Monday, June 20, 2011

False dichotomies

This morning, I had a wonderful conversation with Ethan about turbulence. He's has been thinking about the contradictions between measurements of various turbulent phenomena, and what is 'accepted' knowledge about those phenomena. So we talked for a while, in the presence of Kristin, a Ph.D. student in English. (Kristin shares my enthusiasm for conceptions of nature and place, and has been lending me her favourite books on the subject.) At the end of the conversation, she, heretofore quiet, said, "It's interesting. The way you two were talking is just the way some conversation would happen in contexts I am in." That was especially interesting coming from someone studying literature, but it further reinforced to me the false dichotomies that exist in our society, our culture, our educations, our colleges, and our minds.

There have been boundaries erected between people and thoughts, a reductionism of the world, that pits one group of people against the other. The scientist might think, "Oh, well, you probably don't understand what I'm talking about because you are and English major." This sort of thinking has led to specialised languages that further reinforce these boundaries, these dichotomies. What it has also done has been to allow people to act within their so-called "disciplines" without a grasp, without an understanding of what goes on outside of those "disciplines." Even within "disciplines" exist "sub-disciplines" that barely have any communication between each other. This can of course be extrapolated out to larger scales and broader contexts that truly have significance on the world. Think about the BP-Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico last year. The insularity of something like decision-making for oil drilling from the implications on the marine environment is a sort of ethical framework that leads to terrible decisions, and terrible consequences. In the end, however, we must break down the dichotomies, the boundaries, and furthermore live our ethics. We must suffuse our daily activities, our choices, our lives with ethics that we can justify no matter what. There should not be any dichotomies between our lives and our ethical ideals, our moralities.

In that light, I would like to share some words with you by the Powhatan-Renape-Lenape man Jack Forbes, modified slightly by Derrick Jensen in his book What We Leave Behind. (Jensen replaced the word "religion" with "morality," but you can read it any way you please.)

"'Morality, is in reality, 'living.' Our 'morality' is not what we profess, or what we say, or what we proclaim; our 'morality' is what we do, what we desire, what we seek, what we dream about, what we fantasize, what we think - all of these things - twenty-four hours a day. One's morality, then is one's life, not merely the ideal life but the life as it is actually lived." 'Morality' is not prayer, it is not church, it is not 'theistic,' it is not 'atheistic,' it has little to do what white people call 'morality.' It is our every act. If we tromp on a bug, that is our morality. If we experiment on living animals, that is our morality; if we cheat at cards, that is our morality; if we dream of being famous, that is our morality; if we gossip maliciously, that is our morality; if we are rude and aggressive, that is our morality. All that we do, and are, is our morality."

1 comment:

  1. That definition of morality is pretty focused on the negatives. It's easy to criticize misguided actions and not do them. It's a lot harder to proactively do things that reduce suffering (perhaps most of all because people will criticize you for the faults in your plan)