My Safety Valve

I think I may have posted a few of my poems on this blog before. I have been writing poetry fairly seriously for the last couple of years. Mostly sonnets, but a few old-fashioned, structured poems like villanelles, sestinas, and pantoums. Here is a villanelle I wrote around Election Day, 2018. I find writing verse is a good way to relieve the tightness that I find pervades every part of me these days. Villanelles repeat the 1st and 3rd lines of the first stanza in an ordered way through the rest of the poem. Where I stand on the political spectrum should be no surprise to regular readers of this blog. I would love to get some feedback. Every Vote Counts The world is in a downward slump, And it has made my tummy tight. Today was just another bump. Some days, it feels like I’m a chump To think our lives will turn out right. The world is in a downward slump. Our rights will be restored when Trump And his corrupt crew take to flight. Today was just another bump. He kicked our country in the rump. The future is not shining bright. The world is in a… Read More

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Upside-down Economics

We now have, thanks to Kate Raworth, donut economics. Herman Daly gave us steady-state economics. Regular professionals gave us micro- and macroeconomics. And so on. Today, I am announcing a completely new type of economics: upside-down economics. It is the science of too much. From Adam Smith onward, economics has been largely about how to manage scarcity. But today, while scarcity is still a real issue for much of the world’s population, here in the US and other rich countries, the issue has been turned on its head; we have too much of a lot of things. It is important to keep in mind that I am only taking about real things here. We still have a huge scarcity of immaterial goods, like love, care, and, for me, most importantly, flourishing. That’s the point. There is a connection between these two categories as I believe having too much of the former leads to having too little of the latter. So, what do I mean by all this? Let’s start with cars. There are simply too many around. Traffic is crazy everywhere from Boston, where I live, to New Delhi in India. (Today’s news showed New Delhi with pollution levels almost… Read More

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A Fine Piece of Punditry and a Warning

I have tried to avoid blogging about the political morass we find ourselves in these days. I can’t avoid the mess, but do not have to add to the depth of all the stuff piling up out there. But today, I read an excellent, classy oped piece by Tom Friedman in the New York Times. The title, “Trump, Zuckerberg & Pals Are Breaking America,” is quite self-descriptive. I encourage anyone that follows my blog to read it. There is not much anyone of us can do, alone, about the breakdown of our political/governance system, except to honor your responsibilities as a citizen. But there is much all of us can do about the hubris of Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook. We can stop using it and encourage everyone we know to do the same. We can and, it seems, we ought to, live without it if we hope to rebuild the underlying need for trust in both people and facts that have been eroding before our eyes. It’s late right now, but I will be zapping my own Facebook account first thing tomorrow. But not until I use it to send out this message. If you read this and agree,… Read More

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One More Uncanny Encounter

As I was preparing to update a syllabus for a course I was considering to give at my learning-in-retirement “school,” I rediscovered a paper I had written about 10 years ago. It had the academic title of, “Reductionism and Its Cultural Fallout.” It was a polished version of a talk I had given at a conference. Most of it was taken from my first book, Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture. It was a pretty good paper, but the point of this post is that I noticed a table comparing two sets of “ideas,” which I had labeled “unsustainable” and “sustainable.” The table is reproduced below.  Unsustainability and sustainability concepts Unsustainability Ideas Sustainability Ideas Reductionistic Holistic Mechanical Organic Independent Interdependent Quantitative Qualitative Individualistic Communitarian Determinacy Indeterminacy Complicated Complex Anthropocentric Biocentric   I wrote this paper just about ten years before I had an inkling of Iain McGilchrist’s divided-brain model, the one that is central to my new book. The match between these two columns and the two in the following table describing the main features of the two brain hemispheres is virtually perfect. Wow! Characteristics of an actors by the dominant hemisphere Left Hemisphere Right… Read More

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The Peace of Wild Things

The Peace of Wild Things Wendell Berry When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. From Wendell Berry, Collected Poems: 1957-1982 (North Point Press, 1987). If only I could find my wood drake. I know why I feel such sadness to leave the solace of Maine behind every fall. I can take the memory of those great herons and stretch it out to last until it is time to re-open in the spring. At least I can try to capture those memories, as does Berry, in poetry. Drain Tide John Ehrenfeld 2019 The ebb tide is at its seasonal low, Draining the bay to the… Read More

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John Dewey and the Brain

I realize that the divided-brain model is unfamiliar and strange to most of my readers and followers. I included some examples of how it works in explaining a wide variety of social and individual actions in the book, but I will use this blog, from time to time, to point to additional examples. Today, I have an excerpt from John Dewey’s, Liberalism and Social Action. This work was published in 1935, relatively late in his extraordinarily long productive life. He wrote: Let me mention three changes that have taken place in one of the institutions in which immense shifts have occurred, but that are still relatively external—external in the sense that the pattern of intelligent purpose and emotion has not been correspondingly modified. Civilization existed for most of human history in a state of scarcity in the material basis for a humane life. Our ways of thinking, planning and working have been attuned to this fact. Thanks to science and technology we now live in an age of potential plenty. The immediate effect of the emergence of the new possibility was simply to stimulate, to a point of incredible exaggeration, the striving for the material resources, called wealth, opened to… Read More

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Flourishing and The Endangered Species Act

“Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons; trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a few decades hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.” (Aldo Leopold, “On a Monument to the Pigeon,” 1947) Carl Safina has been a loud voice for the natural world, which, of course, needs to be heard through human channels. Not that nature does not speak to us, literally. Even in the densest human habitations, we can hear the small voices of our pets, birds, rodents, and, in my neighborhood and others, wild turkeys, coyotes, and more. But that is not the kind of voice I mean. His speaks eloquently for the existential interests of natural things, living or not. I just read an opinion piece by him in Yale Environment 360, “an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting, and debate on global environmental issues (from their website).” With the provocative title of “The Real Case for Saving Species: We Don’t Need Them, But They Need Us,” he lays out a compelling (at least for me) argument why other species should be protected by us. The first half,… Read More

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Camus’s “The Plague”–A Tale for Our Times

I have just finished reading Albert Camus’s extraordinary book, The Plague (La Peste) as part of one of the courses I am taking at my learning-in-retirement “school.” Unfortunately, I cannot read it in his language, French, but have a masterful translation by Stuart Gilbert. I discovered a copy of the first US edition (1948) in our home library, still with a rather tattered dust jacket. Although I find that the book is complete understandable outside the flow of history, it is generally accepted that it is an allegory telling the tale of occupied France during World War II. The heroes of this tale are very ordinary men who perform in extraordinary ways in the face of the unrelenting ravages of the plague in a place isolated from the world to prevent its spread beyond the city walls. There are many takeaways relevant to now, then, and all times to come. One is the power of love to restore human vitality when it has been decimated by extended forced separation. Another is a reference to the importance to always be on the right side of the good/evil battle. One of the central characters, Tarrou, caught by chance in the city when… Read More

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Grave New World

Every two weeks, my wife and I go to a movie club on Sunday mornings where we get to see a film that is about to be released. We have seen a number of Oscar winners over the years. Most are fiction of some sort, but we do watch documentaries on occasions. Today was one of those occasions. And the film today deserves special treatment. Entitled, “Human Nature,” it tells the story of CRISPR, the agent that is being widely used to modify genes in all sorts of organisms, including human beings. As a cinematographic work, it is extremely well done. But as a presentation of the issues that surround the use of this biologic wonder, it falls short. I find at least two big problems with it. The first is the failure to give the practical downside of the use of CRISPR equal billing with all the possibilities to offers. Related to this is the complete omission of an alternate process, zinc finger nucleases (ZFN), that can do what CRISPR can, but without some of its side-effects. The film makes a big deal of the possibility of curing genetic diseases, like sickle cell anemia, showcasing an extraordinary sufferer, but… Read More

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My New Book Is Now Available

Finally, my new book, The Right Way to Flourish: Reconnecting with the Real World, has arrived at booksellers. The best deal, right now, is at the publisher’s (Routledge) US website. It is available on Barnes & Noble and Amazon’s UK sites. It can be ordered from Amazon (US) with availability coming as soon as the have a supply of the books. The Right Way to Flourish combines my previous work on sustainabilty-as-flourishing with a remarkable model of the brain to open new paths toward a future where humans and the rest of the Planet will flourish. Here’s the jacket description: In this ground-breaking book, pre-eminent thought leader in the fields of sustainability and flourishing, John R. Ehrenfeld, critiques the concept of sustainability as it is understood today and which is coming more and more under attack as unclear and ineffective as a call for action. Building upon the recent work of cognitive scientist, Iain McGilchrist, who argues that the human brain’s two hemispheres present distinct different worlds, this book articulates how society must replace the current foundational left-brain-based beliefs – a mechanistic world and a human driven by self interest – with new ones based on complexity and care. Flourishing… Read More

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