Sometimes it feels like I am operating in a fog. Other times it seems like I can function well only by keeping my nose to the grindstone, limiting my view to the task at hand. This week the fog lifted and I got a brief glimpse of the larger reasons why I aspire to live simply and share our lifestyle in this blog.
I read a recent blog post, “Permaculture: The Design Arm of a Paradigm Shift” by Toby Hemenway, author of “Gaia’s Garden.” This essay places the roots of the sustainability movement in ancient indigenous wisdom, ecological science (began in the late 1800’s), whole systems science (began in the 1940’s) and outrage and grief about environmental despoliation (began in the 1950’s).
“Each built a world view much more coherent than the dominant paradigm of reductionist science could ever offer,” Hemenway wrote. He says that adopting a holistic worldview and acting on that understanding is “part of the great paradigm shift our species must undergo to be able to remain on this planet.”
Hemenway’s blog post sparked a whole train of memories of influential books that have carried me to the wild outposts of alternative thought (just call me Cassandra) and lifestyle that I inhabit today. I remembered the larger framework offered by Wendell Berry’s 1983 essay “Two Economies.” Berry classifies the money/energy/industrial economy as a subset of the Great Economy, aka The Tao or The Kingdom of God. He says we are dependent on this all-encompassing pattern but can never totally understand it, so we feel humility, gratitude and awe, some of the foundations of the religious impulse. He puts modern economics in its place as a “small economy” inside a larger whole.
Joanna Macy and her colleagues, in the Work that Reconnects, give us tools for engaging with the interconnected whole. My experience with this body of work includes a Despair and Empowerment workshop I attended while working on the nuclear freeze campaign in the early 1980’s, a Council of All Beings in the 1990’s, and a book group reading of Macy’s book “Active Hope” a few years ago.
Whole systems science was the basis of “Limits to Growth” (1972), “Beyond the Limits” (1992) and other updates by Donnella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers and their team at MIT. This work was discounted (reminiscent of the criticism of Rachel Carson in the 1960’s and giving a foretaste of current climate denial) but now is being re-evaluated in the light of unfolding events, as described in this article in The Guardian.
In 2005 -06 I read the two-volume Edible Forest Garden opus by permaculturists Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier. I was impressed by the complex relationships between the interdependent parts of the ecological whole found in a forest garden. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around all this. As I described in an earlier blog post, we are attempting to incorporate these design principles and methods in our half-acre yard.
One conclusion all these streams of thinking point to is that everything is connected. How much we humans consume and how we live needs to fit inside the capacities of the planetary system. Our 21st century mainstream American lifestyle is not the only way humans can live a good life.
So, looking beyond our time and culture, looking at the bigger picture, guides us as we seek to create a world with a future better than the present. Understanding the larger framework may help us see where current trends seem to be leading us and cause us to change our ways. That is part of what Nick and I are aiming at as we try to live what we call the Good Life.