Posts Tagged ‘Northern Exposure’

Jung and the rest

December 6, 2012

Final final presentations yesterday: Michael on Jungian psychology, Logan on Dr. Who and time travel, Willie on grassroots activism in the suburbs, and Joshua on aquaponics & (on?) mushrooms. I’m not even going to try to connect all the dots, not sober anyway. It’s grading time.

But I can’t resist at least a little Jungian projection.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.”

“Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.”

“Without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable.”

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”

“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.”

Memories, Dreams, and ReflectionsMan and His SymbolsThe Wisdom of Carl JungMaria Popova

Let my last word, then, speaking in the name of intellectual philosophy, be a pluralist mystic’s: “There is no conclusion… Farewell!” -William James

’tis a gift to be free

August 5, 2011

Went and did my civic duty yesterday, voting in the metro mayor and council election. Got to wear my boastful “I voted” sticker on the way out, feeling briefly and cheaply more democratic than at least 60% of my peers. That’s not the best reason for voting, but it’s not the worst either.

I hadn’t planned to vote in this election, there weren’t any closely-contested races and I really don’t have strong views about the Nashville Fairgrounds. But then my morning walk brought me past my precinct polling station, and that old plebiscitary  pull had me again.

So I came home, googled the candidates and issues, did my research. There were a few goofballs in the running. One “J. Wooten” (I was hoping he might be the same Wooten I knew from the girls’ elementary school gym class, but no) ran on this platform:

1. End property taxes. Put your money back into your pockets instead of government.

2. Separate state from school. Education is too important to be left to politicians and bureaucrats.

3. Legalize the “Lap Dance.” Government should not be regulating adult behavior behind closed doors.

I don’t expect he won, but keeping the goofballs on the sidelines (no matter how well they “represent” the general public)  is one very good reason to make the effort to cast an informed vote in these ho-hum elections. When sensible people don’t participate, tea partiers (speaking generically here) still will.

Concluding my electoral research, the inertia of the day then took over and I kinda forgot about it. Late in the afternoon, though, Younger Daughter and I were driving home and there they still were, all those enthusiastic campaigners with their signs and flags waving, keeping their constitutional distance from the ballot box. Their enthusiasm was infectious. So I went in, but the line was longer than expected so I ran her home, then hopped on my bike (I’ve embraced the Pedaling Revolution manifesto: short trips and errands really don’t require tons of steel) and went back to exercise my democratic birthright.

Our politics are still as screwed up as ever, but if I had stayed home I wouldn’t feel quite as entitled to complain about it. Or as invested in fixing it. Chris Stevens understands.

And so too, perhaps, does J. Wooten, the lap dance candidate whose platform also included this unconventional plank: Freedom is the answer. What’s the question? Congratulations, Mayor.


“Native wisdom” is young

May 2, 2011

It’s final exam day in NW. Many final reports are still to be delivered, we’ll need to be uncharacteristically brisk and bizness-like. Not so voluble. Time is of the essence. (There’s talk of a “pot luck,” bring it if you’ve got it.)

I’ve learned lots of “native wisdom” this semester, and have been buoyed to realize how passionately so many young people care about  the fate of our Earth. They believe our choices matter. I believe their wisdom will make a difference. We have a future.

Thus reassured, I’m ready to turn my attention once again in the Fall to Happiness 101 (this time flying under the banner “Happiness and the Secret of Life”).

So, one more time: mitakuye oyasin. We’re all related on this pale blue dot, we need to look after one another and after Gaia. I’m confident the Spring ’11 students of Environmental Ethics & Native Wisdom will show us how. Happy Mother’s Day.

Let’s have our last word of native wisdom from Ed Chigliac‘s friend Marilyn Whirlwind, who reminds us that Eagle didn’t always soar. The answer’s blowin’ in the wind, stop talking and you’ll hear: that’s her advice to an over-loquacious Mama, and maybe to some philosophers we know.

Eagle’s flight says it all? No. But it says plenty. “As long as one continues talking, intellectualism remains in undisturbed possession of the field. The return to life can’t come about by talking.”

And that’s what I know about native wisdom. Take care of your Mother, she’s the only one you’ve got.

“I could turn and live with animals…”

March 21, 2011

Chapters 5 & 6 in Native Science are about animals and place, respectively, so that calls for a reiteration of the link to Michael Pollan’s “An Animal’s Place,” mentioned the other day. (Summary)

Pollan’s influential essay was all about how humans can best express and sustain a healthy respect for animals, especially those destined to end up on our plates. He thinks people like Joel Salatin, at Polyface Farm in Virginia, are onto something important. Could be.

Native peoples, we read, have traditionally perceived animals as co-creators of life, in many ways our betters and (as Eagle Man already taught us) our teachers. But of course, indigenous peoples have always eaten animals. Respectfully, gratefully… humanely and ethically too? Or is eating animals wrong, period?

Well, what would Walt Whitman say?

I think I could turn and live with animals, they’re so placid and self contain’d, I stand and look at them long and long.They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.

There are non-consumptive, non-exploitative forms of participation in animals’ lives. Telling stories featuring animal heroes is an example, especially those calling us back to the more elemental and instinctual parts of ourselves.  But we’re more comfortable with the Disney version, projecting anthropomorphic stories onto Simba and Mickey and Baloo et al. Great entertainment, but do we ever outgrow the patronizing, sentimentalizing propaganda?

What we’ve really got a case of, apparently, even if biophilia reigns at the deepest instinctual levels, is bio-phobia. We resist the “natural orientation”that would draw all life into our circle of empathy. The Shaman, again, runs interference in “establishing and maintaining a direct relationship between human beings and the animals and plants.” (Remember Ed with his hand in the ground?)

Another of my favorite topics is raised here, the question of how “meaning passes from generation to generation,” crucially distinguished among indigenous peoples by their inherited oral and hunting traditions. Do those of us whose stories are more encrypted, and who do not trap, wrestle, or otherwise subdue our own sustenance directly, have a harder time “coming into being” (i.e., becoming educated about our natural relations)?

Coyote stealing fire from the shamans” will remind many of us of Prometheus, and the Great Turtle myth of the Iroquois of Gaia. Stay tuned, Stewart Brand and James Lovelock are on deck and in the hole. (Lovelock may actually be in his bunker humming Carole King.)

I’ve mentioned Aldo Leopold‘s “Land Ethic” before, but Cajete reminds us again. It carries a strong indigenous current I hadn’t thought about much: “We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.” Is that true?

“Multiverse” is a term William James liked, and lately Brian Greene and other astrophysicists, but for neither of them does the term quite mean “multiple realities of which the reality experienced by our five senses is only one of many possibilities,” and in which direct communion with animals and plants might result in knowledge discoverable in no other way. James would have been sympathetic, though, especially if the nitrous was strong.

Do animals have “rights,” beyond interests, even if they cannot defend them discursively or juridically? Peter Singer

The Navajo concept of ho’zho was engagingly discussed by Chris Phillips

Ancient indigenous paths and roads are everywhere, even where their traces are hard to spot. But I’ve been motoring up and down one of them for many years to visit my in-laws who live down “the Trace.” Sometimes I park, get out, lace up my Nikes, and participate in a locomotive ritual that owes more than most realize to native design genius in the matter of moccassins.

Finally, and not just because we’re just back from gorgeous Fall Creek Falls: springs and waterfalls are wonderful symbols of healing and purification. They’re powerful, beautiful, inspiring, “memorable.” I don’t think “western science” would or could ever remove its spiritual impact on any honest observer.

Carl Jung can’t drive

March 4, 2011

Harrison’s report on Carl Jung, the collective unconscious, and the power of myth reminds me again of Northern Exposure.  “Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.” That’s my kind of shrink.


Scott Pratt

January 31, 2011

We’re talking today about the ideas of Professor Scott Pratt (U. of Oregon), who visited our campus last spring and planted the seed of my interest in our course topic. Don’t know much about native and indigenous wisdom but I’m having fun learning.

NOTE TO STUDENTS: Class canceled today. Check your email.

From Scott’s website:

In my book, Native Pragmatism: Rethinking the Roots of American Philosophy, I argued that the philosophical views of Native Americans played a significant role in the origins of classical pragmatism-the philosophies of John Dewey, CharlesPeirce, and William James. By examining both the Native American philosophical traditions that emerged in the interaction between indigenous Americans and Europeans, and the ways in which the work of seminal European American philosophers developed, I argued that a case can be made for the influence of Native American thought. In particular, I looked at the work of Roger Williams, Benjamin Franklin, and Lydia Maria Child, the Native American traditions that they encountered, and ways in which these interactions contributed to a developing and distinctive American philosophy. Among the aspects of native thought that were most influential, I argued, was the principle of pluralism…

When Scott visited us last Spring he began with a series of creation myths from the Tualatin people of the Pacific Northwest. In each rendition, successive native epochs are eventually transmuted into non-human natural forms. Each gains from its respective creation story a coherence and inner relatedness that binds the people to one another, to the land and climate, to time and place.  Each tale somehow “liberates” its tellers from the threat of stolen or wrongfully-assimilated identity. In the aggregate, the tales stand together as a pluralistic unity: just the relatedness to please a good pragmatist.

Such stories may strike the literalizing western-scientific ear as quaint, charming, but irrelevant. Native thinkers and their sympathizers instead applaud their instructive attention to Mother Earth, and their receptivity to her lessons.

Pratt’s pragmatic-compatibilist thesis is that we can learn from such native American traditions, without compromising our commitment to the scientific story. The native point of view is inherently pluralistic. The scientific image, so far, has not been.

Calling  the earth and its people a “creation” may hang up those of us who’ve grown weary of the stale Intelligent Design squabbles of recent years, but the indigenous focus is not on the idea of a divine Singularity event that produced the cosmos. It is not even meant to contradict the evolutionary emphasis on natural processes of development over time. It is meant to underscore the inclusive relatedness and sacred spirituality of everything.  With the right spin, it’s nothing Darwin wouldn’t welcome. Or a Darwinian like E.O. Wilson.

But it might be un-Christian. Everything means everything, in the claim that everything and everyone is sacred and already “saved” by its natural provenance.  If you’re really a sacred part of the whole, you can’t fall. You don’t need to be redeemed. You don’t need a missionary to rescue you from paganism.
George Tinker had a beautiful dream of pluralism. How practical is it? Well, how practical was MLK’s? More than it seemed in 1962, for sure. Same goes for the Lakota phrase mitakuye oyasin, and its inclusive/pluralistic disposition towards creation.

Daniel Wildcat’s vision– which we’ll begin to explore in greater detail next class– is not merely meditative, but “co-active” and pragmatic.

Here’s our puzzle and challenge: how to honor the wisdom of native tales like that of the Skyhomish, who imagined a primordial tribal council setting the path of the river, and the “school” version that invokes only physics and geography? Are these really complementary “knowledges,” the mutual preservation of which makes us smarter? The solution, if there is one, will look forward to fruits. It won’t try to lock down the one true story and exclude all others. Is that too plural? Or just plural enough?

FYI, for those wishing to understand and possibly emulate the spiritual journey of Ed Chigliac:  The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville is offering a course called “The Shamanic Journey,” February 2–March 2:

Interested in learning an ancient form of healing and self-knowledge? Sian Wiltshire, our intern minister, who has been a shamanic practitioner for almost a decade, will be offering a class on the shamanic journey—the central spiritual practice of shamans around the world. Bring your curiosity and your questions to this five-part class. Please bring with you a pillow, blanket, any rattle or drum you may have (not required), and a journal or paper to write on. Norbert Capek Classroom (Morgan House), 1808 Woodmont Blvd., Nashville

primal roots

January 26, 2011

Bruce Wilshire is a distinguished philosopher from Rutgers University. We’re sampling his Primal Roots of American Philosophy today in NW, to get a feel for what he considers the natural affinity between philosophy in the American grain and, well, the native American grain.

Emerson, Thoreau, Peirce, James, Dewey, Royce… these classic American philosophers were meliorists devoted to making things progressively better. But their “progress” did not sunder mind from body, matter from spirit, subject from object. With Black Elk they sought Spirit under the big sky, on this planet, here and now. That, after all, is where we are.  America has “evaded” philosophy, said Cornel West. But that’s a good thing, when what’s being evaded is an unsustainable “modern” schism between humans and the life-world.

I’d never considered William James a Shaman, but maybe that is the right word for those whose own good words and examples help to cure some of us of our inveterate, debilitating habits of mediation and insulation from direct and immediate experience of our world. James urged receptivity to whatever might be present to absorb one’s “life-currents,” to the purity of “pure experience,” to the sufficiency of the present moment. Future fulfillments, so much the focal center of pragmatic philosophy, depend upon our successful attending to the now. Like Ed, of Cicely (“could be you’ve been called…”):

The best text in James I know to convey the lure of the primal and indigenous is this, from On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings“:

…we of the highly educated classes (so called) have most of us got far, far away from Nature. We are trained to seek the choice, the rare, the exquisite exclusively, and to overlook the common. We are stuffed with abstract conceptions, and glib with verbalities and verbosities; and in the culture of these higher functions the peculiar sources of joy connected with our simpler functions often dry up, and we grow stone-blind and insensible to life’s more elementary and general goods and joys.

The remedy under such conditions is to descend to a more profound and primitive level. To be imprisoned or shipwrecked or forced into the army would permanently show the good of life to many an over-educated pessimist. Living in the open air and on the ground, the lop-sided beam of the balance slowly rises to the level line; and the over-sensibilities and insensibilities even themselves out. The good of all the artificial schemes and fevers fades and pales; and that of seeing, smelling, tasting, sleeping, and daring and doing with one’s body, grows and grows. The savages and children of nature, to whom we deem ourselves so much superior, certainly are alive where we are often dead, along these lines; and, could they write as glibly as we do, they would read us impressive lectures on our impatience for improvement and on our blindness to the fundamental static goods of life. “Ali! my brother,” said a chieftain to his white guest, “thou wilt never know the happiness of both thinking of nothing and doing nothing. This, next to sleep, is the most enchanting of all things. Thus we were before our birth, and thus we shall be after death. Thy people. . . . when they have finished reaping one field, they begin to plough another; and, if the day were not enough, I have seen them plough by moonlight. What is their life to ours,—the life that is as naught to them? Blind that they are, they lose it all! But we live in the present.”

We too often fail to live in the present, and thus fail to be present to our very lives. We lack the quality of experience that John Dewey revered as natural piety, “a sense of nature as the whole of which we are parts… marked by intelligence and purpose [and] a capacity to strive by their aid to bring conditions into greater consonance with what is humanly desirable.” A Common Faith


November 2, 2010

It’s election day, and exam day, and a day for more midterm presentations and essays from everyone else. In honor of freedom and the vote, here’s my favorite radio philosopher Chris Stevens, celebrating electoral democracy. Worst form of government ever, except for all the others.

(This is pre-Palin Alaska, btw. Not the “real America.”)

Thursday we’ll pick it up again in Intro with Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, and Adam Smith (et al), the flip-side of the classic rationalist-empiricist coin. They would agree: you shouldn’t shun the franchise or take it for granted. Go to the polls and vote. Show ’em, like Uncle Roy showed Nixon. If you don’t, just don’t complain to me when they start chucking your tea into the harbor.

Meanwhile, I’ll try to bury the abruptly-terminated baseball season– my Giants won!— and warm up the hot stove for the long season of my sports-discontent. At least it carried me to November this year. Pitchers and catchers report in mid-February, but the big annual baseball symposium at my school that’s become the  surest sign of Spring isn’t ’til April!

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.

Somehow, the summer seemed to slip by faster this time. Maybe it wasn’t this summer, but all the summers… “The Green Fields of the Mind

Guess I might as well get started on that stack of grading. Bring it on.


December 3, 2009

“Strange is our situation here on Earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we’re here for the sake of others, above all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness depends; and also for those countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by bonds of sympathy.” Albert Einstein

But it doesn’t take an Einstein to recognize the importance of social bonds. This theme came up repeatedly in yesterday’s classes. Two reports touched independently on the concern that our vaunted technological “progress” is actually causing us to regress socially, ethically, and humanly. Others worried that the pursuit of happiness is being undermined by the way we live now, with our growing  reliance on those ubiquitous online “social networks” that may really be socially isolating. We navigate cyberspace with ease, but biospace is a mounting challenge.

Drifting apart, fixating on our own “status” (on Facebook and in the coldly-judging eyes of unsympathetic others) and perpetually polishing our superficial public personae, we may begin to lose the vital sense of common connection. We may forget that we’re all in the same boat (Bucky Fuller’s Spaceship Earth), breathing the same air, sharing the same fate. None of us will be “left behind,” if ever a Rapture (or its ecological equivalent) comes… or, what comes to the same thing, we all will be.

Computers and technology in general are tools. If they’re not helping us create ties that bind, we should replace them. And we should heed Mr. Einstein, and Chris Stevens (“studying philosophy has given him a generally calm demeanor”).  They knew something about real happiness in Cicely, AK. (This was pre-Sarah, though.)