Saturday, January 13, 2018

Shepard for the Day.6

"The child begins to babble and then to speak according to his own timing, with the cooperation of adults who are themselves acting upon the deep wisdom of a stage of life.  At first it is a matter of rote and imitation, a naming of things whose distinctive differences are unambiguous.  Nature is a lexicon where, at first, words have the solid reality of things.

In this bright new world there are as yet few mythical beasts, but real creatures to watch and to mimic in play.  Animals have a magnetic affinity for the child, for each in its way seems to embody some impulse, reaction, or movement that is "like me."

In the playful, controlled enactment of them comes a gradual mastery of the personal inner zoology of fears, joys, and relationships.  In stories told, their forms spring to life in the mind, re-presented in consciousness, training the capacity to imagine."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness

Friday, January 12, 2018

Shepard for the Day.5

Note: ontogeny is "the whole of growth through the first twenty years (including physical growth.")

from Mendota Dakota Community
"The seed of normal ontogeny is present in all of us.  It triggers vague expectations that parents and society will respond to our hunger.  The newborn infant, for example, needs almost continuous association with one particular mother who sings and talks to it, breast-feeds it, holds and massages it, wants and enjoys it.  For the infant as person-to-be, the shape of all otherness grows out of that maternal relationship.

Yet, the setting of that relationship was, in the evolution of humankind, a surround of living plants, rich in texture, smell and motion.  The unfiltered, unpolluted air, the flicker of wild birds, real sunshine and rain, mud to be tasted and tree bark to grasp, the sounds of wind and water, the calls of animals and insects as well as human voices--all these are not vague and pleasant amenities for the infant, but the stuff out of which  its second grounding, even while in its mother's arms, has begun.

The outdoors is also in some sense another inside, a kind of enlivenment of that fetal landscape which is not so constant as once supposed.  The surroundings are also that-which-will-be-swallowed, internalized, incorporated as the self."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness
pp. 6-7

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Start in the Right Direction to Address the Climate Crisis

How can we address the causes of the climate crisis?  Which basically means, how do we reduce greenhouse gases?  The conversation about this tends to be abstract, political (a carbon tax etc.) or piecemeal, often pitting one method against another.

But a small group in Sausalito organizing mostly young researchers from 22 countries has made what seems like the first systematic effort to figure out what really can draw down CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the next 30 years.  This has resulted in a book (Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by the project's founder, environmental entrepreneur Paul Hawken),  a website and an ongoing project that seeks partners and participation.

So far Project Drawdown has identified and ranked 100 ways.  But it's more than a wish list by folks brainstorming in an editorial meeting.  They've tested existing methods against cost and potential benefit in greenhouse gases reduction and in monetary saving.  They carefully vetted both data and conclusions with an array of experts.

Also notable is their global reach, including solutions for third world countries, and looking to indigenous peoples as land managers to be part of the solution.

Some of the ways to best address greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are not surprising (wind power, various forms and applications of solar, more forest) while others perhaps are (refrigeration techniques, food waste, educating girls.) There are some fascinating cutting edge combinations of nature and relatively low tech or no-tech, like Silvopasture and other methods of reducing the unnaturally large carbon footprints of cattle.

There are a number of videos on YouTube about the Project.  A nice 11 minute one is here,  and there's a longer presentation with visuals by Katharine Wilkinson of Project Drawdown to Google. (Note: viewers over 50 may find the parade of cliches grating but they do seem effective shorthand and images for her audience.)

The findings so far are billed as "the most comprehensive plan" so far, and the word "comprehensive" is very important, especially in setting priorities.  In terms of addressing the problem, there's been a lot of hot air about how changes in the obvious sectors (energy, transportation) can or can't be adequate to slow emissions enough, and especially if there's even the will to try.

But that debate lacks the information on how much other solutions can contribute to the necessary drawdown, so those other solutions are usually just ignored.  This project attempts to not only bring them into the conversation, but to assess their possible contribution with numbers.

The idea of planning for the future by developing comprehensive pictures of problems and solutions has been a dream since H.G. Wells and Buckminster Fuller.  When the idea caught fire in the 1970s that computers could help examine the world as a system, with all the factors and interactions and feedbacks, there was a huge boom in Future Studies, futuristics etc.  By 1980 it had died out, partly I assume because computers in those days, let alone people, weren't quite up to the task.

With a single goal of drawing down greenhouse gases, Project Drawdown has a chance, but as it has already learned, there are all kinds of other effects, interactions, synergies and feedbacks involved in the changes they suggest.  Most are positive however, which reminds me of this cartoon:

Yet Project Drawdown is just a start in the comprehensivity game, as suggested in an interview Paul Hawken did with the editor of Green America.  Hawken calls nuclear energy a "regret solution" because he doesn't support it, but the numbers say it will help, so it is included in the list.  In an editorial note, Green America maintains that once the energy used in mining and enriching uranium plus plant construction etc. is all figured in, more greenhouse gas pollution is created and needs to be part of the assessment.  So maybe this needs to be more comprehensive.  The Project should continue refining its data and conclusions.

But a huge advantage of the project's list is that progress can be made in adopting these changes by business sectors, businesses, state and local governments, communities (all perhaps in partnership with universities), and by families and individuals.  (And because it's global, by the governments of other countries where the problem is a given.)

In particular, as Wilkinson and others point out, there is such variety in effective methods that one or another is bound to appeal strongly to many individuals. These are projects for young people to get excited about, and to act on--perhaps as career paths.  Though priorities are evident in the ranking, all of the solutions contribute, so selecting any one of them is a positive.

In publicizing Project Drawdown, Hawken and others feel it necessary to denigrate the "doom and gloom" surrounding the subject of the climate crisis.  Maybe an attitude adjustment is needed, but I think they have a simpler solution: just refer to the science on the effects of the climate crisis as "the problem statement," (which they do) and go right into the solutions.  That's their important contribution, and what is likely to get people excited, especially young people.

And it really is unnecessary for Hawken to make his case for paying attention to the project by going off into dubious areas.  For instance (in his Green America interview), he asserts that "The human brain isn't wired to respond to future-existential threats.  The people who did that are not in the gene pool."

He may have some half-assed neuroscience to back him up, but what he says is patent nonsense.  Humans are all about imagining and assessing future dangers and opportunities (though denial often gets in the way), and the relationship of evolution to the brain is a very tricky area.  Especially since individual human brains "evolve" in meaningful ways over a lifetime.  People do come together because they care about the future, especially when they find something they can do well that can contribute to a better future.

 People who think about the future are pretty obviously in the gene pool.  They'd better be.

Shepard for the Day.4

"The passage of human development is surprisingly long and complicated.  The whole of growth through the first twenty years (including physical growth) is our ontogenesis, our 'coming into being,' or ontogeny...

Among those relict tribal peoples who seem to live at peace with their world, who feel themselves to be guests rather than masters, the ontogeny of the individual has some characteristic features.  
Gene Thomas (Onandoga)
"Eagle and Dreamer"

I conjecture that their ontogeny is more normal than ours (for which I will be seen as sentimental and romantic) and that it may be considered to be a standard from which we have deviated.

Theirs is the way of life to which our ontogeny was fitted by natural selection, fostering a calendar of mental growth, cooperation, leadership, and the study of a mysterious and beautiful world where the clues to the meaning of life were embodied in natural things, where everyday life was inextricable from spiritual significance and encounter, and where the members of the group celebrated individual stages and passages as ritual participation in the first creation."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Shepard for the Day.3

From the classic 1956 movie Forbidden Planet:
the "monster from the id" reimagined.
"To invoke psychopathology is to address infancy, as most mental problems have their roots in our first years of life and their symptoms are defined in terms of immaturity. 

 The mentally ill typically have infantile motives and act on perceptions and states of mind that caricature those of early life.  Among their symptoms are destructive behaviors that are the means by which the individual comes to terms with private demons that would otherwise overwhelm him.  To argue with the logic with which he defends his behavior is to threaten those very acts of defense that stand between him and a frightful chasm.

Most of us fail to become as mature as we might.  In that respect there is a continuum from simple deprivations to traumatic shocks, many of which are fears and fantasies of a kind that normally haunt anxious infants and then diminish.

Such primary fantasies and impulses are the stuff of the unconscious of us all.  They typically remain submerged or their energy is transmuted, checked, sublimated, or subordinated to reality.

Not all are terrifying: there are chimeras of power and unity and erotic satisfaction as well as shadows that plague us at abyssal levels with disorder and fear, all sending their images and symbols into dreams and, in the troubled soul, into consciousness. 

 It is not clear whether they all play some constructive part in the long trail toward sane maturity or whether they are just flickering specters lurking beside the path, waiting for our wits to stumble.  Either way, the correlation between mental unhealth and regression to particular stages of early mental life has been confirmed thousands of times over."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Shepard for the Day.2

Wi'id Mask by contemporary Haida artist
Robert Davidson
"Our species once did (and in some small groups still does) live in stable harmony with the natural environment.  That was not because men were incapable of changing their environment or lacked acumen; it was not simply on account of a holistic or reverent attitude, but for some more enveloping and deeper reason still.

The change began between five and ten thousand years ago and became more destructive and less accountable with the progress of civilization.  The economic and material demand of growing villages and towns are, I believe, not causes but results of this change.

In concert with advancing knowledge and human organization it wrenched the ancient social machinery that had limited human births.  It fostered a new sense of human mastery and the extirpation of nonhuman life.  

In hindsight this change has been explained in terms of necessity or as the decline of ancient gods.  But more likely it was irrational (though not unlogical) and unconscious, a kind of failure in some fundamental dimension of human existence, an irrationality beyond mistakenness, a kind of madness."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness
pp. 3-4

Below the Buzz, Real Threats Continue Uncomprehended

While the mainstage drama plays out of who's up and who's down, riveting all attention, fundamental challenges to the country and to civilization continue inexorably, under the social media radar.

The newly aggressive attack on humanity's sustaining environment, let alone the neglect of ongoing destruction, continues at a startling pace.  All appearances suggest that the servants (and often former company execs) of fossil fuel corporations now in power in this administration are taking full advantage of the anti-president's total vengeance on the previous President.

It's not clear if opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas of the Arctic as well as both coasts of the United States to new oil drilling will actually result in more drilling.  It depends on the economics and the adherence to market forces by these companies, but we may have passed--or nearly passed--the point at which alternative energy is cheap enough to speak for itself.  That's probably what's behind Monday's conspicuous failure of the administration to privilege fossil fuels.

Still, as the effects of global heating continue to show up in extreme weather around the world, the health of the oceans is a deep concern.  The extreme depletion of oxygen alone threatens marine life, which in turn threatens human existence. But that's not all--half the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean.  Spaceship Earth may be running out of air.  (Here's the latest report, and a summary.)

Meanwhile our society is threatened by another continuing phenomenon that is equally invisible, even though (like "climate change") it's well known as a buzzy combination of words: "income inequality."

What that really means is that the proportion of people able to make a living gets smaller continuously.  For millions of people it is a daily crisis, and for millions of others, it's coming.  The replacement of full time work in one category after another is one conspicuous reason, as described in this dramatic Politico report, "The Real Future of Work."

Medical transcriptionists in Pittsburgh learn they've been
outsourced--the incident that begins the Politico report on
threatening trends in the jobs future--and present.
Despite glowing unemployment numbers, the crisis is expressed in other numbers, such as: "The percentage of families with more debt than savings is higher now than at any point since 1962, while the median American family’s net worth is lower than it’s been in nearly a quarter-century."

But statistics aren't really necessary.  Anyone who did any socializing over the holidays is likely to have heard stories and looked into the faces the stories are about: entire professions and job categories are dying as full time, well-paid occupations (thanks in part to the Internet and failure to respond to this growing crisis) while those whose jobs have not yet been made obsolete are working harder, for longer hours and less pay.

Here's where the anger should be (one place anyway), and it probably is, however diverted and distracted.  It's certainly one place the fear is.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Shepard for the Day.1

"My question is: why do men persist in destroying their habitat?  

I have, at different times, believed the answer was a lack of information, faulty technique, or insensibility.  Certainly intuitions of the interdependence of all life are an ancient wisdom, perhaps as old as thought itself, occasionally rediscovered, as it has been by the science of ecology in our own society...

In time, even with the attention of the media and a windfall of synthesizers, popularizers, gurus of ecophilosophy, and other champions of ecology, in spite of some new laws and indications that environmentalism is taking its place as a new turtle on the political log, nothing much has changed.

Either I and other "pessimists" and "doomsayers" wer wrong about the human need for other species, and the decline of the planet as a life-support system, or our species is intent on suicide--or there is something we overlooked.

Such a something could be simply greed...But it is hard to be content with the theory that people are bad and will always do the worst."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness (1982) pp. 1-2

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Shepard for the Day, An Introduction

Debased versions of Paul Shepard's ideas are everywhere. There were online and magazine articles in late 2017 about a new book that dared to suggest that the transition from hunter-gatherers to agriculture in human history might not have been the unalloyed triumph it is assumed to have been--that for example, hunter-gatherers were healthier. Shepard wrote this, and made a sophisticated case for it, at least 30 years before.

Similarly, several books in the past decade or so have asserted the crucial role of nature in child development. Shepard showed how profoundly true this is, also more than 30 years ago.  Even the Paleo Diet is distantly derived from the case he made for today's humans being physically just the same as we were in the paleolithic, but we don't eat (or do anything) that way anymore, with unhealthy results.  Shepard had much more profound insights in that direction in the 1970s, including a much longer list of consequences.

Even President Obama quoted the title of one of his books, probably without realizing it, when he referred to this as "the only world we've got."

Yet Shepard is seldom credited.  Even his role as a pioneer of ecology is largely forgotten, at least by the mainstream.  Better known names often know his work and speak very highly of it, but they remain the better known names.

In his many books, Paul Shepard (1925-1996) combined a breathtaking synthesis backing strong and profound analysis. He essentially created the field of human ecology, and his work defines it. Apparently few have been able to match both his breadth and depth, so he remains unique.

There is biographical and other information at the Paul Shepard wordpress site.  This is a condensed version of an earlier site I created in tandem with his widow Florence Rose Krall Shepard, herself an author (of Ecotone and the more recent Sometimes Creek: A Wyoming Memoir.)  I might do another site sometimes soon.

But for the moment  I've just posted my 1997 essay on Shepard, "The Ecology of Maturity" at my companion blog Kowincidence.  And on this blog I'm beginning a series of quotes: Shepard for the Day (modeled of course after the "Emerson for the Day" site that Kim Stanley Robinson invented for his Science in the Capitol climate crisis trilogy, now edited and combined in a single volume, Green Earth. Then somebody actually started such a site.)

I've quoted Shepard here before, going back more than a decade (the paul shepard label will take you to those) but this time I'm trying something a bit different.

I'm starting Shepard for the Day with sequential quotes from his book Nature and Madness.  Originally published in 1982, it became part of the series of new Shepard editions by University of Georgia Press, with 1998 forewords.  In the foreword to this book C.L. Rawlins writes:

"Of his many distinguished books, Shepard believed Nature and Madness to be the most important, for its presentation of what amounts to a unified field theory of the human condition.

To support this, he draws from a stunning array of disciplines.  His research in the fields of biology, genetics, zoology, anthropology, psychology, ethology, history, theology, poetics and myth is deployed not to demonstrate his intellectual powers, grand as they are, but because all these are necessary components of human ecology, a field of study that he practically founded."  

Shepard's prose is dense in meaning but I read it as quite eloquent and accessible. Perhaps both his meaning--so different from mainstream thought-- as well as the virtues of his writing can be experienced more clearly and profoundly in shorter bits, such as a paragraph or two.  Anyway, that's the experiment I'm beginning.

Because it's really, really important.  Shepard may not be well known generally, but he has made deep and lasting impressions to that effect on individuals.  That's fitting in a way, because although this book presents a societal indictment, it ultimately is about effects on individuals.

  Rawlins' foreword details Shepard's influence on him (also my approach in my 1997 essay, a version of which was published in the Shepard tribute issue of Wild Duck Review.)   And like Rawlins, I found my first copy of Nature and Madness on a bookstore sale table (he in Moab, Utah in 1993, me in Seattle in 1988 or so), though I had been familiar with some of Shepard's early work in the 1970s.

Nature and Madness speaks for itself, but its major premise is that western civilization has been crazy from the start, due primarily to the broken relationship with nature that humanity had for most of its existence.  And because of this, society and individuals within it have not developed to a true maturity. Rawlins:

"And so it is, Shepard writes, with the stalled development that accompanies modern culture--we feel a bone deep fury, one we discharge through fanatical belief, unending war, and the accelerating destruction of our world."

Rawlins interprets Shepard as saying "that mass culture draws collective power from blocking individual development."  That's a profound thought to be thinking right now.  Expect more.