Friday, July 8, 2016

Ethics, ecology, community and #phenology

I lost a filling yesterday and spent a good part of this morning in a dentist's chair, stretched out, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the novocain to take effect. That gave me lots of time to ponder the murderous events of the past few days, and of the decades leading up to this week. Driving home, I listened to the talking heads on MPR discussing how to restore trust between the community and the police. Just as I shut off the engine, someone had the basic common sense to point out that trust that has never existed can't be restored. I had been having similar thoughts during my drive to the dentist, remembering the Kent State massacre that killed four unarmed college students as well as the police riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

I bet by now you're wondering what in hell all this has to do with phenology, ecology and ethics. Let's start with some of what Aldo Leopold has to say about ethics, ecology and community:
“All ethics evolved so far rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.”
- Aldo Leopold
members of a healthy community
members of a healthy community
Photo by J. Harrington

In A Sand County Almanac essay on The Land Ethic, Leopold notes:
“That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.”

This recognition, according to Leopold, implies individuals play an important role in protecting and preserving the health of this expanded definition of a community.

“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 land.”
It's not stretch from the preceding to infer Leopold believes it necessary for us to love our community. I would take it further and argue that we, as a society, are terribly overdue to have a serious conversion about what we mean by community, that, as Leopold writes, it is not simply an aggregation of individuals but their interdependent functioning that makes a community. I would also argue that any government maintaining a predatory relationship (traffic citations as revenue generators --> dead citizens at traffic stops?) toward citizens fails every definition of either community or democracy that I can conceive of. If lives, black, red, white, blue, whatever, do indeed matter, they matter most, and are missed most, it seems to me, in the context of loving family and community relationships. Let's get honest about our need to talk much more about how to recognize interdependence, and to protect and preserve all the members of our community. Mr. Leopold offers us more wisdom than even he may have realized, if we'll only pay attention.

I'll share my own perspective on how phenology fits into all of this. As a recovering planner, I know that more of the same never solved a problem. I've also learned that insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results. Some of the techniques of phenology could help us identify and revise the faulty patterns that got us into the mess we find ourselves in this week. Fortunately, as we know from Wendell Berry, there's always

The Peace of Wild Things


By Wendell Berry


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


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