Friday, February 10, 2006

INTERVIEW: Enemy of the State - Derrick Jensen Interviews John Zerzan

Derrick Jensen (right), author of "Endgame: The Collapse of Civilization and the Rebirth of Community" is one of my all time favorite authors and currently occupies four of the 10 available spaces on my "Books to Help Heal Whiteness".

John Zerzan (Left), author of "Future Primitive & Other Essays", has inspired a generation of activists to think deeply about our modern way of life and what it means to be human in this world.

"I would say Anarchism is the attempt to eradicate all forms of domination. This includes not only such obvious forms as the nation-state, with its routine use of violence and the force of law, and the corporation, with its institutionalized irresponsibility, but also such internalized forms as patriarchy, racism, homophobia. Also it is the attempt to expose the ways our philosophy, religion, economics, and other ideological constructions perform their primary function, which is to rationalize or naturalize--make seem natural--the domination that pervades our way of life: the destruction of the natural world or of indigenous peoples, for example, comes not as the result of decisions actively made and actions pursued, but instead, so we convince ourselves, as a manifestation of Darwinian selection, or God's Will, or economic exigency. Beyond that, Anarchism is the attempt to look even into those parts of our everyday lives we accept as givens, as parts of the universe, to see how they, too, dominate us or facilitate our domination of others. What is the role of division of labor in the alienation and destruction we see around us? Even more fundamentally, what is the relationship between domination and time, numbers, language, or even symbolic thought itself?"
- John Zerzan (from the Interview)

To read the full interview:

INTERVIEW: Derrick Jensen Interviews Bruce Stewart

"Recently in New Zealand I encountered a powerful source of such hope. His name is Bruce Stewart, and he lives at Tapu Te Ranga in Wellington. He is Maori. He is indigenous."
- Derrick Jensen

"We are suffering from a great illness, and the way to get better is to serve others. We should all be in service. It makes us well. I serve the birds and trees, the earth, the water. Anybody can do it. They can do it in their way. It's action time." - Bruce Stewart (from the interview)

INTERVIEW: Singing to the Dawn: Thomas Berry On Our Broken Connection To The Natural World - By Derrick Jensen

"Thomas Berry (left), author of
The Dream of the Earth, does not fit the image of a typical environmentalist. A Catholic monk in his late eighties, he is a philosophical forebear to younger generations of activists. His main focus is not the immediate battles being fought, but the roots of the problem, which he traces back to the very beginnings of Western civilization."

" The mission of our times is to reinvent what it means to be human. I've always liked the title of Chellis Glendinning's book My Name Is Chellis and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization. We somehow have to get beyond Western civilization, which is so destructive in its present state. Such a profound change is hard really to apprehend. It's an alteration so absolute and so far-reaching in its implications that a person has to wonder what continuity might remain." - Thomas Berry (from the interview)

To read the interview - go to:

INTERVIEW: Derrick Jensen Interviews Martin Prechtel

In an age of many new age Shamans, with very little training, it is rare to come across the real deal. Martin Prechtel (left) is trained in the Mayan Shaman tradition and Derrick Jensen (right) is one of my all time favorite authors.

"So we all have, on some level, a commonality of experience. We are all still human beings. Some of us have buried our humanity deep inside, or medicated or anesthetized it, but every person alive today, tribal or modern, primal or domesticated, has a soul that is original, natural, and, above all, indigenous in one way or another."
- Martin Prechtel (from the Interview)

To read the interview - go to:

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Moral Degradation of White Privilege - by Rootsie

What happens when you approach life itself with a sense of entitlement, rather than a sense of awe?

You get all the relationships wrong.
With the natural world: its forces, its cycles, its creatures.
With other people, places, and things.
With your own self.

Since you feel you are entitled to all good things you can imagine, you are constantly functioning with lesser or greater levels of disappointment. You do not treasure what you have, but always crave more.

Since you are probably aware of the comparative deprivation of many, even if you make no conscious connection between their situation and yours, the natural injustice does affect you. You can make many choices here, from engaging in 'charity', to indulging hedonistically in things that stimulate your pleasure centers so you don't have to think. Diversions and distractions keep you from focusing on the truth of our situation.

In terms of natural law, ignorance is not an excuse. Just because you exist in the condition of privilege does not mean you exist outside of natural laws. Causes have effects, whether you are aware of them or not.

You may engage in rationalizations or justifications which all boil down to this: you are privileged, we are, because we deserve it, while others do not. Whether you bring forth religious justifications, nationalistic ones, historical ones that paint your people in a positive light as opposed to 'them', this engagement with illusion contaminates any efforts you may make to develop yourself, spiritually or otherwise.

In the realms of love and romance, your fantasy probably swirls around some variation of 'happily ever after', since this is what your sense of entitlement leads you to expect. If difficulties arise, you are unwilling to engage them. In fact, all efforts requiring time and patience are equally elusive: most often you want what you want and you want it now. This is the message being constantly beamed at you by the various media. All you desire is available to you. Now.

You are tied to matter, and this leaves you ignorant of the subtle treasures of heart and soul that lie beyond the realms of matter. Your things become idols. You covet them more and love them more than the truth. You comfort and console yourself with them, for the state of misery you are in is real, and unbearable otherwise.

You expect to be welcomed with open arms wherever you go, and you react with surprise and anger when this is not so. You believe that if you just say something, that makes it true. 'I am not a racist.' 'I am black on the inside, where it counts.' 'Race does not matter.' 'I have many black friends, so I know what it means to be black.'

You may believe that racial inequality is a thing of the past, and that the evils whites committed in the past have nothing to do with you now, or you may cite your own personal ancestry, and point out that your people had nothing to do with the past 500 years of slavery and oppression.

But injustice for many is injustice for all: it cuts both ways. You did not choose to be white and to live in the West. You do not want this privilege, and yet it is yours. You are aware that in the present equation, pleasures for you mean pain for others. Well, no matter how you feel about it, until you move to do something about it, real happiness will elude you. It doesn't matter if this seems fair to you; this is simply how it is.

Further, it is impossible for you to be truly happy living with excess while others try to live without enough. You have to give it back. And not in the form of pity or mercy or charity, which are evil things as long as vast systems persist which maintain inequality. Charity is simply another one of those diversions that makes you feel good for a second but does nothing to address the disease in the long-run.

The way to give it back is not to run screaming away from the land of plenty and play poor in 'the third world' either. Another illusion, and simply dishonest.

The only thing to do is to devote your excess beyond what you need to live to activities which will dismantle this system of privilege. It is unnatural for people to work against their own interests, but white privilege is not in anybody's interest. If the purpose of life were to accumulate material possessions in such excess that others literally die so that you may possess them, that would be one thing. But no one really thinks that is our purpose here.

Our prevailing religion entreats us to 'love another.' It does not teach that we should love some more and others less. There is a profound personal price to be paid for hypocrisy. And thus agrees that same religion.

To benefit, willingly or not, from an immoral system of privilege taints everything in your life with immorality. This is monstrous, but it is true.

This is a society of addiction, of violence, of abuse, of grotesque consumption. It maims and mangles everyone in it. Appearance becomes reality, because reality is unbearable for most.

Ayinde Speaks

I came across the website below and found the most beautiful and powerful collection of quotes and images. I commend the website to you. It opened my eyes to what Rasta was all about:

White Privilege - OSEPP - Org' for Sensible & Effective Prison Policy



IT IS NOT necessarily a privilege to be white, but it certainly has its benefits. That's why so many of us gave up our unique histories, primary languages, accents, distinctive dress, family names and cultural expressions. It seemed like a small price to pay for acceptance in the circle of whiteness. Even with these sacrifices, it wasn't easy to pass as white if we were Italian, Greek, Irish, Jewish, Spanish, etc.. Sometimes it took generations before our families were fully accepted, and then usually because white society had an even greater fear of darker skinned people.

Privileges are the economic "extras" that those of us who are middle class and wealthy gain at the expense of poor and working class people of all races. Benefits, on the other hand, are the advantages that all white people gain at the expense of people of color regardless of economic position.

Just because we don't have the economic privileges of those with more money doesn't mean we haven't enjoyed some of the benefits of being white.

We can generally count on police protection rather than harassment. Depending on our financial situation, we can choose where we want to live and choose neighbourhoods that are safe and have decent schools. We are given more attention, respect and status in conversation than people of color. We see people who look like us in the media, history books, news and music in a positive light. (This is truer for men than for women, more true for the rich than the poor.) We have more recourse to and credibility within the legal system (again taking into account class and gender). Nothing that we do is qualified, limited, discredited or acclaimed simply because of our racial background. We don't have to represent our race, and nothing we do is judged as a credit to our race, or as confirmation of its shortcomings or inferiority. There are always mitigating factors, and some of us have these benefits more than others.

All else being equal, it pays to be white. We will be accepted, acknowledged and given the benefit of the doubt. Since all else is equal, we each receive different benefits or different levels of the same benefits from being white.

These benefits start early. Others will have higher expectations for us as children, both at home and school. We will have more money spent on our education, we will be called on more in school, and we will be given more opportunity and resources to learn. We will see people like us in textbooks, and if we get into trouble adults will expect us to be able to change and improve, and therefore will discipline or penalize us less or differently than children of color.

These benefits continue today and work to the direct economic advantage of every white person in the United States. We will earn more in our lifetime than a person of color of similar qualifications. We will be paid $1.00 for every $.60 that a person of color makes.

There are historically derived benefits too. All the land in this country was taken from Native Americans.

Much of the infrastructure of this country was built by slave labor, incredibly low-paid labor, or by prison labor performed by men and women of color. Much of the housecleaning, childcare, cooking and maintenance of our society has been done by low wage earning women of color. Further property and material goods were appropriated by whites through the colonization of the West and Southwest throughout the 19th century, through the internment of Japanese Americans during WW II, through racial riots against people of color in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and through the ongoing legacy of legal manipulation and exploitation. Today men and women and children of color still do the hardest, lowest paid, most dangerous work throughout the country.

And we, white people, again depending on our relative economic circumstances, enjoy plentiful and inexpensive food, clothing and consumer goods because of that exploitation.

We have been taught history through a white-tainted lens which has minimized our exploitation of people of color and extolled the hardworking, courageous qualities of white people. For example, many of our fore-parents gained a foothold in this country by finding work in such trades as railroads, streetcars, construction, shipbuilding, wagon and coach driving, house painting, tailoring, long-shore work, brick laying, table waiting, working in the mills, furriering or dressmaking. There were all occupations that Blacks, who had begun entering many such skilled and unskilled jobs, were either excluded from or pushed out of in the 19th century. Exclusion and discrimination, coupled with immigrant mob violence against Blacks in many northern cities (such as the anti-black draft riots of 1863), meant that recent immigrants had economic opportunities that Blacks did not. These gains were consolidated by explicitly racist trade union practices and policies which kept Blacks in the most unskilled labor and lowest paid work.

It is not that white Americans have not worked hard and built much. We have. But we did not start out from scratch. We went to segregated schools and universities built with public money. We received school loans, VA loans, housing and auto loans when people of color were excluded or heavily discriminated against. We received federal jobs, military jobs, and contracts when only whites were allowed. We were accepted into apprenticeships, training programs and unions when access for people of color was restricted or nonexistent.

Much of the rhetoric against active policies for racial justice stem from the misconception that we were all given equal opportunities and start from a level playing field. We often don't even see the benefits we have received from racism.

We claim that they are not there.

Think about your grandparents and parents and where they grew up and lives as adults. What work did they do? What are some of the benefits that have accrued to your family because they were white?

Look at the following benefits checklist. Put a check beside any benefit that you enjoy that a person of color of your age, gender and class probably does not. Think about what effect not having that benefit would have had on your life. (If you don't know the answer to any of these questions, research. Ask your family members. Do what you can to discover the answers.)


o My ancestors were legal immigrants to this country during a period when immigrants from Asia, South and Central America or Africa were restricted.

o My ancestors came to this country of their own free will and have never had to relocate unwillingly once here.

o I live on land that formerly belonged to Native Americans.

o My family received homesteading or land staking claims from the federal government.

o I or my family or relatives receive or received federal farm subsidies, farm price supports, agricultural extension assistance or other federal benefits.

o I lived or live in a neighbourhood that people of color were discriminated from living in.

o I lived or live in a city where red-lining discriminates against people of color getting housing or other loans.

o I or my parents went to racially segregated schools.

o I live in a school district or metropolitan are where more money is spent on the schools that white children go to than on those that children of color attend.

o I live in or went to a school district where children of color are more likely to be disciplined than white children, or more likely to be tracked into nonacademic programs.

o I live in or went to a school district where the textbooks and other classroom materials reflected my race as normal, heroes and builders of the US, and there was little mention of the contributions of people of color to our society.

o I was encouraged to go on to college by teachers, parents or other advisors.

o I attended a publicly funded university, or a heavily endowed private university or college, and/or received student loans.

o I served in the military when it was racially segregated, or achieved a rank where there were few people of color, or served in a combat situation where there were large numbers of people of color in dangerous combat positions.

o My ancestors were immigrants who took jobs in railroads, streetcars, construction, shipbuilding, wagon and coach driving, house painting, tailoring, longshore work, brick laying, table waiting, working in the mills, furriering or dressmaking or any other trade or occupation where people of color were driven out or excluded.

o I received job training in a program where there were fewer people or no people of color.

o I have received a job, job interview, job training or internship through personal connections of family or friends.

o I worked or work in a job where people of color made less for doing comparable work or did more menial jobs.

o I have worked in a job where people of color were hired last, or fired first.

o I work in a job, career or profession or in an agency or organization in which there are few people of color.

o I received small business loans or credits, government contracts or government assistance in my business.

o My parents were able to vote in an election they wanted without worrying about poll taxes, literacy requirements or other forms of discrimination.

o I can always vote for candidates who reflect my race.

o I live in a neighbourhood that has better police protection, municipal services and is safer than that where people of color live.

o The hospital and medical services close to me or which I use are better than that of most people of color in the region in which I live.

o I have never had to worry that clearly labeled public facilities, such as swimming pools, restrooms, restaurants and nightspots were in fact open to me because of my skin color.

o I see white people in a wide variety of roles on television and in movies.

o My race needn't be a factor in where I choose to live.

o My race needn't be a factor in where I send my children to school.

o I don't need to think about race and racism every day. I can choose when and where I want to respond to racism.

What feelings come up for you when you think about the benefits that white people gain from racism? Do you feel angry or resentful? Guilty or uncomfortable?

Do you want to say "Yes, but....."?

Again, the purpose of this checklist is not to discount what we, our families and fore parents achieved. But we do need to question any assumptions we retain that everyone started out with equal opportunity.

The opposite of a benefit is a disadvantage. People of color face distinct disadvantages many of which have to do with discrimination and violence. If we were to talk about running a race for achievement and success in this country, and white people and people of color lined up side by side as a group, then every white benefit would be steps ahead of the starting line and every disadvantage would be steps backwards from the starting line before the race even began.

The disadvantages of being a person of color in the US today include personal insults, harassment, discrimination, economic and cultural exploitation, stereotypes and invisibility, as well as threats, intimidation and violence. Not every person of color has experienced all the disadvantages described, but each have experienced some of them, and they each experience the vulnerability to violence that being a person of color in this country entails.

The personal acts of harassment and discrimination experienced directly from individual white people can also take a devastating toll. People of color never know when they will be called names, ridiculed or have comments made to them or about them by white people they don't know. They don't know when they might hear that they should leave the country, go home or go back to where they came from. Often these comments are made in institutions where it isn't safe to confront the person who made the remark.

People of color also have to be ready to respond to teachers, employers or supervisors who have stereotypes, prejudices or lowered expectations about them. Many have been discouraged or prevented from pursuing academic or work goals or have been placed in lower vocational levels because of their racial identity.

They have to be prepared for receiving less respect, attention or response from a doctor, police officer, court official, city official or other professional.

They are not unlikely to be mistreated or accused of stealing, cheating or lying, or to be stopped by the police because of their racial identity. They may also experience employment or housing discrimination or know someone who has.

There are cultural costs as well. People of color see themselves portrayed in degrading, stereotypical and fear-inducing ways on television and in the movies. They may have important religious or cultural holidays which are not recognized where they work or go to school. They have seen their religious practices, music, art, mannerisms, dress and other customs distorted, "borrowed", ridiculed, exploited or otherwise degraded by white people.

If they protest they may be verbally attacked by whites for being too sensitive, too emotional or too angry. Or they may be told they are different from other people of their racial group. Much of what people of color do, or say, of how they act in racially mixed company is judged as representative of their race.

When we talk about the unequal distribution of benefits and disadvantages, we may feel uncomfortable about being white. We did not choose our skin color. Nor are we guilty for the fact that racism exists and that we have benefited from it. We ARE RESPONSIBLE for acknowledging the reality of racism and for the daily choices we make about how to live in a racist society. We are only responsible for our own part, and we each have a part.

Sometimes, to avoid accepting our part, we want to shoot the bearer of bad news. Whether the bearer is white or a person of color, we become angry at whoever points out a comment or action that is hurtful, ignorant or abusive. We may accuse the person of being racist. This evasive reaction creates a debate about who is racist, or correct, or good, or well-intentioned, not about what to do about racism.

It is probably inevitable that, when faced with the reality of the benefits and the harm of racism, we will feel defensive, guilty, ashamed, angry, powerless, frustrated or sad. These feelings are healthy ad need to be acknowledged. Because they are uncomfortable we are liable to become angry at whoever brought up the subject.

Acknowledge your feelings and any resistance you have to the information presented. Yes, it is hard and sometimes discouraging. For too long we have ignored or denied the realities of racism. In order to make any changes, we have to start facing where we are and making a commitment to persevere and overcome the injustices we face.


| |

|OSEPP - Org' for Sensible & Effective Prison Policy |


"Building more prisons to fight crime is like
building more graveyards to fight a fatal disease."

To learn more:

See the Prison Issues Desk webpage at


Communism or capitalism, Labour or Conservative,
democracy or dictatorship, republicanism or monarchy,
rule by any name, we are ruled by modernity.

from Resurgence issue 186

WHEN Eastern Europe dissolved into postcommunist democracies, they were said to be in need of modernization. It was an ironic ending for the political tradition that had prided itself on carrying forth the modern project more rationally than anyone else. "Scientific socialism" rapidly industrialized previously agrarian countries, installed productive systems of social engineering and bureaucratic management, and all but eliminated the "medieval superstitions" called "religion".

But the goal of passing through progressive stages of modernity has come into question It has even been rejected outright as an orientation for the future by one of the most widely respected leaders of the postcommunist nations. In February 1993, Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, delivered an address to the World Economic Forum entitled The End of the Modern Era. He asserted that the end of communism brought an end to the modern age with its positivist, scientistic, rationalist view of life. On July 4, 1994, Havel went further, in a speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. He suggested that the industrialized societies have entered a transitional, postmodern period because the modern, scientific relationship to the world has "failed to connect with the most intrinsic nature of reality and with natural human experience."

Havel went on to observe that postmodern science is transcending the limits of modern science and is anchoring the human once again in the cosmos, through such discoveries its the anthropic principle in physics and the Gaia hypothesis in geobiochemistry. Turning to the political implications of this recovery of our "lost integrity", he concluded that "the basis for the new world order must be universal respect for human rights, but it will mean nothing as long as this imperative does not derive from respect for the miracle of Being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence."

Havel is conversant with various analyses of modern and postmodern conditions. The same cannot be said of most citizens in the postcommunist democracies. Their attention is claimed, for the most part, by problems of great immediacy related to the economic free-fall that followed the revolutions.

I learned a good deal about their situation when I was invited to give a series of talks there in the summer of 1993. I spoke over a period of five days to a gathering of young professionals held near the Malta Fatra Mountains of northwest Slovakia, was then driven to the southwest corner of the Czech Republic to address a protest camp at the construction site of a nuclear power plant (opposed by sixty of the sixty-two local mayors but pushed through by new federal government in Prague), and was subsequently driven back across the southern Czech Republic into Slovakia to address a group of philosophy professors in Bratislava. For all three audiences, I ended up putting aside my prepared lecture notes until I had addressed a subject that came up repeatedly during my stay, a perplexing paradox that seemed to weigh heavily on everyone I met.

MY FIRST INKLING of the matter occurred during the thirty-minute drive from the Vienna airport to Bratislava. I was met by two members of the Green Party of Slovakia (later called the Green League) a female biophysicist and a male engineer. After we had crossed the border into their country, they were pleased to point out among the rolling hills several picturesque villages, Baroque towns, and ruins of medieval castles on high bluffs above vigorous rivers.
When we passed by the first cluster of high-rise apartment buildings jutting starkly from a distant ridge, the engineer pointed toward it and declared contemptuously over the engine noise, "That's socialism!", sitting in the back seat, thought to myself, "No, that's modernity. Do you think we don't have those sterile, towering boxes in Western Europe, the US and Japan?"

In the days that followed, as I became acquainted with more and more people living through the postcommunist experience, I saw that they regarded State socialism as a historical aberration best forgotten. Moreover; they were largely battled that so much of the texture of daily life has remained the same since they made that 180-degree shift from communism to capitalism, which had always been portrayed by both sides as polar opposites. An entirely different world was supposed to have manifested, a new society sparked by unleashed human potential.

The implicit promise of the capitalist West had been that of a radically different existence; the proposed euphoric scenario portrayed liberation from a paralysing malaise, followed by the unfettered dynamism of a modernized economy and unbounded prosperity for all. Factories, banks and retailing would have to be modernized in the former Eastern bloc, of course, but then it would be full speed ahead. Already, by the time of my visit, Viennese advertising agencies had plastered Bratislava with commercial posters, one of them so "advanced" as to skip the car altogether and feature only an attractive young woman and huge lettering: TOYOTA.

AS WE NOW KNOW, the various postcommunist countries were fated to suffer through severe economic crises. That aspect of the new era, however, was not the main cause of the unarticulated puzzlement I encountered in Slovakia and the Czech Republic that summer. Although many people I met were facing grave financial uncertainty and possible devastation, many others were in occupations that apparently would weather the transition. Considering the profound differences between living in a communist police-state or a democracy, why, they wondered, did so much feel similar to what they had known under the old regime?

The answer lay in an understanding of the larger context: modernity. Marxism-Leninism was one of several economic systems that share the assumptions of the modern worldview. If one were to plot these systems on a spectrum of left-to-right political economies within modernity, "Marxist-Leninist socialism" and its variations would occupy the far left, to the right of which would be "democratic socialism", followed by "regulated capitalist democracies", followed by "laissez-faire (corporate controlled) right-wing capitalist democracies", followed by "fascist corporatism in quasi-military dictatorships".

Modern ideology asserts that each of these orientations shapes life in a mould that is entirely different from the others. That perception, however, reflects a central bias of modernity: economism, the tendency in modern societies to regard economics as the fundamental determinant of everything else. Such a perspective obscures the common ground shared by all of those political economies: they each subscribe to the following values of modernity:

The human is considered essentially an economic being, homo economicus. Consequently, the arrangement of economic matters is believed to be the wellspring of contentment or discontent in all other areas of life. Economic expansion, through industrialism and computerization, is the Holy Grail of materialism, the unquestioned source from which follow abundance, well-being, and the evolution of society. That evolution is understood to be decidedly directional: the human condition progresses toward increasingly optimal states as the past is continuously improved upon.

Modern socialization structures our understanding of the world via objectivism, rationalism, the mechanistic world-view, reductionism and scientism. The design and organization of work in modern societies are based on standardization, bureaucratization and centralization. Modern interactions with nature are anthropocentric and are guided by instrumental reasoning. Above all, modern culture defines itself as a triumphant force progressing in opposition to nature. As such, it harbours contempt for non-modern cultures, which are seen to be "held back" by unproductive perceptions such as the "sacred whole" and reciprocal duties toward the rest of the Earth community.

Modern life is compartmentalized into discrete spheres: family life, work life, social life, political life, love life and spiritual life, the last of which is devalued for being the furthest from rationalism. In modern societies, higher education is also tightly compartmentalized into insular disciplines. There, as in law and government, intensely agonistic modes of discussion shape all possibilities. The preference for competition and a dominance-or-submission dichotomy as the structure of relationships in all spheres of modern life reflects the extent of patriarchal socialization. Modern societies are sometimes called "hypermasculine" because "masculine" traits, such as the persona of rationalism, are valued much more highly than "feminine" traits, such as empathy.

The faces of my audiences in Slovakia and the Czech Republic lit up with recognition as I spontaneously rattled off the above characteristics of modernity. Seeing them nod and smile, I said, "This is what you were taught in school, right? It's what 1 was taught in school, too! Even though we were each assured in the strongest possible terms that our two systems were almost unimaginably alien to one another!"

Extracts from The Resurgence of the Real by Charlene Spretnak. This new book is published in the USA by Addison-Wesley ($22.00) and is available in the UK from Schumacher Book Service at #15.99 + #2.40 p&p (Tel: 01803 868547).

Wild Duck Review: Interview with Charlene Spretnak - by Casey Walker, Editor

Wild Duck Review
Interview with
Charlene Spretnak

by Casey Walker, Editor

While a marvelously diverse range of human cultures is possible, human societies are either engaged or disengaged from the natural world. The latter orientation is both delusional and pathological.

CW: Will you begin by speaking to your main goals in writing The Resurgence of the Real?

CS: The central thesis of the book is that some of the very elements most strenuously devalued by modernity -- the knowing body, the creative cosmos, and the complex sense of place -- are, in the mid-1990s, breaking through the overarching ideologies that denied them. A profound correction of the destructive aspects of the modern worldview has gathered intensity from the very last places modern thinking would have expected: significant challenges were expected from left or right contenders in the political economy, not from sites of "dumb matter." Yet the assertion of the true nature of our bodies and the rest of the natural world are finally, after 350 years, nudging aside the mechanistic model. I explain why this began to occur in medicine on a large scale around 1995 and in natural science with the past decade of discoveries in complexity studies, chaotics, and systems dynamics. As for the resurgence of "place" in the 1990s, it is now key in two regards. First, the ancient nations, with cultures deeply embedded in the land, are demanding independence from the modern states, which were invented relatively recently and simply absorbed the ancient nations as invisible components in modern realpolitik. Those independence efforts are ususally baffling to the modern media, who refer to them as "unfathomable ethnic squabbles." Second, community-based economics and place-based education are emerging as a counterforce to the globalized economy and global monoculture. It's become very clear in the last two years that the new world order under GATT (and NAFTA, which is son-of-GATT) leaves all communities worldwide vulnerable to the transnational corporations, who can now challenge and supercede all local and national laws protecting the environment, labor, or sustainable development. Such a business!

In addition to identifying the crises of modernity -- particularly in the areas of economics, politics, and education -- as well as the corrective efforts that are emerging now, I sought to clarify the conceptual infrastructure of modernity, that is, its interlocking systems of beliefs and assumptions. You'd be surprised how many people are oblivious to that ideology, even though it shapes our socialization from day one and all our institutions. We're taught to regard it as "just natural" for an advanced civilization. Ecological activists, for instance, are often puzzled to find that their efforts seem to bounce off a brick wall; that's because they're deflected handily by the ideologies of modernity -- not corporate capitalism alone. On the contrary, rapacious industrialism, whether capitalist or communist, is embedded within the values of modernity. I explain how that entire worldview -- and the "modern condition" -- came to be. Needless to say, it's a somewhat different version than we received in modern schooling.

In the book I also propose a reframing of the lineage of movements -- including several in the arts -- that resisted the destructive aspects of modernity (Chapter Four, "Don't Call It Romanticism!") because so little is known, even among eco-social activists, about that impressive heritage. The final chapter then presents a pragmatic eco-social vision, by means of a story of an American heartland city set in the near future, the year 2024. My editor was somewhat alarmed that a nonfiction book ended with fiction, but, thankfully, he bit the bullet.

In a sense The Resurgence of the Real can be considered a companion volume to my previous book, States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age (1991) because they both engage with the crises of modernity. States of Grace, however, interprets four of the great spiritual traditions with regard to our understanding of the bodymind, nature, and social justice, whereas The Resurgence of the Real focuses more on cultural history, current affairs (how to read the news of the day!), and eco-social thought.

CW: Will you articulate the key forces of modernity that derail an ecological worldview?

CS: That's rather complex and ended up requiring an entire appendix, "Modernity Is to Us as Water to a Fish." A shorter version appears in Chapter Two, but here's an even shorter one. A core assumption of modernity is that the human is essentially Homo economicus. Consequently, the structure and quality of all other endeavors in life are thought to derive from the economics of a society. "Unfettered" economic expansion, through industrialization and computerization, is believed to yield abundance, well-being, the solution to social problems, and the evolution of culture and society.

In addition, three of the foundational movements of modernity -- Renaissance humanism, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment -- were inspired by a widely influential text known as the "Ancient Wisdom" or "Egyptian Wisdom," the main part of which was the Corpus Hermeticum. It "revealed" that humans have a different source from nature: we were created directly by God, but nature was created by the Demiurge. Nature was newly understood, from the 1460s on, not as the holistic cosmos of divine creation but merely as raw material to be used by humans as we come into our true role of terrestrial gods on earth. The thing about such hubris, of course, is that it hates humility. Hence the respect and reciprocity with which nonmodern peoples, such as traditional agrarian communities and indigenous cultures, regarded nature was perceived as an affront, a "backward" vestige of history deserving of being crushed for the good of Progress. For generations upon generations, both groups were indeed crushed and assimilated by modern industrial states, whether communist or capitalist.

In light of the deeply held modern belief that society progresses in opposition to nature, it's extremely difficult for voices for ecological sanity to capture the public attention for a sustained corrective effort. Eventually, even the most pressing ecological issue is resolutely brushed aside -- often with metaphors insinuating that the real grown-ups of society are restoring "balance." That sort of dismissal of ecological concern as an immature fixation seems natural and correct to the public since nature has so long been considered a mere "externality" by the modern mindset. That thinking is very deeply rooted.

CW: I appreciated your drawing distinctions between the modern, the deconstructionist postmodern, and what you call the "ecological postmodern" as fundamentally different ways of seeing the world. Will you briefly describe those terms and differences?

CS: I focus in this book on "the real" -- the realities of our physicality -- in order to reground our conceptualizations. The conceptual beliefs of both modernity and deconstructive postmodernism are extremely ungrounded. The contrast I offer is the emergent orientation I call "ecological postmodernism," which regards culture as a dynamic extension of the natural world, or Earth community. Human society is embedded in the processes of the Earth community, in this view, rather than oppositional toward it or oblivious of its presence in our lives.

I summarize these three orientations in a chart in the book. [below] The first column cites the core beliefs of modernity, with which we are all familiar since they are still the dominant influences today.

"The Rise and Fall of Modern Images of Denial"




Salvation, progress

(They're all power plays)

The cosmological unfolding

Truth mode:

Extreme relativism


World = a collection of objects

An aggregate of fragments

A community of subjects

Realtity = fixed order

Social construction

Dynamic relationship

Sense of self: socially engineered



Primary truth: the universal

The particular

The particular-in-context

Grounding: mechanistic universe

None (total groundlessness)

Cosmological processes

Nature as opponent

Nature as wronged object

Nature as subject

Control over the body

"Erasure of the body" (It's all social construction)

Trust in the body

Science: reductionism

It's only a narrative!


Economicts: corporate



Political focus: nation-state

The local

A community of communities of communities

Sense of the sublime: God the Father

"Gesturing toward the sublime"

Creativity in the cosmos, ultimate mystery

Key metaphors:
mechanics, law

Economics ("libidinal economy"), signs/coding


The second column cites the beliefs of deconstructionism (also known as post-structuralism, constructivism, or constructionism). This orientation asserts that there is nothing but "social construction" (of concepts such as language, knowledge systems, and culture) in human experience. That is, everything we feel or perceive is merely the result of social construction, a mesh of controlling concepts and beliefs that shape us in various ways. Hence we can know nothing about nature or our bodies, for example, since all we know is the concepts implanted in us about nature or body. All our thoughts are believed to be structured entirely by the language into which we happened to be born. All meaning and "truth," therefore, is strictly relative and utterly groundless. According to this orientation, the trouble with modernity is its oppressive power mechanisms, which "totalize" the particular and the individual by means of the ploy of "fictive unity," such as "metanarratives" about God, Progress, the brotherhood of man, and so forth. Deconstructionists believe that those power plays, or "discourses" or "narratives," can be deconstructed to reveal their oppressive aims so that we can then be free to create ourselves in "pure autonomy," as Foucault advocated.

Not in this universe. Nothing exists in "pure autonomy." Rather, every life-form in the universe -- from self-organizing galaxies to subatomic particles -- exists in an extremely subtle web of dynamic relationships. The third column in the chart, Ecological Postmodernism, cites values and beliefs that derive from acknowledging our embeddedness in the processes of the Earth community and the cosmos. Ecological postmodernism changes the gestalt: our field and grounding is neither the "modern project" nor extreme relativism but the cosmos itself. This orientation replaces freedom from nature with freedom in nature. It acknowledges the enormous role of social construction but also recognizes our constitutive embeddedness in subtle bodily, ecological, and cosmological processes.

CW: Would you explain how you see deconstructionism continuing the value system of modernity?

CS: You mean other than the fact that it's an idealist projection, pitifully solipsistic, escapist with regard to body and nature, insupportably abstract, and trades biological determinism for social determinism? Well, yes -- there is something far more serious than all those considerable problems with deconstructionism. It asserts that the main problem with modernity is the subtle power mechanisms. Now, all societies have power mechanisms; the more transparent, democratic, and accountable they are the better. As an activist, I find it tremendously important to analyze our society's assumptions and power structures -- which, believe me, was being done here long before deconstructionism was imported from Paris in the seventies. A formalist critique of modernity, which focuses on the various forms of power and control, however, cannot address the problematic content of modernity. The fundamental problem with modernity is that it intensified the perception of three core discontinuities present in Western thought since the Greeks: that there is a radical break between humans and nature, body and mind, and self and the world. The conceptualization of those core discontinuities -- which are not present in nonWestern, nonmodern cultures such as Eastern philosophy and native peoples -- shaped all our institutions, beliefs, and power structures. Yet that crucial aspect, which Bateson called the Western epistemological error, doesn't register at all with the deconstructionists. Why? Because, to them, whether a culture feels connected or disconnected from body and nature is just a matter of relative concepts. On the contrary, I believe that, while a marvelously diverse range of human cultures is possible, human societies are either engaged or disengaged from the natural world. The latter orientation is both delusional and pathological.

CW: You quote Max Weber's opinion of twentieth-century modernity: "Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved." Will you speak to this observation?

CS: Weber's analysis of the effects of capitalism has been cited approvingly by left academics since 1905, but rarely do his fans exhibit the sensibility he displayed with regard to what had been lost when the West abandoned spiritual depth, as well as community bonds, for a largely unregulated market economy that transformed Protestant asceticism into bureaucratic sterility. Weber displays an appreciation of the religious grounding of premodern society and a poignant awareness of what has been lost on a deep level -- far deeper than Marx's observation that modern workers are "alienated" from the disposition of their production.

CW: Many people justify the processes and values of modernity by pointing to better health and longer lives, greater levels of literacy, more material goods, helpful technology, etc. How are these "modern benefits" perceived from an eco-social point of view?

CS: To assess the effects of industrialization, computerization, mass media, or high-tech healthcare, one needs to make a systemic analysis. That's exactly what we're discouraged from doing by fragmented modern culture, with its what's-in-it-for-me? frame of reference coming at us relentlessly from every direction via the advertising industry. With regard to computers, for instance, all we hear from the industry, through their ads and planted op-ed pieces, are the benefits of various devices. People are conditioned to joyfully associate the word computer with the fact that there's an entire encyclopedia miraculously residing in their personal computer, that they can now buy books on-line (thereby putting local bookstores out of business), that they can buy airline tickets on-line (thereby putting local travel agencies out of business), or that they're suddenly free to swap duplicitous narratives in "chat rooms." All true, but who has benefited most from this technology? Computerization has made possible huge centralized data banks of information about all of us, huge flows of currency speculation sloshing around in the globalized economy and destablizing governments galore, and astounding capabilities for surveillance.

People socialized in a hypermodern society -- which is the term I use for the intensified version of modernity we now live with -- are socialized to have an amazingly uncritical attitude toward new technologies. We're carried along in the blind faith that technological innovation by its very nature delivers us to an improved future. In fact, we need to develop skills of critical analysis about technology so that we could perceive negative effects at the outset. Moreover, the burden of proof should rest with the manufacturer, not the public, regarding the harmlessness of a new device. Instead, we and our children are the guinea pigs.

We continue to take the "immense bribe" of the "Megamachine," as Lewis Mumford put it thirty years ago: the absorption of every human activity into the technological realm by seductive assurances of ever-increasing ease, power, and abundance. We seem oblivious to the dependence being created. Now that we have pocket calculators, few people master or remember basic arithmetic. Now that we have "spell-check," young people see no need to master spelling. Industrial arts classes, wherein boys and (at long last) girls learned the pride of accomplishment that comes from working with one's hands and natural materials, have been replaced in most schools with computer labs. Many young people can push a button on a microwave oven but cannot cook at all. Social skills and various subtle benefits of human interaction are also in decline, as growing numbers of us spend more time each day talking to machines than people -- and as children who log a great deal of computer time exhibit shyness and withdrawn behavior.

My point about technology, in the book, is that it's neither evil nor value-free. Rather, the design of every new technological device reflects our cultural history. An awareness of that history is essential if we are to recognize dangerous tendencies and chart an eco-socially wholesome future. Failing that, we're vulnerable to all the Empower-the- Autonomous-Individual hype that basically lets everything else go to hell -- and, in the bargain, diminishes to pathetic proportions the individual's full experience of being.

CW: The ability to read and discuss ideas, to lead lives of passionate interest, to engage in "the great dialogue," or even to think and employ vocabulary of an accomplished level of literacy all seem to be slipping out of the focus of mainstream culture.

CS: Very true. One of the major challenges of the computer age, surely, is to keep children reading. Shrunken vocabularies have all sorts of undesirable ramifications. It seems that the democratic dream of universal literacy through free education, which seemed to be cruising on an endless, if hard-won, plateau, is being challenged by an increasingly oral, post-literate -- and highly commercial -- culture. What's a realistic projection for the future? How about a young person sitting in front of a wall of tremendously powerful and sophisticated personal computer equipment, instantaneously transmitting messages worldwide such as "Me like gud. Yu want?"

I'm definitely a grinch about keeping computers out of elementary school, except for one or two in the library. Those machines operate on a binary logic system, for heaven's sake! Instead, kids in their formative years should gaining skills in tacit knowledge and engaging with their physicality: learning about relationships in their backyard or nearby park, the school yard and environs, and their bioregion, then gradually expanding to include their macroregion, their continent, and, eventually, the whole Earth community. If those and other studies are limited to the sort of data that can be fed through computers -- and, remember, the goal of several Silicon Valley foundations is to get a computer on the desk of every schoolchild -- then everything else, including intergenerational and community wisdom, becomes "low-status knowledge," if it is acknowledged at all. I think the best analysis of this sorry development is Chet Bower's The Culture of Denial.

I'm surprised by the silence on these issues. Very basic questions about the meaning and quality of our lives and about our interactions with other people and other life forms have been swept aside by hyped-up claims about how much faster we will be able to do things. There hardly seems to be a vocabulary for addressing what's being lost in exchange for shrunken and increasingly technologized options for the unfolding of the person. We experience spiritual and ecological yearnings, but we have only a diminished modern sensibility with which to think about the mounting crises. We need deeply evocative language to awaken the modern mind.

CW: Some research shows that children today between twelve and fourteen years of age are far less capable than their predecessors of perceiving metaphor, such as grasping more than the literal meaning of a rolling stone gathering no moss. It seems that modernity is cultivating in young people a certain kind of logic that silences the intuitive, the embodied, the rich resonance of language that is culturally bound to the earth. I find this troubling, especially since one of the diagnostic tools for schizophrenia is this very skill, the ability to interpret metaphor in a nonliteral way.

CS: Yes. There's a good deal of research -- much of it gathered in Evolution's End by Joseph Chilton Pearce -- showing that exposure to too much television too early can result in impaired neurological development in children, with the result that they have limited abilities to think and reason imaginatively. In later years, they often have learning problems and a tendency toward violence to settle disputes. Both of those conditions, however, improve after remedial work in imaginative, or conceptual, thinking.

Your concern about the eclipse of metaphoric literacy among young people reminds me of the related losses identified by Sven Birkerts in The Gutenberg Elegies. In teaching a course on 19th- and 20th-century American short stories to undergrads at a Boston-area college, he found they had trouble with allusion and with passages presenting a character's interiority. He also noticed that they have a fragmented sense of time and have largely lost the "duration experience," the depth phenomenon associated with reverie. Also, because they have a reduced attention span -- and have trouble slowing down from immersion in music, videos, and TV -- they are impatient with sustained inquiry. Imagine what that means for democracy in a complex world. Birkerts, like many other college-level teachers today, found that these students, the first generation to have been raised with electronic saturation, feel divorced from a vital sense of history, a geographic sense of place and community, and a personal or collective vision of the future.

I cited the work of Pearce and Birkerts in the section in my book on the state of education in our hypermodern world because they are in sync with countless surveys, books, and articles these days on the psychological state of the "plugged-in generation." These kids are variously described as disengaged, bored, sweet and slightly depressed, lazy, and unacquainted with academic hard work. Many feel entitled to effortless A's and become angry if lesser grades are given. They are careful not to commit the most uncool error of showing enthusiasm -- that is, intellectual passion -- about anything. Worst of all, it seems to me, they often have no vitality. It's as if the life force in them atrophied during years of sitting passively in front of endless streams of fleeting images -- of violence and banality -- so that they now have little sense of context or depth or embodied reality. Needless to say, extreme relativism substitutes for moral reasoning. In a sense, much of that generation has been sacrificed to the exorbitant claims of the telecommunications industry and the mind-numbing media. It remains to be seen whether the unfortunate results of young people's having been fed into the "wired world" from an early age will come to be regarded as a cautionary tale or accepted -- "Who can stop progress?" -- as a portent of passive cyborgian generations to come. We need to do more, though, than merely hope for the best. It's easy to feel that modernity is simply an unsteerable juggernaut, as Anthony Giddens put it, careening over everything in its path.

CW: With regard to your sense of "ecological postmodernism," how does the wild, and qualities of the wild, influence the values you've discussed? Is it related to the admiring mention in your book of Edith Cobb's book, The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood?

CS: The emergence of the modern worldview convinced us that we advanced humans live in a glass box on top of nature; the modern focus of our attention is the human projects within that box. Deconstructionist postmodernism shrinks the box to even tighter proportions: everything's really just a matter of the "language games" within those human projects. In contrast, ecological postmodernism proposes that we move in the opposite direction: open the box and reconnect on many levels with the rest of the Earth community and the cosmos.

"The wild" -- that is, the dynamic creativity in the cosmos, its novelty and continuity, its self-organizing, self-regulating capabilities from galaxies to mountain ranges to cells -- is the dance of "universe life" from which human existence derives and in which it participates. Educating children in the wonders of that existential truth is crucial. Toward that end, Edith Cobb's work was an ecologically healthy correction to Freud: she asserted that child development is not a matter of moving away from relationship to an autonomous state of a lone individual but toward an integration of self and environment. Such exploration of one's surroundings, she believed, was an intersection of cosmology and biology. Earlier, Maria Montessori had also developed a cosmological sense of a child's maturation. Today lots of bioregionalists and ecological educators are developing "place-based education," in which children learn about the embeddedness of their town or city in the natural systems of the ecocommunity.

CW: Do you think the environmental movement should be critiqued for operating as a branch of the modern worldview, which is generally antagonistic toward the wild?

CS: Parts of the environmental movement, yes. Ever since the Pinchot vs. Muir debate, we've had environmentalists who believe the key problem is how to agree on resource management that isn't too rapacious versus those who are dedicated to preserving the ecological integrity of habitat. The first group, loosely speaking, don't really believe that the underlying assumptions of industrialization and a consumer society can or should be questioned, so they're trying to fine-tune modernity. The second group, loosely speaking, calls for a profound rethinking about the way in which our species behaves in the Earth community; they try to move beyond the suicidal modern assumption that advanced societies are brilliantly at war with nature and can't afford to "get soft." In that work, I think it's very useful for ecological activists to be knowledgeable about the historical evolution and conceptual infrastructure of modernity.

CW: What did you mean in The Resurgence of the Real when you wrote that to be truly postmodern is to be ecological and feminist?

CS: Ah. I could not help but notice that the values of modernity fit hand-in-glove with those of male socialization in patriarchal cultures: low regard for reason that includes emotion; for females and "feminine" empathy; and for nature and body, both of which will supposedly do you in if not disciplined. Conversely, a high premium is put on dominance, control, and uniform results wherever possible. Obviously, many spiritual and ecological men have freed themselves from that mold and found better ways to be male. The more closely a man's identity is wrapped up with modernity, however, the more he resents any critique of it. I encountered an example of this reaction when I sent the proposal for this book to a dear friend of mine from college, who is, in his own words, "a bureaucrat and a damn good one." I was curious about what his comments would be. Well, he just went ballistic. Why in the world was I criticizing modernity? After all, it was working for him (although not entirely, if I may say so). It was then I realized that most people are so deeply embedded in the modern worldview that they cannot easily see all that it has devoured. So I composed the remembrance for the casualties of modernity. [See "A Memorial Prayer"]

As for the ecological component in truly postmodern thinking, I believe that the antidote to the hypermodern worldview is the ecological worldview (in a deep and broad sense).

CW: Will you speak to the difference between the what you call modernity's "Lone Cowboy" notion of individualism and the individuating self-actualization that Arne Naess and Paul Shepard write of as a process of self-in-nature? Can we dismiss individualism?

CS: It's the "ism" that's the problem. Individualism is an ideology, which posits the Autonomous Individual as the norm and measure of all values in the modern era; other considerations were made secondary. The concept of the Autonomous Individual, a product of the Enlightenment's impulse to break free in every way of "the ties that bind," is an intensification of the Greek ideal of the fully rational man. The hero of modern novels boldly escapes his place of origin -- site of the "constraints" of community, family, tradition, religion, and the requirements of the bioregion -- and heads for the new promised land: the city, where he is anonymous and can act with full autonomy. Or so goes the model, a rather pathetic patriarchal fantasy. As I mentioned earlier, life in the Earth community just doesn't work that way; every life form benefits every moment from subtle interdependence with other life forms.

The ecological sensibility is well aware of that interdependence, hence the terms self-in-nature (from the ecological philosophers) or self-in-relationship (from the feminist philosophers). Within a web of relationships of universe life (both the "animate" and "inanimate"), every organism unfolds, reaching toward its fulfillment: interaction, creative response to perturbations, maturation, reproduction, play (yes, birds and mammals play!), and waning. The universe unfolds in novelty and continuity, as Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme observe in The Universe Story. The human individual is no exception. Fr. Berry has written a lot about the deep interiority of every organism, its profound subjectivity. Both Berry and Swimme feel that every one of us has a cosmological responsibility to unfold as fully as possible; to hold back and do less is to fail the universe. Now, that's individuation. It has a lot of common ground with Arne Naess' concept of enlarging one's sensibilities to realize your "ecological self" and with Paul Shepard's observation that nature-deprivation causes the human mind to become unbalanced and diminished.

The Native American perspective suggests a healthy alternative to the alienated Lone Cowboy. They generally view the individual (who is encouraged to individuate in many ways, such as a vision quest upon coming of age) as derivative of the family, which is derivative of the clan, which is derivative of the nation, which is derivative of the land, which is derivative of the cosmos. The unfolding stories of all those entities are nestled, not cut off. Since contextual embeddedness is our physical reality, why not reflect that in our cultural concepts?

CW: I appreciated your discussing in the book Goethe's model of "a science of qualities."

CS: He was someone who definitely grasped the profound meaning of the subtle interrelatedness of the Earth community. He thought of himself, by the way, as primarily an organic scientist, although we think of his as the foremost poet of the German Romantic Movement. On both counts, though, he was a hero in the lineage of resistance to the mechanistic concepts of modernity.

I also cite the work of Brian Goodwin, one of the leading theoretical biologists today, who is dedicated to bringing forth and developing Goethe's notion of a nonreductionist, postmechanistic science. Goodwin's work with complexity studies in morphology, a field invented by Goethe, refutes the current genetic reductionism in biology, returns the focus to the holistic behavior of the organism itself, and enlarges our grasp of the complex dynamics of evolution, which are far less mechanistic that previously thought. (Goodwin is author of How the Leopard Changed its Spots and is director of a new masters degree program in holistic biology at Schumacher College in England, cosponsored by the University of Plymouth.)

CW: Will you speak briefly about your attraction to the Arts and Crafts Movement (including John Ruskin and William Morris), which figures so prominently in The Resurgence of the Real?

CS: It shows up twice in the book, but I guess you can tell I became moderately fanatical about it for quite a while. I first present the movement, and my thoughts about it, in the lineage of resistance movements in Chapter Four. I encountered it on a fluke -- what some people might call predestination, I guess -- when I had some spare time in London after a conference in 1992. Going on nothing but the fact that I just barely remembered William Morris's name from my English major days long ago, I was curious to see some of the renowned patterns he had designed for fabric in the 1870s and 1880s. So I tracked them down in the Victoria and Albert Museum and various departments within Liberty's and absolutely fell in love with those of his designs that are ecosensual, such as "Honeysuckle," "Pimentel," "Bluebell," and "Snakeshead." Once I was hooked aesthetically, I began to do research -- including lots of field trips -- on the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Europe, and the United States. Ruskin, the preeminent art critic of Victorian England, and Morris, who was greatly influenced as a young man by Ruskin's writings, were profound eco-social philosophers and activists who refuted the destructive assumptions of modernity and created alternatives, quite in sync with the orientation I call "ecological postmodernism." They went far beyond an economic analysis and countered the corrosive effects of the modern project by focusing in immediate and accessible ways on work, home, art, nature, vernacular culture, and the unfolding of persons in relationship. California, by the way, was perhaps the largest, most varied site of the Arts and Crafts Movement in this country -- until the values of modernity reasserted themselves after World War One with the machine aesthetic in design (Art Deco and other varieties) and the sterile "dumb box" of "Heroic Modernism" in architecture.

When it came time to present my positive vision, in the last chapter as I had promised the reader, I found myself gripped by the idea that that vision should be related as a story and that the story should pay tribute to our heritage of resistance: a story of the future that honors the past and suggests a course of action for the present. Specifically, I pay homage to William Morris's famous utopian novel, News from Nowhere (1892). As he often did in his long historical poems, he used the device of a time-traveller who wakes up in a strange time and place and is shown around. This time, instead of waking up on the banks of the Thames in 1952, the Morris character finds himself on the banks of the Scioto, the river that bisects my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, in 2024. He is escorted on a long walk over several hours, during which time he sees and hears about the ways in which that city of a million people began in the late 1990s to develop community-based economics and a local currency (both of which protected them from the vagaries of the global roulette wheel) and grounded its education and other institutions and programs in eco-social wisdom.

All the innovations described in the story are pragmatic and are already in place today in various locations; I merely brought them together and situated that Green vision in the near future in the hope of inspiring stronger efforts in that direction. So -- is it, horrors, didactic? Well, sure -- but I also had a lot of fun with it, showing William that his influence lived on in numerous ways, plus playing with the relationship between William and the woman on the bank who shows him around and -- have you guessed? -- has long been in love with his ecosensual designs. Around midnight, she invites him back to her apartment (which, of course, is in an ecologically correct, straw-bale-wall, co-housing building) for a surprise. More than that I dare not say.

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