Sunday, April 4, 2010

Limits As Guidance

What would it take to bring out the best in humans? Clearly what we're doing now is not working. We're on a path of self-destruction, and destruction of all that is good and beautiful. We can never live up to our full potential as a species as long as we live so destructively.

I think we need to take a few steps back. We need to recognize that as a species we're a bunch of out-of-control adolescents. Adolescents love to challenge limits and that's exactly what we've been doing, whole-hilt. We fail to understand that limits represent a form of guidance. They constrain behavior, but constrain it in a constructive way. There is always wisdom and information encoded in the limits our environment presents to us, but as unruly children we love to pretend those limits don't even exist.

The re-localization movement is on the right track. The problem with globalization is that all natural boundaries that should be constraining human affairs have been erased. We evolved in small tribes, in our own distinct ecological niches. We didn't evolve to conduct our affairs on a global scale. In our small niches we acted, and saw the results of our actions. If we over-hunted our favorite game, we had to live with the consequences--either by going hungry or having to move our community. If we located the village latrines above our drinking water, we experienced the dire consequences of disease. If we didn't live peacefully with our tribe members and were forced to leave, we learned a lesson about safety in numbers and the survival advantage that strong community bonds bestow. Our actions had tangible consequences. They gave immediate feedback, so we were able to learn from our mistakes and adjust our course of action.

Living globally we don't see the results of our actions. And because our society is so over-sized and out-of-control we take lots and lots of actions each day, feeling absolutely none of the consequences of any of them.

You're in a rush and stop at the closest grocery store, a Super Walmart, for milk. You don't have time to drive out to a dairy that will sell you raw milk. So you buy antibiotic-laced, pus-filled, dead milk from genetically weakened cows. All you see is a way to quench the thirst of your little ones and something to float your cereal in. You don't see the horrific conditions of the cows, you don't see what happens to their calves, you don't see what happens to the land and the water table.

You check on how your mutual funds are doing, thinking only about the happy retirement you hope to enjoy one day. But you don't see that your investment profits are being formed out of the blood, sweat, and tears of men, women, and children who have hopes and dreams just like you do. You don't see the mountains of earth being ripped apart to create the products that will create the profits that fund your retirement.

You leave your porch light on every night to discourage burglars and present a welcoming face to your community. You don't see the piles of coal, the oil, the refineries, the pollution, which fossil fuel-based energy production requires.

Re-localization is necessary so we can begin to see the results of our actions again. We desperately need that kind of feedback. We need to live at a human-scale again. That means inhabiting a small patch of earth, forming tight communities able to meet the majority of their own needs, and never growing beyond what the land can sustain. It means not forming communities in places inhospitable to human affairs--where it's too hot, too cold, too drought-ridden. If you're dependent on air-conditioning or on water piped in from hundreds of miles away, you're not honoring the limits of the land. The land is saying, This is not a place for human settlement, you don't belong here.

The land provides much guidance if we would only learn to listen again. A poisoned land creates fertility problems for the creatures living there. The message: This is no place for life. But what do we humans do? We stay there and have fertility treatments!

We need to get back into our niches. This will only be possible if our population is drastically reduced. We've already exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth. We've infringed on the niches of too many Others. In a world so out of balance, I think the inevitable correction is coming. Whoever remains will hopefully be able to comprehend the implications of that huge correction: stay small, stay local, honor the guidance held here in the land.


  1. Way to depressing to deal with. I propose that whatever solution we come up with does not deny the voracity of the human spirit, but allows a way for its proper reflection.