author: Marc Batko December 2004 email Marc
Nature is a healer and teacher, a wounded healer and scorned teacher, a majestic fountain of awe, wonder and inspiration. This essay focuses on the misuse and commodification of nature and calls us to new consciousness and new priorities. Nature, the foundation of economics, cries in pain because she is reduced to a free good, external or sink by a one-dimensional economism.
Nature as Healer and Teacher
By Marc Batko
In “One Family”, the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff insists that survival as a species will be easier than survival as a family. This essay seeks to encourage a change of consciousness, a respect for diversity, a commitment to humility and a love for life.
The economy is part of a larger reality or oikos. May we break from the myths of the total absolute market, nature as an external or free good and life as social Darwinism. Living the truths of interdependence means reducing working hours. In a healed balanced perspective urged by Christianity, Buddhism and the Simpsons, the economy is one element of life with especial responsibility to future generations. Without this healed balanced perspective, cultures and the future are sacrificed to the Washington Consensus of liberalization, deregulation and privatization. Without a change of consciousness and priorities, the economy becomes a steamroller with a self-dynamic where nature, women and the third world fall by the wayside.
Human life ought to be dialogical, people relating to one another as question and answer. Gandhi declared that everyone has a wild card in him or herself; only spiritual discipline is necessary for transformation. The truth will set us free but the truth is a process, not a cudgel, a process that can be vitiated by the love of money or the love of power. Life in interdependence with God, contemporaries and nature is life in humility and teachability.
Technology isn’t neutral like an eggbeater but a worldview that envelops. The weaver becomes the web and the machinist the machine (Langdon Winner, MIT). Economic ideology and anthropocentrism have allowed nature to be reduced to a free good, an external and a sink, not counted in economic calculations. The Washington Consensus, the ideology of the total absolute market, is at the root of increasing world inequality and environmental destruction. When profit is made supreme and investors and financiers eclipse workers and consumers, the world is reduced to commodities and merchandise.
Lakes are more than anti-freeze and mountains are more than landfill, First Nations people warn us. Being is greater than having. Hearkening back to an ancient Buddhist saying, a rich one is one who can lose all he has without sorrow.
The malaise of the North could be the harbinger of another world. Overproduction and commodification could be replaced by sharing and sustainability. As crisis and opportunity are represented by the same Chinese letter, people of the North must see their wealth as a gift despoiled by greed and megalomania. Without this new sense of contingency, criticism and intercultural and intergenerational trust become ephemeral.
As love exists in three forms, Eros, Philatio and Agape, the future is described by three German words, Zukunft, Futurum and Adventus. Will the future be marked by sustainability or ruination? Can we see nature as the foundation of future economics? Can we view the economy as part of a greater reality or oikos?
Hope like the immigrant is often unwelcome, calling us to new priorities and paradigms. Nature has rights in herself as children have rights in themselves. Nature comes to us as a healer and teacher, a majestic source of awe and inspiration, a balm designed to bless the poor and the rich as the sun rises on the good and the unjust. Listening to nature can enable us to understand faith as the balancing act of life, the tightrope walk between privacy and community, between individual realization and social development.
Ends and means are confused as part and whole are often confused. Forgetful of nature and of our spiritual core, the economy often becomes a steamroller driven only by profit and short-term constraints. Instead of being one aspect, economism and instrumental rationality colonize all life. All dialogue and relationships become reduced to materialism. The German philosopher Ernst Bloch inveighed against vulgar materialism where all life is reduced to sky atoms, cloud atoms etc.
Nature calls us to unsurpassable majesty, to the wonder and inscrutability of life and to contemplative life. The simplistic reductionism that denies the complexity and uncertainty of life makes us slaves of the routine and conventional perception, accepting as real only what is calculable and known. Mystery, spiritual nexus, wonder and vision are only troublesome intrusions to the hyper-pragmatic mindset. The farmer rose and slept without knowing how the seed grew, Jesus said (Matthew 13). Can we rediscover our humility and interconnectedness and learn from different spiritual traditions? Perhaps riches are like thorns, a temptation to be overcome on our way to wholeness.
In a complex and uncertain world, we are lured by linear and quantitative interpretations of the world and by simplistic and xenophobic solutions, e.g. might makes right. Rightwing extremism seems naturalized in the America of G.W. Bush. The middle has moved to the right. Communities and continents seem mired in disillusionment and resignation. Private interests and power elites make mockery of sustainability and democracy.
Kairos time, the time of decision, differs from everyday time. The Old Testament prophets and the different resistance traditions tried to warn against the delusions of self-interest and the idolatry of power and riches. These voices are often continuously marginalized and disparaged as naïve and habitual disgruntlement. Nature strikes back, Eberhard Stammler wrote in Evangelische Kommentare. The overflowing of the Rhine and the earthquake in Japan are cries of wounded nature.
Being sustainable means using only what is necessary and not taking possibilities of life from future generations. Can we learn from First Nations people and plan for seven generations? Can we live in double vision as people of universal and particular history? Can we rediscover life as active and contemplative, ready to trade our sport-utility vehicles promoted as “lifestyle” for laptop computers?
The future of access, not excess, is a future of boundless growth. Materialism pretends to be absolute. Gold is stylized as the quintessence that changes all life, opens all doors, and cures all relationships. Hans Christoph Binswanger, an emeritus economics professor at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland discusses the economic pressure of growth in his book “Money and Magic”. Why did fishermen long content with providing for their families suddenly become obsessed with profit and mammoth output? The turning point came with the purchase of a boat. Can we become passionate about sustainable economics and subsistence economics? Nature will then be the treasure of life and the foundation of economics. KFC cannot bring us together; only a re-visioning of nature as healer and teacher can make our spirits strong and resilient. When the destruction of nature is included in prices and not arrogantly dismissed as an external or free good, we will turn from the temptations of excess and be stewards and partners of living, wounded and resplendent nature.
There is power in our vision, our proclamation, our decision and our passion. In a culture of nonstop consumerism, people become strangers to their gifts and powers. Cities that become gridlock reduce the value of the car. The ladder of success, corporate beneficence and the right of the stronger are slowly discredited as pillars of social Darwinism. Another world is possible where money and power do not disfigure communities and the future.
In the Jewish feast of Passover, families eat bitter herbs to remind them of their ancestors’ painful slavery in Egypt. A place is prepared for the prophet Elijah. Can we make a place for nature, the disparaged and reviled foundation of life?
Nature, women and the third world have been disfigured. Global warming, deforestation, over-fishing and genetic engineering are consequences of misguided economic theories and mythologies. The gross domestic product is gross when traffic accidents, cancer suffering and nuclear weapons are only positive inputs. Adbusters magazine from Vancouver, Canada has insisted that economists must learn to subtract ( http://www.adbusters,org). Rethinking Progress, a San Francisco based think tank on alternative economics offers help in leaving the mirage of unlimited quantitative growth.
As Horst-Eberhard Richter said, we live in a world of mutuality and no individual or nation can steal away without damaging nature. Denial of common guilt is part of the American tradition. St. Paul described our interdependence in unforgettable words: Can the eye say to the hand, I have no need of you? Why are you constantly fighting? Do you not have one Father? Jesus asked the refractory Jews.
The center cannot hold, William Butler Yeats warned. Everyone pursuing self-interest doesn’t bring the common good. The “invisible hand” of the market favors those with better starting conditions and makes health care, housing and water into privileges rather than rights.
Creating a social net is the prerequisite for reducing working hours or sharing work. Since we clearly lack the capacity to create meaningful work, sharing work becomes an imperative if the right to work should be upheld. Evaluating technology as to nature-friendliness and employment-friendliness is vital in a world of limits and short-term fixation. New priorities displacing profit worship and quantitative growth are necessary, not blaming the victim, selling the silverware, helping those already enriched or cutting down the branch on which we sit.
In an essay “Cooperation not Violence”, the theologian Gottfried Orth explains that cooperation is our true human nature. As carrots and onions thrive together, people in all their diversity and brokenness can cooperate. Out of the cacophony can come a symphony, Martin Luther King proclaimed.
Can we live as broken branches and as bearers of hope? Can we welcome criticism and peaceableness as parts of our being? Can we see the poverty of the global South as the concomitant to the wealth of the North? Can we remove the log of wastefulness and excess from our own eye before removing the speck from our brother’s eye? Can we repudiate life without criticism as arrogance and hubris?
Development can and must be defined differently. As life isn’t linear and self-evident, development is more than a fast-food restaurant on every corner. Being civilized means learning from the past, correcting our errors and beginning again. The North like the Prodigal Son wasted its inheritance in speculative shareholder capitalism. The normalization of war and the militarization of foreign policy are the bitter fruits of megalomania and imperial ambition. Kyrie Elieson! Under the guise of September 11, the Bush administration fell to the Orwellian perversion of calling attack defense, destroying two countries without any evidence of their complicity.
Four hundred translated articles await you on my website http://www.freewebs.com/mbtranslations “Nature Strikes Back!” by Eberhard Stammler, “Faith as a Balancing Act of Life” by Willibald Sandler, “Faith Heals Reason” by Dorothee Soelle, “Crisis as Opportunity: Exodus from the Accumulation Logic” by Maria Mies and “Beginnings that Guarantee the Whole” by Kurt Erlemann could give us new perspectives. Knowledge is power. The deception that ignorance is strength, the Washington consensus that deregulation, liberalization and privatization would lift all boats has proven to be a chimera or anachronism. Exploding inequality, ruined state finances, corporate welfare and corporate tax evasion are the consequences of market radicalism or market fundamentalism.
Nature falls by the wayside. According to the mythology, increased profits would lead to increased investment and increased jobs. According to reality, helping those who don’t need help, refusing to mend our own pockets and destroying nature, women and the third world are pathological consequences of our pride and impenitence.
Come to the waters of plurality, humility and inoffensiveness! Can the rich see themselves as needy of vision and compassion? Can the poor see themselves as rich in faith and guardians of repressed marginalized voices? When the destruction of nature is included in prices and not arrogantly dismissed as an external or free good, we will turn from the temptations of excess and be stewards and partners of nature. The friendly beneficent face of nature will dawn again when we live as open, welcoming and changeable creatures.