Category Archives: revolution

Interdependence~Independence Day 2014

Re-imagining Independence Day

It’s that time of year again, and I’m an ocean away from my home country.

Of course, I can’t let a Fourth of July pass without remembering my dear friend Joody, and our attempts to articulate and celebrate new thoughts appropriate to such a revolutionary anniversary.  So raise your own flagoccupy your worldget decolonized,  start your own currency and declare something wonderful today!

Again this year, I celebrate and embrace both, entwined as they are in their powerful dance.  I declare Independence ~ Interdependence!

In light of the Independence /Interdependence Day celebration, I found some related links:

A 2012 Declaration of Interdependence (a bit New-Age-y-Self-Help-y, but makes good points):

 

And if you are feeling a bit anti-patriotic, I can recommend some great readings from the Archdruid Report:

(Updated from my 2011 Inter-dependence Day Post, with a little from 2012 and 2013, because recycling is beautiful!)

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In these times of change…

A fascinating new piece,

Want to Change the World? Read This First

by Richard Heinberg was published on Resilience.org.  He moves through important ideas from anthropologist Marvin Harris’s cultural materialism to Heinberg’s own important perspectives on the age of fossil foolishness.  Below are some highlights, but you should really read  the whole thing.

Oil has given us the ability to dramatically increase the rate at which we extract and transform Earth’s bounty (via mining machinery, tractors, and powered fishing boats), as well as the ability to transport people and materials at high speed and at little cost. It and the other fossil fuels have also served as feedstocks for greatly expanded chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries, and have enabled a dramatic intensification of agricultural production while reducing the need for field labor. The results of fossil-fueling our infrastructure have included rapid population growth, the ballooning of the middle class, unprecedented levels of urbanization, and the construction of a consumer economy. While elements of the Scientific Revolution were in place a couple of centuries prior to our adoption of fossil fuels, cheap fossil energy supplied a means of vastly expanding scientific research and applying it to the development of a broad range of technologies that are themselves directly or indirectly fossil-fueled. With heightened mobility, immigration increased greatly, and the democratic multi-ethnic nation state became the era’s emblematic political institution. As economies expanded almost continually due to the abundant availability of high-quality energy, neoliberal economic theory emerged as the world’s primary ideology of societal management. It soon evolved to incorporate several unchallenged though logically unsupportable notions, including the belief that economies can grow forever and the assumption that the entire natural world is merely a subset of the human economy.

He means the failure to comprehend:

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…With less useful energy available, the global economy will fail to grow, and will likely enter a sustained period of contraction. Increased energy efficiency [and, as outlined earlier in the article, the lower energy-return-on-investment array of renewable alternatives - ed.] may cushion the impact but cannot avert it. With economies no longer growing, our current globally dominant neoliberal political-economic ideology may increasingly be called into question and eventually overthrown.

And don’t forget:

Choose your assumptions—optimistic, pessimistic, or somewhere in between. In any case, this is a big deal.
*          *          *
We are living at a historic moment when the structure of society (economic and political systems) and its superstructure (ideologies) are about to be challenged perhaps as never before. When infrastructure changes, what seemingly was solid melts into air, paradigms fall, and institutions crumble, until a new societal regime emerges. Think of a caterpillar pupating, its organ systems evidently being reduced to undifferentiated protoplasm before reorganizing themselves into the features of a butterfly. [Not entirely accurate for what happens in butterfly metamorphosis, but close enough. - ed.] What a perfect opportunity for an idealist intent on changing the world!
It’s time to take up the role of doula and assist in the birth of a positive future. Let’s help this come out right!

Quality quantification? Comparing Asian Countries

In her recent, brilliant (as usual) video, “The Story of Solutions,” Annie Leonard admonishes that we should stop relentlessly working toward MORE and start emphasizing BETTER.

Trouble is, how do we locate BETTER?  How do we know if we’re moving toward or away from that goal?  How do we get the feedback we need, in a way that will be convincing to people across the ideological spectrum?  In other words, how do we measure our progress in ways that allow for useful comparison?  Here’s what Donella Meadows had to say on the subject:

Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.

Our culture, obsessed with numbers, has given us the idea that what we can measure is more important than what we can’t measure. You can look around and make up your own mind about whether quantity or quality is the outstanding characteristic of the world in which you live.

If something is ugly, say so. If it is tacky, inappropriate, out of proportion, unsustainable, morally degrading, ecologically impoverishing, or humanly demeaning, don’t let it pass. Don’t be stopped by the “if you can’t define it and measure it, I don’t have to pay attention to it” ploy. No one can precisely define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can precisely define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist. [from D. Meadows, "Dancing with Systems" 2002]

And yet, I’m a science nerd.  I ♥ numbers.  Can we get numbers, even with fuzzy definitions, just to give us some way to compare over time or across cultures?  If natural selection works by amplifying positive deviance, and we seek to emulate this most successful biological process, then we need a way to recognize those bright spots on the fitness landscape, so that we can foster them and encourage their replication.  We need feedback to know if we’re moving toward our goal of BETTER.  And, to quote Meadows again:

If the goal is defined badly, if it doesn’t measure what it’s supposed to measure, if it doesn’t reflect the real welfare of the system, then the system cannot possibly produce a desired result.  Systems, like the three wishes in the traditional fairy tale, have a terrible tendency to produce exactly and only what you ask them to produce. (Thinking in Systems: A Primer, p. 138)

There are several indices out there that purport to measure something about our well-being and progress.  I’ve written before about the idea of Gross National Happiness. I’ve been investigating other available measures in relation to my current project to promote Education for Sustainability in the sixteen countries that represent half the world.

What is it that could be BETTER in this vast and complex system?  I’d venture almost everything in the nested sets of human economic, social and environmental interactions.

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These interdependent and interpenetrating systems interact in complex ways (go ahead, say that three times fast).  As discussed previously, economic aspects of these systems tend to be the first ones measured, because money is by its very nature quite amenable to counting.  There have also been some interesting attempts to measure global environmental health, and even to express environmental health in economic terms.  And there are some widespread attempts to measure things like social well-being, especially in terms of freedom. No such index is without controversy; all have limitations in terms of data validity, not to mention the challenges associated with trying to quantify important qualitative values (basically attempting to scrute the inscrutable).  Nonetheless, they are a place to start, so I’ve started there with my attempts to compare the current status of my sixteen countries.  Below are my tabulated results, with color coding to help our primate optics detect patterns more readily.  Click the link or image for the Excel spreadsheet.

Asia Economic Data by Country

First up, the oh-so-quantifiable economic measures.  The classic and deeply problematic way of representing the economic status of a country is its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  To even begin to be a useful basis of comparison, this must be expressed in some kind of per capita way (otherwise, the fact that China’s GDP is so much bigger than Brunei’s is almost entirely attributable to the fact that there are over 3000 Chinese citizens for every single Brunei citizen). But as we move into the relationship between economic and social factors, another glaring discrepancy becomes obvious: the distribution of the wealth represented in the GDP is far from equitable.  Just how far is indicated by another index: GINI, utilized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  A higher GINI coefficient indicates a more dramatic difference between the few rich and the many poor in each nation (Wikipedia is a good starting place for not only the definition and calculations, but also the limitations and controversies).  Also, GDP and GINI notoriously neglect certain aspects of what are usually considered important goals in economic development (e.g. health, education).  So UNDP factors those into another measure, the Human Development Index, which can then be further adjusted for inequality, to give some sense of progress (or lack thereof) toward the Millennium Development Goals.

Asia Economic Data by Country
Asia econ data table

Asia Political Ratings by Country

The above economic indices are also, of course, measures of social relationships in some sense. The following data and rankings move more explicitly into the social and political realm.  (One could argue that HDI more properly belongs in this set.) I’ve included a quick-and-dirty summary description of each country’s political system (thanks Google), and some indices related to freedom, as a shorthand for some of the crucial social systems at the national level.  Sadly, Gross National Happiness has not yet been measured for most countries.  There are lots of other things I could include here (dominant religions, years since independence from colonial powers, etc.); feel free to suggest other useful comparisons in the comments.

Asia political data by country Asia social data table

Asia Environmental Ratings by Country

These are ratings that are more specifically connected to the human impact on the rest of the biosphere.  As they are in the realm usually investigated by the natural sciences (e.g. population biology, forestry and ecology), they are again more quantitative.  One particularly interesting rating is the Happy Planet Index, an attempt to measure the environmental efficiency of human well-being.

Asia Environmental Ratings by Country

Asia enviro data table

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Recent Biomimicry Media Coverage

Michelle Y. Merrill, Ph.D.:

An exciting summary of Biomimicry in the news, from germinature.com

Originally posted on :

Lately, the Biomimicry PhD Fellowship Program has been attracting local and national media attention.

First, Rebecca Bagley, President and CEO of NorTech, blogged on Forbes.com about Five Tech Trends That Can Drive Company Success.  Biomimicry topped the list of trends. The post mentioned the University of Akron’s $4.25 million commitment to research and innovation, including the appointment of 10 new biomimicry faculty over a period of six years. The first three hires, for fall 2014, will be in the areas of biodesign, comparative biomechanics, and soft materials. Bagley’s first post received so much positive feedback, that she did a follow-up a few weeks later titled Biomimicry: How Nature Can Streamline Your Business For Innovation. The second piece included rave reviews of the Biomimicry Fellowship Program from Pete Buca, head of Innovation & Technology at Parker Hannifin.  Parker Hannifin was one of the first companies to sign on…

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Qualities of a Global Citizen Game Changer

I’m grateful to be enrolled in the pilot of a new Pachamama Alliance initiative called GC101.  We had our first virtual meeting a couple of hours ago.  They asked us to post this somewhere for discussion, and they were cool with me posting it on the blog.

Qualities of a Global Citizen/Game Changer

Thomas Berry says the Great Work of our time is to carry out the transition from the current period where humans are a devastating presence on the Earth, to one where the human presence is mutually beneficial to the planet and the entire community of life—a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship. To do this we need to undergo, at both an individual and collective level, a fundamental transformation – a virtual reinvention of what we consider a human being to be.

The Pachamama Alliance believes that this great work requires a critical mass of conscious, committed individuals working collectively to “change the game.” As a “game changer/global citizen,” you embody and/or aspire to these qualities:

1. You see the human family, in all its diversity, as an integral component in the whole of the web of creation, and are committed to building a society that reflects and reveres the sacred and interconnected nature of all life.

2. You stand for and act from a grounded and informed vision that a sustainable, just and fulfilling future for all beings is urgent, possible and essential.

3. You recognize that the universe is friendly and that the evolutionary force that put the stars in motion is moving through us, and is a dynamic, self-organizing process whose grace and guidance we can trust.

4. You realize that the human role and responsibility now is as an evolutionary activist, intentionally engaging with the momentum of evolution to shape the future as it is being brought into being.

5. You understand that the collective transformation of our society requires a completely new definition of what is possible in being human, and requires that we inquire deeply into questions such as: “Who am I, really?” and, “What is my relationship to the whole?”

6. You recognize that the social injustice and environmental exploitation in our world are not the “natural order of things,” but rather, are the logical outcome of intentionally-designed systems of power and privilege that operate economically, politically, socially, and technologically to perpetuate inequitable access to resources and opportunities.

7. You are able to discern the cultural stories that perpetuate inequity and concentrate power and privilege, and you live from and share new stories that create the paradigm for a just and sustainable future.

8. You are no longer “food” for the system. Your actions and interactions move in the direction of undoing rather than consciously or unconsciously being complicit with existing systems and structures that perpetuate an unjust, unsustainable, unfulfilled world.

9. You seek to engage in effective personal and collective actions that strike at the root causes of the global crises, and you involve others in taking those actions as well.

10. You experience being an integral member of a vast and growing evolutionary movement toward reconciliation and wholeness.

Questions, comments, concerns, suggestions?  I guess I’m not a full-fledged Game Changer quite yet, but I’m happy to carry that aspiration on my path as an “evolutionary activist.”  How about you?

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David Bergman: EcoOptimism posted more about Interdependence Day on July 6th: As befits a post on interdependence, there are a lot of intertwined tentacles here: property rights, voting rights, future generations, our relationship to nature. Just a few ethical and existential questions. Good … Continue reading

A Declaration of Interdependence~Independence Day 2013

Re-imagining Independence Day

It’s that time of year again.  Here in our little coastal paradise, hordes or barbarians descend to get out of the inland heat, char some animal flesh, and blow things up on the beach.

Of course, I can’t let a Fourth of July pass without remembering my dear friend Joody, and our attempts to articulate and celebrate new thoughts appropriate to such a revolutionary anniversary.  So raise your own flagoccupy your worldget decolonized,  start your own currency and declare something wonderful today!

After working so passionately on devising a new Independence /Interdependence Day celebration, I had a few more thoughts.

One has to do with the dynamic tension between the two possible sentiments: Independence ~ Interdependence (as Eamonn Kelly would put it).  Both are present and necessary in these challenging times.

From an artistic perspective,  independence is about the negative space: breaking away from that which we no longer need.  There are other examples of the power of this negative-space perspective; the language of the Ten Commandments, the resistance movements of the Arab Spring, and many crucial environmental movements have been drawn around the negative space, with “Thou Shalt Not…” language and a call to STOP doing wrong.  This is Michelangelo, knocking away the unwanted bits of marble to free the glorious figure within.

Interdependence is framed more in the positive language that McDonough and Braungart promote in The Upcycle, their new sequel to Cradle to Cradle. It is much more about what we want to move towards, not just what we want to stay away from: “more good” instead of just “less bad.” Interdependence, of course, is the province of the weaver, finding the gossamer connections between things. The first peoples of Turtle Island/North America spoke of  Grandmother Spider, who knew a thing or two about interdependence.  This is not a wisdom taught as commonly in the dominant, Euro-derived culture.  It is a harder thing to see the immaterial links between, the pattern which connectsand keeps communities, civilizations and ecosystems whole and healthy.

Again this year, I celebrate and embrace both, entwined as they are in their powerful dance.  I declare Independence ~ Interdependence!

(Updated from my 2011 Inter-dependence Day Post, with a little from 2012, because recycling is beautiful!)

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Mobilize: The Next BIG Rally [in the SF Bay Area] Plan, Fund and Spread the Word (Save the Date) Saturday, August 3 [Richmond, CA]  Remember the Richmond Chevron refinery fire last August. Well, we’re mobilizing! It’s part of the national days … Continue reading

Yuri and the View from Up There

Ben Gibbard said, “everything looks perfect from far away.”  Taken out into space, this phenomenon is known as the Overview Effect.  Space-faring humans frequently report how compelling and life-changing the view back towards home really is when you’re out there, not only because it is the biggest splash of color in an otherwise fairly black-and-white vista, but because you can see how fragile and precious that thin film of biosphere actually is.

“Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty — not destroy it!”

~Yuri Gagarin, 1st person in space (12 April 1961)

Apollo 17′s “Full Earth” image (a.k.a. “The Blue Marble”) | NASA image AS17-148-22727

I’ve commented before on how powerful the image of our home planet from space truly is.   Recently, the good people at The Planetary Collective produced a 19-minute video discussing the phenomenon.  They’re using it to promote a feature-length film called Continuum they are funding through Kickstarter.

Watch the Overview video: it’s a great way to celebrate Yuri’s Night!

P.S.  Ekostories did a lovely, thoughtful review of the Overview video  - check it out.

Indigenous Energy Idle No More

Indigenous voices are being raised.  The amazing story of Idle No More, and their resistance to the exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline, is a source of tremendous inspiration for me.  Local groups are organizing around the themes of Indigenous Rights and the Rights of Nature.  These rights have been ignored and abused for far too long.

Idle No More at San Francisco demonstration against KXL

Near the winter solstice of 2012, the Catholic Bishop at Mission San Juan Bautista offered a formal apology to the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Ohlone/Costanoan Indians.  Valentin Lopez, Tribal Chairman of the Amah Mutsun band of Ohlone said they misreported that he accepted the apology.  Instead, he acknowledged the apology, as it was not sufficiently extensive to accept.

You [nearly] exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better?

~Spike (BtVS #64, by Jane Espenson)

Perhaps there is no way to truly apologize for the damage done by colonialism. Healing from historic trauma is a vast challenge that will confound us as a species for a long time.

Everybody’s been traumatized in this society… To civilize us, they have to traumatize us.

~John Trudell 7 Feb 2013, “dedicated, coherent, prolific, inspiring, AIM leader, poet troubadour”

Still, an apology is not a bad place to start, as long as everyone understands the inadequacy of the gesture. In the US, a 2010 military spending bill  included an apology to Native Americans that was signed into law, far too quietly, by President Barack Obama. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did his best to apologize for the (not-un-Borg-like) government efforts to assimilate previous generations of First Nations peoples via residential schooling.   At least in Canada, they’ve adopted something like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, trying to bring the history of atrocities into the light of day, so that healing might begin.  As far as I can find, the only Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the United States is in response to the Greensboro Massacre by the KKK in 1979.

Willow : …we should be helping him redress his wrongs. Bring the atrocities to light.

Giles : If the history books are full of them, I’d say they already are.

BtVS #64, by Jane Espenson

Is the truth really out there?  You can find it, if you’re looking in the right history books.  In her book Bad IndiansDeborah Miranda sketches the terrible history of the California missions.  California received the barbed tip of the lash that was struck across Turtle Island. It tore asunder languages, cultures, people. The reverberations of that violent blow have echoed down the generations descended from the too-few survivors.  This book is brilliant, sometimes in the way that a fresh wound is brilliant with crimson.  Miranda‘s indictments of the 4th grade California history mission assignments are sharper than an obsidian scalpel.

One might also seek enlightenment in museums.  The website of National Museum of the American Indian (part of the Smithsonian) certainly doesn’t foreground the atrocities of colonialism, but you can search for “massacre” and find some of it.  Valentin Lopez mentioned that there is fundraising to establish a museum in San Francisco that would highlight a history of the atrocities against Native Americans, especially in California (this may be a reference to the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa). Stan Rushworth (instructor of Native American Literature at Cabrillo College) notes that the missions, the scenes of so many atrocities against indigenous California peoples, rarely if ever acknowledge that part of their history; this is in contrast to places like Dachau and Auschwitz, where the brutality of what was committed there is central to their stories.

However, it’s a tiny minority of people that actually go to museums, and those are often people who are already aware and seeking more information.  Mass media only tells these stories occasionally.  Valentin Lopez commented that there has never been a movie about the native people of California – it’s just too sad for a Hollywood story.  We can watch Schindler’s List and The Pianist, but not this?

When the Occupy Movement was emerging in the fall of 2011, I was excited about their ideas, but a little less sure about their chosen name.  This image from Occupy Oakland inspired me to create (well, borrow and rework, with some help from my spouse) a hometown version (full-size for printing).  Santa Cruz is Occupied Ohlone Land

California was perhaps the most populous and culturally diverse area of pre-contact North America.  The peoples now referred to in the aggregate as Ohlone were actually several culturally and linguistically distinct bands, including the Chochenyo in the area that now includes Oakland (those who left the shellmounds that gave Shellmound Drive in Emeryville its name) and the Awaswas of Santa Cruz.  

If we want to understand how to live here on the central coast of California,we need to ask the Amah Mutsun, the Rumsen, the Indian Canyon Mutsun, the Esselen, the Chumash, and so many other peoples, living and extinct.

Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Costanoan/Ohlone Indians

And, more difficult still, we have to ask politely.  We of “mainstream American” culture, must be humble, we must be patient, and we must learn some manners.  We cannot just expect to be welcomed into what remaining mysteries the natives of this continent have managed to retain, to dip our toes in, to take a weekend retreat.

I’m proud to say that this semester, Cabrillo College (where I work) has been actively engaged with conversations about the genocide of indigenous people, about the invisibility of white privilege and how we’ve benefited from historic efforts to exterminate native people.  Last November, the school newspaper published the article “400 Years Too Late: The Reality of Thanksgiving.” On March 14th, we had an intense and critical  discussion of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, a short story collection by Native American author Sherman Alexie that was banned from curriculum lists in Tucson, Arizona.   On April 15th, Cabrillo will host Deborah Miranda (author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir).

On Earth Day this year, Cabrillo College will emphasize the theme of Indigenous Rights.  We’ve invited a speaker from the Pachamama Alliance to talk about the Achuar and other tribes of Ecuador.  We also plan to host Darryl “Babe” Wilson, California Indian author and activist.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

~Lilla Watson and Aboriginal activists groups, Queensland, Australia 1970s

As we say in the Cabrillo Sustainablility Council, “We’re All In It.”  It’s time to work together, and be Idle No More.