Reflections on society, politics and nature XXXIX

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

MOON LANDING

I watched Armstrong (2019) and was happy to see that they, through Armstrong in his own words, touched on some of the themes I see as most important with the lunar missions. (Yes, I have been a space enthusiast since childhood!)

A huge number of people worked on the missions and made them happen, and they – in turn – wouldn’t have been able to do it without the work of innumerable people living then and in previous generations. We see the astronauts on the screen and in the media, but they are just the very tiny tip of the iceberg. That’s how it often is. We stand on the shoulders of not only giants but innumerable people and beings and all past generations.

One of the great benefits of space missions, in general, is that we get to see Earth from the outside as one seamless living whole. And we get to hear the testimonies of people who experienced it themselves and how it changed them. This is the overview effect and it shifts, in a small but significant way, how we see ourselves.

We can say that the space missions are a product of the Earth locally transforming itself into humans, technology, and a desire for exploration. In this case, we are the sensory organs of Earth seeing itself as a whole and from the outside for the first time. (Armstrong didn’t mention this, obviously.)

THE SUPER-RICH

We are trained by society to see the super wealthy as a success and something to idealize and look up to.

The reality is that they are a sign of how we have failed as a society.

Earth’s resources doesn’t belong to anyone. It’s all part of the living processes of Earth. No part of our body can “own” other parts or the body as a whole.

We use resources to live, as do all beings. And yet, we think we – as individuals – can own parts of Earth, and we allow some to amass resources far beyond what anyone needs to live while others live in poverty.

This is clearly unsustainable in every sense of the word and not aligned with ecological realities. We can see it as a “childhood disease” of humanity, and it’s an orientation that puts us all at risk.

Hopefully, through Earth’s and social feedback, we get shaken out of the trance of accepting this as how it has to be, and we’ll be able to change it before the damage has gone too far.

I realize that this sounds like naive ideals that belong to children and teenagers, and it’s about how I saw it when I was fifteen, but there is something far more here. It’s about orienting ourselves to the ecological realities of living as part of this living system called Earth. It’s about our survival as a civilization and species. It’s up to us how this experiment unfolds.

I also know that ownership probably won’t go away, and it may not need to. But we, collectively, need to regulate it differently. We need to create systems where what’s easy and attractive to do at an individual and business level is also what benefits Earth, ecosystems, people, and future generations. And where nobody has far more than they need for a good life, and nobody has less than they need for a good life. It’s in the interest of all of us, and it is very possible if there is a willingness to do it.

HISTORICAL REVISIONISM

I see some talk derisively about historical revisionism, most recently in a review of the documentary Jacques Cousteau’s Legacy.

History is always revised. It’s as much or more about us now, telling the stories, than it is about its subject.

What I have seen of this “revised history” is often relatively fair. For instance, the Cousteau documentary makes it clear that what he did back in the ’50s and ’60s was normal then while it would be unacceptable today with our changed norms, values, and understanding of ecosystems and our place in it, and it shows that he himself changed his views over time.

We can understand why people did as they did in another time in history, based on their culture, worldview, experiences, and understanding. And it’s also good to explicitly look at it from our view today, with our culture, experiences, and understanding. Both are valid. Both belong to our stories about history.

Of course, what’s really behind these “historical revisionism” complaints is often something else. This criticism often comes from people who have conservative views and may feel personally attacked. If you have anthropocentric views, you may feel scared (translated into offended) by more Earth-centered views. If you have bigoted views, you may feel scared/offended when the mainstream is moving into less acceptance of bigotry.

I should add that although I liked the documentary and thought it was well worth the time watching it, they sometimes use unnecessarily strong and emotionally laden language in describing Cousteaus’s approach early in his career. These stories are often stronger and have more impact when we use factual and neutral language, and allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions.

SUSTAINABILITY IS UNREALISTIC?

The Green party in Norway (I am a member) seems to be the favorite whipping boy among many in Norway, including politicians from other parties.

Today, the leader of the Labor party said that the Green party politics are unrealistic and removed from reality, and they won’t cooperate with or go into a coalition with them.

That’s nothing new.

It highlights the usual polarization: most people still assume that business as usual is the way to go, and some realize we need profound systemic changes to survive as a civilization.

We are in the middle of an ecological crisis of gigantic proportions, and business as usual – or mild or moderate course corrections – will only allow this crisis to deepen and come faster.

What’s unrealistic isn’t creating a more sustainable society and civilization. What’s unrealistic is assuming that we can continue as we do with minor adjustments and keep our civilization. It’s not possible.

And still, most politicians and most people pretend that business as usual is the way to go. They focus on their own little special interests. They want more for themselves. They don’t want to look ahead more than weeks or months or at most a few years. They rarely take a global perspective. It’s even more rare that they take a systemic perspective and look at the deep systems changes that are required.

None of this is new. It’s been going on for decades.

Who are on the “right side of history” here? It’s pretty clear. It’s the ones being disparaged by just about all other parties, journalists, and a lot of other people in mainstream culture. They are in the position that abolitionists and suffragettes were in several generations back.

They are the ones whom history will present as heroes and forward-thinking. Unfortunately, that won’t help extinct species and destroyed ecosystems, and the many humans and other beings suffering and dying from the current destruction.

BLAME THE POLITICIANS?

It’s not uncommon to see people blaming politicians, especially in social media. To me, this doesn’t make sense. These politicians are, most of the time, doing exactly what they promised to do. If you want to blame anyone, blame the ones voting for them.

This obviously mostly applies to democratic countries with multiple parties. One caveat is the US with its two-party system. In that case, it’s the system that’s at fault more than the politicians or the voters.

THE COMMONS

It is not from your own property that you give to the poor. Rather, you make return from what is theirs. For what has been given as common for the use of all, you have appropriated to yourself alone. The earth belongs to all, not to the rich. Therefore you are paying a debt, not bestowing a gift.

– St. Ambrose of Milan

St. Ambrose talks about charity, but systems are more important.

What the ecosystems produce is the commons. It’s what all life depends on to survive.

And it seems clear that it’s impossible for anyone to really “own” anything. We can use certain resources and prevent other people access, but that’s not “owning” it. It’s pretending we own it, and using force and, in these days, law to prevent access to others.

That’s why it seems so absurd when we have a few percent owning huge amounts of wealth while many around the world live in poverty.

And that’s why the idea of the commons is so important. These are the shared resources all life depends on. It’s clearly unethical for some to hoard resources far beyond what they could possibly need to provide for their basic needs.

The problem is not greed or any personal characteristic. The problem is our current system that allows for this terrible hoarding and inequality.

It’s perfectly possible to shift to a system that (a) takes our ecological realities into account, and (b) prevents massive hoarding and poverty. It’s not only possible, it’s necessary.

ELIMINATING LIFE

When I am at my parent’s house and neighborhood, I notice the changes since I was a child growing up there. The tall trees are cut down. Most of the flowers are gone. The thick hedges are mostly gone. The gravel road has been paved over. The dark pathways have been lit up with 24/7 street lights. And this is not only my parent’s house but the neighborhood in general, with a few exceptions.

I understand this is done for reasons that makes sense to the people doing it. They want more light so cut down the big beautiful trees. They want less work so reduce the hedges and flower areas. They think paved is better than gravel. They think all paths need to be lit up all the time. And so on.

What I see is an elimination of life. The trees and hedges offer shelter and food for insects, birds, and other animals. The gravel road was a pleasant reminder of mud, water, and the enjoyment of walking on something that’s not completely flat, and the pools gave an opportunity for birds and other animals to drink. The darkness allows us to see and connect with the night sky with the infinite amount of stars, and it shelters animals and works with their natural cycles instead of against them as artificial light does.

This, in addition to notice the dramatic reduction in insects, birds, and other animals, brings up grief in me. I grieve the loss of life in this place, and around the world in general. What’s happening here is a symptom of a much larger shift. It’s another reminder that we are in the middle of a dramatic ecological disaster.

At a personal level, it also makes me feel a bit alone. This is a community of people who largely, based on their actions, don’t seem very concerned with life. They seem happy to eliminate life and the conditions that make life thrive. How is it possible? (And, yes, I know that’s not completely true.)

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