To the students in a recent module
Thank you for your participation in the module we navigated together. I have many times sat quietly, both at Schumacher College, England, in my 13th century home of ecology and spirit, and also in my sunny Lynedoch clay home listening to the constant flow of children. Wondering about the strange enormity of our work together which, in some ways, seems like dream time.
See, you have helped me understand something deceptively simple. In the excitingly frightening world emerging of artificial intelligence, biogenetics, ecocide, refugees, high-tech IT and an onslaught of astonishing solutions, I realise that I am able to teach precisely zero. I will never know the ins and outs of the plethora of technologies, spreadsheets and rapid-fire solutions. I’m fascinated and curious about it all - and I can barely figure out my own tv. (Mom! My sons roll their eyes, and patiently flash through remote controls at the speed of light.)
What it seems though, is that those equipped as radical and practical philosophers (philosophy as the study of the nature of knowledge - what it means to know) are the ones who might be best equipped for the world coming. Because there may just be a chance that when we are called to exercise sound judgment, to make ecologically ethical choices that benefit systems and generations, not merely individualistic pursuits, we will delve into our interior journeys. And it is from here that these vital, life-changing choices are made. Buckets of being real, intuition, humour and humility without attachment to fixed outcomes or taking our ‘selves’ too seriously - at the same time as knowing what matters and unafraid to stay on the path of being truly human, playing the long game. And that’s why I stay in the world of decolonising learning.
Your group presentations this time pretty much blew me away.
Without re-hashing, there was a strange thread that kept showing itself. It is something to do with the really terrible, tragic contradictions in life. And herein lies your sophistication. No group shied away from staring down the barrel of reality - the realities of the deepest tensions in leading and ecological ethics.
From the haunting blackest coal left on my hand in the story of multiple exploitations through mining - mining ourselves, the earth, workers, the families of workers, the smart mining company officials - the dilemmas of illness, decoupling GDP from the environment - all our hands are dirty.
It is a story of dehumanisation at every level, right into the belly of the earth. A relentless and powerful story. There is a slickness to the commonly made argument that ‘sustainable mining’ is the route to follow. At one level, logically and rationally, it makes sense. Kind of obvious. But then why does there remain a gut level dissatisfaction? Is it because it is a technical language that glosses over the wrench and stench of exploitation?
The second group took us into the terrible irony of rape within a context of a supposed new worldview (ecovillage, indigenous participation, etc). The courage, to take on this story - not only at an individual level, but also within the group - must be noted. Beyond words, in our bodies, the story of violence and colonisation matches that of the first group. In this story, the violation is of a beautiful young woman - and the strands are profound and deeply linked to those of the first group. The combined strength - with the extraordinary roles played by the young men, i.e. the sacred masculine, and creating the linkage in deep sensitivity to a mechanistic materialistic model, the rise of patriarchy and patriarchal religions in society, dualistic thought paradigms, self vs other, the way we see earth - in an anthropocentric, instrumentalist approach is directly too the way that women are seen. The intricacies of combining story and sensitive analysis made this work. The silence in the room at the end, grace-bestowed, seemed a silence of deep honour.
And then, miraculously, the third group takes us into ceremony … “The impossible gift of unconditional forgiveness” - Derrida - through the agony of betrayal along with the messy aftermath of mistrust.This group walks us right into a complex story of the masculine and feminine within, attempting to imagine a new way, with love as the resonance for unlocking and healing inner and outer relationships. In the messiness and courage of astute self-scrutiny, along with raw tenderness and bravery, this group offers a ceremony of light and life in death - i.e. the tiny deaths of which all life is made. A ceremony of giving thanks, of gratitude. And of fire, burning light.
In this, we explore ethics shaping what we do and what we say. “The relationship of the self with the self” in the words of Foucault. We explore the sacrifice within true forgiveness - where both people have been seriously hurt. One hurt as someone actually lying and betraying, and one hurt as being dished out lies and betrayal. We yearn for a space of no taboos - and where we ‘submit to forgiveness’. This is always a non-rational path, and feels like coming home.
In our journey together this module we have engaged deeply realms hitherto uncharted. What is colonised? What does it mean to be human? How do we exercise sound judgment in the tormenting and stormy seas for which we simply cannot really be prepared? How do we keep on, holding the long game in our hearts? What are our ancestors longing for us to hear? If we walk next to a river, forest and trees - what would they be saying to us?
And this is why ecological ethics matters.