Thursday, January 27, 2011

TWO FORERUNNERS WHO SAW OUR ENVIRONMENTAL & SOCIAL ISSUES COMING

Here are two thinkers who have greatly added to the environmental awareness of this world even though most of the world would not recognize their names. They worked before ecology and environmentalism were recognizable names. It is my belief that a passionate thought once released into this dimension continues its ripple across time until it touches a similar vibrational ripple in others. It is never lost.


IAN McHARG: ENVIRONMENTALIST

"Man, far out in space, looks back to the distant earth, a celestial orb, blue-green oceans, green of verdant land, a celestial fruit. Examination discloses blemishes on the fruit, dispersed circles from which extend dynamic tentacles. The man concludes that these cankers are the works of man and asks, 'Is man but a planetary disease?—Ian McHarg

Back in the early 60’s I remember listening to Ian McHarg on what is now PBS. He was a landscape architect who had a passion for designing human habitations to synchronize with nature. He seemed to be one of the very few people at that time to recognize that what we do on this planet actually affects us. Our cultural bias from early Christian times has been to perceive the earth and even our own bodies as temporary and inferior forms that would be replaced by the spiritual home in heaven if we made it there. Although the spiritual aspect has largely disappeared from Western Civilization the attitude that the earth and all its resources exist merely for our use and manipulation continues to dominate our society. Money, an artificial humanly created value without genuine substance has taken over the human world and everything it touches.

We pay lip service to conservation and preservation but it is still regarded as less important than the immediate needs of commerce. Since economics is now based on constant growth and ever increasing consumption there is no way to reconcile the reality of our dependence on the environment and the artificially engendered dependence on the monetary system. On one program, Mr. McHarg and theologian Paul Tillich traced the Western attitude toward nature through the medieval dark ages when Christianity and its otherworldly viewpoint became dominant into the present as of the early 60’s. Medieval art was dominated by the Church and depicts biblical stories using nature, as a mere backdrop as if in a play for which only the protagonists are real and the landscape setting is artificial.

A quote from Chapter One of "Design with Nature" encapsulate McHarg's frustration in modern culture and the need for a nature based approach to landscape, environmental design and town planning:

"The nuclear cataclysm is over. The earth is covered with gray dust. In the vast silence no life exists, save for a little colony of algae hidden deep in a leaden cleft long inured to radiation. The algae perceive their isolation; they reflect upon the strivings of all life, so recently ended, and on the strenuous task of evolution to be begun anew. Out of their reflection could emerge a firm conclusion: 'Next time, no brains'."

Read more: Ian McHarg



LEWIS MUMFORD

In Lewis Mumford I found an amazingly creative social and planetary thinker with a passion to bring society back to its source of being. I will always remember his separation of the words organization and organism. We have organization but the organic exists in harmony with the entire cosmos whereas organization dominates rather than integrates.

A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.—Lewis Mumford

In Technics and Civilization, Lewis Mumford, Harcourt, Brace & Company, Inc., New York, (1934) Mumford criticizes the modern trend of technology, which emphasizes constant, unrestricted expansion, production, and replacement. He explains that these goals work against technical perfection, durability, social efficiency, and overall human satisfaction. Modern technology—which he calls 'megatechnics'—evades producing lasting, quality products by using devices such as consumer credit, installment buying, non-functioning and defective designs, built-in fragility, and frequent superficial "fashion" changes.

MY BEGINNING & THE FALL FROM NONGRACE

If I told this story before, I apologize but I gain understanding and power through the retelling and perhaps someone else will benefit from what is in my view
miraculous. Because it is so obviously structured by another kind of wisdom beyond any normal human wisdom, I tell it to myself ever so often to keep the embers lighted. With each retelling I remember more aspects and dimensions, and yet in each retelling I realize that I have left out many important facts.


This story is about guidance from an unknown source. Whether this unknown source is from another dimension, or within, doesn’t really matter. Perhaps we don’t truly understand where we begin and another reality begins. Everything about reality as we know it and beyond what we know is continuously in motion and the oak seed can never fully understand the tree and all its branches even if it carries the whole within its essence. Yes, understanding comes from the other direction although we humans arrogantly assume we can understand our source.

I’m reflecting today on the indubitable spiritual, intellectual and practical guidance that I received in my teens and early 20s from an unknown, source. It was as if an invisible tutor and guide of extraordinary wisdom and power had been sent to guide me to my true essence at a time when I could easily have gone mad or committed suicide.

I quit school at the age of 15 in a state of despair and desperation. The dissonance between what was happening in the world outside and whatever was forcing its way to the surface of my life became overwhelming. Although it was considered a not to be tolerated disaster in the life of my family and they did all they could to put me back on track, eventually they decided it was a “nervous breakdown.” I was sent to various counselors and psychiatrists and for a short time was hospitalized. I knew that this was useless but I went along with the labeling because I had no explainable alternative.

Although I had no concept of what was actually happening to me I did know that my life and identity had changed completely. I remember it now as an upheaval so drastic that it was as if I became a totally different person without any identification with who I’d been before. I began reading history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, plus translations of ancient texts by Chinese Taoists, books of Zen Buddhism, and the ancient texts of India. In addition I explored art, the history of art and techniques of composition. The greater world opened up, as I became more reclusive.

I lived for a period in ancient times, and then the renaissance. I visited the art museum weekly and wandered the downtown area of Denver where at the time there were many used bookstores. I ventured into parts of town that were dangerous, and I explored many stances such as existentialism and atheism. I was not afraid to go anywhere because I knew that I had already died once and now I was simply exploring all the available possibilities. I wore the same pair of jeans all winter and went barefoot even in the snow. In the summer I took care of the family garden and read between changing the water between ditches. I learned to cook and sew, I already knew how to mix cement, put on roofing and square corners. Arithmetic became real when I had to measure the number and depth of folds in the drapery I was making for our new room, or install tiles in the bathroom or plan out the wall paper. No computer or calculator back then.

I was shocked to discover that all the things I had struggled with in school were actually very easy if I had a context of use and the freedom to explore. Since I was home alone I also took up cooking. I checked out a book on the history of food from the library several times. “Cooks, Gluttons and Gourmet’s” was an excellent approach to history. The nitty-gritty of everyday life in ancient times always interested me more than who was king or who conquered whom.

From behind my invisible veil I studied people on those trips downtown. I was very shy and even to pull the chain on the bus when I wanted to get off caused me to break into a sweat. I wanted to be a ghost who could avoid social contact and yet drift through it in total awareness. There was simply no place for a teenager such as myself to participate in this world, as I knew it to be.

I knew nothing about the authors I chose for reading or history for that matter. Now I remember that such words as psychology or anthropology were unknown until I began exploring these topics. My people were farmers by background and were forced to the city by the great depression. My father became a sheet metal worker with a gift for all things mechanical, and my mother worked in a City and County office. She was very bright but afraid to venture beyond the boundaries of her family upbringing. Both were immersed in fundamentalist Christianity and believed that anyone who believed differently was doomed to hell for eternity. I accepted that I was doomed, recognized that I’d been in hell almost since birth, and found myself in a strangely calm despair that moved out in all directions like ripples in the sea. It felt like a free fall into endless blackness. I had nothing more to lose.

I don’t understand why I maintained orientation and balance despite this paradoxically quiet dark horror. I sometimes wished I could go mad or die but I knew this wasn’t going to be my way out. There was a reason for what was happening even if I didn’t know what it was, and even if understanding never came. Of course this all happened before the dawn of the Internet. Everything I learned was brought before me in a magical way whenever I went seeking. I was ferociously passionate in my seeking. I only wish I had the same intensity now. Guidance surrounded my journey despite the lack of live human interaction. There was a thin layer of visibility at the top but my real life was deeply hidden. It wasn’t that I was trying to hide so much as it was that no one was interested and in fact were nonplussed and even frightened. They were happy to take me on face value as a ruined child and stay at a distance. In a perverse way this gave me a great deal of freedom to explore. I look back and realize that this journey was already laid out. I merely had to fall off the wrong path and get lost to land on my real path.