Archive for category Spring Independent Studies

EARTHBODIES

Please use the following link to view my final presentation for the semester:

http://prezi.com/tiuac0oqwf3n/ecofeminism/

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Considering “The Road to Hell”

“The evil that is in the world always comes out of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding” Albert Camus, The Plague

Michael Maren, in “The Road to Hell” paints a grim picture of aid to Africa by telling the story of US assistance for Somalia a decade before the civil war until the late 1990’s. From the outset, Maren makes it clear that the local Somali citizens whose unknown faces were occasionally splashed across American newspapers with headlines highlighting their suffering from poverty, hunger, lack of capital, and disease would probably have fared better without US intervention preceding the civil war. Many readers will argue that international intervention to prevent mass killings of Somalis under the dictator Siad Barre could not have been denied out of a sheer sense of responsibility. As civil unrest continues, media coverage continues to focus on the shocking images of children with extended bellies. This has helped fuel a uniform image of Africa- the continent is so poor that the millions of people there could use anything and everything. The ugly truth is that “For television, the worst, most despairing picture [are] the best. Famine and horror [have become] a commodity” (Maren, 213). I do not advocate sitting back and watching a massacre take place. However, America’s aid has taken a toll on many livelihoods over the years by supporting and exploiting a destructive structure to ease the ill-will of many Americans and the image of the US on the surface and to dispose of excess agricultural commodities. Let’s be clear, aid has not killed Africa but it has not yielded any long-lasting results either.

Maren quickly dispenses of common misconceptions and mocks those who have unquestioningly donated to bureaucratic relief agencies who are working under the charitable guise of development aid (he most explicitly reveals the distorted budget of his employer, Save the Children). He writes, “…for $20 a month little Pedro can have a hot meal and a place to go to school and new pajamas. Problem solved. If everyone gave money we could dispense with all these unpleasant pictures of dying children once and for all”… “You’re a bunch of mush-minded guilty liberal assholes for believing them, for believing that money and guns can solve the problems of the poor” (28).  Relieving poverty is not a goal in and of itself; it is the result of something much more basic, fundamental, and encompassing. It is structural. Unfortunately in development work today, it is not the Somali who endures the greatest change; it is the white man who must grow accustomed to the lack of urban amenities. Maren succinctly writes that to exercise true development, the American who needs to reflect and change himself before imposing a flawed system that will only further exploit the continent. It is important to realize that since the 1960’s, when aid to Africa began to flow more heavily, the continent has not raised its living standards, decreased the poverty rate (many policies have targeted rural populations to help them resettle in an urban setting but this has resulted in even worse conditions- the sprawling slums), or seen an increase in opportunity.

Maren points out that the failures in development are most transparent in food aid where much of the money is spent on the process rather than the product. Many relief workers in Somalia before and after the Civil War knew full well that their work was endangering those who spoke with them and that their food aid packages stamped with “From the American People” were funding rebels. But each day they woke up to do the same work because of their commitment to the “greater cause” of alleviating poverty and bringing peace (97).  During the war, Oxfam was teaching refugees to grow their own food but the refugees were planning to return to a nomadic lifestyle as soon as possible so this skill set was useless and there was little incentive to learn this (98). CARE was distributing (and continues to do so) surplus US agricultural products (subsidized by the United States1.  Soon it became easier to just live in the refugee camp and receive free food than to work for wages, which no longer covered the expenses of food in the regular market. Rebels could easily steel the food and sell it in local stores where the profit margin would be far greater, crowding out local businesses and allow them to channel this excess liquidity to rebel groups. In the end, food aid has done absolutely nothing for food security; food aid has only fueled further corruption despite the charitable will of so many Americans.

"food aid has done absolutely nothing for food security"

http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/05/fighting_for_control_of_somali.html

Maren observed many other downsides of relief or development aid from institutions such as US AID, Save the Children, and CARE among many others. Monetary remuneration of labor has been a cornerstone of US aid and has shifted indigenous paradigms. Lucrative structures have been central to development packages and, instead of alleviating the reported suffering, have perpetuated a cycle of unrest, exploitation, dependence on foreign aid, and fed a corrupt bureaucratic system.  At the end of the Civil War Maren writes, “… in Somalia (as in much of Africa), relief and development are the most dynamic growth industries. An African entrepreneur doing a rational analysis of his economic opportunities would likely conclude that the future was in relief and development work” (165). The current system simply lacks a real goal to change and a system of accountability between agencies and their field-workers as well between donator and recipient countries and communities.

Today we are left with a chicken and egg story where local African governments blame colonialism for the poverty on the continent and US and international agencies blame laziness and the general lack of education of the people.  Maren’s main conclusion, after having worked in Somalia in the 1980’s and 90’s, is “that doing relief and development work in the context of oppression is counterproductive. Any real commitment to development requires political action, speaking out against the power that keeps populations from developing themselves” (88). Development aid must focus on the structure rather than the symptoms- on the underlying causes of poverty, malnourishment, child mortality, and disease. This is an ongoing debate in the international community and consequently Maren’s expose has been met with much critique because many organizations are in fact questioning the status quo. But the next time you see an image of a malnourished child and feel that sense of guilt, think twice before sending those few dollars through the organization and pick up the Road to Hell- it’s a quick and informational read. I also feel that sense of responsibility; I cannot sit idly as a bystander.  But let’s engage in a form of aid that is sustainable, research oriented, tailored to indigenous communities, and constantly questions the state of affairs.

1

After several years of providing food aid under the Marshall Plan in the late 1940’s and early 50’s, Europe bounced back and was able to satisfy its own agricultural needs. American farmers were producing a surplus and so needed new markets quickly to prevent destitution. “In a normal world, the rising surplus would lower prices — and profits– driving people out of the grain market until supply and demand  would settle into some sort of harmony” (192). But this was not the case because the US government agreed to set a price floor. “It required tariffs and quotas to keep foreign commodities out” (193) and implemented a food “Cargo preference, which requires that 75 percent of certain foreign food aid be shipped on privately owned U.S.-flag vessels” (189). The real cost of production far outweighs the real benefit (therefore not representing free market competition, which is the idea that the US has been exporting). The cost of storing even sometimes outweighed cost of production. “With Europe’s markets satisfied by their own domestic production, there was only one place to go: U.S. grain would have to be sent to the Third World” (193). These underdeveloped countries had little foreign exchange but “needed a benefactor, someone to buy the food for them, or at least accept their rupees, cidis, and shillings…. “The answer was obvious: The U.S. government would have to be the middleman and absorb the foreign currencies” (193). The US recently tripled its aid to the African continent as revealed in the Washington post in 2006. One can hope for a change in policy…

Maren, Michael. The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity. The Free Press: New York. 1997

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Back to Earthbodies

“We come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh…It is hardly surprising, then, that there should be some profound resemblances between our treatment of our bodies and our treatment of the earth” –Wendell Berry

This quote sums up much of what I am trying to convey in talking about earthbodies. Despite the uniqueness of the human mind, the inventiveness of humans, the “wonders” of technological advancement and the alleged productivity that a competitive capitalist economy creates, our bodies are intricately connected to the earth and we, as humans, must recognize the importance of this basic foundation of our being if we are to be able to nurture and take care of our earthbodies.

The importance of thoughtful consumption: “The household that prepares its own meals in its own kitchen with some intelligent regard for nutritional value, and thus depends on the  grocer only for selected raw materials, exercises an influence on the food industry that reaches from the store all the way back to the seedsman” -Wendell Berry. One of the most important ways to think about ecofeminism is through food. One of the most basic and vital connections between our bodies and the earth is nourishment. At base, humans need shelter, food and water to live (as it turns out, these are seemingly not enough and for many, hard to come by). We take all of these things from the earth; each one deserves thoughtful consideration, and I would like to focus on food. The far-reaching impact made by individual thoughtfulness in relation to food can be abstract, but it is momentous.

Until very recently, I never put a lot of thought into the food that I ate. Food was as simple as knowing to eat when you’re hungry, trying to make sure to balance nutrition and delicious taste for a healthy diet. Last semester I read a book called Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. As I learned more and more about factory farming, meat consumption, treatment of workers in the meat industry, calamitous environmental impacts, and the silence that surrounds all of these issues, I began to realize that I was a complicit perpetrator of these acts of violence. “Our response to the factory farm is ultimately a test of how we respond to the powerlless, to the most distant, to the voiceless–it is a test of how we act when no one is forcing us to act one oway or another. Consistency is not required, but engagement with the problem is” (Foer 267). My first reaction was to cut meat out of my diet entirely, which I did. As I continued learning more about food and agriculture, I was again forced to think critically about the food choices I made. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver beautifully illustrates the importance of thoughtful, local eating. She and her family commit to eating only food that is grown or purchased locally. Slowly I began to realize that the reasons I had for not eating meat had further implications. If I resolved to simply stop eating meat entirely, but I put little or no thought into other products I consumed, I would not be upholding the values that sparked me to stop eating meat in the first place. Foer says,  “When we lift our forks, we hang our hats somewhere. We set ourselves in one relationsihp or another to farmed animals, farm workers, national economies, and global markets” (Foer 261).

My point can’t be said more eloquently. If we are fortunate enough, we interact with and consume food every day; this food comes from the earth and is cycled through our bodies and back to the earth. If we stop to think about it, this is an intensely intimate interaction between our bodies and the earth. Thus, this interaction deserves thoughtfulness. If our food industry was more thoughtfully organized, the benefits would be monumental. Imagine a world in which food was grown by passionate individuals who have a stake in the continued nourishment of the earth, where every animal slaughtered was appreciated for its sacrifice, where instead of being expected at every meal in great quantity for little cost, meat consumption required thought and thankfulness, where instead of demanding, expecting and consuming vegetables that are not in season or fruits that come from half-way around the world we ate locally and seasonally, where we made it a priority to make sure every mouth is fed rather than make sure we have an incredulous amount of meat being sold in every store and restaurant. If this were the case, workers that grow food would have a better quality of life, animals would have a better quality of life, there would be less chemicals in our food, in our bodies, in the earth, there would be less death caused by starvation, we would be healthier, there would be less pollution, and the practice of thoughtfulness would spread to other areas of our lives. “We eat as sons and daugthers, as families, as communities, as generations, as nations, and increasingly as a globe. We can’t stop our eating from radiating influence even if we want to” (Foer 261).

It takes time, commitment, energy, and even privilege to make thoughtful food choices. But if we have the means, we must challenge and demand better from ourselves. Willful ignorance cannot be the standard once we know the powerful influence food choices have. One vegetarian, one farmer’s market, one farm cannot fix everything, but that is not a reason to say individual food choices needn’t be thoughtful. Thoughtful eating can change the world.

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Ethnobotany

After developing a working plant list for the medicinal plants I plan to research and cultivate as part of a garden that suits the needs of my community, I began looking into the historical and cultural uses of the plants beyond their contemporary and well-known uses.  From here, I researched ethnobotany; the study of the relationship between plants and people. Ethnobotany focuses on how the plants available to a group of people shape their culture, and how a culture of people maintains their relationship to the earth around them with plants. Ehtnobotany plays a particular role in researching the historical uses of native plants in my bioregion because it reflects how the people who previously inhabited this land utilized their resources and the relationship that they had with these plants.

Source: http://www.maya-archaeology.org

The Iroquois relationship to medicinal plants (and uses of the plants) reflects how the uses of native plants have changed over time in my bioregion and how the use of these plants and cultural value originated. Though Pennsylvania was not historically the origin or primary location of the Iroquois, many Native American trading trails go through Pennsylvania, especially central Pennsylvania, and these trading routes serve as an opportunity for material and cultural exchanges.  Researching the historical origin of native medicinal plant use; such as bergamot, black cohosh, and dandelion, demonstrates how the relationship of one culture to its plants has passed to other cultures. Specifically, the plant use and relationship to plants of the Iroquois was passed on to many of the early European settlers and then developed into the contemporary uses we associate the plants with today. Though the uses of the plants have remained the same over time in many cases, the relationships that different cultures maintain with plants (and the earth around them) changed greatly over time.

Source: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/bee-balm-tea.html

Ethnobotany connects to ecofeminist ideals because it describes how a culture interacts with its plant resources and how a culture develops based on nature.  In regards to medicinal herbs, people developed a relationship to nature as they utilized the plants available locally to remedy the health needs of their communities.

Sources:

“History of Susquehannock Indians”. http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/environmental_center/sunbury/website/HistoryofSusquehannockIndians.shtml.

“Ethnobotany from a Native American Perspective”. http://www.bgci.org/resources/article/0429/.

Herrick, James W. Iroquois Medical Botany. Syracuse University Press: Syracuse NY, 1995.

Balick, Michael J. and Paul Alan Cox. Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany. Scientific American Library: New York, 1996.

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Existence Precedes Essence

As I read books and watch movies about thoughts and ideas that relate to Ecofeminism, I continue to come across words and concepts that overlap everywhere. This is one of the beauties of Ecofeminism-it points to overlap between different forms of oppression, similarities between all living beings and connection between the earth and everyone/thing that is a part of it. As I read books ranging from Eating Animals to Living Downstream to The Miracle of Mindfulness, to Days of War, Nights of Love, I scribble down words and concepts over and over: Silence, Objectification, Power, Mindfulness, Commoditization, Abstraction etc. By the end of the semester I hope to provide an introductory guide to Ecofeminism that incorporates in an understandable fashion, how all these concepts are related and integral to understanding Ecofeminist thought. This post will be an attempt to map the connections I have made so far.

I started this map of connection by writing down words that I have found in different texts that all relate back to Ecofeminism. As I read about the injustice of spraying chemicals over fields or hydro-fracking the earth without concern for the long-term damage it will cause, the continued silence that perpetuates a violent culture, a rape culture, and a culture that condones factory farming, the destructive binaries that are used to understand differences between people, animals, plants and nature, the belief that vegetables sprayed with chemicals and wrapped in plastic are more clean than the ones that come out from the soil, and the willingness to make a profit at any expense, I sometimes ask myself how things can continue to be so backwards. It seems so simple to me, stop the silence, stop the violence, find the compassion, promote accountability. But, because I have faith in humanity and in all existence (I don’t exclude this to just humans), I know it can’t be that simple. I am not an expert at anything- psychology, biology, sociology or even philosophy. So the observations and conclusions I have made thus far cannot be said to be the fact of the matter. However, I happen to believe that there is no fact of the matter and that believing there is, is a problem.

Essentialism is the belief that things are essentially the way they are. Every human, plant, animal, object has an innate essence and existence comes forth from that essence. In Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference, Diana Fuss points out that essentialism is inherently an opposition to difference; “Essentialism is classically defined as a belief in true essence—that which is most irreducible, unchanging, and therefore constitutive of a given person or thing” (Fuss, 2). This belief categorizes maleness and femaleness as an essential base from which existence proceeds. This understanding makes essence constitutive of a given person or thing and it thus creates a strict notion of identity that provides little fluidity. If we hold onto strict classifications of people and animals, it becomes easy to objectify and subsequently commoditize them or to marginalize them. Classification based on fixed identities leads to hierarchies and dualisms that establish norm vs. other; human/animal, man/woman, white/colored, etc. Once these dualisms are established, one is dominant over the other and the struggle becomes endless. I am not claiming that essentialism is the root cause of everything, because there is no one and only cause. But understanding existence as coming out of a fixed essence makes it difficult to understand difference, connection and complexity.

As long as we operate with absolutes in our understanding, we don’t have to be responsible or accountable; instead we can appeal to higher structures or experts. In her Keynote address at the CPC Gender and Violence conference this weekend, Andrea Smith spoke about reaching out across communities rather than reaching up towards structures (or absolutes). We have the power to heal ourselves and to hold ourselves accountable; we need not only seek experts for healing or judicial systems for justice.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a book called Thus Spoke Zarathustra in which he describes that there is no Absolute Morality or Absolute Truth. He believes we must determine our own values and morals, and we must do it continuously, with integrity. There is no moral law. At every moment, we must decide what is right for ourselves. Another philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, believes that existence precedes essence. In other words, there is no essential nature from which our existence and identity are determined. There is only existence, and through existence we are continuously determining our essence; identity is fluid.  This philosophy illustrates two notions that I believe are integral to Ecofeminist thought: mindfulness and existence. At any moment of existence, limitless possibilities are open to us, and because everything is interconnected, how we choose to act affects the rest of existence. If I live in each moment with this belief that I am shaping my essence and existence around me, then the things that are most important to me are community and compassion. I can make no choices without knowing they have effects everywhere, so I make choices with the hope of nourishing myself and others—I balance my anxieties about abstract problems that I cannot fix by affecting change in every moment of every day. Because maybe its not possible to touch a thousand people as deeply or as powerfully as one person or ten people. And maybe it’s not really so revolutionary after all to have one person or group telling everybody else what’s right. Wouldn’t it be better to try a decentralized approach where everyone works closely with those around them, instead of a few people leading an anonymous mass? I don’t want to find a way to make it impossible for anyone to eat meat ever, even though that would solve the problems of factory farming. I would rather get 10 people to think more thoughtfully about what they consume. I truly believe that the best thing I can do determine my own values and pursue them with integrity.

To conclude a post that doesn’t tie neatly back together, the message I am trying to convey is that I believe part of the Ecofeminist thought is that existence precedes essence. Everything is connected and nothing is fixed and when I live with this mindset, I am more likely to be thoughtful about how my choices and actions affect the rest of existence. I am accountable to myself and to my community.

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Integrity

“The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling,

and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding.

Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report,

too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded,

too small to make anyone rich or famous” -Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry says this quote in the context of talking about what it takes to motivate humans to do good work. He is pointing out that we cannot always be motivated by the prospect of recognition; we must be willing to make small changes that may not be glorified by others. This remark sparked my attention because it brought me back to a word that I believe is vital to understanding what ecofeminism entails: integrity.

We seek glamour and exaltation in the work we do. It feels good to make grandiose accomplishments that are acknowledged by others, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, it is important that whatever we do, whatever causes we fight for, we do with integrity. In Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, Wendell Berry explores different types of conservation and claims that “a conservation effort that concentrates only on the extremes of industrial abuse tends to suggest that the only abuses are the extreme ones when, in fact, the earth is probably suffering more from many small abuses than from a few large ones” (Berry 30). Global warming, oil spills, extinction–these are all important issues, but we ought not disregard smaller problems because of that. There must be a balance of attention and dedication to extreme assaults and abuses with attention to smaller less impact-filled abuse, because abuse occurs on a spectrum. This is what the first quote is advocating–the necessity of acting with integrity in all that we do to protect and love the earth. It is not enough to donate money to an organization that is fighting to save the polar bears and call it a day for “planet-saving.” It is better that you make small, informed lifestyle changes that you are consistent with. Plant a garden, ride a bike, eat local foods, join a co-op, recycle, be frugal with water and electricity. Having a planet full of thoughtful human beings who think carefully about the choices they make is better than having a planet full of  human beings who act carelessly in their everyday lives but donate billions of dollars to causes they have no emotional stake in.

This idea of loving and caring for the earth through a consistent lifestyle illustrates Thich Nhat Hanh’s belief that the best thing anyone can do for everyone is to focus on what he or she as an individual can do to the best of his or her abilities; “Don’t worry if those around you arent’ doing their best. Just worry about how you make yourself worthy. Doing your best is the surest way to remind those around you to do their best” (Hanh, 64).This concept of focusing first on making your individual lifestyle sustainable, nurturing and healthy fits with the purported benefits of a local economy. As Berry says, “An adequate local culture, among other things, keeps work within the reach of love” (Berry 24). A system in which a community feels that donating money to send food to starving children in Africa is praiseworthy, but where that same local community doesn’t work to end homelessness in their immediate city or town, is a faulty system; one lacking integrity. Individuals must start from where they stand and work outwards, as far as they can reach while still feeling connected.I hate to use clichés, but it’s true that before you can truly love anyone else, you must love yourself.

Loving the earth with integrity requires a daily commitment and its importance translates to our bodies as well as the earth. Again, a lot of money, attention and energy are focused on curing catastrophic diseases and illnesses like cancer, AIDS, etc. Our bodies are abused in many other ways, not as immediately threatening, but equally as noteworthy. The current capitalist structure makes it okay for our bodies to experience minimal exposure to harmful chemicals (in tampons and other cosmetics, through fracking, pesticides etc). Unless A LOT of people suddenly drop dead, this exposure is considered minimal, therefore not harmful, until proven otherwise. In Living Downstream, Sandra Steingraber rightly advocates a system that uses what she calls the “precautionary principle” where we don’t wait for disastrous outcomes before ending destructive practices. She continues to ask, “At what point does preliminary evidence of harm become definitive evidence of harm?” (Steingraber, 9). It is important to research and study how to cure widespread diseases and illnesses. But it is again important to acknowledge that abuse of human bodies occurs on a spectrum and no abuse should be tolerated. A system in which everyone knows the widespread effects and dangers of HIV and AIDS but no one knows that tampons are toxic, is a faulty system; one lacking integrity.

The bottom line is this: do whatever you do, fight for whatever you fight for, live wherever you live, but do it with integrity. If you value the earth as a body, show your love for it every day through all your actions, purposefully. If you value human bodies, your own and others, treat them with love and respect consistently.

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Overview of Rural Underdeveloped Communities

Rural communities are faced with many challenges today, “unemployment, the price of food and other essentials, commodity prices, drugs, gambling, community conflicts, and health” (Alam, 13). Climate change is just another hurdle that will affect everyone especially those living in rural impoverished communities especially in the developing world. This is because these communities often rely on a regular supply of and access to natural resources, which could be jeopardized by drastic and increased frequency of weather changes as well as heat waves causing an infestation of pests leading to malaria and other diseases. Additionally, these communities rarely have access to emergency government weather warnings, health care, or property insurance.

The International Institute for Environmental Development  (IIED) suggests that it is imperative to rely as much on local indigenous gendered knowledge as scientific information to facilitate both short and long-term adaptation, mitigation, and resiliency to climate change (Alam, 13). According to a report published by the IIED, “community-based adaption to climate change is a community-led process, based on communities’ priorities, needs, knowledge, and capacities, which should empower people to plan for and cope with the impacts of climate change” (Alam, 13) Considering the vulnerability of rural communities and their lack of government support, they should be at the forefront of climate change research. However, this is not uncomplicated especially when communities are faced with civil or governmental crises and when donor interests diverge.  

The meshing of rural community and Western donor knowledge is difficult and rare. Many developing communities reject scientific knowledge imposed by developed countries who they declare responsible for most environmental problems. Many contend that Western countries in particular should be responsible for funding indigenous research on livelihood alternatives rather than demanding already-impoverished communities to compromise their standard of living by adopting foreign technologies. Western countries argue that these communities do not have developed knowledge and that their advanced technology would be much more efficient for any and all communities no matter the culture or region (Alam, 23). This relationship is strained and may take many forms according to the IIED including: passive participation, participation in information giving, participation by consultation, participation for material incentives, functional participation, interactive participation, self-mobilization (Alam, 24). With the possibility of climate change looming, the traditional Western top-down approach may not be viable and it will become increasingly imperative to recognize the spectrum of information sharing.

 

(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: http://www.ipcc.ch/graphics/2001wg2/large/10.02.jpg)

The report’s conclusion is that climate change consideration should be central to all development programs and plans if they hope to be upheld into the future. For this to become a reality, it is important to incorporate indigenous knowledge- especially that preserved by women.

Alam, Mozaharul, Rachel Berger, Terry Cannon, Saleemul Huq, Angela Milligan, Hannah Reid. “Community-based adaptation to climate change: an overview.” Community-based adaptation to climate change: 60 Participatory learning and action. Institute for Environmental Development. UK: Russel Press. December 2009.

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Racing to the metropolis

Cars shrieking to a halt. Reflections of green light glaring from oil-polluted neon puddles. Nobodies pushing their way along narrow sidewalks and between weaving bicycles. Cotton balls black with city grime. Cash soft as skin from passing through countless avaricious hands. Clumps of people laughing, smoking or joking – segregated in park corners. Nerves tying knots in deep shoulder tissue. You enjoy restless city life? Maybe the rush and excitement of taxis humming, the arts at your very fingertips, coffee shops open all night under glittering awnings, music wafting out of cracked windows three stories above you, people pushing with excitement to their next destination. You see an animated city of opportunity, entertainment, and progress? 

You, the reader, will most likely react to this romantic view of city versus rural life based on your upbringing, financial position or your personal interests. But for this short introduction to my independent study blog, let us put this aside and consider the impacts of globalization and of urbanization briefly.

Urbanization has provided humanity with unprecedented economic growth and technological innovation. It has also served as a learning center, a space for vibrant cultural exchange. A select few have the luxury to choose city life for the arts, night-life, higher education, research, well-paid jobs, and quick transactions. Most have been driven to the city for employment.

Urban Population Growth (Data provided by the United Nations http://esa.un.org/unup/index.asp?panel=1

  World Developed Less Developed Least Developed
1950 29% 52.5% 18% 7.3%
2000 46.6% 73.1% 40% 24.8%
2050 69.6% 86% 67% 55.5%

(Urbanization is on the rise. Without drastic local organizational or government intervention, many people, especially poor populations, will be forced to leave cities and find other employment or will be at the mercy of the consequences of past consumer-driven actions).

Unfortunately, for many, urbanization has not been a choice. In the developing world, many have and continue to seek city-life to escape from extreme poverty and isolation. In the developed world, and increasingly in the developing world today, populations urbanized as the social value of farming depreciated, agriculture was mechanized requiring less labor or demanding illegal labor, and individuals increasingly sought to move away from environmental vulnerability. For this reason, the industrialization of food systems has largely been considered a prerequisite as well as a product of development and progress. People move to cities to liberate themselves from land labor and simultaneously cities need industrialized agriculture to produce surpluses to support densely populated cities. However, as capitalism drives countries to specialize, to lengthen production chains distancing producers from consumers, to compete, to measure success with monetary profit only, to mass-produce, many jobs are dehumanized. While cities have benefited a few, many have not been so lucky.

In cities, the income gap widens between rich and poor, food desserts appear, pollution is concentration, living quarters are cramped, and crime often goes up. Urbanization is considered by many to be the answer to a sustainable future- decreasing the footprint of individuals by sharing services such as transportation and housing. While a handful of small cities have become relatively sustainable (Portland, Oregon for example), mega-cities around the world are draining the underlying aquifer and depleting resources due to a contagious consumer-driven culture.  The following is a chart published by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP).

(UNEP: http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/energy-efficiency-generally-improves-with-economic-growth-but-greenhouse-gases-increase-too)

Cities are isolated from their surrounding environment; if it does not fall from the sky, environmental changes are only experienced through increased prices of oranges for example. However, as resources become scarcer and pollution is increasingly concentrated (affecting underprivileged and poor populations most), life within the confines of the city will be forced to change. Cities will need to decrease in size and focus on community resiliency.

The free-flow of ideas, cultural exchange, and technological innovation will need to continue despite imminent environmental catastrophes. The transportation of people and goods however, will probably be forced to decrease. Government subsidies will no longer cover the cost of energy and food production and transportation as resources become scarce and prices rise. Consequently, locally-produced renewable energy and subsistence farming will become more important if not vital. This may seem like a step backwards or seen as a constricting measure because development has often been defined as an “emancipation” from the “land” and from the “home”. However, community development (either in a larger city or as part of a movement to re-localize), if married with modern technologies and connected to the international web of information, is likely to provide a greater sense of belonging, self-fulfillment, as well as allow for experiential education. City life breeds individualism and demands a constant vigilant and selfish race to the top. This has resulted in a culture of innovation. I believe that this same culture has the capacity and ability to bounce back and realize that with community support, development, and sustainability, everything is possible.

Deane, Phyllis. The First Industrial Revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

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Connectedness: the consequences of a mind/body dualism

As humans, we consider ourselves unique because we have both bodies and minds; minds capable of introspection, self-consciousness, and an ability to orient ourselves towards the future. René Descartes, a philosopher in the 17th century, described a mind/body dualism that, while refuted by many philosophers after him, is a notion that remains with us today. Somehow, whether through philosophy, science, or education, we have come to value the mind over the body; this has been to the detriment of everyone and everything. By valuing the power of the intellect over the power of the body, humans find a way to believe they are unsusceptible to actions that harm the earth.

First, a few ways in which we cherish the mind, and crucify the body:

Asceticism- the practice of mortifying the flesh and denying ourselves bodily pleasures is considered to be a way of purifying the mind.

“Mind over Matter”- A phrase often said to me by my father, whose meaning I never examined until now. We can use our minds to ignore and disregard the affections of      our bodies.

Knowing how to read and write is more important than knowing how to garden. It is ESSENTIAL to be literate in words and thoughts, and merely a bonus to know how to grow your own food. Being able to create and share ideas is more valuable that being able to create and share vegetables (despite the fact that we will in fact die   without food–but to have your soul live eternally will make up for the death of your body).

That which is infinite is inherently better than that which is finite. Our minds, ideas, intellect and soul are eternal. An idea can live forever, but an individual person will eventually die. Somehow, we view physical mortality as a weakness, to be succumbed by the eternal nature of the soul.

In the preface to Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, Wendell Berry illustrates one of the ways the destruction of rural communities and lands is justified “…money and technology will fill the gaps, the government will fill the gaps, science will soon free us from our regrettable dependence on the soil” (Berry, 6). Our regrettable dependence on the soil; this is where humans have made a grave mistake–believing that we can intellectualize and innovate ourselves out of dependence on the soil. There does remain hope because the earth is not yet completely destroyed. But we must look to nature, to the earth as our guide and teacher. We must discontinue believing that our status as “intelligent” humans somehow makes us invulnerable to the destruction of body and substance. Berry says, “The news of rural decline and devastation has been accompanied, to be sure, by a chorus of professional, institutional, and governmental optimists, who continue to insist that all is well, that we are making things worse only as a way of making them better” (Berry, 5). We are “fracking” now to help save us later when other resources run out. But we are destroying places and systems that can’t be fixed later.

There is no substitute for food.

There is no substitute for soil.

There is no substitute or replacement for this planet.

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The Miracle is to Walk on Earth

The goal of my independent study is to explore the many ways in which our bodies are connected to the earth and how the earth is itself a body. I hope to move away from understanding our bodies as individual entities existing in the world or living on the earth; viewing instead our bodies as earth. When we fail to see ourselves as a part of a larger system, whether that be our local community, our bioregion or the earth as a whole, destructive practices are re-enforced. When the soil is infertile, our bodies are infertile; when we pollute the air, we pollute our lungs; if we are thoughtless about where our food comes from and how it is provided to us, we are thoughtless about our bodies. In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh points out one of the true miracles of life:

“The real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.

Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize.”

http://popartmachine.com/blog/figures-in-landscape-art-walking-away-painting.html

This is my hope: to be aware of this miracle in each moment of each day. We* are one with the earth and with each other; our bodies are a part of the earth as a body. Everything is connected; no individual body or act can be separated from the whole. If we frack the earth, we frack our food, our bodies, our minds. If we torture living creatures, we torture the earth, our bodies and our minds. In a culture of rape, we rape the earth, we rape bodies and minds. When we abuse our resources, we abuse the entirety of the earth, not just one region. We also abuse our minds and our bodies. When we poison one water source, we poison them all, we poison the earth our minds and our bodies. I say this in repetition because this connectedness is something we should all take the time to meditate on.

*”we” in this context refers to the entirety of the human population.

” It is not just our own lives that are recognized as precious,

but the lives of every other person, every other person, every other being,

every other reality. We can no longer be deluded by the notion

that the destruction of other’s lives is necessary for our own survival” (Hanh 51).

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