The Internet: A Force for Good

My Sunday “church: is OnBeing.org, moderated by Krista Tippet. The program examines the questions, What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live, by interviewing the greatest thinkers, religious leaders, and artists of our time.

This week’s guest is Tiffany Schlain creator of the Webby Awards and prolific film maker.  The programGrowing Up on the Internet, examines how the Internet is changing us. Schlain asserts:

The Internet connects us like neurons in the brain. It is in its infancy and we are its parents; how it “grows up” – its character – is up to us. (Paraphrased by me from the discussion. )

This interview and the film below left me more hopeful that humankind can beat the odds, and make the climate curve together if we shape the Internet intentionally creating a global brain that acts as a force for good.

*Purchase or rent the film here: Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death, and Technology Online.  Film home.

A Prophet for All Seasons

This film about Aldo Leopold’s life and the development of his thinking about our relationship with land is a true gem. I could not find when it was created, however, the people interviewed are his biographers and scientists who knew and worked with Leopold. It was shown on Wisconsin Public TV. A special treat is narration by Lorne Greene best remembered as “Pa” on Bonanza.

The film gives viewers an in depth history about Aldo Leopold’s life and how his ideas about The Land Ethic evolved over his lifetime.

WATCH EARLY THIS YEAR TO SET YOUR COMPASS TOWARD TRUE NORTH.

Through the lens of E.O. Wison

E. O. Wilson (Image: http://natureandculture.org/

E. O. Wilson

E.O. Wilson reigns in my mind as our most important scientist-author of our time. He is University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard. Wilson has two Putlizer’s under his belt, for On Human Nature (1979) and The Ants with Bert Holldobler (1991).

The adjacent photo is from Nature and Culture International: Board of Directors, one of many organizations E.O. Wilson serves with his visionary gifts.

He has penned dozens more books that have stayed on the New York Times Bestseller lists over decades of his career. He writes for the public as well as scientific community. If you have never read anything by Wilson, I recommend The Diversity of Life as a starting point. While published first in 1992, it is still relevant to understand the diversity of life across the planet, and – most important – the conservation areas that Wilson recommends must be preserved for the healthy functioning of the biosphere.

But, my reason for this post is to review his recent book, The Meaning of Human Existence (2014). Why is it important to read? He is most likely the most erudite scientist writing for the public today. His understanding of who we are as a species and society is informed by his comprehensive grasp of our genetic inheritance, the dynamics of sociobiology – how we function as a group – and the challenges to our existence in the near and distant future. Yes, it IS that significant.

The book calls for the reunification of the humanities with science. Wilson argues that the current separation of these two great ways of knowing our human nature, is at the crux of our possible self-destruction by lack of understanding our roots in nature. He explains the most basic evolutionary path leading to our essential human nature: our dualistic nature, usually ascribed to the humanities to explain.

Wilson shows us how our “selfish” genes and “altruistic” genes evolved, and how they work in a multilevel natural selection. This is relevant in understanding why we do what we do, predicting the kinds of decisions we will probably make, and – once understanding this – how we could use this knowledge to make critical decisions about new technologies that may doom human existence or secure our continued success into the future.

The Threat of Gene Engineering of Human Beings

He is writing about the new potential to design our own genetic endowment – design humans like we want them. This can also be applied to new threats from artificial intelligence (AI), a topic he does not address in this book, but which occurred to me as I read the book during a time when the nation is discussing the challenges inherent in AI development.

If we do not understand, who we are, and know how to understand our behavior, how can we possibly make these new, complex ethical decisions? Wilson writes that religion, which introduces a supernatural being who is in control of humans and the universe, is an outdated way of knowing that currently blocks human society’s ability to understand how the world works and based on that, to make the collective decisions we need to determine to secure that human life on earth will go forward as we know it.

What do you think about that? Does religion prevent us from knowing who we are biologically? How can we bridge the gap between these two powerful ways of knowing our story on Earth? Please comment so that we can discuss this online.

Ways of Knowing

SUNSETI’ve lived in the coastal South since July 2008. That is exactly 7 years to the month—the periodicity that apparently rules over my whereabouts.

Seven is a number associated with the personal journey, the desire to refresh perspective, endeavor, and relationships. The mystery is figuring out what that means in the latest warp of one’s universe.

Over my lifetime, I have devoted time to reset my internal compass, appreciating that life is a fleeting experience and one to be taken seriously but also with alacrity.

Between 1985-89, living in Southern California, I studied shield-making with a Native American teacher. She was patient and methodical in helping me understand this ancient spiritual practice. I continued to make personal shields through 1999. I saved only two of many. Each time I find them, stored in my belongings, they usher back the time and emotions when I created them as a way of knowing.

Basic Idea: A circular shield contains four quadrants which are directional, representing distinct aspects of an individual’s or a group’s spiritual journey. Each quadrant is given a specific color. North: white for wisdom and peace; white buffalo. South: red or green for innocence and receptivity; mouse. West: black for sunset, introspection and exit at death; bear.  East: yellow for sunrise, inspiration and the divine; eagle.

The circular shield itself is symbolic of the Earth, the Universe, the tribe, the family, or the whole individual. The first shield I made used an embroidery hoop as the frame. I stretched canvas over it and painted the shield. But that was just to start learning the meaning of the elements.

A willow branch is traditional for making the hoop. But that varies by region. In true shield making the artist collects the materials from nature with prayers given and tobacco offered as the willow branch, animal skin, and objects are collected. My first teacher allowed me to intuitively choose objects which she provided: feathers, shells, ribbons, etc.

If you wish to study shields, a good place to start is the collection at the National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington, D.C. If you have not been there, you should plan to go. It is a magnificent place. Online travelers will also find great educational articles and webcasts. You can explore the collections online as well. The current exhibit on the Inka Civilization is an amazing opportunity to understand the great wisdom of indigenous people and how their knowledge and experience can inform modern society.

Links to Explore:

Live Web Casts from the Naitonal Museum of the American Indian

Shield Making Materials

Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm

Book Clubs Rock!

book club 2 If someone told me I’d be facilitating book club discussions this year, I would have thought they had the wrong person. But it’s true. I now facilitate three books clubs with a fourth possible. The book club discussions are part of my work as a Land Ethic Leader for the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Wisconsin. Leaders create ways to spark discussions about Leopold’s Land Ethic which addresses how communities can come together to protect and conserve human and natural resources. Leopold’s writing, published in A Sand County Almanac (Oxford University Press, 1949) is considered a classic on land and wildlife conservation. I carried a thumb worn copy through 25 years as an environmental educator.

book club meeting with Jean Sparks and Susan FeathesBut why book clubs? New cognitive research shows storytelling and fiction as the most powerful agents for engaging the imagination. I realized novels might be a fun and effective way to engage people in land ethic discussions. However, I did not anticipate how readily people embraced the idea! Two book clubs in the Pensacola area are reading more than one novel. The discussions are vital and personal.

The Interesting Women book club in Melbourne, Florida read Caleb’s Crossing (Geraldine Brooks, 2011) about early American history. One book club member’s husband is an 11th generation descendent of a Wampanoag woman and Puritan settler (married in 1635). The book focuses on these two cultural groups and how they evolved a land ethic. A special meal was served including Mock Whale—chuckeye steak, beef liver, and fish sauce! All the food served related to a scene in the novel.

Update: One of the members of the book club in Melbourne sent this note: “This appears to me to validate your idea of changing attitudes by encouraging reading about it in fiction/stories.  Sounds as though you’re on the right track.

http://www.npr.org/2015/05/01/403474870/does-reading-harry-potter-have-an-effect-on-your-behavior

One of my professors long ago was of the opinion that Mao Tse-tung overthrew Chiang Kai-Chek’s regime in China in the 1930s and 1940s by using folk songs to sway the opinions of the largely illiterate peasants, folk songs being another form of story…”    It’s an interesting world.”

The Aldo Leopold Foundation will feature these activities in their blog about Land Ethic Discussions. Serendipitously, I stopped by the Marjorie Kinning Rawlings State Park on the way home. In my tour group I met eight women from Sarasota. We ate lunch at the Yearling Restaurant. When I asked how they happened to be traveling together, you might guess the answer. Yes, they’re a book club!

The First American Democracy

“The future is a construct that is shaped in the present, and that is why to be responsible in the present is the only way of taking serious responsibility for the future. What is important is not the fulfillment of all one’s dreams, but the stubborn determination to continue dreaming.”

~ Gioconda Belli, The Country Under My Skin

Nothing can replace the act of seeking knowledge for oneself. I can read about it, have it explained, or live it through another person’s experience, but in each case I see it incompletely, like the blind man holding the elephant’s tail.

For Americans eighteen and older this has never been more relevant.

In 1990 I sought to learn about our nation’s first people by going to them. I left a high profile position at a well known institution, sold or gave away most of my possessions, packed up my pick up, and traveled to a dusty border town trusting my inner compass. There was a man and woman who agreed to take me on as an apprentice and student to help me understand American culture and my own life’s course through an examination of my country’s historical relationship with the First Americans and with the land, water, air, and wildlife of the North American continent.

Why did I do that, you may wonder. I had come to the realization that instead of my nation being a beacon of light in the world, it was in fact an empire to many other nations and peoples whose cultural beliefs and lands were at odds with ours.  How could there be hunger in a land of plenty? Why were democratic rights applied conditionally to members of our own society and in the world – and my culture accept that? How could we destroy the great natural beauty and abundance of our lands even while extolling how much we love it?

It made no sense to me and created a pervading sense of living a lie. I remember the unreality of my life then as I drove to work where architecturally beautiful buildings and the expansive green of a golf course tumbled down to the deep blue of the Pacific ocean. My day was stressful administering programs at a world renown health care facility where patients—banged up in the American market wars and social striving—suffered from heart problems, addiction, or complications from obesity.

One day I sat looking out the picture windows of my corporate office on a singing blue-sky day in southern California. Internally I felt lost and weak.  My eyes settled on a book that had lain unread on my shelves for many years:  Touch the Earth (T.C. McLuhan.) It is a book of Indian values from Indian voices.

At the first reading I experienced a profound sense of sanity return to me. In them I found a direction to pursue the answers to my deepest questions. I became aware of a pulsing hunger at my core for this knowledge, like something precious lost and then vaguely rememberd. Could it be that we have within us the knowledge of past human wisdom buried in our brains at birth? Looking back now, I realize that I had no choice but to make the decisions that led me to seek guidance and leave all I had known before – to clear the decks and make way for something new.

The next three years of living in the daily presence of two American Indian educators (one a Mojave elder, college professor, Korean veteran and social worker; the other an Iroquois artist and musician.) Their guidance changed the way I see myself and the world around me. I still believe the experience made me a better person. But the story of how that evolved is a hard one and definitely not what I had expected. The path to self-understanding is a crucible where falseness is burned away and a tender new skin grown. It requires humility, determination, and humor. It is anything but glamorous.

I hope you will return to my blog for journal entries about my experiences. Until then, here are some links to explore:

The First Democracy: the Haudenosaunee

Basic Call to Consciousness

What Does It Mean?

The Earth Charter