survival vs. hobby.

I have a list of books to read before I begin my volunteer teaching position.  My curriculum includes everything from self-esteem to ethics, considering that I will be teaching 8th grade.  One of the books that came in for my studies today is a book called Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv (ironically published by Algonquin Books).  I haven’t begun it yet, but I’ve been interested in reading in ever more than my other Rethinking Globalization and What Do You Stand For?, etc., titles.  I think I’m going to simultaneously enjoy the book while gawking at its blatant stupidity.  Just in reading the back cover, I get that the gist is: Louv has done a “cutting-edge” study to show how important the exposure to nature is to a child’s development.

Bahahahahahahaha….oh wait, this is a real American problem.  Kids seriously aren’t exposed to nature.  Me, I can’t imagine life without knowing nature…but there are kids who grew up in these concrete jungles who perhaps know shooting hoops after school outside, but then retreat to Huggies and fried chicken dinners from the fast food joint down the street, never even sharing a meal with their families.  I feel like this book is going to make a lot of valid, scientific points on why nature is important to the growth of a human, but the fact that anything else is even remotely considered upsets me.  It truly demonstrates how detached modern society is from nature, and makes me crave even more that I lived in a time 300 years prior so I could just walk off into the woods and neglect all these artificial expectations of my life.

Last Child in the Woods, which describes a generation so plugged into electronic diversion s that it has lost its connection to the natural world, is helping drive a movement quickly flourishing across the nation.” – The Nation’s Health

I’m sorry, but no.  There is no “movement”.  Maybe I would call it an “awakening”.  Like, so many things have become wrong to us that we even feel unhealthy, we are told we are unhealthy, and suddenly we have “discovered” this new lifestyle!  Nature!  Wowwww!!!  Like when Columbus “discovered” America!  Bahahaha don’t even get me started…

Suddenly, nature is a trend and no longer an ENORMOUS part of our existence.  We are so removed from the origin of our food and the realization that we are animals who live in family units that we can be shocked by such a layman study.  I feel like America is the biggest culprit for this blind sort of following and I associate it most closely with the “bread bowl” concept.  The Sioux author Vine Deloria, Jr. likes to advocate frequently in his writing that the “bread bowl” part of America is often a negativity, and that some form of separatism is actually healthy in maintaining cultural identity.  I think this is kind of true because I see America as that “melting point” where everyone kind of forgot what was important to their cultures enough to meld together, in the meantime losing the ability to thrive on their natural homelands.  Traditions are lost and the new, bland, boring “American lifestyle” forms.  The American “culture” soon, instead, becomes wealth and dog-eats-dog practice because everything is corporation and globalization over nationalism and humble life.  In fact, the “humble lifestyle” becomes so obsolete that it is romanticized in country songs.  That’s pathetic, though, isn’t it?

And with people forgetting what humans are, they are also forgetting what their food is.  Food is suddenly a pleasure rather than a sustenance.  It’s whatever it takes to get what you crave cheaply, quickly, and at no inconvenience to you.  Well, food used to be the motivation for society to work.  Now, I’m not so sure.  We call it “luxury”, but I think the real luxury is in understanding reality and respecting nature, not manipulating it for convenience’s sake.  Sure, pesticides and all those other chemicals grow bigger produce faster and easier, but at what expense?  Do we even know how it’s affecting us?  Do seriously so many people not consider this?  It wasn’t that long ago that Silent Spring and the DDT scare happened…what makes today any different?

I’m still not 100% the exact point at which this country went wrong, but sometimes I really hate that it doesn’t give me a choice.  My friends and I like to joke a lot about “I’m sorry because…” in group messages where we list ridiculous things we are “sorry” about.  I have a few favorites, like “I’m sorry because ankle socks fall down when I wear boots”, or “I’m sorry because traffic”, or “I’m sorry because I put deodorant on every day yet I don’t get where it goes because I have to put it on again the next day”… Well, one of my classics is “I’m sorry because I need money to legally live”.  But isn’t it true?  Hundreds of years ago, groups of people were living on this land and they didn’t have that kind of system.  They had one that looked after one another.  It was caring, sharing, and respecting both each other and the land they relied on.  Whatever happened to that?  At what point did we forget that “tinkering” outside in a garden is part of survival and not just some hobby?  That we are animals?  Why do we have to publish books that remind us our children should go outside every once in awhile instead of playing Xbox?  It seriously disturbs me…  Seriously.

continua and the familiar.

What is it with change that can be so scary? Or how time can so gradually alter our feelings or view of something that it no longer is or affects us like what it used to be?

I feel like our emotions are always so closely related to our survival instincts and that we have to remind ourselves of that occasionally. Fight or flight. Fear of the unknown. Being blindsided or not being able to fully grasp a situation causes our defensive instincts to kick in and startle us. Deep down, we are just animals trying to survive. But our complicated brains, hormones, overwhelming emotion…those can cloud our perception and cripple us.

Yesterday, I was thinking a lot about the universe. About being small again, and about changes and choosing better in my life. Those personal emotions are scary because they make me feel vulnerable yet grounded. That’s instinct. That’s my body fearing danger and susceptibility even when I’m sitting safely in a work tent, surrounded by friends, help, and the necessities.

But what about the universe? I also began thinking about what I am and where I come from. I thought about religion. I thought about how so many people answer my questions about life with “Well, God.”

But I think explaining a question about life with an answer of religion…well that’s answering a question with the same question.

Where does matter come from? What are quarks? Are they made of something? Is this an infinite loop of smaller elements?
Well, God.
But what is God? What is God made of? If he’s the answer to where matter came from, then what is his matter and where did that come from? Who made God?
Well, God. He’s God. He does whatever he wants, and he’s God.

I’m sorry, but that’s not an answer. Maybe God made this that and the other thing – but that’s answering my question with more questions. Celebrating God may keep him from destroying you, but using him as an answer for the origin of life and where the universe comes from… Well he would still be part of that universe, so I’m not buying it.

God is such a catch-all.

As humans, we hate the unknown. We seek solace in the familiar. We want to have answers for everything and, when we can’t find an answer, we turn to a god.

You’re single and sad. Well, embrace God’s choice for you.

The cancer is taking your mom. Well, it’s God’s choice and you have to trust him.

That huge storm that just killed a bunch of innocent, technology-less people? That’s not global warming, God’s just angry at us.

No, no, no. I don’t believe that at all.

I believe we have free choice, that using God as an excuse is turning a blind eye to our character flaws or how we are destroying the planet. Saying, it’s all good, Jesus will return and God will save us.

When we can’t explain something, we turn to God, to a familiar, to a continuum. Like with me trying to explain matter as being made of infinitesimally small pieces, or thinking maybe atoms are small universes and the cycle never ends… Picturing death or the end of the world… WE CANNOT PERCEIVE THOSE THINGS, so we transpose the familiar onto a continuum. Continua keep the answers we want comfortably within our knowledge and potentially within our control.

But they’re lies, making up reasons and putting faith in them. Denying our faults. And we refuse to learn from it.

This reminds me of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. God seriously loves Israel and keeps showing the people grace despite their insubordinate behavior and continuous disobedience of his clear laws. They repeatedly turn to Baal and other gods despite his keeping them safe and alive and guiding them and warning them not to do just what they’re doing. His solution is to send a judge to the people.

Joshua has died and the people of Israel are without their strong leader, so they go astray and risk defeat by the Canaanites. God sends a judge to fill Joshua’s void. The people idolize the judge, win wars, celebrate their lord, and all is well. The judge lives his (or her) life out, dies, and it’s history repeating. This happens about twenty times and God keeps forgiving and trying again.

This story is thousands of years old, but we do the same thing to this day. We are inspired, like when America became patriotic after 9/11, and then we forget. Is it that the Israelites didn’t know danger? That God was always there for them? That they couldn’t see failure and knew, subconsciously, that he would be their catch-all and always save them?

The judges became a familiar and a continuum. God was the continuum of Israel. No one could picture defeat and they took advantage of it.

That’s like our excuses today, our passive concern. Because, without comfort of a familiar, we continuously revert to the next best safety net for our emotions. We can’t stand the vulnerability of change and the heaviness of responsibility.

Well, I think we all need to start owning up, on a personal as well as environmental scale. To start acknowledging our flaws, our faults, and our susceptibility to the uncontrollable unfamiliar. To realize the gravity of not having a safe continuum to rely on. To recognize the signs of history repeating, whether it’s in a personal relationship or on a large, international level of respect.

Out with the old, in with the instincts and the common sense. Let’s pull it together, folks.

Land Ethics – Something Not To Be Underrug Swept

I am studying Civil Engineering, but I am specializing in the “Environmental Geotechnical” subdivision of the broad CivE field.  For this reason, one of my classes this semester is Environmental Geology.  I thought it would be a boring class about rocks, but it really isn’t.  Despite my preconceived notions, I ordered all of my text books months in advance and have since kept up on the reading.  I wish more students could delve into these materials as seriously because I am surprised by how relevant every topic really is.  I keep recalling these Indian proverbs recited in my family (Native American, albeit in French) about how life is one fragile web; what happens to one thread happens to all.  The expression fits this class perfectly.

Just within the first chapter, I was pummeled with scientifical points and pointed fingers.  The author of my “Introduction to Environmental Geology” book, Edward A. Keller, begins his book with “Concept One: Human Population Growth… The number-one environmental problem is the increase in human population”.  True or not true?  It is clearly his opinion, but he supports it well.  He talks about the “population bomb”, where exponential growth in our population explodes our numbers… and how our flocking to concentrated areas rather than pioneering and exploring has cornered us and subjected us to natural disasters.  My mother would argue that disasters, famine, disease, etc. are all mechanisms of the planet to balance itself out.  Now that we have improved technologies, agriculture, and medicine that extends our lifetimes significantly (and thereby affecting our population numbers in one stillframe), these disasters are merely keeping us in order.

But Keller takes this to another level.  He argues that “some studies suggest that the present population is already above a comfortable carrying capacity for the planet” (16), just pages before he explains the likelihood that Earth will outlive us by billions of years.  He constantly reiterates how short our time on this planet has been relative to the Earth’s age, and it’s a matter of hours around New Year’s after a whole year has passed before our arrival.  By page 18, Keller is essentially arguing that the Earth is not in danger.  We are in danger, some of the wildlife is likely affected by us and therefore in danger, but the planet keeps on apathetically turning.  Remember, this is a geology book, so plate techtonics, physical and chemical composition – none of that will change.  However, if we keep feeding the gases into the atmosphere that cause changes in the climate and the cold front patterns, the planet will naturally balance that with its ever-changing topography and natural disasters.  What Keller is trying to say is as simple as this: Don’t fix the planet, because it will balance itself out regardless; instead, view environmentalism as monitoring the Earth for the sole purpose of saving ourselves.

This brings me to “land ethics”, introduced on page 33.  It’s interesting how many people I know will go through their lives not thinking a second about the environment.  They’ll buy what they want to buy, drive where they want to drive, and not blink at all at the looming threat of a planetary disaster.  It’s people like these who do not invest in the vavlues of land ethics.  These ethics declare humans responsible, through their actions as citizens to this planet, for all other humans as well as the flora, the fauna, the ground, the water, and the air.  Believing in a land ethic means you agree that “we are the land’s citizens and protectors, not its conquerors”, that “this role change requires us to rever, love, and protect our land rather than allow economics to determine land use” (33), which it so often does.  This is no “hippie” notion – this is purely being responsible.

It sickens me that notions such as land ethics have such a classy, hippie, cool appeal.  Trigger words should instead include survival, necessity, and catastrophe prevention.  We are “blessed” enough to live in this era which teeters on the brink of some serious global crises.  Granted, these crises may only exist for our race, for our species, because the Earth will move on without us.  But, if we want to invest in the safe future of our offspring, we should concern ourselves less with economic survival and acknowledge the big picture.  We might all have our internal disputes, even those between nations, but what are those really to the planet as a whole?  They’re petty things.  The ONE THING that this entire planet should be able to agree on in the IMMEDIATE NEED to preserve a place for our children to live.  Other planets may not be a solution, and if we can’t fix our problems here then we will be certainly ill-equipped to take on an entirely new and foreign system.

The planet really is a fragile web.  However, it can rebuild itself.  Mother Earth a.k.a. Gaia is one crafty spider, and we are merely insects she’s got saved aside for later in her web.  It’s about time every human realizes he cannot live here for free, that he is indebted to his environment for eternity.  We might have fancy technology, but Mother Earth’s power will always overcome us in the end.  What makes us any different than the dinosaurs or any other mammal subjected to the same environment as we?  Have a conscience – it just might save your life.

P.S. Did you know?  Not only does the Earth’s techtonic plates, through their convergence, divergence, subduction, etc. dictate our living conditions on the surface, but the planet’s shape controls our climate.  Ever wondered why the equitorial jungles are surrounded by deserts?  It has to do with hot air collecting and dumping its burdening water content at the Equator, then its recycling away from the Equator in arid gusts that steal away any moisture in the deserts.  This is one of the many ways Mother Earth balances herself out and decides how we live.