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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Sea Change or Just a Ripple

On August 19, 2019, the Business Roundtable made waves in the business press and the media in general with this press release. The key paragraph reads: Since 1978, Business Roundtable has periodically issued Principles of Corporate Governance. Each version of the document issued since 1997 has endorsed principles of shareholder primacy – that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders. With today’s announcement, the new Statement supersedes previous statements and outlines a modern standard for corporate responsibility. The full “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” is quoted below. Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all. Businesses play a vital role in the economy by creating jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential goods and services. Businesses make and sell consumer products; manufacture equipment and vehicles; support the national defense; grow and produce food; provide health care; generate and deliver energy; and offer financial, communications and other services that underpin economic growth. While each of our individual companies… Read More

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Pragmatism and Hope

I continue to read Rorty and have just discovered a critical link between pragmatism and hope that I missed when I ended my book, Flourishing, with a chapter on hope. At that point I was grappling with Andy Hoffman’s questions about the differences between optimism and hope. Hope can stand on its own feet, but becomes clearer when the connection to pragmatism is made. Let me start with a few lines from Rorty’s book, Philosophy and Social Hope: If there is anything distinctive about pragmatism it is that it substitutes the notion of a better human future for the notions of ‘reality’, ‘reason’ and ‘nature’. One may say of pragmatism what Novalis said of Romanticism, that it is ‘the apotheosis of the future’. For all that, Dewey was not entirely wrong when he called pragmatism ‘the philosophy of democracy’. What he had in mind is that both pragmatism and America are expressions of a hopeful, melioristic, experimental frame of mind. I think the most one can do by way of linking up pragmatism with America is to say that both the country and its most distinguished philosopher suggest that we can, in politics, substitute hope for the sort of knowledge… Read More

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Richard Rorty and the Right-brain

I am reading some of Richard Rorty’s work this summer. I was moved to do this by a critically paper that examined his political program. The paper, by Joshua Forstenzer, is titled, “Something Has Cracked: Post-truth Politics and Richard Rorty’s Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism.” The paper in available online from the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center’s occasional papers. The title comes from an extract from Rorty’s 1998 book, Achieving Our Country, Forstenzer uses as a prefatory note. I have filled out the quote (underlined) to reflect the full impact of the original. Edward Luttwak for example, has suggested the fascism may be the American future. The point of his book, The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else. At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman… Read More

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Love and Care

A friend just sent me a link to a blog post discussing the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, described in the post as the “legendary Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist.” I also subscribe to this blog, Brain Pickings, by Maria Popova, but I missed this one. Almost a lost opportunity because Nhat Hanh makes a marvelous connection between love and my use of “care.” I have walked quite gingerly in writing about love because its use is likely to be misunderstood by the largely technical/professional audience for my work. But after reading this blog, I’ll not be so cautious. I ordered the book, How to Love, that is widely quoted and expect to find an even richer source. Popova quotes a number of passages, but this one is particularly meaningful for me, “understanding is love’s other name” — that to love another means to fully understand his or her suffering.” The following quote conveys a similar sense: “To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love. To know how to love someone, we have to understand them. To understand, we need to listen. His use of “understand” is virtually equivalent to the way I… Read More

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Literacy and Domination

I have been reading Leonard Shlain’s fascinating book, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image. I wish I had encountered it before I had completed my now book. I have been referring to Iain McGilchrist for the last year or so as my primary source for the divided brain model, but Shlain has described the same dichotomy, using a completely different style, telling historic stories without adding any clinical data. I find his work just as compelling as McGilchrist’s. In this book, Shlain traces the many shifts between the two brain hemispheres that have occurred over human history and their consequences on human societies. His basic argument is that alphabetic languages shifted cultures to masculine, left-brain dominated behaviors from feminine, image-based, right-brain patterns. The behavioral traits he ascribes to the two side of the brain are virtually identical with those that McGilchrist identifies. I am about two-thirds through and have just as many sticky page markers jutting out as I have put in McGilchrist’s book. Shlain uses short chapters, each one describing a contrasting juxtaposition of left- and right-brain-related cultural characteristic and historic events. I am up to Chapter 32 in which he describes the horrendous… Read More

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Natural Fireworks

This photo was taken about an hour before we watched fireworks from our porch. It provided the real fire for the evening. The setting Moon is just visible in the upper left. We don’t get one as spectacular every night, but do have more than our share during the summer. Our cottage is on the western side of a roughly north-south peninsula, offering us a rare view of sunsets over a small piece of the Atlantic. Every year Freeport has a show that is visible from our house. The bursts come over the trees about halfway between the setting Moon and already set Sun. This year, the night was so clear that we really could see every little burst. It’s always quite a panorama with fireworks shows coming at three or four places along the western horizon. The handful of roman candles our neighbor always sets off provide a little noise, but pale in comparison to the bursts we see far off in the distance. For the last year or so, I have taken to writing sonnets, mostly about something that happened. This one followed yesterday’s July Fourth festivities. July 4, 2019 Summer is in full bloom today; The rainy,… Read More

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