I was there. I saw it one day, the shimmer – “the brilliant shimmer of the biosphere.” I saw it in leaves after the rain – later, in a fishes’ scales and an animal’s fur, in the iridescent skin of my own infant daughter. I saw it and drank it in, in wonder and desire and gratitude. Mostly wonder.
Shimmer is what I care about. I didn’t have a word for it until I read Deborah Rose Bird’s essay: “Shimmer: When Everything You Love is Being Trashed” in Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet
Trees and stars are masters of shimmer, that is why trees are beyond value.
You can’t know when it will come upon you, it’s like grace that way but more wild. Wild as any newborn, wild as any animal. You know it is shimmer because it’s all that you can see (or hear or smell or touch or otherwise sense.) It’s more than you can sense – a revelation or a vision – but it’s just there in the fleeting moment and the ordinary thing that you passed a hundred times but now it is revealed to you as if it were the burning bush or the shining void. Or the melody that the world is making that you hear and yet don’t hear. That is playing through you. Or the smell of a memory that echoes through the rooms of time.
Shimmer is the world being itself and for once you happen to be there with it. For once, you see it.
Yes, shimmer is love. The appearance of love to a mortal being through some kind of miracle.
And shimmer is what we stand to lose.
Thank you to the indigenous people of Australia for their gift of shimmer, and to Deborah Bird Rose for carrying it into English.
How (capitalist) money and nature intertwine and bring multiple life-worlds into being is one of the themes of Anna Tsingʻs book on the matsutake mushroom, highly valued in Japanese culture and cuisine as a signal of autumn and a nostalgic reminder of the rural bounty of pre-industrial Japan. Tsing, who teaches anthropology at UC Santa Cruz and at Aarhus University in Denmark, is part of a network of thinkers who are forging new ways to write about human interactions with nature. Like the South American anthropologists associated with Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, the Santa Cruz cohort centered around Donna Hathaway have built a framework that allows the conversation between humans and non-humans in making landscapes and worlds to be taken seriously in academia. This is one step to making such thinking possible in the wider culture, rather than marginalized as the ravings of women and mystics or backwardness of indigenous people and cultures. Tsingʻs book, which has won numerous awards, is a lively and personal account of the people who interact with the matsutake mushroom, whether immigrant Lao or Mien mushroom foragers in the regrowth forests of Oregon, Yunnanese middlemen who use traditional ethnic ties to construct a supply chain, or the Japanese customers who relish the mushroom resonance with rural ways of life. Tsingʻs project is a study of the Anthropocene and “The Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet” (the title of her more recent edited volume) and the kind of “arts of noticing” and thinking that she champions as so urgently necessary to change the way we think about and relate to our world.
How many times do we say: “Well, it would be better in the long term if we all did X but it would not make money?” Or, “there isn’t enough money?” Or “it would not be competitive?” Or even worse: “We all know that X is a destructive thing to do but we all have to make a living.” In a sense, we say that last line to ourselves every day because that is how our economy works; it is built on “growth”, which, as the world stands, is a code word for exponential extraction and destruction of natural and social resources.
How did it come to be that we are controlled by money? How is it that our creation is controlling us? It’s fashionable to worry about the advent of AI (artificial intelligence) – and with good reason. We have already created a technology, a relatively simple technology, that is out of control – money and the system of valuation that underlies it. It is for money that we are burning up the only world we have. We are already fooled by and the slaves of our own creation, and our financial system is nothing as sophisticated as what it will be when augmented by AI, blockchain, cloud-computing and big data.
Now would be a good time to get a handle on our creation. Now would be a good time to think about where we are going. Continue reading “Money & Life”
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address climate change in terms of policy at the local level, at the smallest organized unit of government for my area, which is the County of Hawaii, encompassing the island of Hawaii. I am not an expert on climate change or climate change policy in any way, shape, or form, but this may well be the mother of all situations where we will need to learn by doing, rather than waiting on expertise that does not yet exist. Continue reading “Climate Change: Do Politics or Do Nothing?”
The drama that unfolded during the last few weeks over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court took many of us on a journey that no one could have predicted, and that became a drama about something much bigger than the Supreme Court. Bigger than party politics, or even right versus left. It became about being heard.
It became, for some of us, about memory, history, and the way we understood our own lives. Continue reading “Not Being Heard”
Why ask anthropology to look beyond the human? And why look to animals to do so? Looking at animals, who look back at us, and who look with us, and who are also, ultimately, part of us, even though their lives extend well beyond us, can tell us something. It can tell us about how that which lies “beyond” the human also sustains us and makes us the beings we are and those we might become. – Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human
One of the most frustrating things about Western civilization is its relentless anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism. Most of us modern, Western, scientific humans think that we are the only truly conscious beings, the only beings that can think, feel, and communicate. Itʻs a form of blindness or self-mutilation, in my opinion, as if we deliberately bound our feet or shut down one of our senses in order to belong to Team Civilization. Certainly such blindness makes ruthless exploitation of the natural world a lot easier on the conscience – if you consider all of it to be mindless matter then why not bring on the bulldozers? Continue reading “Trans-species Pidgins”
There is a long struggle ahead of us and the outlines of that struggle just got a little more clear this week, when Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts, introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act, which is about nothing much less than changing the game. Her legislation calls for corporations that make over $1 billion a year to be formally responsible not just to their shareholders but also to their workers, customers, and communities – which last concept hopefully extends to the environment. This is important because at present the board of directors and the management of corporations are legally bound to maximize economic return. That is the only criteria – other than not breaking the law – with which they are allowed to make decisions. This dictate is the backbone of capitalism as we know it, which is to say a most predatory, ruthless, and myopic kind of capitalism which sooner or later is going to get us all killed.
Of course the spokespersons for the titans of industry and finance say not only is Elizabeth Warren “batty” but also that she is a Communist who must be shut up or all the businesses in America will move to Switzerland ( I kid you not.) Because heaven knows American Capitalism Will Not Survive being responsible for anything but making as much money as possible! Such a fragile flower cannot be asked to clean up its own room or do the dishes.
As the incomparable Charles Pierce puts it:
This is one of the first complete frontal assaults on the economic theories that have ruled American politics in one form or another for the past four decades. It is one of the first substantial efforts to treat the ascendancy of conservative economic ideas as a thoroughgoing blight that must be reversed, and it does so by turning the achievements of which conservative economic ideologues are proudest back on them. Corporate personhood? OK, then we’re going to have corporate jail, too. A rising tide lifts all boats? We’re going to be sure everyone has a seat.
Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act is significant – perhaps even world-historically significant – but her legislation is just one point in a change in the air, in the mood, in a growing awareness. She has brought up into the bright light of the national political debate a simmering knowledge that what we do in pursuit of business success has complex consequences and those consequences are not adequately weighed and measured in the quarterly accounting of profit and loss, of Return On Investment, and Asset Liquidity. The long struggle will be to make this point over and over again – that we all must be responsible to a greater conception of the good and profitable – until it becomes common knowledge and the way we do things.
I tell you what…I’m signing on to her team.
This beautiful and rare little fern that lives in the forest above the ranch has an equally beautiful name: wahinenohomauna, which means woman (wahine) seated on or living on (noho) the mountain (mauna). She is no bigger than the palm of your hand and sits among the even smaller ferns and mosses that make up a kind of green fur on the trunk of a giant tree fern. In Hawaiian culture the high forest is wao akua or the realm of the gods. Here is one little god living in beauty – ferns upon ferns upon ferns.
Central Montana, it turns out, is having the best year for farms in recent memory, with round bales of hay in dense profusion on the landscape, luxuriant fields of barley undulating in the wind, thick stands of golden wheat ripening under the sun, and happy, fat cattle. Our first stop on our farm tour was a young farmer – Curt Myllymaki – on a large cattle and field crop farm (over 1000 acres) who is experimenting at scale with innovative crop rotations, dual cropping, and cover crops to restore soil fertility. We visited a field that was dual cropped with flax and chickpeas, as well as some stray sunflowers that “was left over in the seed hopper.” Continue reading “On a Montana Farm Tour: Small Innovations that Could Mean a Lot”
We don’t need more renewable energy to power how we live, but to change how we live so we don’t need that power. – Patrick Noble, https://convivialeconomy.com
There are some writers on the internet that get thousands of clicks and hundreds of comments every week. Generally these writers work hard to build their online community of readers. Their art is that of building a common language.
There are others who don’t have the knack or interest in building their readership. I suspect they are the kind of artist that is fascinated by something on the horizon, something that is not readily visible, and even less readily conveyable. Their art is that of illumination and discovery. Continue reading “Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble”