Why Should We Live With Problems We Can Solve?

Thanks to the mass media we are all aware of the Nobel Prize, awarded every year in six categories: chemistry, physics, medicine, economics, literature, and peace. 89% go to candidates from the ‘global North’ (North America and Europe) and 95% go to men. The first four categories recognize individual technological innovation and the latter two are heavily skewed by politics.

In the 1970s Jakob von Uexkull approached the Nobel Foundation to suggest two new awards, one for ecology and one for work aiding the poor majority of the world’s population. He offered to contribute financially, but the idea was turned down. So he sold his stamp collection for about $1 million, and in 1980 began the Right Livelihood Awards.  see http://www.rightlivelihood.org

The Right Livelihood Award presentation takes place in December in the Swedish Parliament on the evening before the Nobel Prize ceremony. The RLA has a completely open nomination process and no categories. Rather than searching the world for yet more technological innovation, the RLA jury screens the nominees with the question in mind, “Why should we live with problems we can solve?” The other criterion is that the recipients must be addressing the roots of global problems, not merely symptoms.

As a side note for those not familiar with the term, right livelihood is an ancient concept. It reflects a belief that a person should “follow an occupation consistent with the principles of honest living, treating with respect other people and the natural world. It means taking responsibility for one’s actions and living lightly in the world.”

Many wonderful people and groups have been Right Livelihood Award recipients. Some you may have heard of include Plenty International (USA), Leopold Kohr (Austria), the Self-Employed Women’s Association (India), Wangari Maathai (20 years before she got the Nobel Peace Prize), the Seikatsu Club Consumer’s Cooperative (Japan), Mary and Carrie Dann of the Western Shoshone Nation (USA), Ken Saro-Wiwa (Nigeria), the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP of India), Wes Jackson (USA) Amy Goodman (USA 2008 for developing a model of independent journalism), and of course, Bill Mollison (1981 Australia) co-founder of permaculture.

What Do You Love?

I was reading about the Canadian seal hunt because I heard on the radio yesterday that they now have a rule that the baby seal must actually be dead before it is skinned. (Although there is no one to enforce the rule.) Apparently skinning them alive happens rather often — time is money, you know.

But then I came across an even more remarkable statement: it seems that the seal hunt isn’t very profitable. In fact, the hunters may not even break even. But they go out anyway year after year “because they love it”.

These men “love” clubbing hundreds of helpless baby seals in the head with a hakapik (sort of a pick-axe with a hammer on one side and a point on the other) — tossing them in piles and skinning them, dead or alive. The carcasses are left — just the skins are taken usually.

Is this a pathology that is masked because our culture is generally so aggressive and violent that people who “love” to kill walk among us unnoticed?

Suddenly I was reminded of my drive to work along a country road with many subdivisions off it. I don’t think I have ever gone down that road without seeing at least one new dead body.

Now I’ve been driving a long time and like every driver I’ve got blood on my wheels. I’ve picked up my share of bugs on the windshield. I’ve killed more than one squirrel that turned at the last minute and ran back under my wheels. I even hit a deer once, although I braked hard and it got up and bounded away apparently not hurt too much.

But I’ve never hit a skunk, an opossum, a raccoon, a Canada goose, a turkey, a fox, certainly not a woodchuck since they stay off to the side of the road. And definitely no cats or dogs. And yet I see their bodies every day. Too many of them to all be accidents. It seems there are drivers out there who “love” to kill animals with their cars.

In fact I saw a man run down a dog one day, and he really had to go out of his way driving onto the shoulder to get it. I think this is happening way more than we know. According to an article in USA Today there has been an upsurge in incidents of people shooting, knifing, and running down farm animals around the country — calves, ponies, horses, cows, goats, etc.

Maybe as a culture we need to get clear that the words “love” and “kill” don’t belong in the same sentence.

Maybe Blackwater recruits it’s mercenaries from a pool of these people. Maybe terrorist groups do too.

As for the Canadian seal hunt — the International Humane Society concludes that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) “not only allows, but encourages the editing and suppression of science to achieve short term political gain” — in particular a boost to the party and careers of Fisheries Managers Brian Tobin and Fred Mifflin. See the report at http://www.hsicanada.ca/seals/canadian_govt_support_seal_hunt.html

Ethical Compass, or the Rules of the Game

Permaculture: applied ecology. A set of design principles that direct your decisions and actions toward producing a more permanent (sustainable) culture.

When I come across a new subject one of the first questions I ask myself is: “Is this something I can get behind?”

In other words, will spending time and energy on it repay me with interesting and useful information, and will it line up with my values? You too?

With permaculture this question is easy to answer because permaculture plainly states its set of ethics and a (slightly longer) set of design principles. So in quite a short time we can make a clear decision whether to get into it more deeply.

First, the ethics.

These are in no way exclusive. Co-creator Bill Mollison deliberately looked for the broadest and most inclusive set of ethics possible. So permaculture shares these ethics with many other belief systems, worldviews, and even religions. They function like a compass, guiding us in our journey toward right livelihood.

The underlying basic principle of permaculture acknowledges the intrinsic worth of everything from volcanoes to clams to dirt, even if it presents no commercial value to humans. Each thing is doing its own part in nature. The three ethical principles are:

  • Care of the Earth: — which includes all things, from stones to seawater to air
  • Care of People: — which includes promoting means for both self-reliance and community responsibility
  • Setting Limits to Population and Consumption: — which includes giving away our surplus, whether time, labor, stuff, money, or information

Now these aren’t some heavy set of “thou shalt not’s”. Angus Souter suggests we think of permaculture ethics as the ‘ground rules’ or the ‘rules of the game’. You may choose not to ‘play the game’ with us, but if you do want to join in, these ethics help make clear what the game is, and how we play it.