II.Deep Ecology

Cultural historian and ecotheologian Thomas Berry distinguished between “shallow” and “deep” ecology. He said the former is based on the belief that big ecological problems can be resolved within an industrial, capitalist society by fighting pollution and resource depletion in order to preserve human health and affluence—basically the aim of the “environmental movement.” Deep ecology, however, “operates out of respect for all forms of life and accords them equal right to live and blossom.” (My italics).

In The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, Fritjof Capra elaborates this distinction: “Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centered. It views humans as above or outside of nature, and as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental, or “use,” value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans—or anything else—from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life.” He goes on to say that ecological awareness is spiritual in its deepest essence, a “mode of consciousness” where the individual feels a sense of belonging and connectedness to the cosmos as a whole.

Charles Eisenstein summarizes our situation succinctly in Climate: A New Story. “Earth is not a machine; it is alive, and it will remain hospitable to life only if we treat it as such… “so far we have been destroying its tissues and organs.” 

Why? Because worldwide, economies were designed to promote the acquisition of wealth with little to no regard for ethics or environmental degradation. The perception of the earth as a perpetual growth machine encourages a posture of maintenance and repair when something bad happens. “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” And really serious problems? With enough money, human ingenuity and technology will fix them. Build a dam, raise the height of flood walls, purchase more equipment, enlist more volunteers and provide better training for first responders, declare states of emergency, enact legislation to bolster emergency response budgets, call out the National Guard, invest in more sophisticated technology in order to detect future crises. These are good and necessary fixes after a crisis, but these are band-aids. They don’t address the whole system. Attributing causes to “nature” just renders us helpless. But we’re not. Economies were structured by people, and they can be restructured. We’ll look at some of the possibilities in future postings. For now, I’ll stick to the topic at hand.

The band-aid fixes cited above amount to enforced caring. We act because we have to. Lives are at stake. In business, we refer to this as “crisis management.” Once the breakdown is healed, the system returns to normal functioning—except for those who lived through a tragedy, as we’re seeing in Puerto Rico.

The goal of virtually all national economies is to achieve unlimited growth, even though the absurdity of such an enterprise on a finite planet should be obvious to all… Undifferentiated economic growth is the root cause of our mountains of solid waste, our polluted cities, the depletion of natural resources, and the energy crisis; and because the continuing expansion of production is driven mainly by fossil fuels, it is also the root cause of the multiple disasters arising from peak oil and climate change. 

Fritzof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi   

“Why should I care? Nobody else does?” Our national discourse seems to indicate that is true. What is being talked about in the nightly news? Murder, active shooters, polarization, race relations, domestic abuse, corruption, drugs, celebrity gossip, natural and man-made disasters. A while back, a friend of mine politely asked his neighbor why he threw a half-eaten sandwich and french fries on the front lawn of their apartment. To paraphrase, the man replied, “Nobody cares about me, why should I care about anybody else?” If we all felt that way, the earth would already be a gigantic garbage dump with toxic air and water.

Why should I care about my home, property, the streets in my community, the food we eat, the parks we visit, security, health, education, the earth and life itself? There’s only one answer capable of sustaining us, and that’s love—caring enough about the quality of life for all living beings, love of the whole system, sufficient to redesign what isn’t working for humanity and the planet. With that, we can amend our lifestyles, economies and politics in ways that sustain and enhance the earth and her life-giving processes. 

Hollywood, the mass media, mass marketing, and the advertising industry, in the interest of generating ever-higher profits, have inadvertently convinced us that “the good life” and the “American Dream” are had through the acquisition and consumption of material goods. In the race to win an ever-increasing share of prosperity, greed, competition and corruption have become business as usual. And if you’re rich enough, you won’t get caught doing something illegal—or you can buy yourself out of it if you do. With some exceptions, corporations and governments are continuing to treat the earth like a money-making machine, a resource to be exploited. Trouble is, the earth is a finite living being and we’re sucking the life out of it. Climate change and global warming deniers, backed by corporations and governments—especially ours—act as if this machine can continue to churn out wealth for the few at the expense of the many. I believe a day will come when the corporate powers and fossil fuel lobbyists will wake up and find that, worldwide, a groundswell of people who care deeply about their health and well-being and the flourishing of the planet, will be enacting a new, sustainable, whole systems design. From what I read, those people are connecting and the design is on the drawing board. Stay tuned.

Here’s just a sample: Underlined names are active links.

  • CERES: CERES promotes sustainable business practices and solutions by working with more than 80 companies. Their Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), includes 100 leading investors collectively managing more than $11 trillion in assets.
  • Conservation International (CI): CI works with scientists, local communities and practitioners in the field to protect nature, global biodiversity and human communities. It has supported the creation, expansion and improved management of nearly 50 million acres of marine and terrestrial protected areas, and its data collection has led to the discovery of more than 1,400 species new to science.
  • Doctors Without Borders: Provides emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from health care. Since 1971, the organization has treated tens of millions of people in over 80 countries. In 1999, it received the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Food and Water Watch: Works to make food, fish and water safe, accessible and sustainable. They’ve raised consumer awareness of the environmental and economic costs of bottled water, and have helped dozens of communities — from Stockton, California to Trenton, New Jersey — fight the privatization of public water supplies.
  • Greenpeace: The largest nonviolent, direct-action environmental organization in the world with 2.8 million members. Greenpeace’s work focuses on climate change, oceans, forests, toxins, nuclear energy and sustainable agriculture.
  • Heifer International: Has provided over 20.7 million families—that’s 105.1 million men, women and children—with animals and training in sustainable agriculture so that they can feed and care for themselves. Founded over 70 years ago by a U.S. farmer, the organization focuses on ending hunger and poverty.

Source: The 14 Most Influential Sustainability NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations). When you’re thinking about charitable contributions, this is a great place to see who’s doing good in and for the world.

The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves… These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

Arne Naess and George Sessions

NOTE: In future postings on the ecological theme, I’ll provide contemplations on what can be done, including examples of what is being done more specifically to move in the direction of sustainability and earth & life-enhancing initiatives. 

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III. Ecoliteracy

This is the 3rd in a series of postings on ecology

Ecoliteracy involves an understanding of the basic principles of ecology. Understanding is the relatively easy part. The challenging part is living accordingly. Due to the specificity and complexity of this topic, I draw heavily upon The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi.

During more than 3 billion years of evolution, the planet’s ecosystems have organized themselves in subtle and complex ways to maximize their sustainability. This wisdom of nature is the essence of ecoliteracy. We can formulate a set of principles of organization that may be identified as basic principles of ecology, and use them as guidelines to build sustainable human communities.

Fritjof Capra
Interdependence 

The first principle is interdependence. All members of an ecological community are interconnected in a vast and intricate network of relationships—what Capra refers to as the web of life. Members derive their essential characteristics and existence from their relationships to life processes. The behavior of every member of an ecosystem depends on the behavior of many of the others. The success of the whole depends on the success of the individual members, and the success of each member depends on the success of the whole. For the reality of interdependence to translate into everyday behavior, there has to be a shift in perception and emphasis—from part to whole (From “me, myself and I” to “all of us together”), from objects to relationships (From “I want stuff,” to “I want to improve and deepen my relationships”) and from quantities to qualities (From “I want more…,” to “I want better…”)  “A sustainable human community is aware of the multiple relationships among its members, as well as of the relationships between the community as a whole and its natural and social environment. Nourishing the community means nourishing all these relationships.” (Fritjof Capra) 

Cyclical 

Ecological processes are cyclical, involving feedback loops, pathways where information and nutrients are continually recycled. For instance, the water cycle and the food “chain.” Being open systems, all organisms within an ecosystem produce wastes, but what is waste for one species is food for another. Communities of organisms have evolved in this way over billions of years, continually using and recycling the same molecules of minerals, water and air. Industrial systems are linear—extract, transform, market, consume and waste. Sustainable patterns of production and consumption would be cyclical, imitating the cyclical processes in nature. In many ways and places, we are moving in that direction.

Renewable

Sunlight, transformed into chemical energy by the photosynthesis of green plants, is the primary source of energy driving ecosystems. “Solar energy in its many forms—sunlight for solar heating and photovoltaic electricity, wind and hydropower, biomass, etc.—is the only kind of energy that is renewable, economically efficient, and environmentally benign. By disregarding this ecological fact, our political and corporate leaders, again and again, endanger the health and well-being of millions around the world.” (FC)

“Corporate economists treat not only the air, water, and soil as free commodities but also the delicate web of social relations, which is severely affected by continuing economic expansion. Private profits are being made at public costs in the deterioration of the environment and the general quality of life, and at the expense of future generations. The marketplace simply gives us the wrong information. There is a lack of feedback, and basic ecological literacy tells us that such a system is not sustainable.” (FC)

Partnership

“The cyclical exchanges of energy and resources in an ecosystem are sustained by pervasive cooperation. Indeed, ever since the creation of the first nucleated cells over 2 billion years ago, life on Earth has proceeded through ever more intricate arrangements of cooperation and coevolution. Partnership—the tendency to associate, establish links, !live inside one another, and cooperate—is one of the hallmarks of life.” (FC)

Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.

Lynn Margulis (Evolutionary Biologist) & Dorian Sagan (Author)

“Economics emphasizes competition, expansion, and domination; ecology emphasizes cooperation, conservation, and partnership… Nature sustains life by creating and nurturing communities. Sustainability is not an individual property but a property of an entire web of relationships. It always involves a whole community… The way to sustain life is to build and nurture community. A sustainable human community interacts with other communities—human and nonhuman—in ways that enable them to live and develop according to their nature.” (FC) 

Flexibility

Within ecosystems, flexibility is a consequence of multiple feedback loops, that can bring the system back into balance whenever there’s a deviation from the norm due to changing conditions. “For example, if an unusually warm summer results in increased growth of algae in a lake, some species of fish feeding on these algae may flourish and breed more, so that their numbers increase and they begin to deplete the algae. Once their major source of food is reduced, the fish will begin to die out. As the fish population drops, the algae will recover and expand again. In this way, the original disturbance generates a fluctuation around a feedback loop, which eventually brings the fish/algae system back into balance.” (FC)  

Each change and response is a “variable.” And the nore variables there are—and kept fluctuating—the more dynamic the system, the greater is its flexibility and the greater its ability to adapt to change. “Loss of flexibility always means loss of health. There’s always the danger that the whole system will collapse when a variable goes beyond certain limits and the system can no longer compensate for it. “The same is true of human communities. Lack of flexibility manifests itself as stress. In particular, stress will occur when one or more variables of the system are pushed to their extreme values, which indicates increased rigidity throughout the system. Temporary stress is an essential aspect of life, but prolonged stress is harmful and destructive to the system. The important realization that managing a social system—a company, a city, or an economy—means finding the optimal values for the system’s variables. If one tries to maximize any single variable instead of optimizing it, this will invariably damage the system as a whole.” (FC) 

Diversity

Diversity contributes to resiliency. For one thing, diverse species within an ecosystem can, if necessary, overlap functions, even replace one another. If a particular species is destroyed for some reason, breaking the link in a network, “a diverse community will be able to survive and reorganize itself, because other links in the network can at least partially fulfill the function of the destroyed species. In other words, the more complex the network is, the richer is its pattern of interconnections, and the more resilient it will be; and since the complexity of the network is a consequence of its biodiversity, a diverse ecological community is resilient.” (FC) 

In human communities, ethnic and cultural diversity plays the same role. “Diversity means many different relationships, many different approaches to the same problem. A diverse community is a resilient community, capable of adapting to changing situations. However, diversity is a strategic advantage only if there is a truly interconnected community, sustained by a web of relationships. If the community is fragmented into isolated groups and individuals, diversity can easily become a source of prejudice and friction. But if the community is aware of the interdependence of all its members, diversity will enrich all the relationships and thus enrich the community as a whole, as well as each individual member.” (FC) 

The next few decades will be a decisive time for humanity and the planet. We face an unprecedented crisis where, faster than we expected, the ecological system upon which human civilization depends is unraveling with devastating consequences. An exciting and rewarding era of opportunity awaits us if we rise to the challenge of living more sustainably. 

Duane Elgin (Author, Voluntary Simplicity)

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X. Ecosystems

This is the 10th and final posting on whole systems thinking. It is also the first in a new series on ecology.

The word “ecology,” comes from the Greek oikos “household.” Ecology then is the study of the “Earth Household.” In The System’s View of Life: A Unifying Vision, Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luise define an eco-system as “an integrated and interactive system of biological and physical components.” It can be as small as a termite mound, a rotting log, or as big as an ocean. Forests, tundra, scrubland, swamps, mangrove rivers, and deserts are all ecosystems. 

As living systems, irrespective of size, they interact with the environment in a continuous flow of energy and matter, are subject to entropy or disintegration, are self-making (autopoietic), open to randomness, facilitate the emergence of new order, operate within a network where each component helps to transform and replace other components, and their interactions are conscious, determined by their own internal organization. (The italics indicate topics of previous posts in this series). 

According to the above-mentioned authors, ecosystems “do not possess self-awareness, language, or culture, so there’s no justice or democracy within them.” Also, they note that there’s no greed or dishonesty. Because living systems have survived five mass extinctions over the past 500 million years, ecosystems provide a perfect model for how to live sustainably. They offer five principles of ecology and recommend we use them as guidelines for building sustainable human communities. In summary, here are Nature’s fundamental characteristics from a whole-systems perspective: 

1. Interdependence. All members of an ecological community are interconnected in a vast and intricate network of relationships, the web of life. What happens to one, happens to all. The success of the whole community depends on the success of its individual members, while the success of each member depends on the success of the whole community.

2. Cyclical. Sustainable patterns of production and consumption need to be cyclical, imitating the cyclical processes in nature. The First Nations understood this—take only what is needed, use everything possible and recycle what’s left. 

3. Renewable Resources. The only truly renewable sources of energy are solar, wind, thermal, hydropower, biomass, etc. “By disregarding this ecological fact, political and corporate leaders, again and again, endanger the health and well-being of millions around the world.”

4. Cooperation. Partnership is an essential characteristic of sustainable communities. The cyclical exchanges of energy and resources in an ecosystem are sustained by pervasive cooperation. “Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.”

5.  Flexibility. The flexibility of an ecosystem is a consequence of its multiple feedback loops, which tend to bring the system back into balance whenever there’s a deviation from the norm due to changes in the environment. In nature, everything changes constantly.

6. Diversity. An ecosystem is resilient when it contains many species with overlapping functions that can partially replace one another. In the human community, diversity means many different relationships, which provide many different approaches to solving a problem. A diverse community is resilient because it can adapt to changing circumstances—but only if there’s a truly interconnected community, sustained by a web of relationships. The greater the quality of diverse relationships, the greater will be the community’s power to adjust to change. 

Contemplating The Personal And Social Aspects Of Ecosystems 

The current era of human evolution is marked by a revolution in perception. At every level, there’s a battle being waged between the paradigm of independence and interdependence. In Blessed Are The Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint, theologian Sallie McFague makes it explicit. “Are we singular, independent, separate entities that end with our own skins, or are we both formed and sustained by our radical interdependence with all other living creatures as well as the systems that maintain life?” 

The philosophy of separation inherited from the 18th century Enlightenment, fueled by the American Dream, and amplified by movies and the mass media, has resulted in an image of human fulfillment that is selfish, materialistic, and individualistic. Instead of loving and respecting nature, the earth, and people for what and who they are, unregulated market capitalism has quantified them according to their utility. The consequence of objectifying—putting a value on—natural resources and people (who are quantified by degrees of experience, education, and usefulness relative to generating income) has been the normalization of competition, fighting, corruption, insatiable consumption, and winning. Even war. I’m reminded of the greedy seagulls in Finding Nemo who scramble after Nemo and then a crab shouting, “Mine, mine, mine!” It’s the mantra of individualism.

The caterpillar’s immune system is still trying to protect itself as a caterpillar—and to me, that’s what our insistence on clinging to the oil age is all about. From a biological perspective, it’s the job of the old system to protect itself as long as possible. But it’s equally the job of the new system to rally its forces until it can overcome the old immune system and build the new.

Elisabet Sahtouris (Evolutionary Biologist)

We know the old system doesn’t work and we know why: it’s in opposition to natural processes. And it’s killing the planet. Fortunately, increasingly—and in part by witnessing the damage individualism has done to the earth, including the fracturing of civilization in many countries—an awakening is occurring: the realization that it’s not too late to align with natural processes. 

While it can be painful in many ways to witness the death throes of “It’s all about me,” especially when it seems pervasive, we can immediately affect the shift in our own lives to “It’s about all of us together, equal members of the Earth Community” by thinking that way— loving all living beings, paying attention to, caring for, respecting and considering other people, animals, and the environment. Changing perception and lifestyle is a major challenge. But we take our cue from systems science: emergence, the realization of a higher-level reality occurs as the parts change. It may seem small and insignificant, but every scrap of material I recycle, plastic cup or straw I don’t use, light I turn off, mileage I save, gas, electric, and water I conserve, vote I cast, appliance I repair rather than replace and so on is an act of loving and respecting the planet. At least, given my circumstances and where I am, it’s what I can do.

The idea that our planet is alive, and further, that every mountain, river, lake, and forest is a living being, even a sentient, purposive, sacred being, is not a soppy emotional distraction from the environmental problem at hand; to the contrary, it disposes us to feel more, to care more, and to do more. No longer can we hide from our grief and love behind the ideology that the world is just a pile of stuff to be used instrumentally for own ends.

Charles Eisenstein

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Soul Train: The Novel

PUBLICATION ANNOUNCEMENT

Coming on the heels of my posting on “Fiction And Empathy,” the novel I’ve been working on for three years went live on Amazon.com last week. In Soul Train an African American railroad worker reflects on conversations he had with passengers, significant happenings including tragedies and his exceptional family life. His wife refers to his story as a “spiritual journey,” but he thinks of it as a life spent in “soulful investigation.”

The book is available in paperback and on kindle. Story details are provided on the back cover. Click here.

Fiction And Empathy

I recently came across some insightful statistics on reading. They vary somewhat by state, but here’s an overview.

  • Women read more than men.
  • Most Americans don’t read fiction.
  • Between 1982 and 2012 fiction reading declined from 56% to 46%
  • Men mostly read nonfiction.
  • Women mostly read fiction.
  • Executives far outpace the general population in the number of books read per month.
  • The biggest driver of literary reading is education; the higher, the more books read
  • The genres that make the most money in order: romance/erotica, crime/mystery, religious/inspirational, science fiction/fantasy, and horror.
  • A 2018 survey asked why people read fiction. In order, the reasons included: For entertainment, to appreciate other places and people in the world, to understand the circumstances of others, to escape the everyday world, to learn, to pass the time. 
  • The sale of print books is declining. Only 54% of Americans cracked open a book of any kind last year—print or digital, fiction or nonfiction. Fiction suffered most.
  • In the past decade, poetry suffered the steepest decline. Only 6.7% of American adults read poetry last year, versus 12% in 2002. 
  • 28% of adults read an e-book in 2013, up from 23% the year before.

In 2013, MarketWatch published an explanation for the overall decline in reading. Now, six years later, especially considering the popularity of selfies, their perspective is worthy of consideration. It’s narcissism the author said. “Americans may be more fascinated with their own lives than with those featured in great works of literary fiction: Some 56% of Internet users have searched for themselves online, such as by typing their own name into Google, according to the Pew Research Center. Studies also show that people’s attention spans are getting shorter, in part because “adults have been presented with a tidal wave of easily accessible and affordable entertainment.”

Further, “Students have been abandoning the humanities in favor of the sciences: The number of students taking bachelor degrees in humanities hovers at around 8%, less than half the number four decades earlier, according to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. And in a study released in 2013, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked Americans just 16 out of 23 industrialized countries in literacy.”  

I cite this data because I think it relates to empathy, the loss thereof, which is being reflected in public policy here and abroad. In Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman defines empathy as “the ability to know how another feels…. to perceive the subjective experience of another person.” In that same book, Martin Hoffman argues that “the roots of morality are to be found in empathy because empathizing with someone in pain, danger, or deprivation moves people to act.” It leads me to wonder if the systems responsible for managing immigrants—worldwide—would be more humane if their administrators sat down and had a conversation with those detained.     

I’m not alone in believing that reading works of poetry and fiction can awaken and activate empathy. A recent article in Trends in Cognitive Sciences observed that “fiction is the simulation of selves in interaction. People who read it improve their understanding of others. This effect is especially marked with literary fiction, which also enables people to change themselves. These effects are due partly to the process of engagement in stories, which includes making inferences and becoming emotionally involved, and partly to the contents of fiction, which include complex characters and circumstances that we might not encounter in daily life. Fiction can be thought of as a form of consciousness of selves and others that can be passed from an author to a reader or spectator, and can be internalized to augment everyday cognition.” That’s key: reading fiction can contribute to how we think and perceive the world. I’d like to see some savy journalist ask our political leaders in both parties if they read poetry or fiction.

Unfortunately, “Empathy levels have been declining over the past 30 years.” Research led by Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. To make matters worse, during this same period students’ self-reported narcissism has reached new heights, according to research by Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University. I was particularly fascinated by the methodology that Dr. Konrath used—the Interpersonal Reactivity Index which measures empathy by asking whether responders agree to statements such as “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.” And “I try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before I make a decision.”

I was almost an exclusive reader of nonfiction until I married Linda. Even for a long time afterward, I mostly read to supplement my work, projects or worldview. Browsing her bookshelf somewhere in the early ’80s, I picked up John Steinbeck’s Grapes Of Wrath, and I was hooked. The journey was fascinating and the ending shocking, nothing I could have imagined. Being emersed in a time, place, people’s lives and circumstances that were totally foreign to me—and based in historical fact—was a wakeup call. I didn’t know my general empathy for human beings could be so poignantly activated by reading. 

From then on, I became a regular reader—and eventually a writer—of fiction. Because of my interests and work, I never stopped reading nonfiction, but it was works of fiction that stirred my capacity to empathize and approach an understanding of how other people think and respond to challenges. When I observe what’s going on in the news these days, I’m reminded of a Daniel Goleman quote. He said, “Lacking a sense of another’s need or despair, there is no caring.” Empathy then is real caring based on understanding someone else’s perspective and circumstances. Importantly, he explained that “rapists, child molesters, and many perpetrators of family violence alike are incapable of empathy.” It speaks to cause. “They’re emotionally handicapped, incapable of understanding what their victim is feeling in the situation. These and other crimes are pursued as though the victim has no feeling of their own.” This appears to be a mental health issue that isn’t even being talked about.

There’s an opportunity here. Encouraging and promoting the reading of fiction and poetry meant to enlighten—humanities publications in general—could be an easy way to awaken empathy and ease social decline due to mental health. This isn’t the whole answer, of course. But the lack of empathy is a serious problem, evidenced by the worldwide trend toward pulling in (nationalism) which suggests self-serving motivations, fear and a lack of trust. The strategy of a person lacking empathy is exactly that, pulling in and drawing lines in the sand—“I don’t need you.” “Keep out.” “I can go it alone.” It’s an illusion. It has been proven that human beings and human societies can’t go it alone. They become dysfunctional and then die because living systems are, by definition, interdependent networks of functioning relationships. As the ancient Maya and other civilizations have demonstrated, building protective walls—physical or psychological—around cities cuts them off from the great and necessary advantage of diversity, an essential evolutionary component that creates resiliency. Creative works that awaken empathy help us to respect and value diversity, and in doing so make us resilient. 

We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know. 

Carl Rogers (Psychologist)

About The Photograph

This has been a favorite photograph of mine since it was taken in the early ’70s. It beautifully records Linda’s love of literature—poetry in this instance. And it expresses the sensibility of peace of mind that both of us cherish. The shot wasn’t posed. You see her here in a quiet moment. I just happened to have a camera with me. Often, having a camera at hand has resulted in unexpected gems.

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IX. Order (Whole Systems Context)

This is the 9th in a series of postings on whole systems thinking.

In nature and in the world of man-made objects, geometric order evidences the interrelatedness of all things. Using the above image as a model, humanity may be said to consist of a single string within the spacetime continuum. Rather than forming a straight line—the way we experience time—the process of human evolution has been an ever-unfolding and ordering spiral. For the most part, we have not yet realized or accepted that order, novelty, expansion and complexity are ultimately unifying forces. But even conflicts over diversity can be seen as drivers, urging us to realize and accommodate to the reality that we are one, interrelated and interdependent species.

In the above image, if one of the segments of string represents a lifetime, we can see how it overlaps and aligns with many others. With a little consideration, we can see the process of ordering at work. And we can see that an individual life is just a small segment of an unfathomably long string, one that’s shaped by an enfolded and fundamental order—the core—characterized by infinite potential, patterning and exquisite beauty. Notice how the mind’s eye sees a star in one place and then another. As in certain geometries considered “sacred,” the pattern in this ball of string is dynamic. It seems to move.

Contemplating Order In Personal And Social Contexts

Socially we find examples of this dynamic in the messy domains of business and politics, where over time, conflicting perspectives, goals and methods eventually produce more ordered systems and solutions. A crowning example of this is the founding of the United States of America. Because the founders—and we today—differ in perception, values, goals and desires, there was and will always be conflict, argumentation and debate. In the messy process of sorting things out, an order emerges that overcomes psychic entropy—negative thoughts, ideas and ideologies that, if held long enough by a system’s members, leads to dis-integration and eventually the system’s demise. Order then, along with information, is negentropic. It overcomes entropy, at least temporarily.

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes, “Psychic negentropy refers to an ordered state of energy or knowledge, a state in which work can be carried out with the least waste and effort. A negentropic system, whether physical, informational, or mental, is one in which the parts function together in synergy, with minimal friction or disorder.” In his book, Being Adolescent: Conflict and Growth in the Teenage Years, co-authored with Reed Larson, Mihali identifies the specific traits that carry the highest negentropic potential. These include positive feelings toward self and others, happiness, friendliness, joy, meaning, a sense of energy, competence and intrinsic motivation to be involved with people moving toward constructive goals. Projected to adults, I can easily see how these would be the forces, among others, that are urging us toward alignment and synergistic engagement. In this way, on each turn of the evolutionary spiral, the invisible hand of Nature winds the string around a core, albeit one that imposes a design that is in process—and one that we are not yet privileged to see.

Writing about traumatic events experienced by adults—such as occur in family life as well as in business and politics—Csikszentmihalyi goes further to say in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, that the ability to draw order from disorder is what transforms negative experiences into meaningful challenges. Paul Cézanne famously said it was the artist’s task to become “concentric” with nature, to align with it. I see that happening in this image. I also see how the center—the core of an object or idea—determines the pattern that will emerge as time goes on. For instance, if the string here pictured were wound around a cube or a triangle a very different pattern would result. The same with an idea or ideology. The core of a belief system shapes thinking, which produces patterns of behavior. It’s the reason for the biblical injunction “By their fruit, you shall recognize them.” (Matthew 7:16). Others know us by what we do.

In the above photograph, the winding of a string around a round core results in a star pattern with concentric circles. Standing back, it resembles an eye. Computer scientist, Christopher Langton, and others in the field of artificial life observe that the essence of living systems is in their organization, not the involved molecules. It couldn’t be otherwise, because at the atomic level it’s the organization of atoms that determines and discriminates one element from another.

At the heart of the most random or chaotic event lies order, pattern, and causality, if only we can learn to see it in large enough context.

Corinne McLaughlin

It is the natural tendency of life to organize — to seek greater levels of complexity and diversity.

Margaret Wheatley

When driven into far-from-equilibrium conditions, systems do not just break down, they generate new structures that pull higher forms of order out of the surrounding chaos. It is as if nature reaches into herself and draws forth structures that reflect the inherent potential of the system for higher orders of self-organization.

Duane Elgin

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VIII. Emergent Properties (In Systems)

This is the eighth in a series of postings on whole systems thinking.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

I invite you to check out my new blog on the ancient Maya. A description follows at the end of this posting.

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Life is an emergent property—a property that is not present in the parts and originates only when the parts are assembled together.

Fritjof Capra

When individual parts—such as these boards—are integrated, a feature emerges and a process takes place that’s greater than the sum of the parts. None of the individual parts of a house constitute a home. Likewise, the parts of a smartphone are not smart. But put them together in a coherent manner—according to their design—and an array of advanced capabilities emerge.

When it comes to non-living systems such as books, computers, cars, tools and appliances, it’s the hoped-for or intended emergent properties that first motivated their existence. Initially, they were expressed as an imagined need, and the fulfillment of that need motivates the owner to keep it functioning through maintenance. In living but non-human systems, the emergent property is autopoeisis, the capacity to make more of itself—reproduce. In addition to this, the emergent properties of human systems include self-reflexion, inner and outer awareness, creativity, the ability to manage change and do work. What’s important to note, in all systems, is that properties emerge from the integration and coherence (functional relationship) of their component parts.

Because living systems are dynamic, constantly changing due to the capacity of their members to make choices, the established ordered arrangement at any time can break down when something new is introduced or when something happens to alter the functionality of the whole or its parts—like climate change. Whatever the source, to manage change effectively, rigidity has to give way to the more complex emerging order. The name we give to the continuous process of emergence is “evolution.” The simpler name is “growth.” 

Because living systems experience and adapt to change they grow—or they don’t. One of my earliest introductions to this idea was Grow Or Die: The Unifying Principle of Transformation by George Ainsworth-Land. It’s an expensive book now because it became a cornerstone in strategic planning and corporate transformation. I highly recommend a check to see if your library has or could order a copy. Particularly insightful, Dr. Land explains why species don’t adapt to their environments nearly so much as they adapt environments to themselves. It’s the mantra of successful entrepreneurship: “Find and need and fill it.” Facilitating emerging—higher-order—properties is how civilizations grow. If not, they die.

Contemplating Personal And Social Emerging Properties
The universe is not a place, it’s a story or an irreversible sequence of emergent events. It’s an ongoing creative event. The universe as a whole, and each being within it, is permeated with the power of emergence.  
Brian Swimme (Evolutionary Cosmologist)

Higher-order properties lie within us individually and collectively as potentials. As authors of our experience, we have the capacity to identify and realize them. The quest begins with an assessment of existing talents and motivations, and a close look at what gives us joy. The process of specifying these, can give us a sense of what we have yet to do. What unrealized potential is waiting to emerge? Size and social acceptability don’t matter. It can be as simple as choosing a different frame of mind, like deciding to do an odious job well instead of just getting it done.  It could be a change of perspective from negative to positive, or a change of a mood pattern from irritable to allowing. What emerges in instances such as these, is a more loveable self-image and confidence in the ability to change for the better. And it can transform the lives of those around us. A prominent example of this was when First Lady Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” That was an emergent moment for her, and for us—a call to rise above name-calling and blaming.

Within the image of the clouds above, barely visible on the left-hand side and seeming to connect the clouds, there’s a tiny jet-trail. Whenever I see those, I think of the many people aboard the plane, each of whom is living a story of emergence from childhood to adulthood, from having little to having much—knowledge, status, relationships or wealth. And they’re on their way to realizing more of that potential in a different place. Whether it’s to spend more time with a loved one, consider or assume a new position, build a new relationship or accept an invitation to walk on a beach, the emerging potential will likely be growthful.

Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.

Jean Houston (Visionary, Human Potentials Scholar)

From an evolutionary perspective, the individual human lifespan is so short as to appear insignificant. But from a personal perspective, it’s quite the opposite. Every individual is unique and precious, here to live and by their emerging story, ideally, advance their own higher-order being, thinking and doing. We live and breathe in an atmosphere of stories. And each of us, like the dust and water particles that form clouds, contributes to the quality and movement of our collective atmosphere. Sometimes it’s calm; other times turbulent. Always, it’s vibrant and alive.

Social innovators are people who specialize in emergent properties. They have been referred to as “emergents,” “positive change agents,” “social engineers” and “activists.” They’re in the business of moving beyond the dysfunction of the status quo, of dreaming better ways to live and work, and as soon as possible live the dream. Beyond a paycheck, wealth, status or celebrity, they want their lives to matter. They are their own people, authentic to the core, the modern-day equivalents of the “rugged individualists” who settled the American West. 

In business and industry, the emergents are developing and promoting alternatives to carbon-based energy, sustaining and improving ecosystems, preserving and managing forests, conserving wildlife and habitat, improving health and law enforcement systems, promoting nutrition, discovering applications of nanotechnology, testing energy-efficient transportation systems, and exploring the potentials of space travel. These and others like them are the visionaries, authors, life-coaches, globally conscious motivational speakers and teachers who champion improvements in every field. Emergents are easy to identify because they live principled and disciplined lives.

Less dramatic but equally deserving of the adjective “emergent,” are family members and neighbors, everyday people who are quietly living moral and ethical lives, people actively looking for ways to work more creatively, smarter and kinder with consideration for those around them. They do a good job and take pride in it, no matter how menial the work may seem to others. Opting out of popular culture, they prefer the more peaceful and substantive values of personal enrichment, fulfillment and service.

Because the contributions of emergents have survival value for the planet and all its inhabitants, I see them as paving the way toward a positive and more sustainable future. For this reason alone, they deserve to be acknowledged, encouraged, and supported—by all. 

Transcendence, emergence, and integration of the components are the very pattern of the cosmic movement.

Beatrice Bruteau

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Announcing

I recently launched another weekly blog, entitled “Ancient Maya Cultural Traits.” After decades of researching and organizing information from the fields of anthropology, archaeology, ethnography, and epigraphy, I began to experience the ancient Maya lifeways and worldview in my imagination. Every day. They became so potently familiar, I felt like I’d entered their world and taken on a second identity.

In June of 1998, I spent an entire night and morning imagining, then outlining The Path Of The Jaguar, a series of stories that would feature these people, their places and history. Literally overnight, I found a use for my databases and set out to learn how to tell a compelling story. Twelve years later, I self-published Jaguar Rising. Then came Jaguar Wind And Waves and Jaguar Sun.

The guideline I set for myself in writing these stories, was that every scene and situation had to pass the test of plausibility. The historical information had to be accurate, based on the latest scholarship, and the characterizations needed to be reasonable and representative of the times and patterns of ancient Maya thought customs and behavior. Also, I wanted to immerse readers in the jungle and the cities when they were new. Rather than depict the culture as the “mysterious” Maya, I present them as real people confronting universal human challenges.

I invite you to check out Ancient Maya Cultural Traits. Categories include food, trade, customs, costumes, worldview, rituals, warfare and weapons, prophecy, marriage alliances and more. Gods, goddesses and underworld demons come to life as each posting includes a related excerpt from the novels. The first topic is “blood.”   

VII. Part-Whole Relationship

This is the 7th in a series of postings on whole systems thinking.

Systems thinking involves a shift of perspective from parts to whole. The properties of a whole cannot be reduced to its parts because none of them have the capacity of the whole. A wristwatch keeps time and a smartphone has many functions because their parts have been specified and organized according to a particular purpose and design. A watch’s flywheel can’t keep time and a computer chip can’t make phone calls. Likewise, neither a violin player nor an entire assembly of accomplished musicians can produce a Mozart symphony without the specified design—the score—and a conductor to interpret it. System’s thinking then is about purpose and design in the first place. With the parts or members in place according to a design, the key to successful performance lies in the pattern of relationships.

Purpose is the reason for a system’s existence. In mechanical systems, such as a wind turbine, a person with a challenge and an idea envisioned an assembly of parts that would operate together to perform a function and provide a solution to his problem. The desired function is the system’s purpose. Physically speaking, in Nature everything lives to grow and reproduce. That’s the purpose of a cell, cedar tree, caterpillar, cat and the human body. As noted in a previous posting, one of the defining characteristics of life is autopoeisis, it makes more of itself.   

In The Systems View Of Life: A Unifying Vision, Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luise observe that  “What we call a part is merely a pattern in an inseparable web of relationships. Therefore, the shift of perspective from the parts to the whole can also be seen as a shift from objects to relationships. For the system’s thinker, the relationships are primary.” And consideration of relationships requires a shift from quantity to quality.

Everything speaks its purpose through patterns. 

Michael Schneider 

An orchestra consisting of a large number of musicians does not guarantee a successful performance. One or more mistakes or a poorly tuned instrument can dampen the system’s outcome. In systems composed of living beings, where there’s a continuous exchange of matter and energy with the environment—and thought in this example—the dynamism of change requires attention to process in order for the system to function according to its design. It’s why the creation of any kind of performance requires lots of practice. I think of gymnasts and ice skaters who perform seemingly impossible feats, and how much time and energy they invested in the process of skill development and responding to feedback in order to produce a performance that lasts a few minutes. And where one misstep—system’s malfunction—can result in a breakdown.   

Contemplating The Personal and Social Aspects of  Whole-Part Relationships 

Questions regarding a “purposer” or original “designer” of life are best left to philosophers of science and religion. In the context of the whole-part relationship, we can observe that the capacity of the whole human being—that’s greater than the sum of its parts—is self-reflecting consciousness. And along with it comes self-determination to some extent. Being individual perceivers and thinkers, some of us will undergo some soul-searching to try and understand our reason for being, and others won’t give it a thought. 

As noted above, the key to a system’s successful performance lies in the pattern of relationships among the parts and other whole systems. In this instance, we’re talking about people. Having a purpose in life is like having a rudder. Rather than submit to the “currents” in life—the values and expectations of other people and society—a course is charted toward a given destination. In addition to giving life meaning, a purposeful life specifies a trajectory which is an aid to navigation and course-correction.

As a counselor of students, I would sometimes recommend a “gifts inventory” as the place to begin their discovery of purpose. As quickly as possible, without much thought, they would list their core competencies, their natural born gifts. After that, they listed the things that gave them joy. Not what made them happy or excited, activities that made them feel good about themselves, content, fulfilled. Those moments when time stood still and they were “in the flow.” Then they listed the issues, personal or social, that concerned them most, areas where they would like to make a difference. 

By prioritizing each of these areas they created a perspective that “seeded” the intellect so the inner voice (I prefer “soul”) would be primed to divulge the reason for incarnating. (All of this was an assignment, done in private and in a meditative state). The final and crucial step was to get quiet, connect with the deepest part of Self and ask: Why am I here? What am I here to do? They were to write whatever came and refine it into a concise “Purpose Statement.” Because the statement is deeply personal, they were never to share it with anyone. Insights that come from the core of our being should never invite feedback or comment. 

We noted above that in systems thinking relationships are primary. When we operate from purpose, we’re more selective in choosing our significant relationships and maintaining them. And because we want to surround ourselves with those who encourage and support us in realizing our purpose, there’s a commensurate shift from having many friends (as we did in high school) to having quality friends, those on the same or similar wavelength.

The purpose of existence as we have seen is growth, expansion… so the purpose of existing together is evolving together, progressing together, and the goal of this growth is fulfillment. 

            Ramana Maharishi

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VI. Equifinality

Alphabet Letters

 

This is the 6th  in a series of postings on the theme of whole systems thinking.

The whole system’s principle of “equifinality,” a term coined by the father of systems theory, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, holds that in open systems, for those that have external interactions, a given end state can be reached by many potential means. To lock on to a single pathway, observation or solution can overlook a simpler or better way to reach a goal. The advice then is to reserve judgment and keep an open mind.

Beyond ideas and perspectives, equifinality has implications for individuals within social systems, suggesting that each member has equal opportunity to affect the outcome of the whole—by paying attention to potential solutions and staying open to alternative pathways to reach a goal—noting that any change will affect the output or outcome. Change any element, person or function, however slightly, and the system will perform differently than it otherwise would. Stated positively, no matter how small, invisible or seemingly insignificant a person’s function within a system, they exert an influence on its performance and outcome.

A rock group is an open system composed of interacting members. As such, it performs differently each time the performers take the stage. Things happen. One musician substitutes for another. A guitar is not properly tuned. The drummer is trying out new sticks. The lead singer is depressed. An amplifier is replaced and now the sound is different. Likewise, corporate cultures change when an employee begins to eat lunch at his desk, when a mother brings her toddler to work and when an executive begins wearing jeans. It’s the reason we can’t step into the same river twice. Every millisecond, the water molecules are exchanged; stones move; leaves fall in; the wind and fish contribute to turbulence. The example I cited for my students has to do with film and television production considered as a social system. Change one word in a script, decide not to stop for lunch, swap out a microphone or a light—every decision alters the outcome. We see it in television series, where success in the first season generates more money, more expensive talent and new writers who have their own ideas about what will succeed in the next season. Time and larger budgets bring about changes and suddenly The Good Wife isn’t so “good” anymore, Sherlock’s cases become more complicated and are anything but Elementary and Person Of Interest shifts from stories about people to cyber warfare.

Contemplating The Personal And Social Consequences of Equifinality

In the above photograph, each chip is a bit of data. Displayed as they are, the whole represents a field of potential, meaning the letters and numbers could be put together in a staggering number of ways. Like magnetic letters on a refrigerator door, a child could use them to spell the word “dog.” Another child could come along and use the same three letters to spell the word “god.” And within the whole system in everything we see, there’s equal opportunity to affect an infinite variety of changes.

Personally, equifinality gives us a reason to appreciate that everyday choices and behaviors make a difference, whether intended or not. Linda’s switch from merely “fresh” to “organic” head lettuce affected changes—in our bodies and in the local supplier, farming systems and health systems, even the economy. Slight, yes. But nonetheless real. And little things add up. Every time we turn on the radio or television or engage in social media, we contribute to the sustainability of the medium and cast a vote for more of its content. Recently, we’re beginning to see the marketers behind the curtain, quantifying every decision we make, and modifying their systems accordingly. There’s big money in monitoring our choices and behaviors. And the principle of equifinality can be used to affect change. For instance, Linda and I are telling restaurant employees why we bring along our own paper straws and cloth napkins—we want them to know that it cuts down on plastic and paper. Again, a small thing, but in every instance, people understand and appreciate our choice.

Knowing that my choices and behaviors are affecting change, I can be more aware and deliberate in my communication and interactions. What message do I want to send? Do I really want to sustain this activity? Do I want to cast a vote for more of this product to be produced? Is this information, service or philosophy in alignment with my values? Does this situation lift me up or inspire me? Do I want to support a company that isn’t socially responsible?

It occurs to me that this sounds like a lot of self-regulating introspection. Editing this post, I hesitated and observed that the individual words, ideas, and questions I’m expressing are affecting my readers, and who knows what else. I paused. Do I really want to put this information and these self-regulating questions out there? Indeed, I do, because I’m advocating that we dig deep into our authentic selves before making choices and engaging others. Doing so with more awareness of the consequences, however small, seems to me to be a contribution to the greater whole systems—holons—in which I participate.

I have to admit that there are times when I go against the voice of my authentic self, as when I consume more sugar and television than I know I should. Sometimes we just want what we want—and we accept the consequences. On balance, however, I find comfort in the act of making “a good faith effort.”

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

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V. Feedback

This is the 5th in a series of postings on whole systems thinking.

A system is maintained, often within specified limits, by providing information about how well or poorly the system is performing relative to its purpose. Since systems exist for a reason, it’s important to know whether or not, how well or how poorly, that reason is being actualized. 

Feedback comes in two forms, positive and negative. Both are necessary. The soldier tying knots receives positive or negative feedback depending on the outcome of each trial. When a stand-up comedian gets a laugh, she knows that her delivery was effective. That’s positive feedback. If she repeats her performance exactly, she’s likely to get a similar result. If the laugh doesn’t happen, the negative feedback tells her something didn’t work and more attention needs to be given to the parts of her presentation. Without feedback from the audience, she would have no way of knowing whether or not her intention was realized. 

In living systems, feedback is syntropic. It overcomes entropy by providing information that produces learning, which can bring about positive or growthful adjustments to change within the system or its environment. The more feedback, the better the learning. And the better the quality of the feedback, the better the quality of learning, which translates to better performance. In the 50s, door-to-door interviews about television viewing patterns were conducted to measure audience size but they did a poor job of providing networks with quality information. Studies showed that people often reported watching programs they thought they should be watching, or programs their neighbors were talking about, rather than the ones they actually watched. This was variously attributed to poor memory, a desire to impress or avoid being embarrassed in front of the interviewer and outright lying. Poor sampling information yields poor learning. 

The challenge, of course, is getting feedback that is both robust and accurate. In any kind of polling, there are so many variables, companies that provide that service include a caveat saying the sample size is “representative” of a group within plus or minus margins. Science is never perfect; everything is relative and even the best results are approximations. But often that’s enough to satisfy a company, organization or government office because some feedback is better than none at all. And over time, adjustments to change based on feedback can demonstrate a pattern of success or failure. “We added an odorless tissue to our product line and found that customers preferred it over the ones with odor. So let’s do a better job of promoting the odorless product.” 

For an organism, business or social entity to survive and grow, it must have feedback. A critical component in evolution, feedback from changes in the environment urge the process of species adaptation. The lesson for human evolution is to design, incorporate and manage mechanisms at every level that provide the most accurate feedback possible. Aside from ethical issues, this is why truth in media reporting is critically important. 

Contemplating Global And Social Feedback Mechanisms

How do we know if a given society or even the earth as a whole, is functioning properly? Always, when assessing the functionality of a system, the place to begin is with clarity about its purpose, understanding its reason for being—how it should be functioning. 

For example, the earth is the largest whole and living system that most directly affects our lives. The question is: What is the purpose of the Earth? To gain a working appreciation, we can examine function. Since it came into being, what has it been continuously doing? As noted in a previous posting, the prime identifying mark of a living system is autopoeisis—it propagates more life and it does so on its own, without anyone “pulling the strings.” Part of the “doing,” is increasing the diversity, complexity, and consciousness of its forms. Earth isn’t just “home” to life, it generates, maintains, proliferates and advances it. Systemically speaking, the purpose of our planet is to continuously produce diverse and viable sub-systems—all living entities—viable in that they will reproduce in ways that propagate even more and more varieties of life. Imagine, all this from—our best guess—a sprinkling of “potentials” deposited from space in a chemical soup at just the right time and place. I marvel at that.

Currently, the most complex living “emergent,” human beings, has been increasingly interfering with the Earth’s natural processes to the point where dramatic adjustments are being made throughout the system in order to overcome our consumptive, life-diminishing behaviors. Suffering under the ancient and destructive idea that we’re separate from God, nature, the soil and each other, we are fouling, and in many cases destroying, the elements that sustain and contribute to the quality and continuation of life—atmosphere, water, soils, and forests. Because we in the “developed” world don’t experience the degradation personally, we tend to ignore the information—negative feedback—as too technical to understand, pass it off as remote or somebody else’s problem, assume nothing can be done to curb the human appetite for more, better, faster or cheaper, or hope that some genius or technology will rescue us before the quality of life diminishes to the point where survival is at stake. 

The paradigm of separation and greed is a virus that has infected human consciousness at all levels, globally. We see it trending in the mentality of fundamentalism, where there is only one right way to think, in nationalism, where we want our group to be the sole makers of our destiny,  in prejudice, where one “type” matters more than others, in unregulated capitalism where the privileged few can make the rules governing wealth and the use of resources, in corporations that enjoy the benefits of personal identity while executive actions are only accountable to stockholders and in industrial development where the earth is treated as a “thing” rather than a living body. For many years now and increasingly, the earth has been providing feedback in the form of dramatic weather fluctuations, desertification, water and air pollution, deforestation, melting ice in the poles and mountain glaciers, increases in the frequency and severity of floods and storms, species extinctions, decimation of coral reefs and sea life, extermination of predators, disruption of the carbon cycle and so on. The feedback is impossible to ignore. The earth is not a machine, it’s THE LIVING BODY that sustains and determines the quality of all life for every life form, cockroach to king, and every social group, family to nation.  

Rather than enumerate our social dysfunctions and make this posting even more depressing, suffice to say the cause is the same—the erroneous perception that we are separate from God, the planet and each other. It’s a perspective that encourages self-centeredness, inordinate consumption, greed, segregation and discrimination, hate crimes, corruption, war and treating Earth as a resource rather than a living body. Through these, the world is providing feedback. It says to me, “The virus of separation has metastasized to the extent that vital organs are in jeopardy. As quickly as possible, change your thinking! Regard the planet as your greater body, the source of your life—because it is. Amend your lifestyle. Examine everything you do through the lens of quality rather than quantity, giving rather than taking, loving rather than ignoring.  Experience the joy in living lightly on the planet, look for opportunities to reuse and recycle and read about “deep ecology,” the shift in consciousness that views Nature and humanity as one, interconnected and interdependent system.”  

Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess, made a distinction between “shallow” and “deep” ecology. He observes that shallow ecology is anthropocentric, human-centered, viewing our species as above and outside of nature, as the source of all value, considering it as something to be used. The root of the separation paradigm derives from Genesis 1: 28: (King James Version) “And God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” 

Considering the current level of the world population and that the planet’s resources are finite,  the continuation of this injunction is a recipe for species extinction. In contrast, according to Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Lusisi in The Systems View of Life, “Deep ecology does not separate humans—or anything else—from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life… It questions the very foundations of our modern, scientific, industrial, growth-oriented, materialistic worldview and way of life.”

Feedback is a method of controlling a system by reinserting into it the results of past performance. If feedback can change the pattern of performance, then we have a process which may very well be called learning.

Norbert Weiner 

My hope lies in the education of children, in introducing them to the state of the earth and showing them the way through—the perception and understanding of personal and global interconnection and interdependence that encourage ethics, sharing, collaboration, and love.         

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