Monday, August 29, 2011

Doctor's Orders: The Body as Ecosystem, Ecosystem as Body

Save the fingers! Save the toes! Save the kidneys! Save the nose! I imagine myself as human organ, or perhaps one cell amongst many within a human body. In deteriorating health and the possibility of the need to remove body parts, it seems comical, almost absurd to turn to such slogans to curb these removals, such as in the case of an unhealthy diabetic facing amputations. Would a doctor consider these rallying cries in an attempt to encourage the patient to take better care of individual body parts, or would he or she instead insist on diet and exercise for the body as a whole. My guess, based on much evidence, is that doctors would overwhelmingly support lifestyle changes that target complete body health, rather than an attempt to focus on and save individual parts of a human organism.

Though obvious when considered at the scale of the human body, this holistic approach is taken much less seriously at the level of the ecosystem organisms of which we are a part. A continued call for the saving of endangered species and biological “hotspots” appeals to those who are unaware, or unwilling to recognize the inter-connected nature of the ecosystems of the planet earth. If we take a moment to consider the observations which have strongly suggested the existence of collective ecosystem intelligence and co-evolution, we begin to realize that the whole must be considered the target patient rather than the individual species and processes which make up the parts. As below so above, as within so without. We as an intact identifiable organism place mental constructs around the idea of what makes up a body. Our bodies, as humans, are enveloped by our skin and contain organs and systems that allow the body to function as a whole. But it does not end there, for we are in constant interaction with air, food, and water which enters our organism, bringing with them a whole host of “resources” and un-intended passengers, which our body processes and interacts with in a multitude of ways, and then excretes and expels to maintain a regulated system of healthy bodily existence.

There are though, levels below and above this of the scale of human body, both within and without. We know and understand much about the nature of microscopic communities that function as communities within and outside of our bodies. When taken as a whole, many times these “communities” of small individuals are considered organs; organs of the body, organs of communities with a common purpose and inhabited space. When looked at in scales bigger than the large mammalian organism, we see much the same with regards to common purpose and inhabited space. Balances are maintained in the life supporting processes of both regions of earth and at the planetary scale as well. The interconnected web of life is indeed an arrangement of complementary roles undertaken by individual species within it. Some are regulating temperatures and the levels of available elements. Others are participating in the regulation of the numbers of individuals within species. All are contributing to the biodiversity which drives these roles through processes related to our ideas of natural selection in co-evolution.

This idea of a “planetary organism” really came to fruition from the “Gaia Hypothesis” proposed by James Lovelock. He was one of the first to articulate the idea of the earth as a large organism, being the culmination of all life and life-supporting processes interconnected upon and within it. Bioregionalists have helped articulate this further by pointing out coherent ecological “units” within this greater organism, which share similar species, climate, geology, hydrology, geography and human culture. We take this a bit further and consider these coherent “units” to be in a sense “organs” of the body earth. Some will criticize this perspective much as they have Lovelocks, but we continue to see mounting evidence for the existence of functions which mirror those found within our bodies and within organs of our bodies. I might also mention that many not only rationally understand themselves to be part of a biological whole, but that they feel a rejuvenating surge of righteousness when considering themselves a functioning part of a greater organism. This can only be described in spiritual terms, typically unsupported by science as a field, but nonetheless lending support to our affinity for that which in some ways depends upon our informed cooperation.

All of this is well and good, but is of no use in practical terms unless we can understand how we fit in to this chain of being, what the levels of life existence actually consist of, and how we are to fulfill roles within them. If earth is a body, and “bioregions” its organs, then we must be microbic cells in comparison. This perspective would behoove us to look at other such arrangements at the levels of our own bodies and those of organisms much smaller than ourselves. To begin to view the regions we inhabit as organs and organisms onto themselves would be to recognize ourselves as integral and important to the biological processes inherent within them, as individual cells are to our own organs.

This perspective brings us back to the doctor’s office, a medical practitioner trained at the diagnosis of planetary bodies. She tells us that it is not the individual species and processes that should be focused upon if earth itself desires health, well-being, and longevity. It must approach health as a holistic practice of preventative medicine, combining a balanced planetary diet and exercise. The life-support systems must be brought back into balance. This indeed calls for a balance of the community of beings within.

As conscious parts of this organic whole, our task then is to begin to realize how we fit into these systems of life enhancing parts of greater wholes. We must work to understand which organs we inhabit, how these organs function, our role within them, and their roles in the health of the planetary ecosystem we call Gaia. Part of the purpose of the Envision Cascadia project is to assist in these understandings and to encourage and participate in realizing our communities and individuals within as the integral participants in this greater body we inhabit. It will take time, it will take effort, and along the way we will have to make concessions to focus on individual species’ salvation (save the nose!). But in the end, our task will be to truly be a beneficial part of an evolving self.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Non-cooperation Via Local Resiliency Initiatives

A continuing debate amongst those striving to better our world is the effectiveness of individual change vs. activism. Is it really THAT necessary to be the change we wish to see in the world, or does the attempt to live so distract from the significant work we could be doing to change government and the economic system?

Effective is the key term here, as very few if any would argue that lifestyle change AND political/activist involvement are not both acceptable and commendable. But how should we as individuals wanting to effect change become involved? What tactics provide the best exchange for effort expended? Are we wasting our time and becoming complacent through our beliefs that new light bulbs and time on the bicycle are helping to change the world?

This blog post will address this issue, but not in an either/or approach. In fact, the tactics employed via the Envision Cascadia project, and therefore of concern to this blog, assume that self-change and activism are indeed two sides of the same coin. As discussed in previous blog posts, EC is meant to assist activists (anyone striving to create a better world) in living a life more akin to that which their activism seeks to create. It is through involvement in this process of lifestyle change that we can collectively practice activism as well, and that is precisely the point.

“Being the change” reminds us of the Gandhian philosophy founded in the spiritual insight of change from within. But a deeper understanding of Gandhi’s life and teachings reveals a deeper meaning to such personal change. The outer manifestation of this inner restraint is in fact a preparation for non-cooperation. To stop cooperation with entities is to remove support necessary for their function. But to do so in situations of limited options is to possibly imperil one’s personal comforts - hence the need for inner strength and dedication.

Let us single out Walmart for a moment to use as an example. Many believe that Walmart is responsible for the breakdown of a multitude of local community economies throughout North America and beyond. Let us assume for this example that they are correct. What to do about it? For sure we might consider not shopping there. But is this really effective? How many people must stop shopping at Walmart for their “bottom line” to be truly affected? And then there is the problem of consumer options. Typically when Walmart enters a community, many local shops close their doors. How then are we supposed to find needed goods?

To begin, we must first accept that our individual actions in such circumstances will have limited consequences. We must also accept that undertaking such a boycott will invariably involve personal hardships. These two assumptions will require of us personal strength and dedication – to be found in personal growth, inseparable from spiritual growth, no matter what your personal religious and spiritual beliefs.

Next, we must understand that life is series of choices. We either shop at Walmart or we do not. Shopping at Walmart supports the entity we wish to reign in or put a stop to, but what the hay, it’s only a bottle of shampoo and a pair of socks. Right? Well, in such a case the choice has been made to cooperate and hence a vote cast in favor of that which we reject and otherwise decry.

Non-cooperation on the other hand is not only a vote for alternatives, it is a practice of activism. We do not cooperate and therefore we remove ourselves from the pool of supporters and participants of an entity, such as Walmart. Now in the best of circumstances, we inspire others to do the same via our leadership and soon have generated a movement of individuals not cooperating. But as happens many times, we go it alone and feel isolated or defeated in the smallness of our individual actions. We may be following the leadership of others who have gone before us, but as we do not see immediate results, we dismiss the boycott as ineffective, resume our cooperation, and turn towards other means of attempting to stop the undesirable entity. This has the effect of not only supporting that which we do not philosophically support, but more importantly it allows us to comfortably go on about our lives without investing time, energy, and our personal resources in supporting preferred alternatives.

Gandhi saw the rejection of British goods as not only a removal of support for them, but a grand opportunity to kickstart (re-start) community based enterprises. Gandhi turned to the spinning wheel not because of his love for handmade cloth, but because he saw the need for alternatives in the wake of the rejection of the dominant market options and as well the need for those who might follow in his example a source of income and alternative local economies.

Our challenge then is to combat the Walmarts (as representative of all undesirable options) of the world with non-cooperation via self-restraint and an adherence to the support of desirable alternatives. This necessarily means hardships, at least in the beginning. But as it has been said before, nothing worth doing is easy. And nothing in the way of a better world will be arrived at with continued cooperation in those entities we seek to change or eliminate.

As this is being written, the world economy sits on the brink of a downward slide. National economies are struggling throughout most of the world, and leaders of these economies (bankers and CEO’s and their minions) call for more “austerity measures” and more loans to support ever richer and more powerful multi-national institutions (banks and corporations). Now, it doesn’t take an economist or a professor or a genius to see a whole multitude of problems wrapped up in this situation. Most obvious perhaps are the bedfellows of corporations, banks, and empirical governments co-conspiring to “fix” these problems with solutions that strangely resemble the actions that led to these problems in the first place.

But alas, what are we to do? Cry out and protest? Run through the streets with molotov cocktails and clubs? Maybe a nasty letter to our senator or congressman will do the trick. It is ultimately up to each and every individual to decide for themselves what action most inspires them, but along the way we have another choice to make. Will we cooperate?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shadow Government, Shadow Culture

In thinking about shadowy things, images come to mind of the dark, deceptive, even negative and dangerous. Shadow government often fits into this perspective as it is typically seen within the “official” state structure as something which seeks to do harm to or overthrow the current model. In many countries and throughout history those who seek to advocate for alternatives, and usually just in theory, are persecuted and their plight becomes propaganda of the state which seeks to rally its constituents in renewed patriotism and support for the status quo.

But shadows needn’t be seen in this manner. Shadows are also shade, which protect us at times from the harmful effects of what can be an oppressive and penetrating presence in our lives. And just as the sun rises and sets, comes and goes in the lives of those it penetrates, so too do the histories of empires. All those governing bodies which become so powerful and invasive in the world of humanity, can burn those who do not protect themselves from too much exposure. These burns in turn tarnish our being in ways that last long after the sun has set, the empire declined or collapsed. Thus seeking refuge in the shadow of alternative organizing structures has the effect of maintaining a healthy condition for us to undertake the important work of being in community with others.

Taking this metaphor further, within the shadow of empire exists a fine condition to begin to grow alternative governing experiments. Because of its inherent inability to be participatory, empire dominates the mind-scape as an uninviting presence which tends to shade out any other such seedlings of participatory community building of so-called constituents of the empire. But what we must understand is that to nurture the seedlings is to begin to undermine the foundations of the invasive dominant entity which covets our energy. The canopy may be too grandiose for us to have much effect in our attempts to trim back the foliage of false patriotism. But the roots, no matter how large, are in poor soil and cannot continue to provide support for the ever growing reach of the empire’s quest to dominate and exploit. Eventually this foundation will give and those seedlings which we nurtured with such care, patience and participation will be free to grow into beautiful fruit bearing trees from which all will taste the flavor of true freedom.

Many would say that though this all may be true, we cannot allow the giant tree of empire to go to ruin and fall as it will collapse upon and destroy multitudes within its reach. This perspective underestimates the power of the seedlings however. For each seedling, given proper care, has established deep and powerful roots in the productive soil we have provided. Their trunks and limbs have thus become strong and though some may fall, a great many will remain and with them other species which have thrived in healthy co-inhabitance.

Leaving behind this metaphor for the time being, we can explore the quite literal consequence of shadow governments. Government exists primarily as a means for disparate points of view to find common ground to accomplish specific ends. It exists also to safeguard the individual liberties of its constituents. Without government we run the risk of feudal takeovers of our lives and liberty for the benefit of the few. On the other hand, when government outgrows its personal connection to its constituents, it runs roughshod over ideals in an attempt to provide for the few who have once again sought to further their own narrow desires through the co-opting of the life and liberty of the many. It is in these moments that the people lose control of their own organizing structure that they must re-mobilize to create another. Once an empire is let loose upon the planet, there is no rearing-in of the out-of-control monster. There is however a blind spot in the shadows of this beast. Community building, as participatory democracy, poses no immediate threat to empire and thus is typically left to its own harmless endeavors.

These seemingly benign blind spots are where we must act. It is our best opportunity to create the world that we know is possible, that we can feel and imagine and dream. And it is here that we are provided the safe havens for the building of solidarity which is necessary to stand up to the eventual challenges that will come from empire. At first our energies remain mostly dedicated to supporting our lives within the established systems that attempt to maintain an illusion of being one’s only choice. But as our alternatives become established, they gain the possibility of providing for the needs of participants. It becomes possible to remove one’s energy from the status quo completely and to redirect it into the alternatives. Thus the shadow aspect of these blossoming communities becomes important as to remain out of sight of an empire that will seek to co-opt or destroy any potential challengers. Once discovered to be energy sinks in a system that requires constant expansion and consolidation, alternative organizing structures will be targeted and the solidarity within them challenged. It is in these moments that the establishment of solid foundations in place, and through livelihood and community, will determine the survival of these alternatives.

Envision Cascadia is thus a tool for the communities within Cascadia to be able to use to organize and self-reflect. It exists as a means for self discovery and the umbrella by which alternative organizing attempts may gain some shade and find solidarity. Envision Cascadia places an emphasis on the creation of shadow culture, commencing from beneath the surface as subtle realizations of belonging, not to abstract mental constructs meant to foster patriotism rooted in ignorance, but to ecological systems that are the products of four billion years of evolutionary response to the nature of places. We belong to these processes of creation and must find a way to become witting participants once again. The beauty and illumination that we as a species are capable of creating should be intertwined in the ecological systems that all other species of our planet dwell within. Envision Cascadia seeks to provide one means of striving towards that end.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Slow Revolution

You say you want a revolution, well you know, ya need a culture to make it stick.

There are many people who see Cascadia as an eventual political entity - a state, republic, nation, or region that will be capable of carrying on past the corrosion of the nation states that currently lay claim to its lands. Those who are actively pursuing this plausible eventuality envision varying paths that may lead to one of these possibilities. Some speak of outright secession. Others look towards increased relations of neighboring states and provinces to build a union that might withstand a collapse of the US and Canada. A few believe that it is an inevitable eventuality that will come to pass over time, perhaps after an apocalypse or deadly pandemic. Yet another idea would take inspiration from the region’s ecosystems for the cultural overhaul of how people think of and act within their local places.

It is the latter which has inspired Envision Cascadia to contribute to the task of strengthening regional cultural identity. Via this route of cultural education and outreach it is believed that as regional identity grows within individuals of Cascadia, so too will an innate understanding of the ecosystem attributes that are fundamental to this identity.

This is a process which requires much patience from the practitioners and significant subtle transformation within the public at large. Being that “our time” seems desperate, with urgency the rallying cry for many, this “slow revolution” is much too slow, much too subtle. However, the piecemeal approaches that have been the favored agents for change thus far have been and continue to be fractured and divide as much as they unite. It is certain that any and all tactics to better this world should be explored, experimented with, and undertaken by those who feel inspired to undertake them. But underlying all of the reactionary action, the bandages meant to stop the bleeding of empire, must exist unifying processes of practical significance. It is not the theory but the actions of ordinary existence that will allow for humans to settle in to a peaceful and healthy relationship with others, human and non-human.

Yes, our individual actions do matter. For not only do they contribute to overall change, however slight, they also inform us of our place within a community through the mindful presence of participation. Therefore to participate in a “system”, or community to which one does not desire to have a deep and working relationship, is to remain in a state of confusion as to the real contributions one makes to that which one directs his or her energy. How can a person expect real and lasting change if they are not changing the world through real and lasting action? And how can one person realistically change the world? He or she cannot. At best, one can expect to contribute something of significance to a community which in turn informs and inspires surrounding communities. This draws from the idea of holons and the pattern of concentric circles of influence and existence. Participatory influence always dwindles the further it is experienced from the epicenter of its origins.

All of this has the significance of informing our decisions of how we should act and what our expectations of those actions may realistically be. As one might imagine it takes time for one’s participation to influence and affect others around him or her, and yet longer still for this influence to inspire and persuade others to participate as equally and intelligently - hence the “slow revolution”, the deep revolution. Gandhi realized this as evidenced by his insistence on the participation in community-based enterprises which have the effect of strengthening community bonds, increasing local self-reliance, and advancing personal development. Taken to an extreme, these activities helped bring about the liberation of a nation. But the under-realization and lack of support of these enterprising actions by divided factions within the nation led to continued empire building and continuing divisions between would-be community members of co-inhabited places and ecosystems.

We all still face the oppressive rule and exploitation of a British Empire, though this empire no longer resides amongst one people, one place, or one ideal. It is a global manifestation of the greed and ignorance of so many un-enlightened individuals. It is inherent in the status quo of what is propagated through the systems it has enacted and allowed to exist – economic, political, religious, and cultural. To be “successful” within these entities is to do something that is acceptable to the ideals of said entities. One cannot have true success and remain a part of if one is at the same time undertaking activities which seek to depart from the aforementioned ideals. Built within these systems are mechanisms which weed out the undesirables, those would-be dissenters whose wholesome and healthy action is anathema to a system based on greed and ignorance, exploitation and violence. We are with it or against it, and our options become complacency or “terrorism” as our overlords have come to make us believe that direct action, protest, civil disobedience, or the challenge to empire are defined. Our reactions against become excuses for violence and oppression. We give excuse to these systems to conveniently remove our displeasure and if we refuse to go easily we provoke a strong arm manifestation of the collective suffering from within our societies. We react in turn and a continuum of violence and hatred becomes all that we have to look forward to in our struggles for equality, liberation, peace, and happiness.

Understanding these things brings us to the conclusion that to break the cycle of reaction we must take the step to act first and independently, mindfully of how what we do will affect others of our communities. We must sow the seeds and tend the garden with care and patience before we can harvest the benefits. And it is not the final conclusion of the red ripe tomato or succulent strawberry which we seek, for most anyone can easily and much more quickly gain these ends via the food market. It is the process of production, the role of steward and caretaker, co-conspirator and co-inhabitant - that brings us the true fruits of understanding, compassion, and a healthy relationship with others, human and non-human.

What does this look like in practice, in Cascadia? It is a tending of the garden of our own personal development and our relationships within communities, within places. Highly dependent upon the circumstances of time and space, the interconnected and ever changing realities within our communities, watersheds, ecosystems and the bioregion demand constant vigilance and continued mindfulness of context. This mindfulness cannot be realized without understanding, and understanding beyond the nature of our own existence is dependent upon working relationships with all beings of our communities, appropriate to the scale at which we are active.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Finding Common Political Ground Through Shared Eco-Districts

The world over we see conflict between different cultural groups because of a belief that the land they inhabit is defined by the cultural values that one group or another holds, and the boundaries of these cultural units often overlap or conflict. The current "westernizing" of global locals via industrialization and "free" trade has been expedited through the application of grid-based location identification. Cultures have been sliced up and pieced together to suit the preferences of their exploiters. Their political realities have become the means through which the communities are destroyed and their ecosystems rampaged. In-fighting has become the norm for most of the world's countries.

And so, how to get over our political bickering? This, I am sure, is a question that will never be solved, excepting the disappearance of politics itself. But what really is the basis for our conflict? Though inflamed in many regions due to historical colonization, it surely stems mostly from differences in the values held by each and all of a political unit or geographic area. That leads one to ponder, what is the basis for such a value? How is it that people of a common population or place, can be of such differing opinions over how life should be approached? Is there anything that can unite us in our attempts to agree on the proper approaches to living life in a place? Should we even expect that all individuals in a place be of the same beliefs, perspectives, and values? I would think not, for surely this is muddling of our diversity and uniqueness both as individuals and as communities.

So to find common ground in a place, we literally must look to the ground. It is the reality of the place upon which our feet stand that will provide for us the clues to "proper" living in a place, and will provide for us a unity that can persist beyond our cultural and individual differences. Even though we currently do approach politics through systems based on units which have some geographic realities, what does this usually come to mean in our political processes? Mostly, a divvying up of "resources", and debating over how much we can realistically take without doing ourselves too much harm, or how much each one is entitled to. But is this a process for longevity and respect for the needs of future generations, let alone the non-human world? Allow me to propose a hypothetical scenario, in which we might view our "common ground" through a different perspective.

If we all awoke one day and found ourselves living within political units dictated by local ecology, we would be forced to acknowledge: a) the aspects of ecology that define the eco-units which we inhabit, b) that of whatever cultural belief we are, we do share an intact, coherent ecological system, c) we may still identify culturally with others from a different ecosystem unit, but we none-the-less inhabit different land bases and ecosystem types, d) even though we may still have conflicts with one another and attempt to control parts of neighboring eco-units, we would remain embedded in a reality that inherently makes us more aware of the environmental situation of our places.

This may be assuming a lot, but as far as political processes go, if one was forced to be elected within, represent constituents from, organize throughout, create policies around, and/or otherwise think about daily an ecosystem of one's place, our current environmental problems would be much more personal. Beyond the "environment", a place would be found for each of us within ecological niches. No longer constituents of a political "unit" based upon abstract lines and grids, we become constituents of a much greater and more vibrant community of place. Our purposes will become defined by the roles that we are called to play within ecosystems, and we shall find that an attitude of humility will go a long ways in our personal and interpersonal development.

How to undertake this momentous task is big question number two (number one being why - though we already understand this one, don't we?). As in all community undertakings, the specifics should be guided by the local. Local realities will demand different strategies. But education is probably a universal undertaking - relevant anywhere. We must educate others not only of the need to undertake these changes, but of the local realities of our places. One who understands one's place better will be naturally more inclined to act appropriately within it, and at a scale that one is able to act responsibly and skillfully in place. Incentives are also a good way to go, and any and all of the benefits of making these changes should not only be discussed, but put into practice through programs that benefit local community members. The traditional political process, though entrenched in its ways, still offers some opportunities to begin to implement various tactics of localization and the creation of eco-districts. The process of redistricting is a door, though not open to change, that may allow for some tweaking of current methodologies (see previous post on re-districting). Re-allocating our community funds (taxes) towards watershed and ecosystem based projects is another possibility.

Perhaps most importantly is our own frame of mind. How we think about and discuss our places with others has a big impact on how others are going to think about their own places. If we insist on defining the area of our operations as the watersheds and ecosystems that we inhabit, our supporters and members will be encouraged to do likewise and a trend will be started, an opportunity seized.