Monday, March 18, 2013

Economism and Separation

       Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, 
       the power to retell it, rethink, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change
       it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.
                                                                         -Salman Rushdie

So begins the seventh chapter in Chris Uhl's new 2013 edition of "Developing Ecological Consciousness" that arrived in my mailbox this afternoon. Uhl a biologist who teaches biology at Penn State with research interest  mainly in ecosystems in the Amazon, where he worked frequently. He has been an early pioneer in the higher education sustainability movement. His inspiration to unleash students to study their campus sustainability produced some excellent and ground breaking work.

I was asked to review a draft of his new edition a few months back. It really is a new edition. As the book cover quotes me "Chris Uhl has been developing his own ecological consciousness since the first edition [2003], as is clear from this significant rewrite of that earlier gem." While used as a textbook for environmental studies and sustainability courses this work is "shorter, crisper, and significantly deeper, if that's possible. A textbook for sure, but much, much more...[a] guide for living."

After the Rushdie quote, Uhl begins the chapter, entitled Economism and Separation with a story:

Residents of southern India have a clever way of capturing monkeys. They drill a hole in a coconut, place rice inside, and then secure the coconut to a tree with a chain. Here is the clever part: The hole in the coconut is just large enough for a monkey's hand to get inside, but too small to remove once the hand is filled with rice. Instead of letting go of the rice, monkeys often hold on, greedily, only to be captured in a net by villagers.

Just as monkeys are captured because of their refusal to let go, it may be that we humans are now in a quandary because we are tenaciously holding on to -- unwilling to let go of -- counterproductive ways of thinking and acting.

Uhl is arguing here I think for us to see the connectedness, using science, stories, and exercises to reacquaint us with all that we are connected to. Having shared his company years ago on several occasions I can attest that Uhl feels the connectedness and you'll feel it too through his writing here. Perhaps this is why he changed the subtitle of this edition to The End of Separation.