Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Politics, climate change, #phenology and hope

For the first several years that I lived in Minnesota, I heard at least once each Winter, "it's too cold to snow." I watched the weather patterns and that seemed to be true. When it was really, really cold, like today, it didn't snow, like today. When temperatures were still Winter-like, but more tolerable, closer to 20℉ above than 20℉ below, we often got snow storms. Recently, I learned that, while it's technically never too cold to snow, the pattern I had observed was generally accurate. So, we need to be less vague in how we state something that's obvious. Nuance and fundamentals are very valuable and, very often, overlooked. Phenology involves a holistic perspective. Our politics need to become more holistic and systemic. We can't succeed dealing only with extremes or with minority perspectives.

it's not snowing, so it must be too cold?
it's not snowing, so it must be too cold?
Photo by J. Harrington

More and more I've been encountering people whose opinions I respect observing and commenting that we have let our tendency to overgeneralize and accept stereotypes run away with us. One example of our growing need to see all sides of an issue can be found in Jim Walsh's piece in today's MinnPost, Divided Americans: ‘We have to find a way to live together’. I read that before I had finished processing the implications of Mariam Horn's Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman.

I, and most likely you, need to be more careful in our use of the terms such as all, most, some, none. Are all ranchers like the Bundys? Not to my knowledge. Do all farmers contribute to increased nutrient loads in water flowing through their fields? Probably, some much more so than others, and nutrient-less water doesn't support much life. Have I been guilty of painting groups with too broad a brush? Absolutely. Is it aggravating and time-consuming and risky to judge individuals instead of groups? Absolutely, again. Can we have a successful democracy if we don't get much better at communicating with those who don't see the world through our lenses? Highly unlikely.

There's a reason that standard distribution curves look the way they do. Most of us can be found somewhere in the middle. Extremists are found on either tail. Do we have to give up values that are near and dear to us to get along with others who have different values or priorities? No, but we need to remember the problems that come with pyrrhic victories. If I remember correctly, there are several anecdotes in Horn's book to the effect that "some people would rather fight than win." You can rarely, if ever, work out mutually acceptable "solutions" with those folks, but luckily most of us would rather win. That's something to think about the next time you're in a voting booth. Is your candidate just a fighter or is he or she also a winner? I hate to compromise. I hate even more to lose. Really smart folks need to create and make happen win-win solutions. Have you seen many of those recently? It's a form of adaptation to a changing environment.

you have not converted a man because you have silenced him
Silencing someone doesn't win them over

The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor party state central committee recently voted to permanently table(?) a resolution opposing sulfide mining, even though it was reported to be the most popular resolution that worked its way up through the precinct caucus system. As an environmentalist, and one who offered that and other environmental resolutions at my local caucus, I'm incensed. Do the mining interests believe they've won this battle? I hope not. Or, if they have, does the DFL leadership think they'll continue to be supported by those who value clean air and water and an economy not dominated by extractive industries? I hope not. I remember, and remind you, of Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark, in which we find this nuanced perspective:
"Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists...."

Of History and Hope



We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free. 


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