Archives for category: Sustainability

Recently picked up The Varieties of Scientific Experience by the one and only Carl Sagan.

Carl attempts to make sense of current theology in the context of modern scientific knowledge, posing, above all, that humility and compassion should govern the human experience. Given our relatively recent ability to cause our own annihilation with nuclear weapons, this may be the only way humankind can survive. Further, he points to reasonable understandings of God and life given the context of the universe’s and earth’s history.

But I couldn’t help but feel that his arguments, though poignant, respectable, and logical, lack the fervor and heat required for humanity to move away from the disastrous possibilities we have created. Namely, he gives no alternative to the logistics of how we live and run our society other than better knowledge, understanding, and more perfect distributions of information.

Everyone should be wary of a dependence on a trajectory toward perfect knowledge, for with it comes power, which makes it political and costly (in more ways than monetary).

So, I propose Saganomics, a re-framing of economic theory (which by-and-large is a bastardization of more complex, dynamic, and chaotic systems we could not possibly comprehend completely). What could happen if we re-form the fundamentals of economics with a new assumption of humility and awe in the face of scale and history over rational self-interest. Not to discount self-interest as a motivation (of course it exists and would be silly to ignore it), but to credit the phenomenon of human life and its necessity to persist through our compassion.

Consider the cooperative (shared ownership) business model, which recently was pointed out to me to have a unique characteristic. Cooperatives tend to grow only as much as they are needed, largely by demand, and by the roles they fulfill in a community. Cooperatives do not grow for the sake of growth. That is the kind of economic structure that is consistent with a Saganomic principle of humility and that successfully transcends naive assumptions about rational self-interest.

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Reading a few old sources for a research project, I came across this snippet by Anya Kamenetz in DIY U. It’s written in the context of technology and education, offering some new perspectives (like those of Edupunks and Edupreneurs). However, I think it’s nearly universal:

Our best hope is to get better at empowering individuals to find answers for themselves. In other words, forget about giving the guy a fish, or teaching him how to fish, either. Teach him how to teach himself, and he’ll always be able to acquire the skills he needs to find food, skills you haven’t even thought of yet for things you didn’t know you could eat.

and from there, the anecdote gets real:

Fishing itself, it happens, is a great example of this. Today, 90 percent of fish species are over-exploited. Fish farming is people’s fastest-growing source of food and will probably remain so until 2025, says James S. Diana of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The world needs people who can figure out new ways to repair the oceans and to find or grow renewable sources of food.

Here, here, Anya!

Although it does a great job of flipping the old “Teach A Person to Fish” story, there’s something to be desired in terms of community, cooperation, and social capital. Oh well, I’ll have to be on the look-out for that next great anecdote.

I starting thinking about this sentence a lot today (something less than a mantra).

Back-to-the-landers (Californians and many others) retreated in the 60s and 70s from cities to rural spaces, some to places that had yet to be populated at all. There was a lot of hippie culture, pot growing, conflicts with locals, and also none (or the opposite) of each. Aaron Cometbus wrote some interviews with some of these folks and their grown-up kids in an old issue of his zine I picked up a couple weeks ago.

Talking to a few people lately, we all have the impression there is a sense of impending doom. The United States is in a bad way, not to mention the whole world, and there are some pretty poor things to come very soon. The consequences of environmental disaster, financial disaster, and more. Even things that were around before our recent financial crashes–the pains of capitalism, corporatism, and so forth.

Many of these back-to-the-landers were thinking the same thing. There was more focus on the collapse of civilization or what-have-you, due to tensions thought to be caused by the urban environs. But the rhetoric really isn’t so different. And how did the react? They retreated, they literally “headed for the hills.”

So what of today? What of our crises today? I say that conditions now are critical and we need to ask ourselves as individuals what we should do about it.

Personally, I don’t think we can escape or avert most of our present crises–there’s no hill tall enough to run to. But more than that, I don’t feel like running, I am interested in confronting these issues and not letting them drive me–or anyone–out of our heads. Funny, all this clarity came from a recent existential crisis, an unbearable lightness of being sort of thing. All I know is, I have things to learn and do, and my intentions are to address critical issues, not ignore or escape them. I invite you to join me.