Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I came across a great used book for $1 at a book sale a few months ago.  The book is called AT HOME IN THE COSMOS,  by David Toolan and was published in 2001.  Toolan died from cancer, shortly after the book was published.  The book was well worth the investment.

Toolan separated the book into five parts:  The Biblical Version of Creation, The Development of Scientific Materialism, The State of the Earth, The New Cosmology, and Earth Ethics.  Throughout the book he explains how the state of the planet and how we treat it is related to the blended misunderstandings we have learned from science and religion.  In “The State of the Earth”, he summarizes the four principle driving forces behind the environmental damage that is occurring to the planet as follows:

1.    Population size and growth:  [...].  If environmental degradation is already apparent with today’s 6 billion people (note that we have added another billion people since the book was written in 2001), how will we accommodate the 11 to 14 billion expected in the next century without devastating the resource base of the planet?

    2.    Institutional arrangements:  In industrial economies, [...], the central dynamic is the pursuit of continuous economic expansion.  Competition makes higher profitability a key to corporate survival, and firms must constantly grow to attract investors and increase profits.  And the chief function of governments is to provide the political environment for such continuous growth.  Both orthodox economic theory and socioeconomic policy at the national and international levels assume that unlimited economic expansion is desirable, possible, and necessary.  Yet this ideology of growth depletes the stock of nonrenewable resources and often taxes the stock of renewable resources (fish, aquifers, forests) at a rate that far exceeds its replacement rate.  

3.    Cultural values and belief systems:  [...].  Western society has tended to view the physical world as inert, a meaningless scurrying of atoms whose  only value consists of the values human beings ‘add’ or impose through industrial processes.  By itself, in other words, nature is simply ‘raw material,’ of no value until human labor transforms it into commodities useful to human society.  Hence nature has no intrinsic value, only instrumental value.  This is the last word in anthropocentrism – and issues an open invitation for exploitation and abuse.  Materialism exacerbates the problem.  Consumerism, the incarnation of materialistic values, has elevated buying and shopping to a sacred ritual and civic duty in our society – precisely insofar as it maintains demand for ever-more goods and services, needed or not.
 4.    Technology enabling the human transformation of the environment:  In market economies, technology has assumed a major role in improving productivity, mainly by removing human labor.  Energy technology underlies all economic activity and growth, and more productive technology has offered new ways to exploit natural resources, hastening resource depletion and increasing pollutant emissions.  Our faith in and use of technology has been a Faustian bargain, trading current gain against long-term welfare and survival.

In the concluding part – “Earth Ethics” – he points out that if we want to change the trajectory of where we are taking our planet, we need to change our ethics.  We need to expand “our moral concern beyond the human circle to include the larger biological and ecological communities to which we belong.” 
Toolan answers the question, “Why behave this way rather than that?” as follows:

So that the earth can continue, so the air will remain breathable, so the seas will abound in fish and the rainforests flourish with millions of species as yet unnamed, so that the land will continue to be fertile, so time will continue to flow and life will keep on propagating.  So the causes of things will continue to give rise to their results.  These things are now our tasks, our moral duties.  We can no longer pretend that we do not know why or how all these wonders happen, or why they cease to happen.  The difference we can make in the creative, generative process – or the cessation of the process – is crucial.  From now on, the categorical imperative will reside in objective scientific laws, which it will be our duty to honor, promote, and keep.  This is the new social contract with the natural world, which will continue to thrive only with our active cooperation and support.  As Serres put it, “We have become the authors of ongoing creation.” 

The challenge seems to be how to instill this ethic of respect into our lives that have been misguided for so long by economics.  But on the other hand, how can we not? 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Coaching in an Absurd World.

In the movie LONESOME JIM, 27-year old Jim returns to his parents’ house after having run out of money.  His older brother Tim, who also lives with his parents, greets him at the door.  Both brothers suffer from depression and struggle to find meaning in their lives. 

Later in the movie, the brothers converse about their miserable lives.   Jim questions his brother on how he can go on living while being even more pathetic then Jim.  Tim is divorced, works in a sawmill where he makes a dollar more than minimum wage, and still lives with his parents at 32 years old.  Tim leaves and attempts suicide by driving his car into a train, and ends up in a coma. 

As a result, Jim ends up taking over as the coach for his brothers two preteen daughters basketball team, the Roush Ladders, while Tim recuperates.  The team mirroring the losing coaches, have failed to win a game, nor even scored a point all season.  During the last game of the year, Jim starts to take some pride in the team.   

             He gives them a pregame pep-talk that goes as follows: 
Like I said, I know it has been a rough season for us this year.  Not a lot of shots have fallen for us; in fact not a single shot has fallen for us in fourteen games.  So, I guess the question we have to ask ourselves is - are we going to let those fourteen games determine the next one?  Because if we are, then we may as well just go out there and shake hands with the other team and congratulate them on their victory. 

I see some of you nodding your heads in agreement right now.  By all means it’s not an altogether absurd idea.  The odds are that we are going to lose, no matter how we go about playing this game.  So why do we play at all?  Well team, I don’t really have an answer for that question.  You know why? 

Because, it’s a stupid question, asked by a doubtful and unhappy man.  Forget his question, you’ve just, you got to keep playing.  Because if you don’t, you might end up like him.  And let me tell you he is no fun.  Nobody knows what we are capable of, ok.  The past does not always predict the future.  Now that team may have seen us play before, but they haven’t seen us play today.  

Am I right?

A few voices softly respond:  Yah.

Jim asks again:  Am I right? 

The team responds in unison- louder this time, and with confidence:   Yes!

Jim encourages the team:  Alright, let show them what we can do. 
They take the opening tip-off, and Ben (the only boy on the team) drives in for a layup to score the opening two points – the fans applaud, Jim jumps up smiling, congratulating the team on their first score of the year.  Ben runs back down the court smiling. 

The scene fast-forwards to the end of the game, the score ends up as the other team 28, Ladders 2.  The players glumly shake hands with the winning team congratulating them with the words of “good game” and they leave the court with the look of failure on their faces.

Jim calls to the team:  Hey, hey, hey, come on, come over here.  No long faces, that was good, that was our best game yet.

Ben cuts him off with his response of: Shut up Jim!

Jim’s mother comes over smiling, videoing Jim, who has now himself taken on the look of dejection.   

She congratulates him: Good job Jimmy, you make a great coach. 
This scene is a good reminder that in our absurd world, we need people to coach us not how to win –but in the fine art of simply trying, of doing the right thing, of just plain old living.  Because more often than not that is all there is.   And to not try means we have given up on life  ̶  on our chance to awaken to the world around us.