Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Call to Arms

Arms for hugging, that is. I use that analogy to share the final thoughts in Joan Tronto's Caring Democracy: Markets, Equity, and Justice.

     What we see if we peek over the wall is the possibility of a world in which our capacities to care for ourselves and others will increase only if we have the courage to admit that we need, and will benefit from, recognizing the large web of caring relationships within which our lives gain meaning.

     There is a way to turn our world around. It requires us to recommit to caring for ourselves and others by accepting and rethinking our caring responsibilities and providing sufficient resources for care. If we are able to do this, then we will be able to enhance levels of trust, reduce levels of inequality, and provide real freedom for all. In such a society, we would have to conclude, with Giambattista Vico (1990[1709], 67): "What is justice? It is the constant care for the common good."

I am convinced even more that this notion of care for the common good is at the center of a necessary worldview if we are to travel to a world we want to sustain. Just imagine if in communities small and large, especially those of the developed world where baby-boomers are lining up for retirement, we could unleash all the experience and nurturing within them to remake our communities.

Possibilities of Education

At the confluence of catching the new talk by Sir Ken Robinson, "How to Change Education From the Ground Up" (July 1, 2013, 24 minutes), the finishing up of Imagining the University, by Ronald Barnett, and a poem by Staughton and Alice Lynd in Alice Walker's recent, Cushion in the Road I catch a glimmer of what education could become for the human family.

Robinson has us question what is the purpose of education, or at least in my translation, what do we need of it in today's world. He offers four purposes - economic, cultural, social, and personal. And he goes on to explain them and why they are necessary and how, with the possible exception of the economic, we are largely missing the other three.

Barnett, wants us to expand  our way of thinking, specifically about the role of the university in this rapidly changing world. He urges and presses for an approach that releases the imagination, that enables creativity and that is simultaneously optimistic, critical, and deep. He likens this approach to consideration of 'feasible utopias'. And he offers the scaffolding to enable the ideas to emerge, while critiquing both the present system of education and some of the 120 plus alternatives that he has identified in the literature.

The possibilities are palpable in each of their presentations. And the fecundity of possibility is the necessary soil for new species of social learning to evolve and prosper. What is one of the many attributes both thinkers share is the tone in which they offer their thoughts. It feels like a generous gift. Offered not with arrogance, but with a desire to engage a wider community in thoughtful, civil conversation about what is possible, not probable, not certain.

perhaps the Lynds' poem, We Believe says it best from Cushion in the Road (pp.170-71) copyrighted 1990s by Staughton and Alice Lynd

We believe
Not only in the lengthening of days
And the return of springtime,
But in sudden reversals,

Unexpected triumphs.

We believe in the restoration
Of trust between friends,
And in the ability of ordinary folk

To puncture lies.

We believe in the way to be safe
Is not to enclose ourselves in walls
Of cash and property,

But to live in solidarity
With those who need us.

How can we give the Good
More chance to prevail?

What can we add
To the chemistry of change?

Surely, first, persistence.
Prisoners are obliged to learn it.

How many times did Nelson Mandela
Reach for his shovel in the limestone quarry?

Soon Mumia will have been behind bars
More than Mandela's 27 years.

"Keep smiling," we told 
The man serving two life sentences
For crimes of which he may be
Completely innocent.

He replied "I have to.
But inside my heart is broken."

So, while we ask to persist,

To be dogged, to stay strong,

We must also be open every moment
To that which only yesterday
Seemed impossible,
To transformation
Of quantity into quality,

To the instantaneous advent
Of the unimaginably new.


The good we secure for ourselves
Is precarious and uncertain
Until it is secured for all of us

And incorporated into our common life.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Rebecca Solnit's Letter to Edward Snowden

I have mentioned before the powerful writing of Rebecca Solnit, one of our best living writers. Besides her new book, The Faraway Nearby, she also writes occasional pieces for the website

Return to TomDispatch Home

and many other publications including Orion, The Nation, etc. Last week she published a letter to Edward Snowden, Prometheus Among the Cannibals that is so insightful and powerful I thought the occasional readers of this blog wouldn't want to miss it. Here's a short clip, but there is so much more to hear in this I hope you find the time.

Privacy is a kind of power as well as a right, one that public librarians fought to protect against the Bush administration and the PATRIOT Act and that online companies violate in every way that’s profitable and expedient. Our lack of privacy, their monstrous privacy -- even their invasion of our privacy must, by law, remain classified -- is what you made visible. The agony of a monster with nowhere to stand -- you are accused of spying on the spies, of invading the privacy of their invasion of privacy -- is a truly curious thing. And it is changing the world. Europe and South America are in an uproar, and attempts to contain you and your damage are putting out fire with gasoline

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Absence and Presence of Care

I know I wrote about this just a month ago, but i received a note that someone else wanted the library's copy of the book, so I jumped back to it this morning, in hopes I could finish it, or at least read parts of it before returning. We are, I believe, at a precarious point in time when, as political scientist, Joan Tronto hints in her new book, Caring Democracy: Markets, Equality, and Justice, where the dominant ideology that has swallowed up the power centers of our world is colliding with our well-being and that of the planet we live on. That ideology is neoliberalism, which she defines as clearly as any I have encountered:

     As an ideological position, neoliberalism has several tenets. The first is the assumption that the market is the institution that is most able to resolve disputes, allocate resources, and permit individuals "choice." Second, freedom comes to be defined solely as the capacity to exercise choice. From these two premises follows a third, that societies work best when they allow rational actors to make choices in the market; anything that interferes with such choice reduces people's freedom and is harmful to them and society. Thus, under the banner of "choice," neoliberals seek to restrict all forms of government activity that might interfere with the 'free market." We live in an age in which capitalism has not only taken a new form, neoliberalism, but in which this form of economic existence has come to function as an all-encompassing ideology. Neoliberal capital believes itself to be definitive of all forms of human relationships and of all ways of properly understanding human life. Neoliberalism is not only a description of economic life, it is also an ethical system that posits only personal responsibility matters. pp.37-38

She juxtaposes this view with her own.

       Once we recognize the extent of carting as part of human life, it becomes impossible to think politically about freedom, equality, and justice for all unless we also make provisions for all types of caring -- from the intimate care of our kin to clearing away our waste. To Pursue democracy while at the same time taking seriously how central care is for all human life requires a fundamental rethinking of questions about how we organize our lives, individually and collectively. Democratic theory has not yet finished its work if everyone is expected to work and to be citizens, but some are left with disproportionate caring duties. pp.27-28

This central concept of care is perhaps one compelling reason why I have been so drawn to the remarkable vision evoked in The Earth Charter,

 whose first principle is:

                   Respect and CARE for the Community of Life.

Just perhaps, this singular word must be the foundation for any sustainable future. If so, how do we nurture it to full flourishing? Therein, lies the rub. The neoliberal position seems antithetical to it, so might we more fully and forcefully challenge the neoliberal myth and build a society that respects and cares for the community of life. The Earth Charter offers us a possible glimpse at a path forward, and Joan Tronto goes deeper into this notion of care for any wishing to reflect more deeply on its role in our life.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What is Education For?

Those of us embedded in higher education, who are arguably more responsible for its direction and impact on the human family and the planet we share, ought to take some time to reflect on the forces that are working on this institution. I cannot fathom a better guidebook for such a journey than Prof. Ronald Barnett’s Imagining the University. Barnett, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education from the Institute of Education, London University.


       My main quarry in this book is how we think about the university and how we might imagine it. And here, my primary contention is that the ways in which we think about the university are unduly limited. So the main object here lies in concepts of the university; and the story is one of their scope and, more particularly, of their impoverishment.  p.90

The tone of inquiry, the breadth of possibilities he would have us consider, seems at its heart to be precisely what higher education should be about. In the process he shares some 120 noted ‘sightings’ of ideas of the university. He offers a framework for considering the ideas along three axes. In the process he uses examples and  critically applies the framework.

       Here, surely, opens a critique of the marketplace. The market, so often heralded as sponsoring  difference, turns out to constrain imaginative thought. The strangeness of the Picasso painting is unlikely to find its equivalent among universities. Indeed, it appears universities across the world wish to ape each other in their strivings as ‘world-class universities’ in the (two leading) world rankings. The global academic marketplace orients universities towards uniformity more than difference. Regularity rather than angularity, predictability rather than serendipity: the risk-averse environment subtly encourages limits to ideas through which a university might glimpse its possibilities. Across the world, universities embrace the familiar rather than the strange; and the orderly rather than the disrupted. Not many would appear to offer a home to would-be followers of Picasso, as they review their corporate strategies. pp. 71-72.

Barnett is encouraging us to step back and look deeply, thoughtfully, and imaginatively about the institutions we serve and if the idea(s)/forces  they are shaping or being shaped by are what the human family and the single home we share need from us. This is time well spent.

P.S. I’m only two-thirds through this thoughtful exercise. More to follow as I move ahead

About Dr. Ronald Barnett

Ronald Barnett is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. He is a recognized authority on the conceptual and theoretical understanding of the university and higher education. His books, several of which have won prizes and have been translated into other languages, include The Idea of Higher Education, Higher Education: A Critical Business, Realizing the University in an age of supercomplexity, Beyond All Reason: Living with Ideology in the University, and A Will to Learn: Being a Student in an Age of Uncertainty (all published by McGraw-Hill).  Being a University (Routledge -- January 2011). Ronald Barnett has held senior positions at the Institute of Education, including that of Pro-Director for Longer Term Strategy and was also, for seven years, a Dean. He is a past Chair of the Society for Research into Higher Education, and has recently served as a Special Adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry into Universities and Students. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and the Society for Research into Higher Education and is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and Visiting Professor at universities in China and Australia. He is also acts as a consultant, and has worked with most of the national organizations in the UK and many individual universities, including the University of the West Indies and the TATA University Institute of Social Sciences in India. He has been awarded a higher doctorate of the University of London, is an Academician of Social Sciences and was the recipient of the inaugural 'Distinguished Researcher' prize of the European Association for Institutional Research (EAIR). He has been a keynote speaker in over 30 countries.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Possibilitator Without Parallel

"The 20th century crisis is more a crisis of our humanity... we have come to an understanding that we have to grow our souls and not only our economy."

I was just in Detroit yesterday to help at Noah's farm and drove through my old neighborhood. Our home still looks good, well landscaped yard (probably better than ours. Of course a few down are some vacant buildings, and the elm trees are gone. But amidst the deteriorated landscapes are glimpses of possibilities. No one has worked longer or believed in Detroit more fully than Grace Lee Boggs, recently turned 98. A legend in Detroit for decades has become more widely known and revered for her example of activism, creativity, hope, perseverance, insight and compassion. This interview with her recently on PBS's Tavis Smiley show is inspiring on many levels. For one, it makes me want to live and work for another 35 years like she has. If she can believe in Detroit, why can't I? Please watch this full 20 minutes. You won't be disappointed. This is what 98 years can give you if you're fortunate to go that far...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ideas Change Everything

Ideas Change Everything

That is the underlying assumption of this blog and so I was thrilled to learn yesterday of something called the DO Lectures: Ideas Change Everything. How I found this may be of some interest. I was looking for some recent writings by one of my favorite writers and mentors, the British Biologist and author, Colin Tudge.Photo of Colin Tudge  I raved earlier to my Mindfulness readers about his must read little book, Feeding People is Easy.
Cover for Colin Tudge's Feeding People is Easy
It is to me the best, most holistic, sustainable review of our human feeding challenges.Well it turns out the Colin gave a lecture not to long ago, as part of the DO Lectures, on his newest book, Good Food For Everyone, Forever.
 Cover for Colin Tudge's Good Food for Everyone Forever

 DO Lectures, evidently, like TEDx talks are purposefully short - 20 minutes or less. In this one, Tudge, lays out his thesis for feeding everyone in a 10 billion human world. What a breath of fresh air. Of course, many will pooh pooh his message, but it is well grounded and as he demonstrated in Feeding People is Easy, requires some tackling some basic assumptions. I think if one combined what Tudge is saying here with what Charles Eisenstein has laid out in his Sacred Economics manifesto, we have what Ronald Barnett calls a 'feasible utopia'.

My recent travels to Burkina Faso, Detroit, Peru, Senegal reinforces the blended possibilities of Tudge and Eisenstein. At least I think this is the direction we must move as a human family on a single finite planet, with a common future. Now how best to put my shoulder to the wheel.

By the way, the next set of DO Lectures will be held in California in September. Looks like a cross between Bioneers and TEDx. Cool stuff.....

Imagine a better world, then work to make it happen. we need more imagination to break free of the systems that confine how we live....

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Civic Entrepreneurship

That term appeared in discussions last week at the Kettering Foundations annual Deliberative Democracy Exchange.

     Like the business entrepreneur, the civic entrepreneur operates in a time of dramatic change, sees 
opportunity, and mobilizes others in the community to work toward their collective well being. 
 Douglas Henton, John Melville, & Kimberly Walesh 
 Civic Entrepreneurs: Economic Professional as Collaborative Leader


Kettering Foundation

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday last week as an invited participant at the Kettering Foundation’s annual Deliberative Democracy Exchange. The Kettering Foundation (Dayton, OH), under the leadership of former HEW Secretary, David Mathews, has been focused for more than 30 years on developing civil community conversations on issues of importance. Among other efforts they helped develop the National Issues Forums,  but they are doing work around the world by bringing practitioners and scholars together to exchange experiences, research, and resources regarding developing deeper democracy in communities everywhere.

I was assigned to a focused discussion of civic capacity building, but there was terrific cross-pollination amongst the various focal areas. I had lunch my first day with members of Arab Network with representatives from Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, and Bahrain. Another session was with those who use art to engage the community in deliberation and discussion. The DDE was a diverse bunch (about 200+ I think), young, old, black, white, male, female, citizens, foreigners, etc.,  some who were there for a week, but others like myself there for a day or two.  There were tracks for teachers of deliberation and for college students, for journalists, political operatives, etc.

Our group’s (about 15 of us) primary discussion was around how Kettering might help develop and nurture ‘civic entrepreneurs’ who could bring civil discourse to their community. This included  some folks doing great work through United Way organizations in communities in West Virginia, others doing serious and important community building in cities like Detroit, Kansas City, New Orleans, etc. and throughout the developing world. Sandy Heierbacher, Director of the National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation was in our group sharing her vast network knowledge to the discussion as was our moderator, Kettering's Ileana Marin, a Romanian born, but global citizen working to strengthen democracy in communities everywhere.  This was a second meeting on the topic for some, but the first for many. Plans are afoot for one or two more meetings to flesh out some approaches that Kettering might develop to help build more civic entrepreneurs. 

Kettering folks are trying to understand why some folks become civic leaders and for those that do, what sustains their involvement? Are there attributes that they share, that can be identified and nurtured? What might a program to support this civic leadership spirit look like? Underlying these questions is a strong faith that community development begins at the grassroots, and that it's locally based and responsive to local environments.

We spent one evening reviewing and critiquing a draft National Issues Forum approach to “Budget Cuts and the Role of Government.” I also had a separate meeting with the head of NIF to discuss how libraries might better access, and NIF might better share, the work they do around tough issues. There is a new level of interest in ALA around the role of libraries in civic engagement. This is an interesting emergent congruence  for me at the moment.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Literacy of Serendipty

A blog I was asked to write for our Libraries' 'Information Literacy' blog might be enjoyed by non-librarians or anyone interested in how we learn to make sens of the world we share.


The Zinn of Alice Walker

        So what do I believe? That I was born to wander and I was born to sit. To love home with a  sometimes almost unbearable affection, but to be lured out into the world to see how it is doing, as my beloved larger home and paradise.
                 The Cushion in the Road. (New York: The New Press, 2013)

So concludes the introduction to Alice Walker's newest book, The Cushion in the Road. Inspired listening to her talk to thousands of librarians a fortnight ago in Chicago, I checked it out of our library and have sauntered through the first quarter of it this week. What a voice!! What a presence! What a life portrayed and remembered from the inside out. This morning reading of her friendship with and mentoring by Howard Zinn, mourning his death and recalling a piece he wrote years ago that has such staying power today:

     In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy? I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning.

     To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world. There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible....

in this essay, The Optimism of Uncertainty, Zinn goes on to catalogue, as a historian might, the many surprises of the past century. He continues...

     No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just. I have tried hard to match my friends in their pessimism about the world (is it just my friends?), but I keep encountering people who, in spite of all the evidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me hope. Especially young people, in whom the future rests. Wherever I go, I find such people. And beyond the handful of activists there seem to be hundreds, thousands more who are open to unorthodox ideas. But they tend not to know of each other's existence, and so, while they persist, they do so with the desperate patience of Sisyphus endlessly pushing that boulder up the mountain...

... Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society.
      We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don't "win," there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope. An optimist isn't necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. 

       What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places-and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

Walker and Zinn remind us that a better world is possible, not probable, not guaranteed. But it will take something from us to make it so. Are we ready to give ourselves to it, mindfully, with daily efforts big and small. Or is the comfort of our habitual lives too compelling to get up from the couch. I get different answers when I ask myself this fundamental question, although I know where my aspirations rest. maybe they are resting too much.

Monday, July 15, 2013


As many readers of this blog know, our son Noah has been converting a former convent, then Detroit public school (Peck) into a 4 acre farm ( Food Field ) for the past three years.

Friday we were down there to deliver straw and used coffee sacks and add a few hours to string poles for the pole beans, hang garlic to dry, and weed between tomatoes and the cabbage. He's a whirlwind of design, management, labor, public relations, architect, mechanic on this patch of earth in a city bruised and battered from neglect and abuse.

Every trip back is mixture of melancholy and a wee bit of optimism, that efforts like his and countless others emerging from the rubble might hint are possible. I think this correlates with what the author of a book I'm reading calls 'feasible utopias'. It is indeed feasible as a picture of his site would show, but it seems utopian when you see the impoverishment surrounding it in so many areas of the city.

We learned this morning as he was preparing to get ready for a volunteer group to arrive that his steel shipping container that doubles as a future home, drying room for garlic, and tool shed was broken into and all his tools and equipment were stolen over night, save his tractor which was chained down near the chicken coop.  He has much to grow and harvest and we have had two 90+ degree days with three more coming. When you're pinching pennies to make a go of it, you sometimes cut back on what many of us would find unthinkable, like insurance. Insurance, the luxury, that so many of us take for granted - for health, home, auto.

Photo: The farm was burgled last night.  Missing: generator, DR mower, 2 chainsaws, oil & gas, toolbox and tools, power tool set, shovels, rake, water key, hydrant adapter, 2 tractor batteries & charger, gloves, hand tools, levels, radio and more.  Got any of these items to spare?  You'll be a hero

Noah seems resilient in spite of this latest setback. We'll scrape up some tools and get them to him shortly. He'll keep at the weeding, watering, harvesting, mowing, plant succession, marketing, delivery that  has been his daily ritual for three growing seasons, and he may yet come out of it with a successful year -i.e.,  the solar system, will one day be working so the fish will swim. A farmer's life, especially when growing dozens of different crops, is not for sissies.

Neither is working for peace. Our friends who show up every week to bear witness to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are built of the same stuff - the strength of perseverance. What is important enough to each of us that we would persevere through tough times? I'm in awe of those who have that strength.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The False God of Profit

Our unbridled faith in the power of profit to build a better world reared its head for me this weekend. At the American Library Association annual conference in Chicago, with some 14,000 librarians flittering between programs and meetings there was a resolution offered through the governance structure to move ALA to divest its endowment holdings from fossil fuels. This resolution was offered at the midwinter meeting of the association and referred to an Endowment Trustees Committee and then to a Budget Analysis and Review Committee (BARC) for review.

I don't want to believe the individuals who pulled this report together were nefariously trying to make the numbers support their position, but the way the report was written, and especially the executive summary, any naive reader would be nudged to reject the resolution. According to the executive summary the resolution if enacted would "severely limit theTrustees" and that it would  have a "negative financial impact". The Endowment Trustees report referred in a discrediting voice to a recent study by Aperio Group, yet admitted the report suggested the risk would be 'relatively minor". If you look at the Aperio Report that 'relatively minor' risk was in fact - 0.0006%. The Endowment Trustees, without sharing any information about how they pulled the number out of thin air, managed to claim a projected $1.2 million dollar loss (over three years) to the association if they had divested from fossil fuels three years earlier. Yet as any investor knows - "past performance is no guarantee of future performance". But for an association that is hurting financially, any threat of a reduced return on investment is a red flag.

The Trustees then proceeded to counter the 'biased' Aperio Group report with their saintly Merrill Lynch (you know the ones with a record of bad practices) report that investing in renewables was a bad deal. Of course they don't give enough details to compare anything and when they offer any they are simply not from the comparable time periods. So while I find the financial arguments lame at best, it was the complete lack of any other measure of economic, social or environmental cost in their equations (all externalities in neo-liberal economics jargon) that drew my ire.

So the librarian councillors, few if any would have either had the time, interest, or knowledge to challenge these findings, allowed them to go chiefly unchallenged. To their credit, many librarians did rise to support the resolution on the grounds of a number of the unspoken 'externalities' and the expected increased costs of climate disruption, natural disasters, degradation of communities. But the narrow, distorted, short-term financial argument held sway. It almost always does in a society so mesmerized by the neo-liberal religion/myth that while bringing great wealth to some, has accelerated both the ecological unraveling and the growing human inequality towards an abyss our grandchildren will face all too soon.
I don't believe anyone in that room wants to do that. But the myth of the failed economic system that suggests that chasing profit at all costs will somehow bring us to a better world holds most of our society in its grasp - the Thatcher-ian mantra that "There is no alternative". I left with a sense that I had just watched a transfer of 30 pieces of silver in the modern era.

Before I headed for the train station I managed to catch the talk by author, poet, activist Alice Walker. Walker writes and speaks from a depth and honesty that is compelling. She also read selections from her two newest books, The World Will Follow Joy (poetry) and Cushion in the Road (nonfiction). She spoke of the challenges/hurts present in the world and her anguish at the tug between retiring to a life of gardening, cooking, writing when she reached 60 and the struggle with the injustice, pain, and destruction unleashed on mother nature and her inhabitants. Among some notes I recorded from her talk were the following:
“Libraries teach the expansion of being”
Libraries are essential for the teaching of fairness.
Unless we have a new system of governing we will never have fairness.
Libraries expand compassion
She accused the human family of executing the ‘brutal murder of our common mother’ and called for what she named as “Democratic Womanism” in response to her assertion that “there is no system now in force that can prevent disaster”. She concluded with reading a short piece on Bradley Manning ending with the sentiment about being ‘sad that someone is punished for doing what he was taught was right”.
I couldn’t help but wonder if ALA Council had heard her speak before they voted on the three resolutions mentioned earlier, if each would have passed. There is some bright light that shines from souls of wisdom and integrity that when shined on us, makes us better. I’m better for having listened to Alice Walker.
The divestment from fossil fuels scene is being repeated in cities and across campuses where divestment actions from fossil fuels are mounting. Can these myths be shattered?  As Pax World Funds President and CEO, Joe Keefe noted recently,
The flimsy rebuttal we sometimes hear, that an endowment's fiduciary duty means that its only obligation is to maximize return, regardless of the consequences or externalities, is utter nonsense. There is now a substantial body of research underscoring that companies with better environmental performance also tend to enjoy better financial performance. It is ignoring these issues, rather than integrating them, which most likely constitutes a breach of fiduciary duty [emphasis added].

According to First Affirmative Financial Network's Fossil Fuels Divestment, over half of sustainable, responsible, impact (SRI) investment industry professionals say that retail investors (65 percent) and institutional investors are currently expressing interest in fossil fuel-free portfolios in the face of growing signs of climate change, Survey. (PR Newswire [New York] 16 May 2013.)

 The growing commitment of institutional investors, (more than 1,000 with assets over $30 trillion-estimated to represent 20 percent of the total value of global capital markets) to the global Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI).

A growing body of research that finds companies that aim to be socially and environmentally responsible are safer and of equal or better performance (e.g. S. Prakash Sethi (2005). Investing in Socially Responsible Companies is a Must for Public Pension Funds – Because There is No Better Alternative. Journal of Business Ethics 56 (2): 99-129.

The myths can be challenged. They must be challenged. And in fact a growing stream of economists and others are offering alternatives that could lead to more shared prosperity while restoring and preserving our biosphere to a balance that can offer a sustainable future for the entire human family on this single finite planet we share. There is no single way to shake the edifice of neo-liberal economics, but the divestment from fossil fuels is certainly a useful one.

Perhaps Swedish medical doctor and academic Hans Rosling explains the what needs to happen here in this three minute video.

Imagination unleashed

In his new book, Imagining the University, emeritus professor of higher education Ronald Barnett (University of London) calls on us to reconsider a feasible utopia and to place the idea of the university within it. Barnett lays out the need for such an exercise, challenges the recent and dominant ideas of a university, and provides the scaffolding for constructing approaches to the positive possibilities that are called for as the human family stares into an increasing complex and fragile future.

Large Image

      Ideas of the university in the public domain are hopelessly impoverished. 'Impoverished' because they are unduly confined to a small range of possible conceptions of the university; and 'hopelessly' because they are too often without hope, taking the form of either hand-wringing over the current state of the university or merely offering a defence of the emerging nature of 'the entrepreneurial university'....

      Why does this matter, and why does it matter at this particular time? At the very moment when the idea of the university should be opening out, it seems to be closing in, at least in the public imagination. The idea of the university has, of course, undergone many shifts and been subject to varying conceptions over time. For some hundreds of years, the idea of the university was - as it might be said - that of the metaphysical university, reflective of inquiry that enhanced humanity's connections with God, or the Universe, or Truth, or Spirit, or even the State. That conception gave way to the research university, which is now giving way to that of the entrepreneurial university, which in turn is closely allied to the emergence of a tacit idea of the corporate university.

    What is striking about this conceptual journey that the idea of the university has undergone - over nearly one thousand years - is that it has gradually shrunk. Whereas the metaphysical university was associated with the largest themes of humanity's self-understanding and relationships with the world, the idea of the university has increasingly - and now especially in its entrepreneurial and corporate incarnations - closed in. The entrepreneurial university is expected to fend for itself, and attend to its potential impact on particular segments of the economy, and become distinctive. This university has abandoned any pretence to be associated with universal themes.

     The idea of the university has closed in ideologically, spatially and ethically. ideologically, the contemporary envelope of ideas encourages the university to pursue quite narrow interests, particularly those of money (in the service of a national - or even a global - knowledge economy); spatially, the university is enjoined to engage its region, especially with industrial or business organizations in its environs (increasingly its students are also 'local'); and ethically, the university has become focused on its own interests. It will, as a result, close departments of chemistry or physics or modern languages or philosophy because it sees such closures as serving its own (usually financial) interests rather than their being laced in a set of public interests. (pp1-2)

Barnett argues that "imaginative ideas of the university are in short supply and that there are - if only embryonically - many ideas of the university close at hand." He claims that the powers that be resist opening it up to alternative ideas. While his aim is specific to the idea of the university, I find his insights into the usefulness of imagination and and the birthing of new ideas particularly compelling. In fact the need to use his approach for rethinking our economic and political systems in the face of globally shared dilemmas seems perhaps even more essential at the moment.

As I wind myself through this book I will be endeavoring to find some recipes for helping us 'think outside of the box' - how to create the conditions that allow us to do this together in communities. It is pretty clear to me that if we wait for universities to lead, especially given Barnett's observations above, we will fail to avert the pain of a combined unraveling of ecological and human systems.

As the name of this blog implies, let us join with Barnett is seeking positive possibilities with due diligence that we might arrive at a feasible utopia together.