- Relational Wellbeing
Just as the individual emerges through relationality, so is wellbeing relational. That means it’s systematic AND individual.
Wellbeing is active and dynamic, constituted through the interplay of personal, social, and environmental processes. Relational wellbeing goes beyond psychology and stresses that how people feel about their lives cannot be abstracted from how they are doing in social, political, and economic terms. Moreover, relational wellbeing recognizes that the individual cannot be happy and healthy when the world is shattered to pieces.
As Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Intersectionality understands that an unhealthy system of injustice brings about unhealthy individuals.
- I am not a separate individual. I also don’t dissolve into everything.
Living a sustainable lifestyle is often based on the assumption that we are separate individuals that make autonomous decisions. Yet, the wise one recognizes that every individual is deeply embedded in their social and environmental surroundings.
Some examples: Without the trees, there wouldn’t be enough oxygen for us to breathe. We would be nothing without trees. Our parents, our ancestors, and everyone who came before us made us think the way we think. We would not exist without them. Because of our cultural surroundings, we pursue specific values and norms. We would be different people in a different culture. When bees die, plants die, we die.
That is the beauty of the concept of eco. Ecology is a unique branch of science. It seeks to understand the parts of a system and how those parts relate to one another in a broader whole.
We are beings with boundaries in relation to the greater whole. Aka: we are relational selves.
When an individual acts unsustainable, you can’t blame the individual and tell them to “just change”. The individual is embedded in a society that makes it possible to act unsustainably. So you have to ask the deeper question of the larger context and systematic faults.
“Ha, I knew it; it’s the system’s fault”. You might think.
But be careful, my friend; blaming society and the system can not serve as an excuse for taking responsible action. Because we are also individual agents, we have a choice to act in alignment with what we know we should do or not. (If not, you are sort of a dumbass). We have the chance to influence each relation we are in – to our selves, to other humans, and non-humans: do we enter the relationship with care, respect, and reciprocity, or do we enter it with an attitude of “what can the other do for me?”. Because of this ability, we also have the responsibility to use it wisely.
The wise observer will avoid both: blaming it all on the individual or blaming it all on society.
- Communities might not be the answer
A few years back, my neighbors, some friends, and I were sitting on a rooftop terrace overseeing Berlin while soaking in the late afternoon sun. We talked about how we all want to move in together. Berlin style. Self-sufficient and all. When one couchsurfer, who stayed with a friend, said it was the worst idea she has ever heard. I can’t remember where she was from. But I remember her story of living in close community until her thirties, the social confinement she experienced, the lack of openness, and the pressure to stay. Eventually, she left and was on her own.
Ever since I keep thinking about living in community. In my bubble, the discourse often results in: we need to build community. It’s the antidote to the individualism we often find ourselves in. I think it makes sense. Yet, I believe there is a logical evolution of why people left communities and moved to cities and lived by themselves. It allows for what makes systems come alive: autonomy and connection.
Admittedly, the connection part often lacks functionality. But moving to a close-knit community (which I consider to be anything above 6 people) might also not be the best solution and might explain why many communities are dysfunctional in the long term. It can quickly lead to tribalism, locked-in pathways, and a repression of self-expression. The solution then might be to
(a) develop as humans to such a degree, that we can recognise and overcome these symptoms.
(b) until then, for some – like me – it might be more conducive to create surroundings that are not as tight, but still create a feeling of belonging, while maintaining a high degree of autonomy.
- Senses, Sense-making and the greatest challenge of the 21st century.
When I look into an electron tunneling microscope, I can see the tiniest things. I can know that Carbon increases in the atmosphere.
When I look through the Orion SkyScanner 100 Reflector, I can see the biggest things. I can know how the universe was likely created.
When I look at Facebook, I can see many things from many places. I can know what success is supposed to look like.
Tools expand our senses. They are placed between our senses and the sensed.
In a way, they have allowed us to sense more.
We know that CO2 is harmful to the planet. And that it increases in the atmosphere by the second. Yet, we can’t connect it to our senses. The result is that even if we understand it, we then don’t know how to act on it. These secondary sensory inputs do not help us to make sense of the world. They show us a world in which we don’t know if it is true or not. Through tools, sensory input became decoupled from our senses. The result is that we have a vast amount of sensory input that we can’t make sense of.
Emotions are our crucial driver of action. Yet, these emotions are tied to our senses. We are moved by what our senses perceive. What our senses don’t perceive doesn’t move us. To overcome this, we can apply reason, rational thinking, and logic. Yet, reason, rational thinking, and logic don’t move us in the same way emotions do. So we apply stories to create sense. These stories can be helpful or harmful. They can be joining, and they can be dividing. The challenge of the 21st century: creating stories that make sense of a world we can’t sense anymore.
- The 10.000 questions
Since I started developing my research, solutions, and approaches (and, to be honest, my social media profile), I have searched for the one thing. The thing that describes what I stand for, what I want to spread to the world, what answers the most pressing question I try to answer, which is: how to live in right relation with the planet.
After a conversation I had with a very smart and insightful person, I hope to call my friend sometime soon, I realized I will never have the answer. The longer I ask the question, the more questions open up. These questions become more refined, more detailed, more specific, closer to the chore. But they never leave me with an answer. Questions turn into more questions. Questions don’t exist to find answers they exist to find more questions.
*As a side note: The 10.000 things is a metaphor for the phenomenal world of form in Daoism. It refers to everything there is.
“The Tao generates the One, the One generates the Two, the Two generate the Three, the Three generate the ten thousand things”.
TAO TE CHING, 42
And to go a bit further. The number 42 is the answer to everything in the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe.
- Earth and Life
When the earth is seen as an object, and not as a living being, three important aspects on the way to sustainable livelihood are refuted:
- That individuals form a personal relationship to earth, as individual perception and sensation of whatever kind of vitality of the earth is denied.
- That there is any kind of a living intelligence and not just a complex system behind processes of nature (I am not saying there are, but I am also not saying there are not)
- That scientific research makes the vitality of the earth its foundation, and progress would hence be measured in regards to improving and increasing earth’s vitality.
- Sustainability Ikigai
A few years ago, I found a beneficial tool to figure out life—the Ikigai. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that can be translated as “a reason for being.” It helps people figure out what they find worthwhile in life and what gives them a sense of meaning. I adapted it a bit for workshops and coachings to fit the context of sustainable lifestyles, which aligns the personal goals, aspirations, and wellbeing with the planet’s.
- The beauty and danger of scaling
As long as I have tried to figure out ways to make the world a more beautiful place, I have been attempting to find solutions that might scale. Only recently have I noticed the beauty and danger of scaling. As much as any idea can have positive effects, any idea can also have adverse effects. The more I learn about how complex systems work (of which the world is one), I come to understand that
(i) I can’t know. Predicting the positive and negative outcomes of interventions is nearly impossible.
(ii) what is positive for some might be harmful for others. The danger of injustice thus increases with scale.
(iii) a coin always has two sides. There might never be an upside without the downside.
- What does it mean to “make a living”?
Agriculture introduced a new kind of anxiety into human life: “You have to work in order to survive.” The gifts of the land became objects of exchange. What once was commons became an object of commerce.
Sometimes, I wish food was ready for the taking, regardless of prior labour.
Sometimes, I wonder if specialisation in non-farming skills made me depended on a system I largely disagree with.
Sometimes, I try to eat what grew wild.
Sometimes, that makes me very hungry.
Sometimes, instead of making a living, I prefer to just live.
- Time and Sustainability
People with less pleasure time tend to consume more intensely. They are reliant on high-speed travel, meal deliveries, last-minute, impulsive purchases, retail therapy. The less time you have, the more you consume. More time also allows us to become more self-sufficient: repairing jeans, growing some food, helping out. More time does not necessarily lead to a more sustainable lifestyle. But without time, we are hardly able to live sustainably. A 40+ hour workweek makes sustainable living almost impossible. If we want a sustainable future, cutting down on labor work will be a key requirement.
- Regenerative Mindset
Our current mindset focuses on the exploitation of the non-human and human world. But mindsets are not fixed. They are not based on any fundamental truths but on the stories we tell ourselves collectively and individually about fundamental questions of life, like who we are, why we are here, and where we want to go. Our task as humans is to find a mindset that turns away from exploitation towards regeneration. The regenerative mindset follows three main principles: to respect life, to minimize harming life, and to create conditions conducive to life.
- Sex and Sustainability
Everyone thinks they know what they are doing, but in reality no one has a clue.
The best results come from (no pun intended) listening carefully to the other.
Responses are best, when context specific.
Doing it right can create life.
- Do plants speak?
The notion that only humans use language has been overcome. We grand some animals – like whales or birds – the use of some sort of language. The idea that plants use language is quite new to our western mind.
I find it fascinating to think that not only trees communicate, but that plants actually speak. As Stephen Buhner writes “Each chemistry a word imbued with import, all together a language that possesses its own grammar and syntax. Its own underlying epistemology”.
- Bodies and Sustainability
My body is an ecosystem.
My body is as natural as the rainforest.
My body is stunning, wild, sensitive, unique, and as complex of a system as the planet.
My body is alive.
My body is home to millions of bacteria and to a beautiful mind.
My body is my biggest shot at treating nature well.
If I can’t be in right relation to my body, how can I be in right relation to the planet?
If I can’t protect my body, how can I protect the environment my body finds itself in?
If I can’t love my body, how can I love what’s natural?
My body is not nature‘s enemy but nature‘s creation.
- The beauty of not knowing
Let’s save the rainforest, they sad. And more wood was chopped.
Let’s bring water to the people. And bottles were sold.
Let’s protect the trees from bugs. And deer were poisoned.
Every action has a reaction. No cause remains without effect.
Good intentions. Terrible outcomes.
No one can know.
The solution we do know: try to control.
The solution that doesn’t work: try to control.
The solution we don’t know: accept that we don’t know.
The solution that does work: how the hell would I know?
- One dress for life
Great reasons why sustainable fashion makes sense can be found vastly. To me, it wasn’t just to wear sustainable clothes, but also to change my mindset about fashion and beauty. I find fashion questionable and real beauty timeless. The two almost contradict each other. To explore what a redefinition of fashion may look like, I made myself the promise to wear one and the same dress every day. For life. It has been a project of mine for the past four years. With ups, downs, and some jeans in between. Part of the project is and was intense research about beauty, fashion, the psychology behind it, the cultural meaning of it, the systems around it… I currently don’t know what to do with my learnings and would therefore be grateful to know if the topic is of interest to people and in what format they would like to get to know more about it. If you have any thoughts on this, please let me know.
- Why we do(n’t) need advice
I think advice is the worst thing ever invented in human history. And advisors are hence the worst people in history. When I advise, I fall into two pitfalls:
- When it’s personal advice: I think I know better than my advisee what’s good for herself.
- When it’s professional advice: I might actually know better, but I don’t have stakes in the execution which lets me advise the world to you.
The opposite of advice is to share experiences and expertise. The difference is that when I share advice, I care that you accept what I say and might even impose ideas on you. My success and contentment are dependent on your ability to act on my advice. When I share experiences and expertise I am detached from what you do with them. My success and contentment are independent of your (in)ability to act on it.
So my advice for today: Stay away from advice.
- What do I care?
The other day, I went for a walk with a friend. He complained how the German government sucks, how politician A made the wrong decision and how politician B made an even worse decision. In very much sophistication and detail, he explained all that is wrong in the world as a whole, and in Berlin in particular. I bowed my head in awe of his knowledge, I knotted my head in sympathy and I shook my head in disbelief of how much lifetime and energy he wasted. Why would he or anyone else for that matter waist energy on the wrongdoings of the world that he can’t do anything about?
This is what makes sense to me:
Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, introduces the concept of Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. The Circle of Concern is the area that we have no control over. The Circle of Influence is the area that we have (more) control over. In order to move through this world without going crazy, I am aware of my circle of concern and act within my circle of influence.
- Wild Thinking
Wild thinking is the addition to our dominant way of thinking, which is:
- Fluid – acknowledges multiple truths and adapts to contexts.
- Creative – the languages of wild thinking are myth and symbols.
- Associative – instead of thinking in parts, wild thinking focuses on the whole and the in-between of the parts
- Sensual – doesn’t just focus on cognitive understanding but embraces all ways of knowing, like embodied experiences.
- Boring Thinking
Our dominant way of thinking is characterised by:
1. materialistic – only the material reality is considered real; this results in an attitude towards life that is primarily oriented towards material values.
2. Mechanistic – denies immateriality and explains the dynamics of the cosmos and humans as processes that work like a machine.
3. patriarchal – is shaped in culture, economy and society by the dominance of male(ish) values.
4. rational – characterized by the highest dictate of science, objectivity.
- A model for behaviour change
“Why do you eat cheesecake?” my dad asked. “I thought you are one of those vegans.”
Silence on my side.
It’s not just me who doesn’t do what she wants to do. It is part of the human condition. The knowledge-behavior-gap, the gap between what we “should” do and what we actually do, is what can keep me up all night. I have come across hundreds of models and philosophies to make change happen. Each one claiming it is THE one. I tried most of them and I haven’t found THE one. Yet, here is by Fogg that I found exceptionally useful. According to Fogg there are only three things we can do that will create lasting change: Have an epiphany, change our environment, or change our habits in tiny ways. He suggests starting tiny to decrease resistance and make it as easy as possible. Because to do the new behavior it has to be super easy or you have to be super mega motivated. Motivation is not very reliable though and fluctuates, so making it easy is key.
Whenever motivation and ability meet above the action line, I make the change.
Whenever motivation and ability meet below the action line, I don’t make the change.
I could either constantly be super motivated to not eat cheesecake (which I am not) or I could have healthy options handy that make it more likely that I don’t choose the cake.
- What does it mean to accept climate change?
CO2 is a thing if you haven’t heard. It’s something that rises daily and if scientists and Wikipedia are right, it will lead to massive changes in our climate.
Acceptance is often confused with the idea of non-doing. People are scared that when they accept a situation, it will lead to inaction and a loss of control. The opposite is true though. Acceptance means, we see the situation for what it is. With all its scary shit involved. We take it all in. We don’t deny it, we don’t make it look less bad. We accept that it is there. Period.
Once acceptance is present, we respond. If it sucks, we do something about it. With the possibilities we have. We accept that maybe our possibilities are very limited. Nonetheless, we have some, so we use them. Acceptance takes out your emotional response and let’s us think more clearly.
Accept – Respond.
Accept – Respond.
Accepting climate change does not mean, we ignore it or don’t do anything about it. It’s the opposite. Accepting climate change means that we acknowledge it is happening and it is our job is to respond.
- Climate Killjoy
Great party. People laugh, drink, dance, hug. I laugh, drink, dance, hug.
“So what do you do?” The beautiful curly woman asks me, while we wait for our drinks.
“I am a researcher and author,” I mumble.
“What about?” She looks at me with those big brown eyes.
“Oh, … about how to live in the face of social and ecological challenges.”
“Ah, super interesting”. She says.
We get our drinks. She turns around.
“See you later,” she says. And leaves.
The story is a summary of many situations I have experienced when bringing up challenging topics such as climate change, social injustice, mass extinction… especially when people want to have fun. I became aware enough of the change in the atmosphere that I am smart enough to not talk about it unless asked. If you don’t know what I am talking about, try it at the next party (especially when sustainability is not people’s job). They probably react in a mixture of feeling slightly uncomfortable, followed by a ted of defensiveness, ended by an awkward silence, before it’s tense enough to change the topic. A very likely reason for this is that we are all somehow “to blame” and we know very well that we “should” do things differently. Moreover, it’s f*cking scary. The easier route – and a lot more fun – is to deceit ourselves. Hence, the topic kills the joy.
I noticed that it is a very different story though with people who are very familiar with these topics. They either embrace the opportunity to talk about it or just smile and keep dancing. Usually, they have already worked through the guilt and grief that is part of the process towards sustainability. For people new to the topic though, a bit of finesse goes a long way.
I recently met a guy who, despite having had a loft apartment in central Berlin, a job that paid as much daily, as your average desk job does in a month, a beautiful wife, and a fairly nice cat, burned out at the age of 32. He became unable to do his job, go grocery shopping, and feed his cat. He tried therapy, relaxation techniques, pills. For a few months, he didn’t see much improvement. As he felt mostly unable to travel, he stayed home most of the time. One day, his wife got very annoyed by him, and she threw him out for the weekend. She booked him a cabin in the woods of Brandenburg and send him away.
“That weekend changed my life,” he said “Oh” I responded. And then stood there. In silence. As a know-it-all, I was positive I knew what happened. But I wanted to be polite, so I asked “What happened?”
And he told me, how he went for a walk and how he got lost in the woods, and how he sat down next to a little stream and all he could hear was the stream streaming, the birds chirping, and the canopies hustling. He said, immediately, he calmed down, he felt his whole body relax, for the first time in months, his mind wasn’t going anywhere. Amazed and well aware of what was going on, he remained seated for hours. The rest of the weekend he’d get up early go to the same spot and spend all day there. By the time he went home, he was in a good mood, had energy, and actually felt excited about life.
The connection of our immune system and our psyche is studied increasingly and became known as psycho-neuro-immunology. It’s the study of the influence of our psyche on our immune system, and the other way around: the influence of our immune system on our psyche. The nervous system is the intermediary between the two, therefore the name.
But we as people don’t end where our skin begins. More research shows that we are deeply influenced by our environment. Therefore, psycho-neuro-immunology needs to actually be broadened into eco-psycho-neuro-immunology. The connection of our psyche, our immune system, and our environment. Our body, our psyche and our environment form one whole and are inseparable. Numerous studies from all over the world have shown that being in nature improves psychological wellbeing. Measurably.
- Sustainable development requires personal development
Let’s face it: we humans are pretty wicked beings. We steak, we lie, we cheat, we deceit, we gossip. And most of the time, we have excellent justifications for acting like someone whom we would rather see locked up (if it wasn’t ourselves).
We like to think of ourselves as smart and responsible. I know, I am. For example, research shows that we think that most other people are ignorant of social and environmental issues, while we ourselves – of course – are not. We think of ourselves as noble, while we assume others are not.
If our inability to “be good” is a systems error, an evolutionary joke, or plain coincidence is of no concern. What is of concern is that we acknowledge that we are the way we are. This is what should get us all super excited because we can do something to make it better. It is called personal development and one of the most popular genres people read (maybe, we all know that we are part monsters).
For a truly more beautiful world, wishful thinking, vision boards, and meditation are insufficient. True personal development encompasses the real deal: to take responsibility for ourselves, to deal with reality as it is, to stop escaping into wonderland, to see our shadows and dark sides, to find ways to live with our traumas, to be aware of the biases that make our world into what it is not, to allow multiple perspectives, to stay in relation even when it gets hard, to listen truly, to know that we are never done.
And true personal development is required for truly living an eco-lifestyle. Because to respond to the complex challenges we face, we have to have our shit together.
- Sustainability is not a choice.
While forests are burning, species are dying, and crops are drying, we seem to believe that eco-living is still a choice. That yes, we shouldn’t fly, but we can, and we really want to, so we do it. That yes, meat is harmful to the planet, but no one can expect us never to eat meat again, so well, Bon Appetite. That yes, organic produce is better than conventional, but it’s more expensive, and we really don’t want to spend so much money on food.
What makes us think that we have a choice?
The answers I found:
- Because our brains are not capable of dealing with this sort of threat (psychologists and neuroscientists)
- It’s capitalisms fault (economists)
- Because our consciousness is not yet evolved enough (spiritual seekers and personal development enthusiasts)
- Because we have lost touch with “the truth” that we are all one (also often spiritual seekers, and many who integrate indigenous knowledge)
- Because we are locked-in in unsustainable pathways (systems theorists)
Personally, I can identify with each of those lines of thinking, and whichever rabbit hole I happen to go down at a specific point in time seems the most convincing. Having tried to change my behavior based on each of these, I found no one is more right than the other. I rather concluded that it shows how complex sustainability – and human behavior – is. Sustainability is not a choice. Yet, to me, it still feels like one.
- Nothing but stardust?
When you think about it: We are made out of the same stuff as stars.
Beyond that, we don’t know, because it directly links to the question: What is life?
Surprisingly, scientists do not agree on what life is.
The most credible theory that I know of is that of Autopoiesis by Francisco Javier Varela García and Humberto Maturana. Autopoiesis is Greek for self-creation or self-production. According to this theory, an autopoietic unity, or holon, produces the very parts of which it is made and keeps them in working order by constant renewal. Such a holen works by its own rules. It creates a boundary that distinguishes it from its environment and it exchanges materials with its environment.
A living being then is something that is whole in itself and also part of a greater whole.
You are such a holon. I am such a holon.
And recent discussions also take the earth to be such a holon.
- Some more thoughts on chickweed…
Yesterday, I wrote about the chickweed on my window sill and how I perceive it as green because I have a concept of green.
Talking about chickweed…
By the end of last year, I have planted it to have some at home whenever I feel like it. It didn’t do anything. It didn’t grow, and it didn’t die. Until about three weeks ago. All it needed was some sun, and now it is growing like crazy. Well, almost like crazy. It is growing.
I fell in love with chickweed last summer when I did an experiment where I only ate what I could find growing for a month. Chickweed was my stable. It is not only super tasty but apparently also contains many minerals, vitamins, and all the stuff people talk about as being good for your body.
In “Feasting Wild” by Gina Rae La Cerva, she says that “for 99 percent of our history, humans ate hunted and gathered foods. Hunters patterned their lives after the lives of the animals they pursued. Gathering tied us to places and seasons”. To me, foraging all my food was a way to tie myself to Berlin. The result: not so sure anymore how much I want to build ties by removing garbage and dog poop from my food.
- Can we respond to reality without concepts?
The chickweed on my window sill is green because I have a concept for green.
My Ph.D. matters to me because I have a concept for a Ph.D.
Money works because of the concept of money.
To look at the world differently – which I believe we must when we strive for a just and ecological future – we need to rethink some concepts, let go of others, and embrace new ones.
Yet, the process of reinventing concepts requires a state of having no concept. I wonder if that state leads to chaos on a societal level? In my personal life, it usually does. How then can we navigate the moment of chaos?
- The Four Phases of Materialism
I have these blue and white striped pants. When I was about seven years old, my mum bought them for me, with a matching T-Shirt. Whenever I wore that “outfit,” I felt like the coolest kid in the room. Today, I still have those pants. And sometimes I still wear those pants. To me, those pants are still beautiful in their very own way. I am attached to them, and the thought of tossing them would never cross my mind.
What if our life consisted of beautiful things (such as my blue and white striped pants) only? What would a world look like in which everything we have is so beautiful that we wouldn’t dare to throw it away and replace it? What if it was timelessly beautiful because it grows and ages with us?
I noticed that the value of things runs through five phases and is related to availability and accessibility.
Phase I: When we don’t have much, we want more. I am not talking about poverty beyond the poverty line (that is a story in itself). I am talking about not having a lot compared to the average. I noticed again and again that people who grew up in rather poor economic conditions are often more likely to strive for material success. Once we have decently enough…
Phase II: We still want more.
Phase III: We are satiated with things, and stuff annoys us. We detach ourselves from it and value experiences over things (often found in sustainability and lifestyle discourses). This can be incredibly liberating. And very common in my bubble. Movements such as minimalism and buen vivir exemplify how alluring it is to focus less on stuff. In a way, this is an overcompensation for the sheer endless material abundance we have at our fingertips.
Phase IV: We notice that denying the pleasure of things is not the solution. Instead, we focus on maximizing our love and appreciation for what we already have. We see the beauty in it all. Every spoon becomes a treasure. Every sock a gown. Every book a masterpiece. Every brush a visit to a hair salon.
I personally don’t run through these phases linearly. It’s messier. It’s easy for me to find beauty and appreciation for the one dress I wear or my favorite lunch bowl. It’s harder for me to fall in love with my towels. One of the things I find nothing but beauty in are those blue-and-white-stripped pants.
- Cheesecake Society
Once upon a time, my bestfriend, my dog, and myself went for a walk. While we strolled the streets of Berlin, our conversations went from cheesecake to this:
“Do you think it is justified to live as we do?” I asked bestfriend.
“What do you mean? She asked reluctantly. I could tell that she was a little annoyed from my over-analyzing, constantly questioning, critical self.
I didn’t miss out on the chance to answer anyways.
“Obviously, we are part of the problem. Because we live the way we live, others suffer”.
“Mh.” She replied.
For many who feel an affinity for themselves, other humans, and non-humans, the world is checkered with challenges. Challenges like climate change. Challenges like the sixth great extinction. Challenges like inequality. Challenges like mental health. Because the challenges seem too big to handle, we prefer talking cheesecake.
“I really like cheesecake with a touch of lemon,” I said while we continued walking.
In many ways, we have become a cheesecake society. Instead of facing reality, we distract ourselves. We have lost touch with reality because it seems too painful to handle. When we are out of touch with reality, we first lose touch with what is out there and then with what is in here. We are physically alive, but we don’t feel alive. We start to feel numb to life. The joy of being alive gets sucked out of us. True joy of life can only exist when we are in touch with both sides: the good and the bad. When we deny one side, we automatically deny the other.
We passed my favorite cheesecake café. “Should we go inside?” I asked. Best friend opens the door. We go inside. We sit down. “What can I get you guys?” A peppy brunette in a colorful coogi sweater takes our order. We order two lemon cheesecakes. When they arrive, we take a huge bite. I sigh in relief.
- Is sustainability a waste of time?
The ass-ish boyfriend of a very dear friend of mine recently broke up with her. “I wasted three years of my life being with him,” She said. She is almost forty and wants to build a family. Unsuccessfully.
She approached her relationship with a goal in mind: to start a family. When that didn’t work out, her time with him felt wasted because it wasn’t a great relationship. He was a solid person to build a life with, but that was about it.
That made me think: My actions for sustainability are tied to an outcome. I do them to reduce harm. Would I really want to live in 17 square meters, would I really want to eat mostly locally, would I really not fly around the world if my actions didn’t have social and ecological consequences? Honestly, I don’t think so. Some measures I took, I really do enjoy, like wearing the same dress every day. Others I don’t. That leaves me with three options:
- To find a way to enjoy what I currently don’t enjoy, e.g., I don’t enjoy not flying around the world and could find ways to enjoy creative alternatives.
- To focus on personal growth, e.g., because I don’t fly, I build my character (this is a very stoic approach).
- To feel good about doing what I know is right to do and get my satisfaction from that (à la Max Weber’s ultimate end, in which one acts in a faithful, rather than rational, manner).
I alternate between all three.
As disaster is currently as likely of an outcome as regeneration, I find it important to adopt ways of being and thinking that don’t ever make me say, “I wasted years of my life.”
- Evolution emerges out of individuality.
When evolution comes up with something novel, this is how it happens: differing life-forms collaborate. They collaborate symbiotically: they are in deep resonance, happy, content, fulfilled, satisfied. From this symbiotic collaboration, they decide to form a new individual whole. What were independent organisms once upon a time are now one seemingly new individual organism. Bacteria are the primary life form. Humans are symbiotic beings on a symbiotic planet.
- Our breathing planet
The upper surface of leaves process energy from the sun. The underside of leaves engages in gas exchange. Earth’s levels of carbon dioxide rise at night and lower during the day. Earth is breathing a 24hours breath.
- A failed experiment
We outsourced our nourishment to people and places we don’t know. Most of us barely know how to grow a tomato. While it appeared efficient that others take care of our nourishment, we have lost essential skills that secure our survival as a civilization and preserve other life forms from being harmed exorbitantly. By losing our knowledge of how to nourish ourselves, we also lost the ability to take care of other life forms that we eventually depend on. Maybe ultimately, algorithms will solve all of our problems. Until then, we can acknowledge that the experiment to outsource what is part of our aliveness failed.
- Society needs to grow up.
We call out to policy and decision-makers to do something about the climate crises. Yet, regulations will very likely set us limitations that weren’t there before. When we act responsibly by ourselves, we wouldn’t need those regulations. When we don’t act responsibly, rules take that responsibility for us. It’s like a teenager who doesn’t need a curfew because she makes sure that she gets up for school no matter what vs. a teenager who can’t take responsibility for herself and cannot get up in the morning. Collectively, society acts like a teenager. It is time to grow up.
- Nourishment part II
When I understand that other beings nourish me, my response to their needs and my concern for what happens to them become the basis of my selfhood. I don’t take responsibility for the other, but I take responsibility for myself by caring for the other. When we understand that resources nourish us – that they are nourishment, not resources – we shift the focus from a functional perspective to one of joy. Nourishment attaches enjoyment to the fact of being alive.
- Hannah Arendt’s definition of the common world
“The common world is what we enter when we are born and what we leave behind when we die. It transcends our lifespan into past and future alike ; it was there before we came and will outlast our brief sojourn in it . It is what we have in common not only with those who live with us, but also with those who were here before and with those who will come after us. … Without this transcendence into a potential earthly immortality, no politics, strictly speaking, no common world and no public realm, is possible.
- The aesthetic dimension of life
We contemplate what is beautiful. We nourish ourselves on what is beautiful. When we lose this dimension of existence and kick out the beautiful for the functional, we end up in a crisis of taste. True nourishment combines the functional with the beautiful. Food should be tasty and healthy. Clothes should keep us warm and look beautiful. Our house should give us shelter and make us feel comfortable. The aesthetic dimension of life perfects the functional.
- Sustainability against the mainstream
Not eating meat: cool.
Buying second hand: cool.
Bringing your own jar: cool.
Not flying to incredible locations: somehow uncool.
What used to be uncool, became a trend.
The pattern: those things that have become cool are those that can be marketed and sold. Zero waste has become a market. There are a bunch of products you can buy to go zero waste. The same goes for sustainable clothing.
What’s cool and what’s uncool is defined by your surroundings and society. To break out of it is for the crazy ones. For the artists. For the courageous.
- A minor, yet important distinction: I don’t feel cold, I am through the cold.
The sensation of cold is not a simple event in my consciousness. Instead, you discover coldness through your relation to the cold. Without you, the cold wouldn’t be cold. Without the cold, you wouldn’t be experiencing cold. The cold has an objective existence in and of itself and its quality is there through you. For a polar bear, for example, the cold might be experienced as warmth. So the quality of cold is there because you experience it. And because it is different for everyone, we discover ourselves through this relation. Existence then comes into being through a dynamic network of relations.
- Personal needs and systematic needs
Our current systems serve their own needs instead of the needs of humans (and non-humans). Individual needs adapted to fulfill systematic needs. For example, because the economy needs to grow, we are encouraged to consume more and more. Our choices are no longer autonomous but rather dictated by experts who determine our behavior and preferences. We give up our individual needs for systematic needs. Illich calls this the era of systems.
Maybe it is part of our nature to serve the overarching system that we are part of. Ideally, our personal needs are in line with systematic needs. For example, just like the ecosystem benefits from reproduction, the individual (ideally) benefits from practicing reproduction. Today, the system is self-destructive and our needs are mostly unmet. Classic lose-lose situation.
- Surprises make live.
What I miss most since staying home all day are surprises. I assume I am not alone with this.
Without surprises, we are diminished of experiencing our existence. Because to experience ourselves, to be happy, we must be able to encounter the unexpected. Without the unexpected we are trapped in what Hegel refers to as the bad infinite, the unlimited and indefinite repetition of the same. It’s the unexpected that moves us to somewhere else.
- Our political community is also a zoopolitical community.
To live is to live from and to live with. We do not just live from animals (eg in the form of hamburgers), but we also live with animals. We do not just live with our pets, but with all animals that we share space with. Animals form a community with us, which imposes moral and political considerations of their rights on us. Animal rights are not limited to being protected from torture and maltreatment. Animal rights require that we ask ourselves
- how to create conditions that serve the well-being of a mixed community
- how to integrate the non-human world in political participative processes
- and how to allow them to live independently of us while among us.
- The emerging age of quality
World War II left us a legacy: the idea that more is better. Today’s economic practices reinforce this idea. But it’s not quantity that truly nourishes us, but quality. Quality has to be the discriminating criterion and replace our obsession with quantity.
When we focus on quality as nourishing us instead of quantity, plants and animals cease to be simple resources but instead become a source of nourishment that enlivens us. The result is a respectful co-being with others, past, present, and future.
- Living a sustainable lifestyle does not make us a better person.
It is easy to idealize sustainable behavior as a purer, better way of being in the world. To use it as a way to inflate the ego and flatter vanity. Yet, we do not become a better person, because we act sustainably. All we do is respond to reality more adequately than how we currently respond do.
I walk down the street. It’s early morning and freezing cold. I pass the bakery that pulls their croissants out of the oven. My brain is still waking up, when I pass the street and almost get hit by a car. I sigh in relief. I am still here.
I am immersed in a milieu that is both natural and artificial. The air, the food, the sights, the sounds, the smell. I feed myself from this milieu. Because I am still here, I am fed, I am nourished. The quality of nourishment emerges through what is given and through what we created. I am nourished because of what is given and because of what we created. I am well. I am still here.
- Love of Life
She says: The love of life is the joy of being.
He says: Life is loved. It is its own end in itself.
I am always in relation to the other. In every relationship, I show up in a certain way. To other people, to my work, to the weather, to the world. As soon as I am, I am in the domain of ethics. Every thought I have, every move I make, has an ethical direction. Today I chose ambivalence. Tomorrow I might choose care.
- How to redefine who I am.
How do we get from the sense of being an autonomous individual to a sense of being embedded in a greater whole?
Step 1: We start with a cognitive process. We learn about our interconnectedness and understand that this makes much more sense than any idea of an autonomous individual. We are laughed at by our peers for being so naiv.
Step 2: Although we are not really feeling it, we act like we are actually connected to the plants in our neighbours garden, to the homeless, to the eggs we eat. We make our peers curious.
Step 3: We embody the wholeness. It’s our way of being. We got there through a deep process of immersive practices, like spending time in nature, intimate relationships, psychedelics. Our peers want to be us.
Even if we make it only to step 2, we can already make quantum leap changes in how the world works.
Not every painting, not every book, not every sculpture is a work of art. Art is art when it reveals something essential to the other. Life can be art. There is no distinct separation between art and life. If we let it, life reveals to us what is essential. We learn the art of living (Lebenskunst).
- The case for hedonism, part II
Hedonism is not the absence of limits to our desires. Instead, it is the trust and confidence in them. When we lose this trust, we deny what it means to be human. We can reject desire, and we can fulfill desire. When we fulfill it, it brings us in relation with the world because it stimulates our senses. And only through our senses do we come into existence. The problem then is not hedonism that leads to unsustainabilty. Instead, it’s misdirected desires. For example, when we meet our desire for intimacy with ice cream (for me, preferably cookie dough ice cream). Hedonism can help us overcome unsustainability, when we reconnect to the real, underlying desires that stimulate our senses.
- The case for hedonism, part I
Hedonism, the search for more pleasure, has a bad rep. Nowadays, we are prompted to renounce hedonism and leave the hamster wheel. But hedonism can be something other than indulgence. Instead, it can point to the sweet taste of existence, incorporating the most complex sensations. It situates us in relation to what we take pleasure in. It links to the respect that we have for ourselves, other humans and nonhumans, the environment.
A humanity that no longer takes pleasure in the other also no longer sees the harm it causes the other. It has no sense for the uglification of the world; it is ambivalent to the destruction of ecosystems; it exploits what is to exploit. The way out of the hamster wheel is not to deny pleasure but to fully embrace it.
- Places determine who we are. And who we are determines places.
Our identity and the place we find ourselves at are in a reciprocal relationship: I participate in giving existence to the place and the place participates in giving an identity to me.
When I walk my dog in the park, the park is different from when I use it to hang out with friends. The park’s physical characteristics (the climate, the air quality, the composition of the soil) and social aspects (like the way it is used) form a milieu*. Nature AND culture then constitute the milieu. The boundaries between these two dissolve.
*This reciprocal relationship between place and person is studied in mesology, from Greek mesos (milieu) and logos (science).
- Capitalism in a Nutshell
You take what was once abundant and free and curtail people’s access to it. You thereby create and maintain conditions of artificial scarcity. Private riches go up. Public wealth goes down. This is known as the Lauderdale Paradox.
- What changed?
For thousands of years, people were as familiar with insects, rivers, plants, animals and the soil as we are today with brands, apps and Netflix shows. All living beings were seen as interconnected and sharing the same essence or spirit. This way of seeing the world is called animism. For the Stoics, God and matter were synonymous. Not just beings, but matter itself was divine.
With Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the father of modern science, this changed. Bacon called for the domination of nature. And Descartes – clever as he was – realised that we can only justify dominating nature, if it was rendered lifeless. He sliced humans and the rest of the world into two. This came to be known as dualism. And his theory of matter came to be known as a mechanical philosophy.
This view allowed us to objectify everything non-human (beings and matter) and even other humans. It also allowed us to think of nature as something external. And because it’s external, we can exploit, destroy and marginalise her.
- Redefining who I am
Our identities are built on assumptions like competition, rivalry, individuality. For a more beautiful world, we need to redefine our identity. I find one of the most important redefinitions is the idea of the autonomous individual. I am not a tree. But what would I be without a tree? And what would the tree be without the sun? The reason I am is because the tree is, is because the sun is. I emerge with the tree and the sun. I wouldn’t even be a meaningful concept without the tree and the sun. I emerge, I am, through the relationship with them.
- How can our current leaders change the world?
They play by the rules of the old system, yet we need a new system that obsoletes it. As long as they try to win not only at a dying game, but at a game that kills, they are not functional leaders.
How then can we ourselves become citizens for a more beautiful future?
By not participating in the dying game. If we still are, we can’t also claim to try to achieve anything meaningful. It sounds a bit harsh and it doesn’t mean that we need to opt out of society. It means that we – step by step – opt-out of inadequate mechanisms and participate in creating new ones. For ourselves personally and for society.
Let me rephrase this, because it’s important: we don’t opt-out of society, we participate in recreating it.
- What our least favourite person says about us
If we are not able to find a way to deal, manage and cooperate with the person we like the least, the idea that we know how global conflicts can be resolved is just silly.
- What it really means to be a citizen of the 21st century.
It means learning a bunch of shit, that you probably don’t know yet and very likely hasn’t even been synthesised yet. It means adapting a warrior ethos while remembering that no war can be won. It means taking empowered responsibility; for everything. It means creating new pathways, as there are no instructional manuals from history. It means phase-shifting one’s identity, which is as a fundamental shift as the shift form single-celled to multi-cellular organisms.
- Is the world coming to an end?
Do you have a sense of sort of “the end of the world is near”?
If so, it’s not unusual.
By default civilisations collapse. From the Ancient Rome to the Mayan empire. Collapses are usually caused by environmental causes and / or self-terminating mechanisms, like extracting all available resources. Our current system has a multitude of self-terminating mechanism built into it. What’s unprecedented is that we are now a global civilisation. We have an increasing capacity to make bigger choices. The influences we have increase. We operate in the same way that has always lead to collapse of civilisation. The underlying dynamics are not new to civilisation. Yet, the speed of process and the magnitude changed. But now, the collapse is exponential. Exponential extraction. Exponential pollution. Exponential disinformation. It’s existential. We thus need systems of governance, that no governance has ever done so far.
- Personal and Planetary Health
When we look at personal health, we don’t just look at the liver, or just at the heart. We look at the whole human (ideally). Why then would it be different when we look at planetary health?
Solutions are not found in dualisms like politics or grass root, activism or social business, environmental or social, old or new, indigenous or posthuman, meat or vegetables. The solution lies in addressing the whole. As no one human is able to do that, planetary health is a joint endeavour I which every action counts.
- How do we individually and collectively make meaning of what is going on in the world?
How we make meaning of the world determines what we actually value.
When we make meaning of the world through an economic lens, we are taught to value competition, rivalry, and scarcity.
The lens changes, when it no longer functions in the sense that its capacity to explain the world ceases in effectiveness and structures begin to crumble.
A phase shift happens.
A search for making meaning happens.
Chaos emerges, maybe even a war on meaning making (see the current polarisations).
What the new looks like is open. To find meaning that makes sense and is conducive to personal and planetary health takes time, effort, endurance, and a curiosity about the undiscovered path.
- Why we need personal development to overcome climate change
Actions towards sustainability are complex. They are subject to an endless variety of influences.
A lot of systematic interventions are bullshit, as no one size fits all. Moreover, they make the whole very fragile: what if something that was implemented globally doesn’t work? The smaller the action, the less risks for the whole.
If everyone was able to respond to the problems in their front yard while taking the broader perspective of how ones actions influence the rest, we wouldn’t need systematic interventions.
In order to get there, we need to develop as humans: capacities such as recognizing our biases, thinking systematically while enabling ourselves to act placebased, emotion regulation to deal with all the annoying people we encounter when we try to take actions, being able to switch perspectives to understand annoying people…
Personal development is key to driving sustainble development.
- Me and the System
Ecological systems don’t have problems in and of themselves. The problems are also – as I myself took it to be for a long time – not a mere problem of people’s ways of thinking and acting. The problems come into being by our intra-action with the ecological system. This means, that the system effects us in the same way we effect the system. Taking ourselves as the sole actors in this mess is a limited way of understanding the world. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need to take responsibility for what we think and do, but it means that we need to learn to understand and to become aware how the system intra-acts with us and how to respond to this.
- Democracy is an Art.
A democracy is not a a fixed or static structure of laws and regulations. Much more, it is a structure of relationships. It is a way of life.
The way of life it is pointing to is the way of life of an artist. Art is the creative expression of oneself. Oneself is mutually defined by the rest of the world.
Democracy therefore assumes that participation is necessary. In governing economic life as well as in political life. But democracy is not about learning to give up one’s interests for the sake of others. It is about learning to see one’s self – interests embedded in others ’ interests .
From concerns about environmental health and neighbourhood safety to effective schools and job security — none can be achieved by oneself. Each depends upon the needs of others being met as well as one’s own needs being met.
Democracy then is an ever – evolving relationship through which people solve common problems and meet deep human needs.
Yet, taking a position on anything to express those needs, even speaking out in the classroom or workplace, is a scary proposition for most of us. Therefore, democracy is a learned art. We are not born as citizens. Citizenship is an art. The tools to make art – and the tools we need to learn – are active listening, critical thinking, dialogue, embracing ambiguity, storytelling.
- Power and Sustainability
Unless we address the issue of power – who is making the decisions – we can’t get to the roots of un-sustainabilty. Our society teaches us very little about how to share power.
The very first step is to make our lives more consistent with what we value. Making our own choices, we overcome hopelessness by taking on more power for ourselves and for the impact of our choices in the world. We start (and don’t end) by changing ourselves.
- A, B or C?
A) to die
B) not to die and to live
C) not to die and not to live.
Many of us chose C. Being in a system that is not conducive to life, we manage to get around by zoning out. Preferably by shopping, drinking, distracting. The result is a society in which addiction is ordinary.
Also, who else is not dead and not alive? Zombies
- Behaviour Change is Socially Contagious
Research shows that the best predictor for one’s own behaviour is to watch what other do. This means that what you do also determines what others do. Even – as further research shows – to the degree that when you gain weight, others will, too. So when your spouse blames you for making them gain weight, they might actually be right. If you want to change the world, the most effective thing you can do is to change your own behaviour.
Important note: it’s not just tell, it’s not show don’t tell, but show and tell. Mere talking leads to what we find today: a lot of empty words without action, hypocrites. Keeping your actions to yourself misses the opportunity that others can copy. Talking about what you do not only allows those in your immediate surroundings to be led by example, but also those friendly other people on the internet.
- What H&M, English, and hostels have in common
“No matter where you go, there they are.”
The benefits: you know what you get, you can navigate easily, you have some certainty.
Just as too much certainty brings first boredom, then stagnation, then felt death, systems with little diversity first bring samedom, then stagnation, then death.
A key ecological principle is that systems thrive when in diversity. They also become anti-fragile through diversity. They also are, because of diversity.
When we create a world of sameness, we create a world of boredom and stagnation, determined to die.
- Bigger is better.
Unfortunately, these words are not my own:
Well I have my rights, sir
And I’m telling you
I intend to go on doing just what I do
And for your information you Lorax, I’m figuring
on biggering and biggering and biggering and biggering…
And at that very moment we heard a loud whack
From outside in the fields came a sickening smack
of an axe on a tree
Then we heard the tree fall
The very last Truffula tree of them all
(The Lorax, Dr. Seuss, 1971)
- A glimpse of history to understand why we think what we think…
Aristotle (384–322 BC) took god as a rules over men. And men over anything else worldly: women, animals, plants, land.
René Descartes (1614–1616) separated our mind from our body “I think therefore I am”.
Isaac Newton (1667–1668) turned the world into a machine, assuming that it operates with mathematical precision and is predictable.
John Locke (1632 – 1704) helped promote the idea that unused land is wasted land.
Adam Smith (1723–1790) argued that the government should leave individuals alone to amass their material wealth, because what is good for the individual is eventually good for all.
The result is that we take humans to be separate from and superior to nature, which can be controlled and used for maximum material growth.
- The hen and egg problem of transformation
The famous problem of what was first “the hen or the egg?”also applies to transformation towards sustainability. Humans cause environmental problems through the systems and society we created. We created systems and society so we assume, that we can change them. But we are not the only ones who get a say in this. Systems and society also create us. They have their own agency.
There is no easy answer to “who was first us or the system?”. This becomes more apparent when we ask ourselves “who was first me or the system?”. One created the other. The egg and the hen are inseparable.
So when we want to transform system and society, we need to keep in mind, that they also need to want to transform. Just as we can’t change other people if they don’t want to themselves. We can’t change system and society, if they don’t want to.
- The root of ecological problems
Ecological systems don’t have problems in and of themselves. The problems are also – as I myself took it to be for a long time – not a mere problem of people’s ways of thinking and acting. The problems come into being by our intra-action with the ecological system. This means, that the system effects us in the same way that we effect the system. Taking ourselves as the sole actors in this mess is a limited way of understanding the world. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need to take responsibility for what we think and do, but it means that we need to learn to understand and to become aware how the system intra-acts with us and how to respond to this.
- Sustainable Lifestyles …
Sustainable lifestyles imply that we take ourselves seriously.
Taking ourselves seriously means taking responsibility for how our individual life choices either sustain or challenge the un-sustainable practices in our society.
- How do we find meaning?
For many of us, materials seem limitless. But limitlessness is meaninglessness. Nature’s boundaries impregnate our life with meaning and a direction to make choices.
- A leaderless movement
Many people on their path of living sustainably don’t consider themselves to be part of a movement, but they strive individually towards a life that is in harmony with the needs and realities of the earth. Moving towards sustainability is a leaderless movement. One in which people take personal responsibility for the earth.
- Capitalism is not the cause of our social and ecological challenges.
It is a symptom. The real problem is in the realm of our ontology – our theory of being.
Our theory of being is based on dualist philosophies: the idea that we are separate beings.
Most humans in history followed a very different theory of being. It can be referred to as relational. Relational ontologies see all beings as relatives. The rivers, the mountains, the owls. Being a relative to everything else, behaviour is fundamentally different.
Next time you see an owl say Hi to your uncle.
- The two faces of (un)sustainability.
Why the climate crises is a human crises.
The climate crises doesn’t exist. Even if temperatures rise up to 4 degrees, life on this planet will still flourish. Though with less humans flourishing. The climate crises is a human crises. It’s a result of what has changed the planet in ways nothing ever has before: the human mind.
In contrast to my dog’s mind, the human mind lets us understand that our life is finite. It also lets us understand that life in itself doesn’t have meaning, despite the meaning we give it. Smart as we are, we therefore invented stories. Like religion and myth. They relieve us of this double-whopper pain that finiteness and meaninglessness bring along. The stories tell us that our true self is immortal. They tell us that we are part of a greater whole that endures our small (in)significant life. Often, these stories are contradictory. And often, they are based on mere beliefs which makes our need to defend them strong. Conflicts result.
The dominating story humanity currently hangs on to goes like this: Technological progress lets us grow infinitely and each one of us can benefit from this growth. Unfortunately, infinite growth is tied to finite resources. Yet, this is the story that has given our lives meaning and helped us to make sense of the world. It unites us in one goal: strive for more and better. But as material growth hits a ceiling, so does our idea of giving this approach meaning. For many of us this story ceases to make sense. The idea of progress itself is starting to crumble. The meaninglessness of our actions contributing to the story reveals itself. Not only that the story doesn’t make us as happy as we hoped it would, it also destroys the planet. The climate crises then shows us that we actually have a crises in drawing meaning from the world as it is. The rise in depression and loneliness might be one indicator for this crises.
Our response to the meaning crises
Our response to the meaning crises is the search for meaning elsewhere. Often, this leads us to a romanticised past and magical thinking. In the past, everything was beautiful and perfect and we lived in harmony with the more than human world. Peace, happiness, harmony. “Früher war alles besser”, as my imaginary grandpa used to say. “Everything was better in the past”. Whereas some want to regress to a pre-modern mode of living, it seems many more attempt to regress to pre-modern times of thinking, when gods and spirits were the way to go. New Age is the age to be. Instead of scientific reasoning and logic, they revive magical thinking*. Instead of god, they have the universe in which are all one. Although the common scientific approach – as we understand and use it thus far – is insufficient to understand the world, magical thinking is not helping either. There are some things we don’t know and probably never can. Leaving us with nothing and thus contributing to our inability to make sense of what’s going on. Whereas magical thinking tries to prove something that likely (most likely / maybe / probably / might / who knows if) does not exists, we do the exact opposite with the problems arising form growth and progress**. We try to un-see something that likely (very likely / for sure / clearly / obviously / everyone knows) DOES exist: the climate crises.
Our response to the climate crises
Our response to the climate crises is to take the whole thing and to divide it in small, technocratic pieces. This way, we can ignore the root cause and deal with something that seems manageable, controllable, known. But the climate crises is multi-dimensional: the atmosphere, the biosphere and the microsphere all suffer at the same time. They are entangled and enforce each other. It’s very likely that all three have to be addressed at the same time to improve. Mechanical solutions that address only part of the problem might lead to even further problems. This has been seen again and agin, it’s what makes a complex system complex. We have no control of the side effects and often no idea about the tale risks.
By focusing on partial endeavours, we can hold on to our meaning making: technology will fix it. We don’t have to question our way of living and being. We hold on to the illusion that we don’t need to change, pretending that infinite growth is no problem, that we don’t need a new meaning, because we can always have new technology. Some belief this. Many don’t. It’s dawning on us that it is an illusion. But by holding on to the idea pf progress, we also pretend that there is no need to question our way of being and thinking. That the root cause is merely physical and not meta-physical. That the meta-physical doesn’t need revision.
A response to the human crises
When we recognise that the climate crises is actually a human crises, we can systematically search for possibilities of meaning and sense making. Many of us do this already on an individual level. But it is not an individual endeavour. It is a human endeavour that should be guided and be central to political and public discourse. A first step to do this is to acknowledge and to become aware that there actually is a meaning crises. To acknowledge that the physical is intertwined with the meta-physical. That our actions are guided by the stories that we belief. It’s where the physical meets the meta-physical. Where the psychological meets the practical. Where the individual meets the collective. It’s a possibility for humanity to stir us in a new direction.
More practically, this means that we face reality as it is – climate change and all – and find useful ways to respond to it. Some might say that this is what we are doing already. But it’s not. The political and psychological effort we take to NOT act accordingly is huge. We are busy talking, theorising, making plans about how to respond to the climate crises. Instead of actually doing something, we waste our time and energy on outdated ideas. (1) The Age of Enlightenment has offered us mechanical solutions. Yet, despite ideas of green growth, we have not been able to prove yet, that more and forward can be achieved without an increase in resources. (2) Before Enlightenment – to speak simplistically – we had god. Yet, despite having beliefs, god hasn’t shown her face to us.
Both responses are based on old ways of thinking. It is likely that we can find meaning in this world unrelated to materiality or magical thinking. But to get there, we have to first stop pretending that the current course makes sense. What the new story will be, no one can know.
* This does not mean that spiritual phenomena don’t exist. Or that a greater power doesn’t exist. Fact is: we don’t know. Or at least I don’t.
**Progress can be understood in many ways. For example progress in ways of teaching. The way I use progress here, I refer to the common conception of progress tied to technological progress and it’s economic benefits.
- Context over content
We live in a complex world, which means that it’s full of ambiguity, contradiction and paradoxes. In order to understand the relations between these seemingly opposites, logic is not helpful. Logic – as we use it – is the idea that effect follows cause, that a definite right and wrong answer exists, that the only reason for ambiguity is a lack of knowledge and understanding. Instead of logical thought, we can use dialectical thinking, instead of decontextualising, we can view opposites embedded in a meaningful whole in which each element is only itself in relation to the other and therefore constantly changing and rearranging itself. A fly is only annoying when it’s in our face.
- Why personal choices matter
By asking the most personal question like:
where to we buy? What do we buy? what do we eat? How do we treat others? How do we treat our belonging?
We are tied to the biggest questions. They tie us to the economic, political, social and ecological order of our whole planet. For example: Veganism is not the answer. Eating dairy and meat is not the cause of our problems. It is merely a symptom revealing how the world is organized, which incentives are given, how economical goals mess with other aspiration (like ending hunger or mitigating climate change). But if veganism is the entry point to asking what we can do to change the causes, it is the perfect answer.
What we do is within our control. The personal is the political.
- What Changed?
For thousands of years, people were as familiar with insects, rivers, plants, animals and the soil as we are today with brands, apps and Netflix shows. All living beings were seen as interconnected and sharing the same essence or spirit. This way of seeing the world is called animism. For the Stoics, God and matter were synonymous. Not just beings, but matter itself was divine.
With Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the father of modern science, this changed. Bacon called for the domination of nature. And Descartes – clever as he was – realised that we can only justify to dominate nature, if it was rendered lifeless. He sliced humans and the rest of the world into two. This came to be known as dualism. And his theory of matter came to be known as a mechanical philosophy.
This view allowed us to objectify everything non-human (beings and matter) and even other humans. It also allowed us to think of nature as something external. And because it’s external, we can exploit, destroy and marginalise her.