Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Knowing no boundaries

Today, while working on my experiment with Scott, we listened to The Story (as is the daily ritual), and heard a wonderful little one produced by Roman Mars for his radio show 99% Invisible. His story was about "the national public art competition held in 1989 to create a monument that would honour the Free Speech Movement, which began on the campus of University of California-Berkeley in 1964." The winning monument, by Mark Brest van Kempen, is a sixty-thousand foot column of air, six inches in diameter, in Sproul Plaza, at the University of Berkeley...sixty-thousand feet tall because that is the height to which the airspace is American. The inscription surrounding the monument reads:
"This soil and the air space extending above it shall not be a part of any nation and shall not be subject to any entity's jurisdiction."

Free speech monument at UC-Berkeley. Photo by Eric E. Johnson.

The ironies of this monument are beautiful. It itself is boundaried, yet it belongs to no one. van Kempen needed to set aside space that is common to us all. Juxtaposed with this boundaried space is that it is made of something we all share--air. And I believe what is lacking characteristic in the environmental and sustainability movement is exactly that notion of commonality, of being shared. Indeed, the environmental movement itself is boxed in, is boundaried, unfortunately. There is no common goal for everyone to move toward a sustainable world. And that is why Avik said that we are preaching to the choir; that is why  that the middle class just doesn't care about the environment, really, that is why

I cannot blame the environmental movement for that, but rather this culture, in which we have made people into robots, mindlessly doing their own thing, without concern or greater imagination of the larger world. I have written a lot about the boundaries we've created in our minds--boundaries between people, boundaries between people and the environment they live in, boundaries of specialisation, boundaries in action--and how these fictitious boundaries, while potentially powerful in teasing out what is important to address, are nonetheless damaging to everything we should be striving for. Boundaries that are created because some people think they are "right" and the others are "wrong," and we dismiss what the other side has to say, creating false dichotomies. Boundaries are created because we live in bubbles of "civilisation" with the larger world "out there," and we end up with broken cycles of waste and trash and ecological degradation. We have people that spend their entire lives thinking about and acting on single things, not understanding how their actions affect their local watershed, their neighbourhoods, their states, their regions. We tend to reduce the intricacies of our world by limiting the scope of actions and reactions we think about.

While demolishing the boundaries in our minds and in our politics may be an existential challenge for some people, I believe however that it can lead only to a greater connectedness, with people we have continually misunderstood, misrepresented, or derided, and with the Earth, which continues to support our lives.

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