Remembrance of a Commoner, like myself, I suppose
It was recently called to my attention that Barry Commoner died. That event, so to speak, happened in September of 2012.
I am in remembrance, therefore, which is, I suppose, a version of mourning.
Some people really should be remembered. Barry will be missed. His was a voice of “common” sense for me when I first began to grapple with environmental issues in this dysfunctional economic system that regards its generally anti environment accomplishments to be so uncommonly special. He recognized some very basic truths, like, humans are merely one of many species in a vast system, and that system involves interconnectedness. Thus he would see that elevating any part of that system above and apart from others is an act of ideological arrogance and hubris, not a truth. That truth appears in all our human insanities, such as our tendency to kill each other through mass systemic means, like warfare.
I read The Closing Circle: Nature Man and Technology not long after it was available in 1971, which was not long after I returned from the insanity of Vietnam, and it led me to study many aspects of our human endeavors, as well as nature itself, thus ecology and anthropology became my undergrad majors instead of literature, my first love. I’ll never regret that change of focus, and I did not lose literature in the change. If anything literature was enhanced for me, and the Transcendentalists I loved became even more enhanced, especially the works of Thoreau as I saw its connections to ideas floating around then, like Small is Beautiful (and it still is for me).
Though I don’t much care for acronyms, I somewhat fondly remember TANSTAFL from this list of four laws from The Closing Circle:
1. Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.
2. Everything Must Go Somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown.
3. Nature Knows Best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system.”
4. There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (TANSTAFL). Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.
I thought he would have made a visionary president back when I still thought the presidency meant something other than being an extension of neoliberal economics, and I voted for him. The nation went with Ronald Reagan, and here we are.
Meanwhile, Oscar Wilde simple has always appealed to me more.
“I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex.” — Oscar Wilde
Simple runs deep in my experience, maybe it’s deep in my blood as well (Please! Do not confuse my simple simple with the simple in the movie Blood Simple!)
Simple is merely the history of my own peasant life going back to living on the periphery, as I’ve always seemed to, outside Ann Arbor on a farm that was being crushed out of existence by encroaching suburbia. We were not wealthy, we were steadily going bankrupt. Nevertheless, my father, being an original health food nut — health food was the term for organics before organics was popularized — helped me to become acquainted with ways of growing food that shunned the modern industrial techniques with a deep sense of moral integrity and an organic understanding that messing with nature in that way was also messing with our own biological make up. He just turned 92 in September, still healthy and active. He may be the living proof of his own beliefs or just the lucky recipient of good genes.
Whatever reasons for his long and healthy life, a love and desire for good quality food, how it is nurtured into existence, how it can taste, is the legacy he passed on to me. While his tastes are a bit simpler, which suits him just fine, I learned to cook my own so I could have it the way I want it, and that was something I set myself to learning early on. All the women in my life have been very happy with that odd ball non hyper-masculine characteristic.
There are many other advantages to growing up a simple peasant with never enough extra cash to buy stuff. You learn skills. Kind of like the teach the man to fish and he will never need a hand out parable kind of skills. When I got tired of burning my brain cells out writing strategic plans to help corporations grow and expand like cancer, I could and did turn to those skills. I can also personally attest that having such practical abilities is also very appealing to the opposite sex, much more so than beating one’s chest and shooting people dead. The result for me has been many opportunities to practice Darwin’s evolution of love theory, with all the compassion, empathy and humane consideration that goes with it.
And that’s why I am so concerned for so many people today who have become specialists within these technological institutions where they don’t even know what the ultimate purpose of what they do is really about. The end result is a kind of perpetual life of political contradiction, a proverbial double bind with no way out. They are just part of the machinery of the Matrix. And as such, subject to its illusions, like watching an NCIS immersion military/cop show displaying all the characteristics of a high tech police state in a positive feel good light, along with Ninja fighting women acting out the female version of hypermasculinity…. speaking of watching the end on tv.
Oh, and one more comment on what someone said about “it’s hard to be positive about the mess made of the environment.” This goes back to my own practice here in SW Washington State where once were giant furs and cedars that rivaled California’s Sequoias and Redwoods in size. I live daily with the site of clearcuts and the invisibile loss of a once marvelous ecosystem. Some of it I can see, some of it I only know by theory. But there is this force of life that is also ever present and cannot be ignored. And so my practice is to face reality and by a kind of Buddhist non attachment, come to see the deeper beauty and love it.
Meanwhile there is this from Dave Pollard’s article: Preparing for Collapse: Non-Attachment, not Detachment
Dave Pollard wrote:
We are what we are, we did what we did, we ended up here.
I’m very curious to see what comes next. Aren’t you?
Paul didn’t get a terribly sympathetic response, so I wrote to Paul and asked him how he had managed to reach this stage of acceptance. I also asked him about a gorgeously-written and deeply-moving recent article in Orion, Gaze Even Here, about “evoking a consciousness of brokenness”, in which the author, Trebbe Johnson, says that she and her companions found solace in spending time “gazing” at clearcuts and videos of animals dying in oil-slicks until their grief and anger and revulsion turned to curiosity, acceptance, compassion and even love. I mentioned that some people in my circles had seen my attempts at non-attachment, at letting go of what I know I cannot change, as detachment, as an emotional shutting down or turning away.