Hope does abide, it has a dwelling place

Posted February 10th, 2011 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Yesterday evening I had the privilege to present to a graduate class at Marquette University. The class is called, ‘Models of Sustainability,’ taught/led by Dr. Robert Pavlik, Ph.D.  Dr. Pavlik is assistant director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning in the College of Education at Marquette. He has a long commitment to fostering the values of ecology and spirituality, of fostering a new relationship between the human and the earth.

These groups always give me hope. I always come from one of these classes fed, nurtured, renewed in spirit.

It’s not like I hold back. As in my book (see sidebar), I present in stark terms the nature of the ecological crisis we face and the unprecedented nature of the threats it poses for the human species. I examine and reflect with them on the underlying framework of values, attitudes, deeply rooted beliefs that brought about this threshold moment for the human – the misalignment of the human within nature, the woeful mistake made in the West when we turned to the scientific method, to a mechanistic [mis]understanding of the natural world, to an air of human supremacy over nature, as if it is merely at our service and we not subject to its laws and dynamisms.

Masters of the Universe – you know, that mistake. Payback time has arrived, and then some.

Redbud in bloom - Photo: Margaret Swedish

But I present something else – the beauty of that natural world now under threat, a renewal of a relationship that we cannot escape no matter how much we ‘think’ and ‘ponder’ and do research and attempt all our various manipulations of natural processes, rhythms, and resources – and this perhaps the most intimate ongoing relationship in our lives, which is our bodies and spirits with and within the natural world in which we are deeply and always will be embedded.

Where is the hope in this? In the incredibly vulnerable and earnest spirit in which students engage this information, in the various ways in which they wrestle with how to live within this sense of growing crisis and danger, in some of the work many of them are already doing to live more lightly, earnestly, prophetically, courageously within this planet, the way in which they accept the truth of our situation, go ahead and get depressed and even despairing, but commit to going forward anyway because so much is at stake, especially for the young.

A couple of these students have worked in the public school system here for some time and struggle with how you make this relevant to kids growing up in desperate urban poverty, broken families, amidst street violence, racism, and a million messages telling them why they will fail. Or how you bring the message to kids walking around the world all day long with ear phones plugged in.

I like to end these sessions with a passage from my favorite Thomas Berry book, The Great Work, in which he writes of how each generation is born to a historical task, given not chosen by virtue of the times in which we live. We have a role assigned by those times, and right now it is to help bring down industrial civilization that has so devastated the planet and create a new relationship between the human and earth.

“We are, as it were, thrown into existence with a challenge and a role that is beyond any personal choice. The nobility of our lives, however, depends upon the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role…

“Yet we must believe that those powers that assign our role must in that same act bestow upon us the ability to fulfill that role. We must believe that we are cared for and guided by these same powers that bring us into being.”

Something about that message straightens spines again, instills a sense of meaning, purpose, and dignity to our lives greater than anything the global economy or our consumer society has to offer us. It’s not a false hope that then assumes everything will turn out okay. Rather, it’s an understanding that much will not be okay, that it will be hard, there will be suffering, that we are going to go through a very difficult period – but that we can endure, we can create in the midst of crisis and even catastrophe a new way of life better than this one, including a restoration of the meaning of the human, a deeper quality of life in which we can rediscover what it means to live rich and abundant lives.


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2 Responses

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    How on Earth are we going to adequately feed the hungry and starving, and simultaneously not keep ‘feeding the problem’ of human overpopulation?


    How is it possible for so many top rank experts of great stature to be adamantly advocating for more “food production to feed a growing population” and yet be failing to mention the profound implications of skyrocketing absolute global population numbers on Earth? For such a thing to be occurring in 2011 appears preposterous. It is morally outrageous and dangerous both to future human well being and environmental health, I believe, for well established experts to be reporting ubiquitously in high-level discussions such things as are directly contradicted by unchallenged scientific research of human population dynamics and human overpopulation. Is it possible that so-called, self-proclaimed experts are not aware of peer-reviewed, published research in their area of expertise that indicates the food supply is the independent (not dependent) variable and human population numbers is the dependent (not independent) variable with regard to the relationship between human population numbers and food supply? It appears that many too many experts are collectively reporting specious theory and data regarding the human population that cannot be supported by the best available scientific evidence, I believe.

    The food supply is the independent variable not the dependent variable. Human population numbers is the dependent variable not the independent variable. The believers in demographic transition theory and in the idea that “we must increase food production to feed a growing population” are simply mistaken. The false promise of Demographic Transition Theory, that population stabilization will somehow occur benignly and automatically a mere four decades from now, as well as the upside down thinking that human population numbers is the independent variable and food supply is the dependent variable, are at least two of the crucial and deliberate misunderstandings that are being deployed to direct the human community down a patently unsustainable “primrose path” no human being with feet of clay would ever choose to go.

    The uncontested scientific finding of the relationship between food supply and human population numbers is being obscured and denied by the very experts upon whom the human community relies for guidance and direction. Conscious obsfucation and willful denial by ‘the brightest and best’ of the scientific finding regarding the relationship between food supply and human population numbers has been occurring pervasively for way too long a time. This incredible failure of nerve by ‘the smartest guys in the room’ in my not-so-great generation has got to be acknowledged, addressed and overcome.

    The children’s future is being stolen by thieves of the highest order. And what is the communal response? A code of silence! Are people going to choose yet again to be bystanders at a moment when bold action, intellectual honesty and moral courage are required? Willful blindness, hysterical deafness, elective mutism and utter passivity cannot continue. The children will soon enough express their anger and disbelief at what the elders in my not-so-great generation have either failed to do or else done poorly “on our watch”, while wealthy and powerful crooks in high places robbed those among us who are still young of a good enough future.

    How on Earth are we going to adequately feed the hungry and starving, and simultaneously not keep ‘feeding the problem’ of human overpopulation? This is the question no one is asking, the one that needs to be asked.

  2. Steven Earl Salmony

    Why does democracy prevail? What is the source of democracy’s lasting value?

    To psychologists like myself the terms superego, ego and id are commonplace and refer to the remarkable institutions of an individual’s mind. In a similar way the words judiciary, executive and legislature are ever so familiar signifiers for political scientists and many others of the national institutions which organize our country into a democracy. That these great systems of “mind” and “state” may emanate from a common, all- too-human nature has been discussed many times heretofore.
    These brief comments attempt to extend that discussion and are a condensed presentation of a way in which the recognizable institutions composing the mind and the state might be objectively correlated. I present it now here because it seems somehow right, and possibly useful, for human beings to communicate their perceptions about basic aspects of our shared reality. As an example, consider how the judicial branch of government possesses certain essential features of the mind’s superego; that the executive branch functions much like the ego; and of course the ways the legislature most directly represents the wishes and needs of human beings everywhere and reflects the id.
    The nature and significance of the relationship between mind and state has been commented upon since the early days of Western civilization. This commentary begins with Pythagoras’ effort to answer the questions: What is the nature of human nature, and how might this nature express itself in the organization of human society? To put these questions another way: May the structure and dynamics of the mind have significance for the manner in which the social world is ordered and functions? Pythagoras and later Plato perceived that the organization of two levels — the psychological/individual and the governmental/societal — could be governed by the same principles. While Pythagoras is most likely the first to record this relationship, one of the truly impressive portrayals of these symmetrical psychological and governmental formations is to be found in the Dialogues of Plato, wherein he presented three governance mechanisms of the city-state mirroring three psychic agencies perceived ubiquitously within the human beings who belong to that city-state. It appears that the three governing elements of a state are derived from individuals who themselves possess these same elements in a terminal system he called psyche, others have called soul, and we call the mind.
    By fixing his analysis on the conflict among certain institutions of government, Plato posited that the social order is a replica of a person’s conflict-ridden mind, but on a much larger scale. Indeed, it has appeared to some people throughout the course of Western civilization that governance mechanisms of a state originate in, and are congruent with, the agencies which compose the mind. That is to say, the origin of a social order is not bestowed by a higher authority or based upon a conscious ’social contract’ , but given in what is uniquely human in the nature of the individuals themselves.
    From this perspective, a state also is not the product of an historical process as many since Cicero have believed, but rather is derived from something plain and fundamental in the minds of its membership. It is possible to consider individual minds as microcosms in which the governing features of a macrocosmic social order can be apprehended and, in a most rudimentary way, understood.
    It may be fruitful to consider this fundamental relationship in which the human being gives objectivity to his/her terminal system in the formation of a state, yet does not often acknowledge the independence and validity of the governing institutions in this ‘object’ as being reflections of her/his own nature. This does not mean that the individual is equal to, or stands above, this necessary object. On the contrary, the state is above the individual and governs her/him. The point here is merely this: a plurality of individuals projects its commonly-held psychic elements into governance mechanisms of the state and then makes itself subordinate to this external organization. Human beings, it appears, are by nature constituted for social living, and most people become engaged in the outward events of the social and material world as a way of meeting basic needs determined by the practical requirements of reality.
    Ancient thinkers as well as contemporary scholars have postulated that there can be no meaningful human existence absent a social order. Perhaps it can be said that certain aspects of mentation are knowable because the mind presents itself both in three distinguishable parts to itself and in three governance mechanisms of the state. This mind / state relationship can be thought of as an example of the state having been generalized from, or having taken on the structure of, animating principles of unity in the mind of the individual. Individual members of a state unconsciously consent to be governed, as it were, by a state which typifies their nature. It is then plausible that the state comes closest to ensuring the expression of naturally determined human potential and relational capabilities of its members, as their ‘lights’ accord them a view of just what potential and capacity for relations they possess. Institutions of government begin to exist where individuals in sufficient numbers recognize that they are incapable of providing for their well being through personal thought and initiative alone. By adequately organizing governance mechanisms, government deals at once with inner conflict and outer challenges to the social order in much the same way the psychological agencies in the mind of the individual respond to the needs of the self. The state has ultimate concern for the needs of the individual by ensuring the opportunity for the fulfillment of those purposes for which individuals are created. Those governments which are most successful in accomplishing this goal are founded upon an understanding of the capacities of human beings, with particular attention to the goals toward which human beings
    tend. Then the state becomes a structure common to individual minds; conversely, their common psychic structure serves as a model that is employed to organize, authorize and empower governance mechanisms which direct society toward a remote, unreachable goal: the good of all.
    Here we identify a dynamic terminal system in its individual and its societal form. In the latter, human beings shape, amplify and adapts governance mechanisms according to their make-up in the formation and maintenance of a personality writ large, called a state.
    Since the dawn of Western civilization notice has been taken regarding how governance mechanisms of a state may spring from and ‘mirror’ the interplay of structured, psychodynamic distinctions of personality. Thanks to certain eminent psychological findings by S. Freud and to the constitutional inventions of T. Jefferson, we can see with more clarity how the structure, the dynamics and the overall momentum of the mind furnish the model for the structuring and functioning of a democracy.