepared years before and never vary them again. Perhaps this is the same narrowing we observe in relation to ourselves and the tide pool—a man looking at reality brings his own limitations to the world. If he has strength and energy of mind the tide pool stretches both ways, digs back to electrons and leaps space into the universe and fights out of the moment into non-conceptual time. Then ecology has a synonym which is ALL.
Ecology is beginning to slowly shift focus with tentative explorations of what the world would look like if process, rather than matter were the basis for reality What if we defined a species in terms of its life processes? We might seriously doubt whether the California condor or the tall grass prairie can be 'saved' or even 'restored.' Perhaps we can re-create some local conditions that foster a few nests of condors or a few acres of prairie. But the life process of the condor ended with the urbanization of the California foothills and the living ebb and flow of the tall grass prairies died with the plowing of the Great Plains. What if we suggested that a thing is what it does? In this light, the Rocky Mountain locust was a immense aperiodic energy flow that linked life processes on a continental scale.This notion of life-as-process might seem unusual in a society in which material existence is primary. But such a perception informs our deepest understanding of life. Indeed, life-as-process underlies our notion of euthanasia. When loved ones are simply bodies, devoid of the capacity to care, respond, or relate again a away that we can recognize as being "them," we understand that they are gone even before they are dead.
Even after centuries of human interacting, children still continue to rebel against their parents and siblings. Young marrieds look upon their in-laws and parents as obstacles to their independence and growth. Parents view their children as selfish ingrates. Husbands desert their wives and seek greener fields elsewhere. Wives form relationships with heroes of soap operas who vicariously bring excitement and romance into their empty lives. Workers often hate their bosses and co-workers and spend miserable hours with them, day after day. On a larger scale, management cannot relate with labour. Each accuses the other of unreasonable self-interests and narrow-mindedness. Religious groups often become entrapped, each in a provincial dogma resulting in hate and vindictiveness in the name of God. Nations battle blindly, under the shadow of the world annihilation, for the realization of their personal rights. Members of these groups blame rival groups for their continual sense of frustration, impotence, lack of progress and communication. We have obviously not learned much over the years. We have not paused long enough to consider the simple truth that we humans are not born with particular attitudinal sets regarding other persons, we are taught into them. We are the future generation's teachers. We are, therefore, the perpetrators of the confusion and alienation we abhor and which keeps us impotent in finding new alternatives. It is up to us to diligently discover new solutions and learn new patterns of relating, ways more conducive to growth, peace, hope and loving coexistence. Anything that is learned can be unlearned and relearned. In this process called change lies our real hope.
What finally turned me back toward the older traditions of my own [Chickasaw] and other Native peoples was the inhumanity of the Western world, the places--both inside and out--where the culture's knowledge and language don't go, and the despair, even desperation, it has spawned. We live, I see now, by different stories, the Western mind and the indigenous. In the older, more mature cultures where people still live within the kinship circles of animals and human beings there is a connection with animals, not only as food, but as 'powers,' a word which can be taken to mean states of being, gifts, or capabilities.I've found, too, that the ancient intellectual traditions are not merely about belief, as some would say. Belief is not a strong enough word. They are more than that: They are part of lived experience, the on-going experience of people rooted in centuries-old knowledge that is held deep and strong, knowledge about the natural laws of Earth, from the beginning of creation, and the magnificent terrestrial intelligence still at work, an intelligence now newly called ecology by the Western science that tells us what our oldest tribal stories maintain--the human animal is a relatively new creation here; animal and plant presences were here before us; and we are truly the younger sisters and brothers of the other animal species, not quite as well developed as we thought we were. It is through our relationships with animals and plants that we maintain a way of living, a cultural ethics shaped from an ancient understanding of the world, and this is remembered in stories that are the deepest reflections of our shared lives on Earth.That we held, and still hold, treaties with the animals and plant species is a known part of tribal culture. The relationship between human people and animals is still alive and resonant in the world, the ancient tellings carried on by a constellation of stories, songs, and ceremonies, all shaped by lived knowledge of the world and its many interwoven, unending relationships. These stories and ceremonies keep open the bridge between one kind of intelligence and another, one species and another.(from her essay "First People")
Many conscientious environmentalists are repelled by the word "abundance," automatically associating it with irresponsible consumerism and plundering of Earth's resources. In the context of grassroots frustration, insensitive enthusing about the potential for energy abundance usually elicits an annoyed retort. "We have to conserve." The authors believe the human family also has to _choose_. The people we speak with at the recycling depot or organic juice bar are for the most part not looking at the _difference_ between harmony-with-nature technologies and exploitative practices such as mountaintop coal mining. "Destructive" was yesterday's technology of choice. As a result, the words "science and technology" are repugnant to many of the people who passionately care about health, peace, justice and the biosphere. Usually these acquaintances haven't heard about the variety of constructive yet powerful clean energy technologies that have the potential to gradually replace oil and nuclear industries if allowed. Wastewater-into-energy technologies could clean up waterways and other variations solve the problem of polluting feedlots and landfills.
Alex here. (...) Ron, I really enjoy all the help you have given me and the times we spent together. I hope that you will not be too depressed by our parting. It may be a very long time before we see each other again. But providing that I get through the Alaskan Deal in one piece you will be hearing form me again in the future. I’d like to repeat the advice I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing or been to hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one piece of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. (...) Once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty. (...) Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. (...) You are wrong if you think joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.Ron, I really hope that as soon as you can you will get out of Salton City, put a little camper on the back of your pickup, and start seeing some of the great work that God has done here in the American West. you will see things and meet people and there is much to learn from them. And you must do it economy style, no motels, do your own cooking, as a general rule spend as little as possible and you will enjoy it much more immensely. I hope that the next time I see you, you will be a new man with a vast array of new adventures and experiences behind you. Don’t hesitate or allow yourself to make excuses. Just get out and do it. Just get out and do it. You will be very, very glad that you did.Take care Ron,Alex
I'd like to repeat the advice that I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty. And so, Ron, in short, get out of Salton City and hit the Road. I guarantee you will be very glad you did. But I fear that you will ignore my advice. You think that I am stubborn, but you are even more stubborn than me. You had a wonderful chance on your drive back to see one of the greatest sights on earth, the Grand Canyon, something every American should see at least once in his life. But for some reason incomprehensible to me you wanted nothing but to bolt for home as quickly as possible, right back to the same situation which you see day after day after day. I fear you will follow this same inclination in the future and thus fail to discover all the wonderful things that God has placed around us to discover. Don't settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. You are still going to live a long time, Ron, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience.You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life. It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it. The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.
Nothing is more important to human beings than an ecologically functioning, life sustaining biosphere on the earth. It is the only habitable place we know of in a forbidding universe. We all depend on it to live and we are compelled to share it; it is our only home... the earth's biosphere seems almost magically suited to human beings and indeed it is, for we evolved through eons of intimate immersion within it. We cannot live long or well without a functioning biosphere, and so it is worth everything we have.
Human social life, I suggest, is the magma that erupts and builds up, so to speak, at the fault lines where natural human capacities meet and grind against and over natural human limitations…. This meeting of powers and limitations produces a creative, dynamic tension and energy that generates and fuels the making of human social life and social structures…. It is real human persons living through the tensions of natural existential contradictions who construct patterned social meanings, interactions, institutions, and structures.
rights of the unborn” as though a human life begins at conception but we don’t need to concern ourselves with its prospects after birth. Raging over the divine sanctity of anyone else’s pregnancy is a little overwrought and a little too easy when nature itself terminates one out of four by the sixth week. There are much bigger, more compassionate pro-life fish to fry. Passing along a world that can allow real children to flourish and the cavalcade of generations to unfold, and the least to live in modest dignity would be the biggest pro-life enterprise we could undertake.
[T]he old stories of human relationships with animals can't be discounted. They are not primitive; they are primal. They reflect insights that came from considerable and elaborate systems of knowledge, intellectual traditions and ways of living that were tried, tested, and found true over many thousands of years and on all continents.But perhaps the truest story is with the animals themselves because we have found our exemplary ways through them, both in the older world and in the present time, both physically and spiritually. According to the traditions of the Seneca animal society, there were medicine animals in ancient times that entered into relationships with people. The animals themselves taught ceremonies that were to be performed in their names, saying they would provide help for humans if this relationship was kept. We have followed them, not only in the way the early European voyagers and prenavigators did, by following the migrations of whales in order to know their location, or by releasing birds from cages on their sailing vessels and following them towards land, but in ways more subtle and even more sustaining. In a discussion of the Wolf Dance of the Northwest, artists Bill Holm and William Reid said that 'It is often done by a woman or a group of women. The dance is supposed to come from the wolves. There are different versions of its origin and different songs, but the words say something like, 'Your name is widely known among the wolves. You are honored by the wolves.'In another recent account, a Northern Cheyenne ceremonialist said that after years spent recovering from removals and genocide, indigenous peoples are learning their lost songs back from the wolves who retained them during the grief-filled times, as thought the wolves, even though threatened in their own numbers, have had compassion for the people....It seems we have always found our way across unknown lands, physical and spiritual, with the assistance of the animals. Our cultures are shaped around them and we are judged by the ways in which we treat them. For us, the animals are understood to be our equals. They are still our teachers. They are our helpers and healers. They have been our guardians and we have been theirs. We have asked for, and sometimes been given, if we've lived well enough, carefully enough, their extraordinary powers of endurance and vision, which we have added to our own knowledge, powers and gifts when we are not strong enough for the tasks required of us. We have deep obligations to them. Without other animals, we are made less.(from her essay "First People")