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6 Developing the Courage of Our Convictions *& Most of our modern assumptions are so deeply rooted that either we count them as "just natural" or we have no recognition as to what they really are. A major part of that consciousness comes from being raised in a society dominated by science and its technological arrangements , most of which would not be here without the high energy that comes from fossil fuel and nuclear power. We have a "high-energy consciousness/' a monetarily cheap energy consciousness that is a mere blip in human history, but a consciousness that now "comes with the milk." (George Bernard Shaw once said that "perfect memory is perfect forgetfulness") Even when we try to think about other possibilities, other worldviews, the powerful assumptions stirring within us reassert themselves in unexpected and often undetected ways. So our modern thinking is itself resistant to critique and change, even as the end of the fossil fuel epoch comes in sight. At some level, most of us want to live within our means, to become native to this place at the very time the target appears to be receding faster than the shot we aim at it. We can Developing the Courage of Our Convictions accept the fact that where we were as a people in 1900 is different from where we were in 1850. But the difference between where we are in the 1990s and where we were in 1950 is vastly different and far greater. Thus our definition of "becoming native" is more seriously compromised than ever. We have, though, learned some very important lessons during this high-energy phase of our journey. First off, in this world now dominated by economic thought, we have discovered that comfort and security are not solutions to the human condition and that affluence has not solved the economic problem. In fact, economic anxiety has increased and preoccupation with economic issues is higher than ever. Furthermore , economic development has led to enormous ecological destruction. But even if development were not a problem in terms of our relationship with the planet, even if it did not deplete the mines and the wellheads or poison the earth and deplete its atmosphere, even if there were an infinite supply of resources or infinite substitutability, development has been destructive of our relationships with people and with place. With this in mind, as Harvard economist Steve Marglin says, we must go beyond the questions of income distribution, distorted accounting, and conspicuous consumption, and come to grips with the fundamental assumptions of economics: unlimited desire, absolute scarcity, calculation, and maximization .1 During this era in which we had a conference in Rio where we talked about sustainable development—almost a contradiction in terms—we are now coming to understand another phrase, "cultural affirmation." As Marglin points out, be- Becoming Native to This Place cause of the "paradox of affluence," which has sharpened the critique of economics, cultural affirmation adds a new dimension to the critique. Cultural affirmation is on the line because cultural diversity is in decline. And now we see, we hope not too late, that the economic forces that destroy rainforest also destroy culture . As Mary Catherine Bateson said more than ten years ago, we face an "information crisis,"2 no trivial matter, for cultural information like biological information is hard won. Famine, disease, death, pain—all negatives—inform the "do's" and "don'ts," probably more than the positive side of living. When we think of biotic diversity, those unique DNA arrangements of various species may be equal in the eyes of God but not to the forces of natural selection. Because of us, the selection pressures now wipe out much of that hard-won information, won in a sunpowered world. What characterizes the highenergy epoch, with the language of modern economics for justification, is a way of being that is both simple and simplifying . High energy does seem to destroy information of both the cultural and the biological varieties. It is a little bit like passing through a juvenile stage, whether of an ecosystem or of a teenager . There is an excess of potential energy but an inefficiency in the utilization of that energy. The sort of economic language that informs is based on the assumption of infinite resources or infinite substitutability. The parallel is sharp, for this is the operating assumption of the young who have been overly indulged. From childhood to young adulthood, responsible parents are obligated to teach their offspring important Developing...


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