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Earthquake aftermath

caleb.eckert's picture

Our last class out in the cloisters caused an earthquake in my heart/mind/being and I feel moved to add a bit more to the conversation we were/are having related to environmental education, place, connection, and humanity. These words are still clunky and awkward, but I hope they can stir up some conversation or controversy or clarification or contradiction. This is the earthquake's initial aftermath.

1) Many of us are fundamentally (though not irrevocably) disconnected from place.

Terry Tempest Williams resonates a whole hell of a lot here. I think we are deeply disconnected from the places we inhabit. There has been a growing rift between us and the places we inhabit, a rift that has significant consequences. This distancing causes us to further shift our attention away from the contexts we exist in relation to, away from other beings outside of the self, and towards our own needs and desires. It’s called anthropocentrism and self-centeredness. It’s called being unaware. When the same consequences are applied in interpersonal relationships, we call it being inconsiderate, irresponsible, inattentive. This relationship, I think, is the same kind many of us have with the land today (myself included).

Terry Tempest Williams, alongside Wendell Berry and others, remind us that we can’t love what we don’t know. We—as humans, animals, beings among other beings—need to be rooted in and to love a place. Human restlessness may very well exist in many—if not all—of us. But now we have also never traveled so fast, consumed and wasted so much, and been so distanced from the earth we are fundamentally dependent on.

With our hyper-mobile travel and advanced technology, it becomes easy to forget our dependency on the land. Food comes from the supermarket. We order computers from the internet. In reality, food comes from the land, which is likely forced into a monoculture state by corporation-hired farmers, who may hire and exploit a poor labor force. Computers come from the rocks, ores mined from regions plagued by violence. Our rift from the land—the mass-forgetting that we are undertaking in—causes us not just to drift from internal connection, but also from our essential dependent physical connection. We like to think we live on the land, not off it. Perhaps the biggest lie we tell ourselves today is not that we’re dis-connected from everything else, but that we are not wholly dependent on land and all that arises from it.

Insatiable desire—the unspoken hunger—is at the root of our being in this world today. It is at the root of our being, a cry out for meaning, for authenticity, for vulnerability, for (inter)dependency, for openness, for love.

2) Our site sits were not failures.

While our site sits may not have made us feel reconnected us to a place, I honestly believe the practice of getting to know a place by sticking with it through thick and thin and dullness is invaluable in itself. Perhaps what was lacking is movement and interaction that comes with it, rather than sitting in a mandated place for a long span of time? I think the site sit has given me a time to meditate on personal musings and integrate intellectual knowledge in a world outside of institutional walls.

I also want us to not forget that we belong to the land not out of an "emotional” connection but out of a very real dependency on it. Which leads me to my third assertion that fell on my head in clarity today…

3) Environmental education must push us to question what is “normal” and make us act on those questions.

Throughout this class we’ve rethought our identities, our perspectives, our ways of communicating, our ways of seeing the world. All of this has been incredibly valuable, and it will be something I carry throughout my life, whether or not I remember the posts I wrote for my site sit. The next step is much harder. We have to remake our ways of being.

Remaking an entire way of life is incredibly difficult. Paulo Freire tells us that we all become cemented in the normalcy of oppression: the oppressors convince themselves that it their natural right to oppress; the oppressed are taught to follow this ideology and remain stuck in this framework of thinking. Regardless of his anthropocentric/human-focused perspective, I think we need to be reminded of this frightening normalization in our own lives.

Why is living differently so difficult? Why, even when we recognize its problems, does it seem impossible to break out of “the system?” First, because it is incredibly difficult to think outside of what is “normal”. Once we start to pull on one thread of what is “normal” the entire framework of our tenuous existence begins to collapse. This process is also terrifying: we have a lot of stake in our current ways, and we are pressured in direct and indirect ways to continue them. When things are “normal”, it becomes harder and harder to imagine different ways of being in this world. It’s hard to swim upstream.

Trips into nature (i.e. camping trips & the like) are often effective in connecting someone to a place because they show us a different way of life. Camping isn’t a “normal” way of life: de-centering material wealth, not having constant access to entertainment technology, making/picking your own food, living communally, getting outside of your comfort zone—none of that is “normal”. Our site sits were a short haven from normal, but I didn’t feel that I fundamentally reimagined my ways of life when returning to that space.

Second, our classes in academic institutions feel a little like going to church on Sundays: there are so many powerful, moving, ecological thoughts, but in the end we all leave the building and go home. In this way, academia is a little like our echoed feelings about our site sits: we go in, we sit, we leave. There isn’t much space made for intellectual thought to be brought into tangible practice. It’s not just the question of how we can effectively educate people, but also the question of how we can provide spaces and practices that embody thinking in doing. The Haverfarm might be one example of this, artistic projects another, but I’m curious about other ways we might reform/come up with enticing practices that do embody shifts in the way we live.

“People are starving,” screenwriter Charlie Kaufman tells us. “They may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking, ‘What can we do to get people to buy more of these?’” In our current situation, there is a lot of riskiness in truly feeling and thinking about who we are. Being materially content is dangerous. Thinking is dangerous. Patience is dangerous. Questioning is dangerous. Crying out is dangerous. Change is dangerous. Distribution and balance is dangerous. It is scary to be vulnerable and honest with ourselves and each other, and it is an even more terrifying prospect in a society twisted by insincerity and placated by power. Because in doing so, we realize that we have so much to sacrifice and let go of.

In reality, I’m an echo to what people have said and done long before me. But I feel called to again remind us of these things, things which do require massive institutional and personal shifts in our way of thinking and being in this world.

Fundamentally, all of these thoughts come back to what it means to have a meaningful and joyful life—for ourselves, for our neighbors, and for our collective family of all things that make up our world.


Please not that I am intentionally leaving “we” ambiguous. Though it is a loaded pronoun and inevitably has a lot of built-in assumptions, there are moments (I feel) when not speaking as “we” or “you”, we divide up responsibilities too neatly and too concretely based on perceived proximity from root causes, allowing us to think that “those people” can change without fundamental self-reflection.

I make a lot of big claims here, and I want to hear your thoughts.