Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Dear Guy McPherson, What the Heck?

January 8th, 2013

I am reading your book, Walking Away from Empire.

Why is it categorized as fiction? Is that some legal thing you had to agree to in order to get it published?

Then, there’s your dedication:

For the remains of the living planet,

and the humans who will witness its comeback

That is not fiction. You are describing the shape of the future.

It seems you were more optimistic when you published this book (2011) than you are now - a mere year later. The decline of your hope is because society has made no tangible progress in regard to the full-scale dismantling of industrial civilization that is required. I had hoped to get more of my peers reading about Garrett’s energy consumption constant and letting the math sink in, but I keep encountering motivated reasoning – all the ways our minds convince us not to know what we do not want to recognize.

Time for Motivated Living

Between reading your book and talking with Greg Robie about “growing a collective will,”  I came upon this notion, motivated living, as a possible counter to motivated reasoning. Because it seems to me this is what you’ve been doing, since that first realization in 2002 when you “mourned for months, to the bewilderment of the three people who noticed” (p. 61). I have been in mourning for a long time but did not have clarity as to why. I bet there are hundreds of thousands like me, who have been in need of the hard boundary to clarify, the one that sets the ultimate limit on individual freedom and easy luxury. You are like James Balog: while he was chasing ice, you are chasing the most meaningful conversation humanity will ever have.

We, entering into the realization now, do not have spans of months to come to terms with the changes coming upon us. I watch myself hesitate to do as you have done, to “simultaneously offend my colleagues as well as the public” (p. 54). Even though I share your “commitment to relevancy” (p. 54), and have dabbled in dangerous education: the personal desire to belong and be cared about is strong. As you say, this new life is “tough on the mind” p. 55) and I confess I am not excited about life becoming “even tougher on the body” (p. 55). But this is going to happen, I now understand, and the sooner I can accept and adapt the better.

I drank what?  (p. 73)

You’ve been more successful with your students than I with mine. I haven’t (yet) been able to adequately frame what I have aimed to help them learn; largely because I was (and still am) trying to learn it too. It is internal and subjective, yet invoked by relationships with others. How do we together address this “daunting moral question” (p. 77) in order to engage “the difficult and meaningful work associated with stewardship of the lands, waters, and communities that support us” (p. 64)?

“Relationships are far more important than accomplishments” (p. 46)

You’re way ahead of the curve, although it seems you’ve brought a ton of folk along with you through your blog, Nature Bats Last, and your Facebook page. (Two tangents: I have a friend who works with bats, which caused a temporary glitch in comprehending the baseball metaphor in your blog title; and I did not realize Facebook has set a limit on Friends. Thank you for letting people subscribe to your public feed.)

Guy, you’ve been modeling a mix of humility and leadership for a long time. You confess to your “tiny role in this grand play” (p. 50) and that you “still struggle every day to find meaning in a universe without meaning” (p. 50). Sharing your personal journey is action and artifact of “the decisions we make in light of an ambiguous future” (p. 53). It seems to me you have laid out a good path. There are other teachers out there, many of them indigenous. Not to mention whatever ripple effects may yet accrue from everyone associated with your far-flung network, and those who haven’t yet found yours but have also been building their own.

Tuning in: “Will reality intervene in time to save the living planet, including our own species?” (p. 67)

You named some goals for gathering us together:

  • fully engage the collapse, and act as if you will survive it (p. 44)
  • generate our own hope, one person at a time (p. 52)
  • power down with the tranquility of Buddhist monks (p. 52)
  • get along with access to far fewer materials (p. 52)
  • occupy small communities in harmony with the Earth and our neighbors (p. 52)
  • face reality without showing fear (p. 11)
  • don’t rely on belief, instead – think (p. 42)
  • question the system, instead of raising minor questions within the system (p. 8)
There may be more guidelines for gathering motivated living communities in the rest of your book. You may even have coined a motto (p. 44); here I’ve revised it slightly:

Given its rarity and splendor, this life is enough.

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