Archive for September, 2013

Sustainability – there are so many levels

Posted in spirit of the land with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2013 by onepercentyellow

I’ve sat to write this post a number of times and always feel like I don’t know enough to tackle the discussion.  In my course on Environment, Traditional Cultures and Sustainability, we were asked: What is sustainability?  Course readings pushed us to ask how we consider sustainability in the way that we relate with not only the natural world, but the people and cultures that populate the planet.

Take, for instance, the reading by Raynaut et. al. in Sustainability and Communities of Place.  The essay looks first at the varying definitions of sustainable development, of which there were “no fewer than sixty different definitions” (Raynaut et. al. 21) in 1995, and outlines a very useful way to consider the varying realms of sustainability.

Here’s a picture of the continuum they construct in the reading.

Sustainability

In my process of considering sustainability, I came across the final discussion panel of the 2008 Slow Food Nation gathering.  Of particular interest was Wendell Berry’s discussion on Scaling Down our Carbon Footprint (at 13:24).

“For too long humans have been spared, mainly by the cheapness of the fossil fuels, from the universal necessity of local adaptation.  It is ultimately an inescapable biological imperative that human land-use economies should correspond as closely as possible to the ecological mosaic.  To this we no longer have even the illusion of a second choice.”

Berry speaks to the center point, to the tension between the 4 points of Raynaut et. al.’s analytical tool.  It is only because of the systems we have built, systems grounded on exploitation of the elsewhere and future, that we have been able to collapse the entire continuum into the satisfaction of the here and now.  In Berry’s argument, it will only be through the return to the necessity of local adaptation that we will again come into a dialectical relationship.  A dialectical relationship recognizes, as Leslie Main Johnson stated in her text, Traveler’s Story, Traveler’s Path, that the “landscape has agency” (Main Johnson 204).  Cultivating that relationship in the here and now – remembering that in dialectics, reality is constantly emerging – leaves space for proper use of human cultural and physical technologies in SERVICE rather than TENSION with future and elsewhere considerations.

Of course, ethical considerations for the privileging of one agent over another will largely define what service looks like.  And I look to Aldo Leopold and Spirit of the Land to encourage those conversations.

A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.

the land agent

Posted in MAIS with tags , , , , , on September 12, 2013 by onepercentyellow

In my first week of readings (last week… oops) for my Athabasca Anthropology 610 course, I came to a full stop in the middle of the book.

 “In indigenous concepts landscape has agency” (Johnson 204). 

Of course it does, but I have never heard it put this way before.  The agency of the land – the Gaia principle – imbues the land with not only its own existence, but its own set of relationships, its own choices and actions to be taken, and leaves us pondering what our own role is in that continuum of creation.  If landscape has agency, what am I in wake of the land’s power (being of and from it)?

And when I recognize that the Earth is its own living system, of which I am but a small part, I begin to relax and relinquish control, even in just a small way.  I give up control as I do when I set down the chip colonialism has placed on my shoulder.  I am not responsible for the “civilization” of the world’s people.  In fact, I don’t have the answers my culture tells me I have.  There are systems of knowledge I have never conceived of.  There are types of blindness I suffer because I have never been taught to use my eyes.

And I consider this against the human systems we have created – the economy, the military-industrial complex, the church, the state – I wonder if these reified systems, too, have agency.  Is there something living in them, a kind of animation?  Have they grown and experienced evolution throughout time, only to have reached their now monstrous form – all teeth and claws – at the head of the food chain?

And that brings me to the life that comes when we feed our traditions.  Those reified systems have reached their zenith because we have fed them.  We consult them; we speak their names; we channel our energy and beliefs through them, and, in turn, our lives are lived through them.  But is this relationship simply another empty cup to raise to our lips?  Are we satiating ourselves on a diet of empty calories and failing to dip into the nourishment of fellowship? 

I ask you to try this simple tradition.  Before your next meal, sit in contemplation of the food you are about to commit to your body.  Consider where each part has come from – the energy of the sun, the water and minerals from the earth, the lives that have ceased.  This is not an exercise in guilt, but one in gratitude.  And as you thank each part for its part, ready your body to receive this bounty.  Permit your body to exact the full transaction of energetic existence.  Breathe – knowing full well that it is not that you are pulling in air, but merely allowing it to enter your body – a place where it wants to be.  And then enjoy your meal.  It feels different to eat in this way.  This is presence.

 

Johnson, Leslie Main.  Trail of Story, Traveller’s Path: Reflections on Ethnoecology and Landscape.  AU Press: 2010. Print.

Slowly becoming

Posted in MAIS, Online, Uncategorized with tags , on September 4, 2013 by onepercentyellow

It has been a long time since I’ve written in this space.  I hope to remember to record my experience of presenting in my first academic conference at some time, but this is not what has brought me back to this space.  I’m here because I might just get the chance to share my great passion for connection in the digital world.  I might just be about to teach alongside my mentor – the person who has so greatly inspired me to consider the importance of taking on the vocation of being an educator.  I might just get to affect and be affected by a group of amazing Augustana students this semester.  And maybe this will help me reach that final goal – that final push toward the completion of my masters degree – and after such a long, tumultuous, and affecting road, I want to do it right.

So.  I’ve been invited to be a part of Spirit of the Land, an experiment in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) by the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta.  Now that all the big names have been dropped, I can tell you how this MOOC is different, how we’re shaping things to be our own, and how I have become passionate about my capability to contribute in a meaningful way.

Now I’ve been a student, staff, and most recently over the summer, an actual contracted instructor at Augustana for many years.  It’s been a foundational part of too many of my final papers to count.  Every time I write about education (which is a lot during my MAIS program in adult education) I reflect on the deep shifts of meaning I traversed through my time at Augustana.  I attribute this to the sense of responsibility Augustana and other small Liberal Arts universities have for the kind of people our students become. When I come into contact with an institution or a teaching methodology that does not pay attention to this fundamental connection between teacher and student, I balk. I cringe.  I shut down.  And then, since I don’t take things laying down, I push.  I know I have done my share of pushing in my program at Athabasca – some appreciated, some not – and that I will at some point experience the same when I meet myself in my own classroom.

It comes back to this.  When a student enters a classroom, s/he opens her mind, her way of seeing the world, her way of knowing, maybe even her heart, to the perspectives of the theorists taught in the class, and, what’s more, the perspective of the professor who is presenting the theorists taught in the class.  I remember in my first year at Augustana I was speaking to one professor.. asking “but if postmodernism is wrong, then…”

“wait a minute,” he said. “Who told you that postmodernism is wrong?  Perhaps you should decide that for yourself!”

Wait… I can do that??

So.. from that value-laden, and consequential perspective on being an instructor, I prepare myself to work on this MOOC… which is actually an OOCC, I consider what it is I’d like to contribute to the way the individuals in this course see the world.

First – what is Spirit of the Land about?  It’s about developing a community land-use ethic.  It’s about Aldo Leopold’s assertion that one day we will see the land and our relation to it in the same way we see our relationship to one another.  That we will feel ethically responsible for the destruction and desecration of life we are bringing about on our planet.  And we will do this in community, for “nothing so important as a land ethic is ever ‘written’.  It arises in the minds of a thinking community,” says Leopold.

Second – it’s about community.  It’s a course that is happening over breaking of bread with one another.  With “students” and “community members” cooking together and then sharing the nourishment of deep intellectual consideration of important issues.  It’s about connection.  It’s about conversation.  And it’s about bridging our classroom/intellectual/academic worlds with our embedded/emotional/physical/spiritual worlds.  And it happens together.

Further, it’s about connecting to the great healing stemming from the recognition of the great wrongs that have been done to the people whose tradition, language and culture grew from a relationship with the land we are living in and growing on.  The First Nations people who have, for so long, been relegated to the sidelines for their naive relationship to the natural systems of our planet. These people who can stand #idlenomore and are defending mother Earth with their words, their hearts and their bodies.

All of these things appeal to me greatly.  And I’m being given the opportunity to demonstrate how these types of connection can happen in the digital world.  Throughout my research into connectivist learning theory, I have grown to understand that the digital world is not just a place to go to get information, it’s a place to form a trusted network that moves beyond the vetted tidbits of information fed through the traditional forms of media.  Social networks are ways to understand the world from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  When Arab Spring happened, when China shut down the internet, when #occupywallstreet led to campus protests being peppersprayed in a place of higher learning, I came to realize that people who are connected to one another without necessarily going through the mechanisms of censorship share the opportunity to make social truth transparent.  This is in direct opposition to those who perpetuate lies.

There are a lot of lies happening about our relationship to the natural world.  Our relationship to each other.  Our relationship to ourselves.  These lies can be combatted with a connection to like-minded individuals who have explored the importance of developing a healthy, balanced, ethical relationship to the systems that sustain life.

How can I not be absolutely honoured to be a part of something so beautiful?