Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summer is coming...

For any of you that have read George R.R. Martin's ongoing series (or watched the TV spin off), the title of today's post might have made you chuckle. "Winter is coming" is the motto of the Starks, one of the families Martin's series follows, and the idea of the oncoming Winter as both metaphor and very harsh reality is practically omnipresent in the books. Without wanting to give too much away about the series' sweeping and complex plot, in the world in which these books take place, seasons do not last for a set amount of time.  One never knows ahead of time how long a Winter or Summer (or Fall or Spring for that matter) will last--and the Winter holds a cruel promise of deprivation, want, desperation, madness, and the threat of violence of an even worse sort. Martin's world is grim, and only becomes grimmer as the Winter comes closer. "Winter is coming" becomes then a phrase to remind those who hear it that the worst is yet to come, that those who are ill-prepared won't stand a chance, and that many who are well prepared might not make it, but had better try anyway.

Yet I write "Summer is coming". Indeed, in one sense Summer is already here, and has been for several days. Children are ending their school year and the long weekend that marks Summer's opening for many people is just ahead of us. Of course I am not speaking only of our calendar Summer when I chose to bring it up here. Rather, I am speaking of Summer as a time of plenty, of blossoming, of freedom and relaxation and playfulness; a time of growth and bonding. I am using Summer here as a metaphor for social flourishing and a just world.

By now you may be thinking, "Allyson, you must be delusional! Look at the world around you; it seems on the brink of chaos. There's injustice everywhere, and environmental disasters, and civil wars, and governments cracking down on their own citizens, and possible economic collapse--how can you possibly think Summer is coming? If ever the Stark motto fit, now would be the time!" The funny thing is, a large part of me would agree with you, if that is what you're thinking. We do seem to be heading into leaner and rougher times. But that's precisely why I say, "Summer is coming."  I am a cyclical thinker, and the truth is that if Summer is coming, so is Winter. In fact, if Summer is "coming", it's likely that we're standing in Winter right now. And, just like in Martin's novels, we don't know how long this Winter is likely to be.


I raise this point because in the many necessary preparations for all the harsh facts of our present and projected future social, political, and environmental climate, I sometimes wonder if preparing for the possibility of "better days" is necessary too. I am hardly advocating we all put on rose-coloured glasses and ignore our present crises. Swift and wise action is needed to combat the environmental damage we have already done and continue to do. The level of suffering, poverty and violence around the globe needs to be lowered (eradicated would be even better, but that would take a transformation I at least can't forsee.) Our metaphorical Winter in all its harshness must be lived in and responded to, lest the life-and-soul draining forces of Winter run roughshod over us due to our own lack of preparation, and even our own actions in bringing the Winter here. But while we do this, should we not also be trying to think in terms of preparing structures that call forth flourishing--to think about justice and prepare for justice not just as a negative (fighting against injustices) way, but also in terms of a positive this is what justice and social flourishing might look like for these issues or contexts. In one of the comments on last week's post, Jared said we need to be "giving back to the creation what it needs to flourish once again". I think this is good insight, insofar as it is possible for us to do so. In at least some very significant ways, we, humans, are responsible for having called this harsh "Winter" into reality. If we were to be able to give back to creation what it needs to flourish again, could we not do the inverse and begin to call a "Summer" full of life and health into reality?


Of course, such a seasonal change is not going to happen overnight--if it happens at all. I admit in fact that I myself tend more toward the "Winter is coming" mentality, and that proclaiming or calling for the coming of Summer is for me more an act of spiritual discipline than it is a present understanding. But as a spiritual discipline it is something I believe may constitute a "calling" proper: a practice that is at the same time a vocation--and once which perhaps we are all called to, in different ways. In order to try to bring that Summer into reality, I try to balance the work I undertake against injustice with work that positively envisions and works for justice as the normal state of being. The question is then, what can we do (along with fighting the environmental, social and political injustices already here) to structure justice into our lives and actions? Is it a matter of writing better policy? Of putting new laws in place? Of changing the hearts and minds of individuals or changing the practices of corporations? Or do we perhaps need better theory behind our actions? Do we need to define what a right is, and whether (for example) the earth itself has "rights"? How can we decide this, on a global scale--who do we need to get talking to each other? How can we bring different groups together to the proverbial "table" and help them listen and learn from each other, working together for justice?


The seasons of Spring and Fall, metaphorically speaking, have always seemed to me to be times of people going their separate ways and being more focused on their own small groups, such as families. The proverbial crops need to be planted in Spring and harvested in the Fall, and those are times when one tends to one's own business, so to speak. Summer and Winter have a different metaphorical feel. In a harsh Winter, people pull together for warmth and to share scarce resources to ensure mutual survival. Desperate circumstances can make partners out of unlikely groups. Likewise in Summer people come together, but now to celebrate and bond. Festivities can also bring out unlikely partnerships, as people and groups find they had more in common than they thought and are more oriented toward a spirit of hope or joy. Given that we appear to be standing facing a long hard Winter, and given our (hopeful) orientation toward working for the coming of Summer, how can we pull together, and what particular issues should we be working on for creating positive accounts of what justice looks like? My plan in posing this question is to get a sense of what people believe are the pressing issues to be addressed, and then open a series of posts on some of those particular issues, with a view for discussing positive constructions of justice within them. I've thrown out the question of "environmental/earth rights" for discussion here. What say you?

20 comments:

  1. Too many things to say. Wealth needs to be redistributed for starters. There's nothing wrong with being rich (it should be indicative of a virtuous life) but there is something wrong with being rich when others are poor. (Consider Job for instance: he was wealthy beyond compare but if he saw someone who was hungry he fed them.) Politics needs to be refocused as well. It's too much about being re/elected versus cooperating in the search for the wisdom to rule. Perhaps above all though it's faith that needs to be restored. We're in a time of spiritual winter in the sense that our religious traditions aren't taken seriously anymore. They've by and large been segregated, not only from the state but from having any truth claim as well. As a society we've revoked for poor reasons our most established and enduring connections to God. If we could refind our way in this most basic sense I think that everything else would follow (environmental, economic and political success), and be on an everlasting basis to boot. (Here's hoping you are right that summer is coming. I certainly think the roots are there for a religious re-flourishing. I also think that signs of that summer are already starting to appear.)

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  2. Your comment Jared really brings to the fore the question of why people of religious faith and commitment should be politically and socially active in public. I suppose we could all cite Theresa of Calcutta and admit we are or ought to be so active "for the salvation of our souls". Working in public as people of faith may or may not re-enchant the social and political contexts in which we live our lives. Such re-enchantment may or may not be a good thing, full stop. People of many faiths in many ages have helped to maintain an enchanted world by their lives and testimony and that proved no guarantee to a world of environmental, economic and political flourishing. The connection between the public activity of people of faith and public flourishing seems far more oblique than that. I agree that the retreat from public spaces of faith or of people acting out of their faith on behalf of the public space and its needs marks a profound challenge to people of faith and the institutions they build or maintain. But the public good is not tied to spiritual health in anything like a graspable proportion. So what does it mean to affirm that "summer is coming"? How might people of faith be positive forces in that summer advent? What might the relation be betweeen religious reflorescence and the health of the public weal? My guess is that that relationship is a complex one. Cardus, a sister organization to ICS, points out many of the ways in which people of faith contribute or have historically contributed to the commonweal. But that is not the whole story; we people of faith also have things to answer for. Moreover, even when we have done everything well, in the right way, under the right aegis, things have not always turned out that well. What are we to make of that ambiguity? Theresa seemingly did all things well and suffered silently in a thousand different ways. Could she say that summer was coming out of an unambiguous conviction?

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  3. Hi Bob,

    That’s a lot to consider. Regarding the specific question of the involvement of people of faith in politics I might have to throw out a couple of clarifications to share my take on it. First, to go back to my statement about politics, political activity needs to be reoriented to the collaborative search for the wisdom to rule. That's what politics should be about: getting and instituting wisdom. I think our political assemblies come close to this even as they miss it completely sometimes. They are designed to provide a space for cooperative engagement in discerning the right course of action but more often than not they devolve into pure disputation and maneuvering on behalf of presupposed notions of what is right (for getting re-elected). Second, I think we have to understand ‘faith' less as the subscription to a particular tradition or church and more as a way of life, which is to say that an atheist could be just as faithful as an ardent member of a religious group (perhaps even more so since they might be less blinded by doctrines that can do more harm than good in the acquisition of wisdom). A person of faith is not necessarily someone who participates in or represents a certain faith community but rather it is someone who is committed to getting and instituting wisdom, and who will postpone their own selfish ends in the process (trusting that it is through the dictates of wisdom that lasting prosperity is had). In other words, a person of faith IS the ideal political actress, both being defined by a commitment to the acquisition and rule of wisdom. As such, the question of the involvement of people of faith in politics turns on the question of getting and instituting wisdom...

    To close the circle then, and to reconnect with what I take to be your deepest concern, I originally talked about getting back in touch with our faith traditions (by which I mean our scriptures especially) because I believe that these show us better than any other resource at our disposal what faith and the political task of acquiring wisdom looks like. If people of faith (in the sense of members of particular faith communities) have had a less than stellar political history I would want to argue that this is because they failed to get and institute wisdom. Perhaps they were too focused on having doctrine define their politics, which ultimately means they were pursuing selfish ends rather than the ends of wisdom. Or perhaps the dictates of wisdom are not always easy to discern or obey. In this case, the ambiguity and difficulties that you point out could be an historic reminder for us to be ever-vigilant about what we say and do. Either way, I think that the acquisition of wisdom is both possible and called for in the political life of faith. I don't know how to fully realize it but I'm certain that the way is revealed in the scriptures of our faith traditions and that realizing it is the key to a prosperous cosmos.

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  4. I think wisdom is vital for government, Jared, but I'm not sure about the way in which you've linked wisdom and faith. Speaking about who a person of faith is, you say, "A person of faith is not necessarily someone who participates in or represents a certain faith community but rather it is someone who is committed to getting and instituting wisdom, and who will postpone their own selfish ends in the process" I think what you have described here is the beginnings of a wise person, who may also or may also not be a person of faith. I suppose I am bringing this up because I don't want to conflate faith and wisdom. Those are separate things, yes?

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  5. Hi Allyson, I think faith and wisdom are separate. I don't want to conflate them either. I do think they are tightly wound though, in that I don't think there can be (much) wisdom without faith, or faith without wisdom. Questions: Would you be more or less agreeable to the idea that faith, which is to say true faith versus idolatry, is trusting in and being committed to the rule of God? Furthermore, would you be agreeable to the idea that God's rule is the rule of wisdom? And finally, to the idea that wisdom is available to human beings as well, so that (true) faith more generally is being committed to the rule of wisdom? That is to say, to getting and instituting wisdom, whether it comes from God or anyone else? If you are agreeable to these terms, then I think you'd have to agree that if there was no wisdom there could be no (true) faith, since there would be nothing (truly) worthy of our trust and commitment. Similarly, if there was no faith there wouldn't be (much) wisdom either, since there wouldn't be anyone committed to getting and instituting it (any acquisitions of wisdom would be accidental). As such, faith and wisdom are separate but also tightly wound. This all hinges on a pretty strict definition of faith though, or on the insistence that there is a true faith and that other instances of trust and commitment aren't really faith at all.

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    1. (I'm pushing for a pretty strict definition of faith here, a one and only true faith, but also for a faith that can cut across religious divides, in that even atheists or members of other religious groups can be people of faith so long as their commitment is to wisdom.

      If you're familiar with Agamben on Paul (I believe in The Time That Remains), you might recall a similar idea there, where the people of faith (or what Agamben calls the remainder or remnant), identifies a group that cuts across religious lines. That is, there are faithful and non-faithful people in the Jewish AND Gentile religious/cultural groups. Faith is less defined by adherance to a particular community or set of beliefs and more by what I called before the way of life of the person...

      I think this kind of faith is especially important today, assuming we are in a time of spiritual winter. We need a faith that is inclusive, that can speak to people in terms they can respect, and that recognizes our human capacity to flourish without God, which I believe has always been our calling.)

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  6. I'm having a hard time seeing how one can push for a strict definition of faith that is "one and only true faith" that nevertheless "can cut across religious divides" but perhaps that is possible--and if so, could solve some of the tensions faced in a pluralist world today... while likely creating other tensions at the same time. But I'm guessing that tension is part of of living in this world, so the fact that any particular definition "creates tension" does not immediately disqualify it from being good.

    To throw out a further question, how, then would you take the definition you have posited and work with it to creative a positive account of what justice looks like--an account that might both respond to our present winter and orient itself towards the possibility of Summer? (I realize this is no small question, but sometimes it's good to just ask those crazy big questions and see what we can collectively come up with!)

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  7. Hi Allyson,

    Faith in wisdom is all that I'm pushing for. To getting and instituting it, whatever that entails, even if it means contesting God. I think the 'spread' of such a faith would set up a collective posture that is not too far from the assemblies that more or less define our politics now. That is, I see the widespread faith in wisdom resulting in something similar to a parliament, or a heavenly court if you will, where those committed to wisdom work together in collaborative and heated discourse toward getting and instituting the right course of action. (Similar to Moses ascending the mountain and talking to God, and even chastizing God when God's decisions lack wisdom. Or to Abraham doing the same: "What if there were ten good people there, would you spare them then?...")


    That's what I mean by the one and only true faith, and it has precious little to do, I think, with much of what gets included under the rubric of religion (doctrines, practices, etc). As such it is a notion of faith that can cut across religious divides. It defines a people of faith that is unbounded by traditional religious boundaries (Christian, Jew, atheist, etc) or even traditional cultural boundaries (slave, free, male, female, gay, straight, rich, poor, etc). Anyone in any one of these groups can be accounted wise and/or faithful to wisdom... And that's all that really matters.

    One of the tensions that exists with this 'framework' is how to recognize wisdom. I almost want to say that we'll know it when we see it/hear it. (Kind of like we just know when we see someone starving that giving them food is the right thing to do.) Wisdom is a conversation stopper, but in a good way...

    As to what JUSTICE looks like and how this is related to the faith (in wisdom) that I'm espousing, I think that Bob put it pretty darn well in an earlier conversation. It's when every creature is given their due, and where what is due to each creature is what enables that creature to flourish.

    With that in mind, just think how justice would be served, for example, if our parliaments were not so militantly partisan in their work and actually worked together at finding and implementing the right solutions? Or in other words, if our politicians were staunch advocates and defenders of wisdom, committed only to finding and instituting what is right versus what they think will get them re-elected or serve their own special interests? We're so close to this but at the same time so far away...

    In Canadian politics I think that Jack Layton was the closest thing to a spring-time we've had in some time. He tapped into this deep desire in all people for representatives who draw upon the power of wisdom by speaking on behalf of what is right. I don't mean to say that all of Layton's policies were wise, or that he didn't have his own special interests, but only that he came closest to embodying the kind of politics that I think we all (deep-down) desire. His passing was perhaps so painful to us because it meant the passing of this spring-time in our political landscape and a return to winter, which is to say to a politics that is more or less unconcerned with doing what is right.

    Anyways, I hope that gets at some of your questions. I think I'm pushing for something that is really quite simple and agreeable here, even as it all hinges on wisdom, which is really quite complex and difficult at times. (Just think of the choice that Solomon had to make, for instance, about who the true mother of the infant was, and the inspired ploy that he used to find out...)

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  8. It seems to me that we have yet to think about Allyson's original question: Can the environment be meaningfully said to have rights? It is an interesting question. It seems to me that such talk would have to be acknowledged as an anthropomorphization. Often such a move, to treat and speak of the non-human as if it is human, is mistaken, but anthropomorphization is almost unavoidable and at times helpful. Would speech of environmental rights be one such occasion? Here is a suggestion: Perhaps we can think of the issue in terms of one of the reformational tradition's philosophical habits of thinking about order in terms of law. Law holds-for, that is its principle act. When one acknowledges and lives within the stipulations of law one works with its force field (the tensiveness that allows it to hold-for). When that happens flourishing results. When one works against the stipulations of law, when one struggles against the grain, there arise resistences that must be overcome, overmastered, suppressed. Many of our agricultural practices in North America provide evidence thereof. Habitual reliance on chemical fertilizers sets up a "resistence" in the earth being worked in this way that must be constantly overcome by use of ever more chemical fertilizers to name but one example. Resistences set limits to our ability to work against the grain of law. The law impinges upon us and our activity. When resistences are ignored or overmastered long enough, disaster can result. Is it helpful to think of environmental rights as a metaphor for the "resistences" that occur when we ignore or knowingly contravene the "laws" properly operative within the creation that condition and enable creaturely flourishing? Of course the language of laws and resistences and so forth is equally metaphoric, but it strikes me that it taps into an older and more deeply encorporated "legal" metaphorics with respect to our human relations with the non-human world than the language of rights and can therefore help to give content to a language of rights when such language is applied to the relationship between the human and non-human. Does that take us a step or two into the exploration that we were originally invited into?

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    1. I think that definitely makes a step into the exploration I am hoping for, and goes some ways toward addressing some of the problems "environmental rights" language runs into vis a vis anthropomorphisim. I think in particularly your language of "overmastering" speaks to a problem we have often had, as humans trying to flourish in the ways we understand flourishing to be. Often we, collectively, have used concepts like "mastering nature" or "harnessing the power of [X]" But I think you point out a crucial difference with the use of "*over*mstering: when one "masters" a skill, one is learning how to properly use that skill, and under what circumstances it is appropriate to do so. I can master the art of tablet weaving, for example, and if I were to master such an art, I would know both how to do it well, and what things would be good to use that technique to weave for. But tablet weaving is an art and a skill. The materials I use to do it may "push back" (if I warp up my weaving poorly, then the tension will be wrong, and threads may snap) but the skill itself is an art to be learned, and so far as I am aware, the threads are not living creatures. Having "mastery" over the earth is a different thing entirely, it seems to me, as your example of chemical fertilizer shows. That sort of mastery is mastery over living things--plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, etc--and whereas I must first "apprentice" myself to an art in order to master that art, the opposite is true of mastery over living things. There one is not apprenticing oneself in order to learn but enforcing one's will (however benevolently or well-intentioned) over something(s) else. I wonder, thinking through your comment Bob, how much our practices would change if we thought of earth-keeping and agriculture as an art to which we must apprentice ourselves, and learn how to work with what we are engaged with instead of changing it to suit our wants?

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    2. Sorry to jump in, and pardon the essay, but I like your idea Bob that cosmic entities will resist us as we push them off the path to prosperity, which is to say against the grain of the laws of creation or what I would call wisdom. I also agree that approaching the matter from the perspective of ‘resistance’ is helpful in coming to a meaningful sense of environmental rights.

      But I wonder if I could relate what you say to what I was saying before, and perhaps take it further, by suggesting that resistance may not be a bad thing. That is, I wonder if you would agree that the resistance of fellow entities against us (and our resistance against them) is not necessarily a sign that we are transgressing the laws of creation in a harmful way, such that we should change our ways, but that we are participating in the further development of the creational order, which can be a good thing, because the law needs to change if it is to continue to ‘hold-for’ what was always meant to be a developing cosmos. (We need new orders if we are to continue to mature and multiply and overcome the challenges of achieving cosmic prosperity.)

      If I could use the example that I have been, the resistance of the environment against us is essentially the same as the resistance at the heart of our political assemblies. In both cases it is meant to push us toward better laws and/or wisdom as well as the prosperity that comes with it. It is not necessarily a sign that we are off track and need to adjust our course but could just as well indicate that we are moving in the right direction and that the GRAIN is what needs to change.

      Because of this ambiguity, or the ambiguousness of any resistance that we encounter, I think that resistance can only be taken as a sign that we're still in a situation where the resistance-quelling power of wisdom has yet to be fully revealed, either to us, to our opponents, or to all parties involved. As such, I think that resistance is a cue for us to continue throwing our full weight against our opponents WHILE continuing (or starting!) to receive the full weight of their response. The goal is not to emerge victorious by any means necessary or to withdraw at the slightest push-back but to find wisdom, to subdue or be subdued by it, and to continue to meet with resistance until this happens.

      In the example you raise though of the increasing resistance of the soil to our demands that it produce, I think the solution there, so you know, is not to push the soil even harder in our mutual search for wisdom but rather to start listening to the soil for once, taking its resistance to us as a serious claim against our ways. We have yet to really do this, despite, I would say, what is the atypical (compared to human) honesty or forthrightness of environmental entities (plants, animals, rocks, etc). (I think we should almost always take the resistance of such entities as a serious claim against us and as good reason to immediately refrain from what we’re doing.)

      The problem we have with the environment is essentially the same problem that our political assemblies have: participants there don't really listen to their opponents either but are focused solely on their own victory. So I think one of the main corrections, which I believe is your point, is that we need to start becoming more receptive to what is being said in resistance to us, no matter who or what is speaking. If we do so, we'll enter into a more egalitarian cosmic order where something like environmental 'rights' will naturally be instated. To reiterate my ‘addition’ though, I think we need to couple this receptiveness and willingness to be subdued (by animals and dirt even) with a warlike spirit to speak our own minds and to subdue those who resist us. I think this is just as critical to the reign of wisdom and staying on the path to prosperity.

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  9. Of course, it was indeed long thought of as a manual art in the encyclopedic tradition and functioned as an art de facto in the long era of peasant farming with children apprenticing with parents in learning the craft of husbandry etc. And much traditional farming practice did work with the land its contours, climate etc. as often as against it. We see this still among the Amish and other Menonite groups that practice older forms of agriculture. Such practices are harder to maintain in the era of factory farming. But I rather imagine that such practices come to seem quaint and ill-advised in the era of factory farming and the transformation of agriculture in and through its encorporation within a consumer economy. But the question is whether an apprenticeship model would foster a more just relationship to the non-human world humans encounter in providing for human sustenance. One does not take on the earth and its creatures as one's master or teacher except in as much as the art has been developed in part by attentive observation of them and their needs. An art can be exploitative--traditional slash and burn agriculture in large parts of subsaharan Africa or in the Amazon basin. This art can be learned by apprenticeship but will not foster a more just orientation toward the earth; it is by its very nature a scorched earth orientation to the land. So to me it seems as if a conception of agriculture as an art one apprentices oneself to is not in and of itself adequate to transform our current agricultural relation to the land and its creatures. But maybe I have missed something that you were seeing and thinking about?

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    1. I agree completely that undertaking an apprenticeship to learn how to farm (for example) will not necessarily solve our problems or address the issue the issue of environmental rights. Whether any sort of "apprenticeship" could have a positive effect toward building environmental rights will depend entirely on who--or more specifically with regards to my proposal, what--one apprentices oneself to. What I am asking about here is whether we should consider "apprenticing" ourselves to the earth and its creatures/entities as a means of learning the art and skill of things such as agriculture--or gathering mineral resources for that matter. I realize that using this kind of language comes very close to anthropomorphizing the earth, but I don't think that it is necessary to understand the language (and actions)I am proposing that way. What I am suggesting is a change in our understanding of our relationship to the earth and its resources. You use the word "observation" and Jared used the phrase the "honesty or forthrightness of environmental entities (plants, animals, rocks, etc)", and I think both those phrases get at what I am proposing. Jared is quite right that environmental entities can have honest and forthright responses to our actions, and the actions of things or forces around them. May point is that we are not used to paying attention to these responses any more, if we ever were. If we take those environmental entities--plants, animals, even the soil--as creatures from whom to learn, to take seriously as teachers toward whom we are receptive of what they have to tell us about the art and skill we are desiring to learn, then our "apprenticeship" is far more likely to produce an understanding of an orientation toward environmental rights as a "full earth flourishing" scenario. Of course a plant, animal or stone cannot be my "master" in the sense typically meant when we use the word "apprenticeship." I can't speak dandelion, squirrel or granite (just as an example!) and they can't speak English. But I can learn more about our mutually inhabited world by observing them with an orientation toward treating them as fellow creatures in this world, and as potential real "teachers". They may even respond in kind, and try to orient themselves toward me as a fellow-creature from whom they might learn, who knows? (Though I freely admit I have no idea what a rock might learn from me!) Does that explain my thinking on the concept of apprenticeship I am talking about here a bit more clearly?

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  10. Is it helpful to turn to thinkers who have reflected on the land and its creatures for their intimate relation to human beings' own experience of bodiliness? Stated otherwise, how do our individual, social and political reflections and practices concerning the human body both reveal and inform our reflections and practices concerning the natural world? Are bodies understood as "product[s], made delectably consumable" [Wendell Berry, "Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community," 135-136]? And if so, what are the devastating consequences of such an understanding?

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    1. You raise a really interesting question, Jennifer, that I don't think we've delved into here yet. We often see ourselves as somehow outside the world in the sense that we affect it, and not how it and our own actions affect us, our very bodies. Are you suggesting that we need to gain a better understanding of our own embodiment (and thus our innate "affectability" as a bodies grounded in an environment) in order to pursue something like environmental rights?

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  11. Yes, Allyson, I do think that an authentic understanding of our own embodiment is a crucial starting point for any responsible reflection on justice in terms of the environment. And I think that a philosophical anthropology that is distinctly relational is a way to begin.

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  12. I agree that a relational and interrelational understanding of human being and flourishing can provide a context that facilitates a "listening" posture with respect to the non-human world, an extention of a relational and interrelational sense of human community and society--a positive anthropomorphism. In prior chapters of human history when human culture and society demanded careful attention to surrounding environment and its forces and patterns such a listening posture was a survival necessity. This is still the case in large parts of the so-called developing world or in remote aboriginal communities of N. America, Australia or the arctic rim of the Eurasian landmass. It is especially in industrial and post-industrial societies in which the technical means exist to dominate or overmaster the environment for short term ends. It is here that resistences are most obvious, especially in large urban environments. I think it is no accident that a concern for the environment finds such resonance in urban contexts where the human hegemony is so obvious and tyrannical whereas on the prairies where human settlement is still relatively thin and the non-human world still so imposing it is still possible to think of the non-human world as an inexhaustible context and source of plenty. At any rate, that is an impression I have. This train of thought suggests a thesis. Interrelational notions of human being and flourishing were "natural" in ages of heteronomic culture, cultures in which the wellsprings of authority and flourishing were thought to come from outside the human community. They have fared rather poorly in the modern context of autonomy when those same wellsprings are assumed to be generated by the human community itself. But what of a movement into theonomy as Tillich had hoped for, a synthesis of the spirit of both heteronomy and autonomy into a new ethos that opens up a new culture with new possibilities? How could a strong sense of human identity and possibility go with the sense of interrelatedness as yet constitutive of human being and flourishing? Is that a way of expressing what you are thinking Jennifer?

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  13. It should in fact be emphasized, as you have done here, Bob, that a philosophical or theological treatment of human flourishing is more far-reaching in effectiveness insofar as it accounts for both heteronomy and autonomy. In metaphysical terms, this is an account of substance in relation. My point is that a helpful reflection for orienting industrial and post-industrial societies to the non-human world is one that emphasizes how autonomy arises through, and exists for, the sake of heteronomy. When this reflection leads into an equation of heteronomy and autonomy, it has of course missed the mark.

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  14. My guess is that Tillich was not headed toward the equation of heteronomy and autonomy but toward a third ethos which takes up the virtues of both into something new. The name he gave the new was theonomy. My guess is further that this comes very close to what you name as a sense of the rise of autonomy through and for the sake of heteronomy. The point I suppose is that the human community takes on as ITS project (the virtue of autonomy) a listening posture predicated on recognition of the claims and authority that transcends its own fabrications (the virtue of heteronomy). It would be such a listening posture directed at the non-human creation that might allow the human community to better respect the flourishing of the non-human, to better respect the rights of non-human creatures, if one may speak that way. Anyway, I would offer that as a tentative thesis.

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  15. Bob, my understanding of theonomy in Tillich's work is in agreement with yours--that it is in fact something distinct from heteronomy and autonomy, while incorporating the authentic role of each. But I would hesitate to move to that distinctness without first intentionally adverting to the authentic role of each constituting element. If we can reach back to medieval thought for a model, I find aspects of Meister Eckhart's work to offer an example of such a "listening posture" directed at non-human creation, as you have proposed. There, a dynamic view of non-human creation emerges through a dialectic between human identity and interrelatedness. My point is not to stay in the medieval period, but to try to think through Allyson's question by beginning to think through the perduring aspects of spiritual exercises such as Eckhart's that may shed light on this contemporary concern. That is my tentative response.

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