Back to Basics 2 1/2: More about Concepts

My most important critic, my wife, told me that the last post was too complicated. What I was trying to say is important, so here is another try. Flourishing or whatever normative end the actors are seeking are: 1. qualities, not material things. 2. not produced like widgets by machines. 3. likely to be contested or disputed because concepts like these have no fixed constitutive basis. They are subject to varying definitions by different actors or groups of actors. Sustainability, when spoken or written without reference to flourishing, well being environmental integrity or health or a similar end state is literally meaningless normatively. There is no reason whatsoever to act… Read More

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Back to Basics 2: Essentially Contested Concepts

Now that you have read my post claiming that sustainability has no meaning without naming what it is you want to sustain, let me move to the next step and name the thing. Well, not quite, because what we mostly talk about is not a thing at all; it is an immaterial quality. In the case of sustainability, I choose “flourishing,” But before discussing this quality further, I want to talk about other similar qualities and point out how common they are in everyone’s value set. Here’s a few that comes quickly to the forefront: Liberty, Freedom, Love, Beauty, Security, Confidence, Justice, Fairness, Democracy, Obscenity, Health, Peace, and Happiness. None… Read More

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EPA and Lehman Brothers

I certainly hope that Congress fails to cut the budget of EPA to the point where the Agency’s capability to pass and enforce environmental regulation evaporates. I know that is the intent of the current mischief. Memories are very short in DC. Some of the newbies haven’t a clue about the need for regulation. I am not a regulatory freak; I am just as opposed to “unnecessary” regulations as these folks. Regulations are essential to maintain the efficient operation of the market. Just about every free market economist, with the exception of the early Milton Friedman, accepts the need to move toward efficient, perfect markets. I have tried to outline… Read More

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Back to Basics 1: What Does Sustainability Mean?

I write occasionally about my classes at the Marlboro Graduate Center where I teach in a distance-learning-based MBA program in Managing for Sustainability. I am not altogether happy with the name as I tell the students and others that you cannot “manage” sustainability; you can only attain and maintain it. Manage has too much connection to control in suggesting that one can make a machine, system, or organization behave strictly according to some model. But this MBA program has, like only a handful of others, a curriculum and vision that is open to the idea of sustainability in the way I write and talk. While I teach there, I am… Read More

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What David Brooks Did Not Say

Following my last post, David (not Brooks) commented that Brooks misses a bigger point. I had picked up only on his argument that lower material pursuits by today’s workers could be a contribution to explanations for the jobless recovery from the Great Recession. David comments that materiality is still around; even in all the communication devices that Jared (his exemplar for this demographic cohort) covets still require resources from a world that is already overstressed. These electronic devices require scarce minerals, some coming from Congo and fueling the violence there. The important message is that consumption has already reached a level far in excess of what the earth can continue… Read More

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Away from Materialism?

David Brooks continues to write thoughtful op-ed pieces in the NYTimes. This time he wrote about a shift in culture over a few generations from wealth seeking to looking more at the quality of experience. Using an example of a grandfather (Sam) and his grandson (Jared) and the ways they looked at the economic life, he argues that today’s young wage earners are seeking different values. First describing life early in the twentieth century, Brooks points to Sam: Sam wasn’t the most refined person, but he understood that if he wanted to create a secure life for his family he had to create wealth. Then jumping over a generation, he… Read More

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Finding Your Soul on Facebook

The Huffington Post aired an article with the strange (to me) headline: “Facebook: A Spiritual Experience?” The author, Kelley Harrell, advertises herself as a Neoshaman and Priestess, ordained by Global Goddess, among other titles. Her webpage describes her practice as “an intertribal shamanic practice for Universal wellbeing…” It’s important to have this background to understand the article and my response to it. I think it is important to see the author’s own words. She uses a vocabulary that is quite foreign to me. Who sees what of you is one thing. What you see of others is another. The foremost insight Facebook gives into others is through status updates. Some… Read More

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Googling the Louvre

Googling has taken its mapping equipment indoors to some of the world’s great museums of fine art. In place of a picture of your own house seen from the street, you can dial up a bird’s eye view of a Botticelli or a Van Gogh. The Boston Globe today carried a story on this new marvel of the Internet. Launched Feb. 1, Google Art Project provides access to more than 385 rooms in 17 world-famous museums, including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the National Gallery in London, the Frick Collection in New York, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and the Palace of Versailles in France. (Boston’s Museum of… Read More

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Contradictory Stories

In my daily screening of my Internet subscriptions (links to all the blogs I want to scan), I came upon two articles back-to-back on the Daily Green. The dissonance of the headlines is loud and clear. The first is on a familiar subject in this blog, GoodGuide, “GoodGuide Becoming Essential Green Shopping Buddy.”. The second is becoming all too familiar, but in an entirely different vein, “January Marks New Record-Low for Arctic Sea Ice.” GoodGuide is a, Internet-based system of rating consumer goods designed to assist buyers concerned about the specific product’s impacts. The heart of the message in the first of these stories is: “Our whole mission is to… Read More

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