Recently I posted about urban farming as civic duty. Today in my email one of the aggregator lists I subscribe to sent me a link to this article about Neighborhood Gardening in Mother Earth News. This is a great example of how reconnecting with the earth and our food system can also be an act of community building. Note that neighborhood gardening is different from a community garden, although it might include a community garden. Neighborhood gardening is neighbors cooperating to maximize what each can produce on their own yards and as a neighborhood to meet their food needs.
Who’s working in your neighborhood to do neighborhood gardening? How can you help build community in your own “hamlet”?
I saw this commercial on TV a couple of times this weekend. I’ve decided it is dehumanizing, defined as “deprive of positive human qualities”. Why do I say this? Because I see many images presented that show remarkable humans doing fantastic things, with a voice-over stating “technology has the power…” or “technology has taken us…” or “it [technology] gives hope …” To me, this is depriving us of positive human qualities, for in each case it was humans designing, producing, reinventing, and creating, with technology as one building block in a much larger effort. It is dehumanizing.
The title of the YouTube video: “Microsoft 2014 Super Bowl Commercial: Empowering”
What do you think – Dehumanizing or Empowering?
The debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye has stirred up some interesting discussion by some of the bloggers I follow. After posting one of those on Facebook, it started a followup dialog with a friend, which subsequently included another post I found valuable. The questions go beyond who is the better debater. Instead, I think at the core is the question, is the insistence upon a literal reading of the Bible that the earth was created in 6 24-hour days appropriate scientific skepticism or is it denial?
I found a statement made by Neil deGrasse Tyson in an interview with Bill Moyer interesting along those lines. He suggested that to the extent a person’s faith is dependent on God being the sole explanation for all things unknown, then scientific findings that explain those mysteries through natural processes becomes a challenge of God. Every scientific discovery pushes back the reaches of the unknown. The reaction must then be to 1) deny or bastardize scientific findings by undercutting its processes; 2) reject God because science undercuts our reason for believing; or 3) use science to understand God in new ways.
I think it is to this third point that C.S. Lewis spoke when he said:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
Christianity is the lens through which we view science to understand the natural world.
I’ve been reading the works of creation scientists and those who analyze creation science for some years. I do not see their work as a whole as one of using Christianity to inform their scientific work to do better science*. That is, I do not see it as practicing healthy skepticism to challenge the underlying scientific premises and methodologies to arrive at better science. I see it as denying good science and the knowledge that has come from it.
The best analogy that comes to mind for me is to think about an oil painter trying to use their paint brushes to do fine woodworking, or a fine woodworking to try to do an oil painting using a saw instead of a brush. Carpentry Oil Painting is a bad mix just as Creation Science is a bad mix. Rather, the oil painter and the fine woodworker create art best when they use their distinct tools with the appropriate medium. Theology and philosophy are excellent and necessary tools that too often are under-appreciated and underutilized. But that doesn’t mean they should subsume the excellent and necessary tool of science. Instead, they should work in harmony to give us a richer way to see EVERYTHING.
* There are many wonderful Christians who do wonderful science. And there are certainly excellent scientist who are doing solid science to explore weaknesses in evolutionary theory.
Throughout my life I’ve regular found myself struggling to find the right word (or name) because of a bad memory — I was destined to be an absent minded professor. But at other times I struggle to find the right word because completely different ways of understanding underlie so many of our words.
This is where I find myself today as I think about think about ethical behavior that is exercised in the midst of unethical behavior. This recently came to the fore again with Soda Stream, and Israeli owned company that leveraged incentives from the Israeli government to locate one of their factories in an abandoned building in the disputed West Bank. For me, this is unethical. But then Soda Stream does something from what I understand is rare, and they provide a fair wage for the Palestinians they employ (which make up a sizable percentage of their employees) that is equal to what they provide their Israeli workers. They also provide a Muslim prayer room. To me, this is ethical.
What is the right word for that ethical behavior? Empowerment? But is it right to call it empowerment when someone first seizes power and then re-gifts a small token of resources back? Granted, the Palestinians gain much needed resources, like money and a work environment that enables them to maintain their faith. And these resources can then be used to not only meet basic needs but to meet higher order needs, perhaps even using them to move themselves or their children into greater opportunities. But no, this is not empowering, nor is it emancipating.
Then again, empowerment is what we often call our programs and services to the Native American nations found within the broader United States boarders, land that we re-gifted to those nations after first seizing the rest of their land. Would restoration be a better term?
Restoration is the term we regularly use to speak of our care of the earth. It is what we do when we first pollute, tap out prized resources, and exercise practices that destroy the earth’s naturally healing system of organisms and organic matter. We then restore the prairies, or the woodlands, or the wetlands when we see the land can’t do it itself.
Perhaps the problem isn’t finding the right word. It’s that each word has come to hide the initial seizure of power and subsequent dehumanization/destruction. Instead we use the word in a way that comes to redefine the problem as a deficit of the victim. We coopt the words in such a way as to dismiss the unethical victimization and to humbly make of the victimizer a savior.
Something that I heard or read, perhaps in Holmgren’s updated book on Permaculture Design, was that if we look at how we treat the earth, we will see how we also treat our fellow humans. And how we treat our fellow humans is how we treat the earth.
Another lesson I’ve been learning from Permaculture is that these are complex problems. They require good top-down principles to guide our solutions. But they will only be solved in any given local context through a recurring cycle of small, slow, participatory observation, discussion, planning, action, and reflection, each cycle leading towards a slightly broader grassroots situated understanding.
Next time you hear someone use a word like empowerment, or emancipation, or restoration, don’t jump to conclusions that you know what they are actually doing or saying. Have a conversation, or a series of conversations, or even better enter into a community of inquiry to explore through reflective action together what you think and mean, and whether it is consistent with what you want it to mean. Only in this way can we work towards a more just exercise of people care and earth care.