ecology and consumption :: the “nimby” effect

Here is a list of ten places you will not see on the cover of any travel magazine for the next few…hundred years. For the second year running, the Blacksmith Institute has released a list of the most polluted places on the planet. Needless to say, there was an unfortunate amount of competition for the honor.

Factory in Azerbaijan

What is remarkable (but not necessarily surprising) is the concentration of sites on the map. North America (North of Mexico), Western Europe (West of Belarus), and Australia are scot free. None of the top ten, not even the top thirty most polluted sites are to be found in our backyards. What does this mean? Should we “developed folk” congratulate ourselves on the success of our environmental regulations and efforts at conservation? We’ve realized our errors and are cleaning up our messes. We are taking good care of the planet. Being stewards of what we’re given. Those backwards folks in the third world have yet to get on the ecological bandwagon.

I would not be too hasty with the laud. It rests on an answer (“Not In My Back Yard!”) too facile to function for long. Continue reading “ecology and consumption :: the “nimby” effect”

nature and civilization :: of dirt and dangerous divisions

Scraped together out of dirt, humanity is creation rearranged. Our atoms are interchangable with those of birds, bees, monkeys and mollusks. Theologically, no less than biologically or chemically, humanity is continuous with creation. Whatever is going on in the show here, humanity is a part of the scenery.

Some complexity is introduced when God leans down to breathe into the muddled mud-ling he’s put together. Dirt that shows something about God, “images” Him. Humanity has a unique role on the planet we are a part of.

Somewhere along the line, we became civilized. This is mostly measured by the fact that we are no longer dependent on nature in our day to day lives. Signs of civilization include the light bulbs that enable us to read late into the night (a much more convenient form of light than fire…), and the fact that we can live in rediculously uninhabitable places like Antarctica or Alberta. If you are a human being reading this, give your self a pat on the back–you are civilized!

As wealthy Westerners, it is tempting to interpret this functional impervious-ness from “nature” as independence, as a mark of real distinction between us and the rest of the planet’s inhabitants. I will be the last one to deride technology and all the benefits of human creativity. That said, independence from nature is a destructive myth, dangerous both ecologically and theologically. Our “civilization” fuels this myth and enables a noxious self-misunderstanding. Continue reading “nature and civilization :: of dirt and dangerous divisions”

summer update

Stanton Peak
Hello all. My noted absence in the electronic realm lately is due to my much needed presence off in the Sierra Nevada. I’ve just finished leading two separate trips (with Carolyn) for Sierra Treks.

The first was an eight day trip for alumni of an off-campus program in Oregon – The Oregon Extension. The OE, as it is called, is home to a handful of wonderfully eccentric professors, one of whom was on the trip with us to lead us in bible study and contemplative practices. John Linton is a wonderful fellow to get into a long conversation with. He’s deeply interested in questions of violence, and especially religious violence. Continue reading “summer update”

summer road trip :: stage two

Carolyn and I just returned from a week with my family at Lake Powell – that ecological abomination in the desert. It was a real treat to get to see everyone for a few days – aunts, uncles, friends, brothers, sisters, and a grandma – coming from all over the country. Like most Meyer vacations, we left more sore, tired, and bruised than we arrived. The highlight of the Lake Powell trip is the “dawn patrol.” This means getting up at 5:30 to throw yourself out of the ski boat while the water is still glassy smooth. Here are a few pictures for you. Continue reading “summer road trip :: stage two”

a new low for the species :: Evian Atomizer :: (re)made in whose image?

I hate to give it attention (even disdain is a form of advertisement), but I came across a product so mindless today that I’m having trouble imagining the person who would actually spend $15.50 on something so inane. After we tried an odor-less, color-less free sample, the friend I was with captured it in a single phrase: “For people with more money than brains.” In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only possible use for this product is to show other people just how much money you have to waste on something that you can get elsewhere for free.

So what is the offending product?

In a double lined, pressure treated, painted, labeled, aluminum aerosol can sitting in a prominent cardboard and plastic display (featuring a beautiful young woman who is obviously deriving meaning and purpose in life from her use of the product), is well… um… water. Continue reading “a new low for the species :: Evian Atomizer :: (re)made in whose image?”

zimbabwe :: worse and worse

I have a soft spot in my heart for the southern African nation being mismanaged into shambles by an octogenarian autocrat who has been in power for far too long. In the 1980’s Robert Mugabe helped to lead the people of “Rhodesia” to Western-style self-rule, distancing the country from the legacy of diamond-guru Cecil John Rhodes and the lingering imperial presence of the British. He has been in office ever since.

The soft spot in my heart has begun to tear in the last few weeks as almost daily I read some new bit of news on the BBC about the state of the country. Here are a few links:

— The country with the world’s highest rate of inflation (previously 2,200% per year), now has a rate of 3,791%. I’ll give you an idea of what that means. Average inflation in the States hangs around 4%. That means that the milk you buy this year for $2.50 will cost $2.60 next year. If you were to buy a half-gallon of milk in Zimbabwe today for $2.50 (keep in mind that inflation has been running at rates in the thousands for years now), a year from now, that milk would cost you just shy of $95 dollars. Your employer can’t afford to give you a 3,000% percent raise annually, so you are trying to buy this milk on the same salary you’ve had for as long as you’ve been lucky enough to have a job. Money isn’t even worth carrying as toilet paper in Zimbabwe. Thousand dollar bills are literally worth less than the shiny bit of aluminum wrapped around your chewing gum. Continue reading “zimbabwe :: worse and worse”

words matter :: physicality and meaning

We think of words as non-physical things, unattached and uncommitted to location or time. Words are transient, the same word may pop up on a dozen different tongues and refer to a dozen different things.

Our common-sense way of thinking about words misses out on an important aspect of word-iness. There is no such thing as a pure word without physical mediation.

Think about it, we never meet words except where we meet them in the context of meeting something (or someone) physical. Whether that mediation comes in the form of a computer screen, a sheet of paper, a friend’s face, or a loudspeaker, words are always intrinsically rooted in tangible encounters. Spoken words rely on the vibration of molecules, written words rely on their arrangement in some opaque surface, and even the words in your mind are inseparable from the firing of little neurons in complex networks. Where there is no matter, there are no words. Continue reading “words matter :: physicality and meaning”

Auden and Bonhoeffer :: scientists and theologians

Art is compatible with polytheism and with Christianity, but not with philosophical materialism; science is compatible with philosophical materialism and with Chritianity, but not with polythesim. No artist or scientist, however, can feel comfortable as a Christian; every artist who happens also to be a Christian wishes he could be a polytheist; every scientist in the same position what he could be a philosophical materialist. And with good reason. In a polytheist society, the artists are its theologians; in a materialist society, its theologians are the scientists. To a Christian, unfortunately, both art and science are secular activities, that is to say, small beer.
— W.H. Auden

Continue reading “Auden and Bonhoeffer :: scientists and theologians”

creeds and criticism :: history lessons (part II)

It is the task of history, once the other world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world.

Here, Karl Marx raises his disdain for any story that focuses its attention on an “other world” to ground the meaning of the life we experience. The truth of this world, as Marx sees it, is made of the power relationships expressed through money and control. The truth of this world is the subjugation of the working classes by means of ideology, coercion, and religion – that great opiate by which the masses are kept from demanding all that they deserve in this life.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of man is a demand for their real happiness…. Religion is only the illusory sun about which man revolves so long as he does not revolve around himself.

Properly then, according to Marx, history’s task is to write the real story of what goes on in the world, without reference to “higher” realities or other worlds. The task of history is to set down the meaning of the only world we know in concrete political and economic terms, cutting through all the bourgeois cultural accretions that obscure the real power relationships. Continue reading “creeds and criticism :: history lessons (part II)”

creeds and criticism :: hellfire and history (part I)

“I reject any creed that would send the Dalai Lama to hell.” I watched an author of fiction (one I’m quite fond of) offer this phrase at a book release last year. As he spoke, the vast majority of receptive ears were attached to heads nodding in agreement and righteous indignation.

Inner monologue: “Who could possibly be so stupid as to send the Dalai Lama to hell? What group of people could possibly hold a set of beliefs that would send such a man to such a place? They must be ridiculous! The Apostles creed is bunk! We’d be better off if it were never repeated again!”

So… wouldn’t we as a species make it a few steps further along our evolutionary journey if we dropped the self-righteous possession of truth in pretty little formulas? Weren’t the creeds the attempt of the powerful majority in the early church to subjugate all dissenting opinions? Who in their right mind would want to follow such a legacy? Continue reading “creeds and criticism :: hellfire and history (part I)”

the new sex :: nature

Notice to all advertising executives previously unaware:

If you are looking for something to irrationally associate with your product in order to compel suckers to unload their wallets in your direction, try nature. You all have had tremendous success with the sex thing, and I think it will continue to work, but if (in a flash of conscience) you realise that provocatively posed perfect people pressed into terrifically tight attire actually has nothing to do with peanut butter, cellphones, internet car insurance (or whatever you are peddling) then try nature! Continue reading “the new sex :: nature”

manifold-option quiz :: political theology

Here’s a question that I’m working through right now. I’m looking for some help from outside my own head. What is your gut reaction to the question below? If you don’t feel qualified to answer the question then you are exactly the person I’m looking for – give it your best shot. I don’t feel qualified to ask it – so if you don’t like the options provided, feel free to invent your own, combine mine, or do something else altogether. Continue reading “manifold-option quiz :: political theology”