Imagine Being a Part

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A significant aspect of my job is increasing business’ and the public’s awareness of the issues and opportunities to become more environmentally sustainable. As I mentioned last week, with businesspeople I try to do this by portraying irresponsible, unsustainable behaviour as risky, and positioning business sustainability as a risk mitigation and resilience strategy.

If I’m honest, though, I have to admit that the amount of change necessary to really make our economy sustainable is almost certainly beyond the capacity of our economic system to achieve. Business needs to be ‘persuaded’ to be responsible and sustainable, not just by taxes and regulations and incentives and strategic arguments about reducing risk, but also by a drastic change in customer buying behaviour.

How do we achieve that change in buying behaviour? After all, we, the customers, are also mostly producers of some goods or services in a business. As customers we respond the same way that we do as businesspeople — we change our behaviour only when we have no other choice, or when something so astonishing occurs that it changes our whole worldview.

When it comes to our worldview on responsibility and sustainability, we are informed by how we perceive ourselves relative to our society and our environment. Our modern, individualistic Western culture teaches us that we are responsible only for and to ourselves and those we love (“we are not our neighbour’s keeper”) and that ‘the environment’ is something apart from us, something that we manage, own, and keep under our control.

This is analogous to our brain’s belief that it — ‘we’ — are something apart from our bodies, and that we are somehow not responsible for ‘them’ or ‘their’ well-being. Such a belief is ludicrous — and we cannot live without or apart from a healthy natural environment any more than our brains can live well if the rest of our bodies are dying, poisoned or exhausted. But human culture and belief systems are mealleable, and we can, with enough propaganda and reinforcement of others, be persuaded to believe almost any absurd idea.

There is evidence that human societies and other creatures not living wildly out of balance with their ecosystems have an utterly different worldview, one that recognizes that they are inherently and absolutely a part of those ecosystems, one that respects the ecosystem and all-life-on-Earth as sacred and inseparable from them.

But now we live in such artificial, overcrowded circumstances that many of us have no concept of a natural environment — we spend so little time in places even remotely natural we cannot even imagine what it means to be a part of a place, to belong to it, to be intimately and utterly connected to everything else in it. Our human constructs are fragile, unsustainable, and disposable — we can no more be a part of them than a brain can be a part of a robot. If we were somehow able to raise and sustain, for awhile, a brain in a robotic, artificial ‘body’, that fragile creature would not be human, and it would be unable to form any attachment to any ‘living’ creature. Likewise, humans raised in fragile artificial environments cannot establish or even really imagine a connection or attachment to all-life-on-Earth, because they are essentially apart from it, separated, detached.

There are now not enough natural places left to reconnect most of us, even if there were time and will to do so. The nature visits that we send our children on as part of their schooling don’t reconnect them — they merely reinforce the social illusion that the environment is ‘apart’, separated from us like animals in a zoo are separated from us by cages.

Is it possible for us to imagine being a part, given the three million years of our species’ history as a part, which is profoundly coded in our DNA and just waiting to be remembered? Alas, I don’t think so. We are by nature experiential learners. Without direct experience, ‘being a part’ is only something we can dimly ‘remember’, the way we ‘remember’ when we walk into a rainforest that this is, somehow, our natural home.

If we want to be of help, making the world a better place, we need to do what we do when we want to learn a new and strange language — immerse ourselves in it to the exclusion of our ‘normal’ surroundings. That means immersing ourselves in a natural surrounding with as few trappings of civilization as necessary, living simply in self-sufficient, responsible community with people we love who seek to rediscover and share the primal worldview of being a part of all-life-on-Earth. That doesn’t mean isolation or deprivation or ‘going back’ — Internet information and communications, renewable energy, shelter and appliances sufficient for comfort and food preservation and preparation can actually help us do more with less.

By doing this, rediscovering working models of how to live and make a living sustainably, responsibly and joyfully, we can, in a way, reinvent the world. Not our civilized world — it’s almost certainly too late for that. Rather, the world that the survivors of the collapse of our civilization will inherit, hungry for models that work.

We can’t save the world, but we can help those who will create the next, humbler, simpler human society, one that can learn from our mistakes.

And in the meantime, in that joyous, astonishing reconnection with all-life-on-Earth, we can rediscover who we are, and why we’re here,and all the wondrous things that we’ve forgotten.

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3 Responses to Imagine Being a Part

  1. Anonymous says:

    Existential DiscomfortThe two driving instincts of all life on earth

  2. Tommy says:

    Comma! Comma! Comma! So many commas, yet so little space to fit them all! You have managed this though, and I like it!

  3. Well, what you’re talking about is trend setting. It’s difficult to change the course of an entire society. It has inertia.If you ever get a chance to visit Santa Fe, New Mexico, you’ll see a very cool style of adobe architecture. In fact, there are buildingcodes which proscribe this style, in order to maintain the historical flavor of the town. Adobe houses, I believe, are much more solid… they are cooler in the summer, they are structurally more sound. With proper window placement, the light is better. And of course you can make such buildings with straw bale insulation, if you live in a colder climate.There is certainly an opportunity in the usa for new initiatives in how things are built. In an era where people see that there’s a lot of money to be made, folks will develop cheaper ways to make higher quality products. An example is this [is a universityof southern california project.](http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/01/download_and_pr.php), where they are developing a way to print houses using a very large 3d inkjet style of printer.I don’t think it would be too hard to find venture capital money for this kind of business. And the person who starts that kind of construction business has a lot of influence in setting trends for how houses will be constructed in the future. An eco-friendly company doing this, would be able to infuse it’s ethics into the broader construction field.There are similar ways to approach the manufacture and distribution of other consumer goods. But you have to have an innovation which allows you to provide a better quality product at a lower price. You can’t expect that consumers will willingly want to downgrade to a lower quality experience.I have been watching and listening to a lot of Canadian media on the internet, recently – and it seems to me that Canada is materially poorer than the usa. Canada didn’t go hogwild with investment and credit, in the same way folks down southdid. And the canadian dollar, of course, has not been quite as strong (until recently) as the usa dollar. What I hear in the sentiments and attitudes of canadian news broadcasts, is uncannily like stepping back in time for me. What I hear, is that industry has a more authoritative voice than any other group. Industry provides jobs, and therefore economic wellbeing. And this attitude, I think, is the reason that conservatives who cater to industry, are being elected right and left. Liberals are viewed as not being as pragmatic – and perhaps they aren’t. I’ll just lay out my forecast for canada if trends continue… based on what I’ve seen happen in the usa over the last twenty years. What you could see, is that Canada has a lot more development of it’s industry. And this means a higher standard of living, and more pollution, and eventually an odd problem in the halls of parliament… to where [business lobbyist money eventually can become what alcohol is to an alcoholic](http://draftlessig.org/2008/02/19/lessigs-two-announcements/). These are the outcomes which we saw in the usa, at least, over the last twenty years.If you and your friends, Mr. Pollard, wish to change this trend… you’ll have to start leveraging consensuses… and provide a more pragmatic vision for Canada than your industries are curently proposing.Trend setting is an art. Lawrence Lessig… who I see is listed in your blogroll has really demonstrated how to start and maintain trends.

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