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Towards Day 23 (Tues, 11/24): "Recovering Ecological Intelligence"

Anne Dalke's picture

I. 11:25-11:35: coursekeeping
Aayzah's reserved Quita Woodward for us today;
where shall we gather next Tuesday and Thursday?
no writing conferences this week, no Friday paper, no Monday posting:
enjoy your holiday!

and/but/then: you will have two heavy readings for the week after:
for Tuesday: LeGuin's (not so) short story, Vaster than Empires, and More Slow
(you may find it slow going @ the beginning, but it will speak to many of our key ideas so far);
ditto an essay, for Thursday, by an eminent social scientist, Bruno Latour, "Agency @ the Time of the Anthropocene"

for the last week of class:  we've scheduled the last two classes for your presentations, and we just did the math: two 80 minute classes with 26 students means you'd each get 6 min.  How about using one and a half of those days for presentations, and then finishing these at a party on thurs. dec. 10 @ 6:30 or 7?

somebody (Madi?) looking @ the wrong/not updated checklist/portfolio instructions?
question about commenting on others' papers?

II. On Thursday,
we worked our way through Friere's essay on "Reading the World,"
and were really just getting to the punch line/digging in when we ran out of time:
We agreed that, according to Friere,
reading the world is continuous with reading the word,
which is a critical and political act, one that is aimed,
in turn, @ changing the world.

Abby talked about how U.S.-centric this project is,
testified to the Korean ed'l system which "leaves empty heads still empty,"
and Alison talked about how humanistic/social scientistic it is,
testifying that, @ least in intro STEM classes @ BMC, there is limited space to argue,
no real time given to dialogue, no attention paid to the experience of the selves
in the classroom; you are not subjects in those fields.

As we ended, Amaka was calling our attention to the act/arts of decoding injustice;
Aayzah was saying that Friere was hypocritical, in making his own text hard to decode,
biased, principled, argumentative--not @ all dialogic.

And I was telling you about the concept of hegemony, a relationship between
two political units in which one dominates the other with its consent
(my example: I wield authority in this classroom, where you all consent to be governed;
I say, make a posting on Monday, submit your papers on Friday, and you do!).

The Italian Marxist journalist Friere quotes @ the end of his essay, Antonio Gramsci,
says you do this because it gives you a sense of agency, as functioning as a subject.
I attend to you as intellectuals, as individuals trying to make sense of the world;
and by meeting my demands, you become that sort of people.

But Gramsci would also want you to be aware that, preserved
behind the veneer of bourgeous social harmony in this classroom,
domination is present. I would say that this has also been made clear
all over campus during the past two weeks, as the initial flyers evoked
a call to follow protocols and procedures, as the demonstrations led
to apologies for their form and content, as a silent protest and list
of demands led to a carefully facilitated "town hall meeting" where
we "could talk."

Who attended Thursday's discussion in TGH? 
Any reflections? One faculty member said,
"Civil rights has never been polite. It has been rowdy and rude and it made change….
Civility is a vastly overrated form of political protest and activism,
and it is so often used as a tool to silence."

Moving from Freire to Bowers:


Bowers says that "Phrases like 'I think', 'I want,' and 'what do you think?' continually reinforce the myth of not being part of the…ecosystems, but rather being a separate observer, thinker, and actor" (46). … What if individuals share beneficial ideas/thoughts about helping the environment, yet these ideas are independent of others' thoughts? Are these thoughts wrong? No. The phrases 'I think', 'I want', and 'what do you think?' do not always act to separate the thinker from his or her surroundings. People can have these thoughts in an effort to join with others for potentially good causes.  


I would really like to talk about the relationship between Freire's idea of contextual literacy and Bowers' proposal that "ecological intelligence takes account of relationships, contexts, as well as the impacts of ideas and behaviors on other members in the cultural and natural systems" (45).

III. For today, we asked you to read Bowers' article on "recovering ecological intelligence,"
to skim the four other short selections exemplifying this activity;
Your Own Personal Ecosystem
The Human Microbiome project
“About the world within us,” The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Stacy Alaimo: Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality"

your postings on what you'd like us to talk about,
and/or what questions you have about
the material that you'd like us to address in class:


I would like for us to talk about what exactly "an ecological form of intelligence" is... Does this mean that though we think of intelligence as differing on an individual level, it is in fact whole populations who are not ecologically intelligent…?

… when he said "Other assumptions include the idea that change is an inherently progressive force, that this is a human-centered universe, that mechanism provides the best explanatory framework for understanding organic processes, that language is a conduit in a sender/receiver process of communication, that traditions limit the individual's freedom and self-discovery, that (still for some) patriarchy was part of the original creative process, and that free markets have the same standing as the law of gravity,” … he mentions a lot of problematic beliefs that still pervade our current society. 



"Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence" by C.E. Bowers

  • "ecological intelligence takes account of relationships, contexts, as well as impacts of ideas and behaviors on other members in the cultural and natural systems" (pg.45). I'd like to discuss if we as a class think that we use ecological intelligence in our discussion and in the way we read and analyze readings.
  • How can we reshape our thinking to truly use ecological intelligence? Is this possible after so many years of thinking individualy?

"About the world within us" by Sandy Bauers

  • The microbiome is "the collection of microorganisms that live in and on our bodies" (pg.1). How do people in our class feel about being microbiomes? Feel about having all sorts of organisms living in and on us?



It was very interesting to me that Bowers said that Western thinkers did not consider environmental limits when they were drafting the…meanings of words that we still employ today in our language. Something I've been thinking about … is the idea that language is inadequate when it comes to expressing ourselves and conveying meanings. …When Bowers recommends that we "recover the ancient Greek understanding of learning the cultural patterns of moral reciprocity essential to community," is she suggesting that we end the practice of seeing ourselves outside of the natural world and as a part of it? And furthermore, the natural world as a part of ourselves? Is there really an "other" in any sense of the word? Reading Alaimo made me question this in particular. If all bodies are porous and permeable, then there really is only one "thing" and that "oneness" seems to be lost in our language because language is fixated on the membranes that separate us all. How do we remedy this to be more conscious of our "ecological dimension of our being?"



I feel like we've been focusing on "how can we save the environment?" But this expands the dialogue to ask whether the language of "saving the environment" doesn't imply that we exist outside the environment, that we can save it. Alaimo states that "The problem with thinking of nature as elsewhere, of thinking of culture as outside of nature, is that it cultivates a way of thinking that makes ecological issues seem like the peculiar concern of people who like spotted owls and beautiful canyons." Perhaps we need to realize that we're intimately connected with our environments, both inside and outside.

But how does this affect how we talk about contact zones, or environmental concerns, or racial divides? If we follow the logic that everything, simply by being a part of our environment, affects us, and that we in turn affect our environment back, then aren't all these issues somehow related?


Awkward turtle:

Bowers's essay seems to validate my point about "western" being a descriptor of ideology more than location. …Bowers references Rachel Carson in his essay which left me wondering if there were other ecologists before her from other cultures and traditions who were ignored due to "the colonizing language and deep cultural assumptions...Western style educational institutions." The analysis of intergenerational understanding and devaluing of traditions in favor of progress got me thinking about the traditions of Bryn Mawr, if they relate or connect in any way to ecological intelligence, or if they sustain the racist and white feminist beginnings of Bryn Mawr College. I was also really interested in how language carries history with it, and I'm wondering if there is a tension in using history (oikos) or breaking from it (Oreskes and Conway lexicon of archaic terms)??



“What's generally seen is that, during disease, the diversity, that rich ecosystem in the gut or on the skin, seems to crash. Just as with a reef or a rain forest, the richer the ecosystem the better.”

I think Japan is one of the most sanitary countries. We wash hands and gargle every time after coming back from outside. We keep on doing it since we were very little. We separate inside and outside completely, so we don’t step into houses with our shoes. Maybe we are not so strong against disease, but then is it better to let them in?



Anne's Reading Notes

From a review of Rethinking Freire: Globalization and the Environmental Crisis, Ed. C.A. Bowers and Frédérique Apffel-Marglin (2005): “Despite Freire’s rise to fame as an anti-imperialist who railed against ‘cultural invasion’ and his well-known indignation at oppressive neoliberalism in its many guises, the essays collected in Rethinking Freire seek to more deeply implicate the radical pedagogue as unconsciously complicit with the aggressive and unsavory aspects of global development agendas. Further, as the book links environmental crisis to the industrialized and monetized secular culture that has proven to be entailed by developmental modernization, Freirean pedagogy is additionally tagged as being a hindrance in the ongoing fight for ecological sustainability....The overarching legend is that the active desire to change the world for the benefit of all, an ethical ethos for Freireans, is ultimately an exuberance that should be tempered through a more humble engagement with place-based cultures that already contain the sort of long-standing alternatives to transnational capitalism and global imperialism that can lead to a more peaceful and natural ecology .... raising problems about casting indigenous and vernacular thinking as either “naïve” or “magical”... [BUT!] in his final book, Pedagogy of Indignation, Friere significantly wrote, 'Ecology has gained tremendous importance at the end of this century. It must be present in any educational practice of a radical, critical, and liberating nature.'”

Bowers, Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence:
challenge to industrial/individualistic/consumer-oriented culture:
recognize linguistic colinization of present by past, and
introduce education reforms to foster ecological intelligence
by re-thinking 3 areas:
* transition from autonomous individual to ecological intelligence
* understand how langauge carries forward past misconceptions, values
* revitalize cultural commons
1) fostering eco-intelligence: recover "oikos"/household/
ecology/moral reciprocity of interdependent systems/interacting patterns
(cf. western philosophy representing rational, abstract, decontextualizing thinking as higher):
no isolated evetns, facts, actions; everything part of larger system of information exchanges
print marginalizes importance of context!

2) language thinks us as we think within possibilites made available by language:
we have a tradition of thinking of other participants as self-contained;
but even words are not autonomous entities: they are metaphors that carry forth
earlier meanings/analogs; have a history, are part of complex linguistic ecology
need to escape from linguistic colonization of present by the past
(ex: "conservative"--with problematic interpretations of what should be preserved!)

3) revitalizing local cultural commons:
"community" too limited to convey complexity of dependent ecologies;
"cultural commons" includes all that's shared, including traditions of exploitation, prejudice;
need to become aware of forms of knowledge that take account of local limits and possibilities
NOT "individual self-direction," independence," "ongoing questioning and revising" (?!)
metaphors of progress lead to consumer-dependence, see traditions as obstacles to progress
words like "progress, individualism, freedom, emancipation" were not aware of ecological limits;
need to revise our vocabulary in ways that are culturally, ecologically informed,
strengthen traditions of community mutual support, nurture viability of natural systems

two webpages, 1 newspaper article about the human microbiome:
microbial communities which inhabit major mucosal surfaces of the human body,
including nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and urogenital tract;
the idea that friendly microscopic "bugs are us" plays against the traditional sense of self--
mind-centered, egotistical, and laden with notions of personal identity, separation
and integrity (spiritual and physical).

Levi R. Bryant’s blog posting about Stacy Alaimo’s writing about "Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality"
breaks down the whole notion that there is any separation between us and our world,
that we can ever be exiled--or quite @ home....

They say the human is inseparable from “the environment,”
that there is no “over here” that’s isolated from over there:
all bodies are porous….permeable…more like sponges than marbles…
Even marbles are a sort of sponge…even atoms are mostly composed
of void or space…All entities are characterized by a porosity
that allows the outer world to flow through them…"
cities constitute the countryside (flows of energy, water, information)….
We are constituted by the world around us…“the environment is a world of fleshy beings”--
“with their own needs, claims…unpredictable and unwanted actions”:
“the ecological pertains to the most intimate recesses of my sponge-like being”:
Big Mac = cow flatulence/rising greenhouse gases/clearing of rain forests, shipping, preparation, waste…

There is lots of other thinking, in other disciplines, along this line:
Daniel Palmer, "On the Organism-Environment Distinction in Psychology,”
Behavior and Philosophy
32, 2 (2004): 317-347:

* "the organism and the environment interpenetrate one another
through and through. The distinction between them…
is only a matter of practical convenience."
* "transactional" (rather than "interactional," which assumes separation),
* environment re-described as "medium" (rather than "surround"),
* "skin" as permeable membrane/constructed/unstable boundary.
* "Life is an island here and now in a dying world...
We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water.
We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves."
* "the universe is in process, and objects may be considered only as
more or less  persistent regions in an onslaught of spatio-temporal change..."

Religious thinkers like Alan Watts,
The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Really Are:

Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action,
living inside and bounded by the physical body — a center which “confronts” an “external”
world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange.
Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”

This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man
(and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.
As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature,
a unique action of the total universe
. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who
know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin....

The antidote lies in recognizing not merely that we belong to and with the rest of universe, but that there is no “rest” in the first place
we are the universe ....Our whole knowledge of the world is, in one sense, self-knowledge. For knowing is a translation of
external events into bodily processes, and especially into states of the nervous system and the brain: we know the world in terms
of the body, and in accordance with its structure....

Today, scientists are more and more aware that what things are, and what they are doing, depends on where and when they are doing it.
If, then, the definition of a thing or event must include definition of its environment, we realize that any given thing goes with a
given environment so intimately and inseparably that it is more difficult to draw a clear boundary between the thing and its surroundings
....the only real “I” is the whole endless process.....

individual people, nations, animals, insects, and plants do not exist in or by themselves....what we call “things”
are no more than glimpses of a unified process
....A...cogent example of existence as relationship is the production of a rainbow....
Diaphanous as it may be...

The universe implies the organism, and each single organism implies the universe....all happenings are mutually interdependent
in a way that seems unbelievably harmonious. Every this goes with every that. Without others there is no self, and without
somewhere else there is no here, so that — in this sense — self is other and here is there....the world outside your skin
is just as much you as the world inside: they move together inseparably….