Makings of a new myth: "Managing Wholes"

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Jan 22, 2011 at 12:00

"The need for true myths"  The word "myth" as used in that diary--and the article by Ira Chernus from TomDispatch that it spun off of--doesn't mean something untrue, necessarily.  Broadly speaking, it means a shared framework for understanding that guides action.

A month or so ago, Sadie Baker linked to a website I've been meaning to share a few thoughts about, Managing Wholes.  The site describes it's purpose thus:

This site is for sharing knowledge and information about managing holistically. Holistic management works to create simultaneous personal, social, economic, and ecological benefit, rather pursuing benefit for one element at cost to another.

This site features real-world information direct from people with practical experience. Not knowledge from "experts" whose theories don't fit the facts. Not techniques whose short-term success causes long-term problems. Just practical know-how from real people who do the "impossible"-such as increasing biodiversity and profit.

Our goal is to promote change toward a future that works-toward a verdant and flourishing ecosystem and responsible human communities.

This purpose can be thought of as a myth--or at least the beginnings of one--as a framework of thinking in terms of wholes and benefit for all, as opposed to thinking in terms of individuals or specific interests. One thing that Chernus touched on in his article was how liberals were influenced by the Enlightenment, and the idea that new knowledge and critical thinking could allow us to free ourselvs from being blindly guided by the myths of the past.

Unfortunately, there's been far too little critical reflection on how this Enlightenment myth itself my be blinding us. For most of the two centuries following the Enlightenment, science was still in its infancy--though we usually didn't seem to know that. But in the mid-20th Century, more mature, systemic scientific approaches began to emerge.  One of those was the biological discipline of ecology. And here is where we discover one of several important tools for finding our way beyond ourselves--to a perspective larger than ourselves, from which we may have the possibility to craft a new, more conscious and more viable mythology.

Here are a pair of videos (from this page) that, as an example, begin to explore the carbon cycle as a framework for more comprehensive, pro-active approaches to how to deal with global warming as part of larger problem:

Paul Rosenberg :: Makings of a new myth: "Managing Wholes"

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I'm glad you liked it! (0.00 / 0)
Myself, I was just turned on by the idea of reclaiming land by grazing it. "Symbiosis, it's not just a good idea, it's the law."

Montani semper liberi

Indeed! (0.00 / 0)
I first learned about symbiosis & ecology in general as a young teen, when my parents looked around for an alternative to scouting, which I had dropped out of at the "cub" level due to the general assholishness of the organization.  They found a local stand-alone, the "Youth Science Institute", with an incredible director, Larry Moitozo, who taught us about nature with a Thoreauvian spirit.

This was almost simultaneous with the publication of Silent Spring.  Needless to say, I was way ahead of the curve by the time Earth Day came around in 1970.  So none of this seems all that new to me.  Except, of course, that Larry also taught us to think in geological time-scales.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
"Managing Wholes" (4.00 / 1)
The very name "managing wholes" seems to highlight what horrible story tellers we are.  (Perhaps it will grow on me, I guess.)  But the actual story is dead-on correct.  We must look at the big picture.  Everything is connected, so you can't just solve each problem in isolation.  

It's like the foot specialist that gives you an exercise that blows out your knee -- someone must be paying attention to the whole person, the whole community, the whole environment, the whole planet.

Oh Sure (4.00 / 2)
These folks aren't myth-making experts, that's for certain.

But, as you note, they've got the content side covered.  And blending the different working parts together is what the blogosphere's good at, right?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Big Picture (0.00 / 0)
That's a very good idea. Consider the Big(ger) Picture and try to kenn where and how one fits into it.

Danger is to become entranced by the big and forget that the smaller, individual parts have not vaporized.  Its about the Big and the Small, all together.

For some, seeing the Big Picture is novel, for other's recognizing the Small Parts are the advance.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

True, But... (0.00 / 0)
Conceptually it's far more difficult to go from small to big, since you have no idea how to do it, necessarily.  Whereas, if you do the big properly, it contains within it the means to scale downwards.

Even if not perfectly (the way that Keyensian macro-economics lacks a precise micro-foundation, for example), it gives you a general sense of what's going on, so that you have an orientation for understanding when you look at the micro on a case-by-case basis.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Well, also, I'm interested in this interview w. Allen Savory (4.00 / 1)
where he discusses his approach,


You seem to imply that the entirety of the problems you list in the lecture ("eroding soil ; drying wells, springs, rivers, lakes ; droughts & floods ; diseases of plants, animals, humans ; invasions-noxious plants, insects ; poverty-social breakdown-abuse of women & children ; drift to cities & slums ; petty crime-violence-blaming minorities-victimization-genocide ; failing economies local, national, international ; wars, breakdown of government, failure of civilizations") are rooted in environmental malfunction. That's a bold assertion. Do you mean it that boldly?

   Yes most certainly.

   None of the things I listed, including increasing frequency and severity of both droughts and floods (even without weather change) is a causal problem-all are symptoms of environmental degradation. One example-in the early 1960's we had a severe "drought" all over the upper river catchment ("watershed" as Americans call it) of the Limpopo river in Botswana, South Africa and what was then Rhodesia. Our governments mounted measures to assist people to survive the "devastating drought"-but at exactly the same time the International Red Cross was collecting money in the streets of the nearest city Bulawayo for the "flood victims" in Mozambique on the lower stretches of the same river! Many are the similar examples."

I'm thinking, is there ANY major enduring religious tradition that hasn't emphasized just this, that the Earth and the fate of human beings on it are inextricably connected? There's nothing especially original- very much to the contrary- about the Noah's Ark story, and the bizillion other narratives that depict precisely what Savory's getting at here? But it's somehow shocking to say in 2010? Why? What have we stopped listening to?


Some more explicitly than others: (4.00 / 3)
"Truly the destruction of the earth only results from the destitution of its inhabitants, and its inhabitants become destitute only when rulers concern themselves with amassing wealth.""

Caliph Ali, speaking in the 7th century

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
It's Complicated (0.00 / 0)
But I think that the short answer is that emphasis is easily shifted, and as elites gain increased power, shifting emphasis is one of the things they do practically automatically.  Then, once they start to think about it... Katie bar the door!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Well, and that's why I think you're so right to emphasize a misguided (0.00 / 0)
faith- and it is faith!- in narrowly framed, short sighted empiricism. I mean, I think the global warming skeptics show an incredible faith in "science." They think that technology can just overcome everything. Because they live day to day having this really half-assed grasp of what science is. You think of it as reason-based- you know that when you press this button on your TV, it turns on- but then you've never been taught to think about the totality of why. So in essence it is functioning as magic, at least to you (you meaning in a collective sense.)You haven't been taught to think of it as a system ever- your science in school was a matter of memorization and fractured thinking- so to you it's someone else's responsibility, because science is something you're fundamentally incapable of grasping, at least with the tools you've been given. So you decide when an issue like global warming comes up, well, there's got to be a goddamned button that'll fix any problem, right? You both haven't deigned to bother yourself with a basic understanding of science- that's for nerds and awkward types- and yet you're really sure that those people have infinite powers, given that you really, really like what technology does for your life.

But these are of course myths themselves, spread like butter by years and years of bad schooling and bad media. So it does end up being an understanding that's worse than thousands of years of putatively irrational thought. Because at least when things were understood as being at the mercy of a faraway god, an individual felt a sense of responsibility to that god's truths. You prayed, you left offerings, etc. Once it becomes a matter of disjointed bits of "empiricism," it's out of your hands, though, beyond your pressing a button whenever you fucking feel like it. It's always someone else's responsibility to work out the tiresome details. And you've inculcated a fundamental disconnect into your line of thinking; humankind is capable of anything- how cool is that!- but, eh, not you so much yourself.

[ Parent ]
O-Kay! (0.00 / 0)
You said a mouthful there.  And I'm not sure how you'd go about proving it all.  But I do think that there's clearly some truth to it--I'm just not sure how much.  

Here's what I mean:  I do think there's a tendency (particularly with conservatives) to view science as fairly synonymous with technology, and to see both in quasi-magical terms. Heck, look at the belief in Star Wars! But then again, it's also a matter--particularly, but not exclusively for conservatives--of simply believing what their trusted authorities tell them.

A subthread of what your saying is also certainly true: conservatives tend to deny second-order effects and unintended consequences (at least their own!), which in turn allows them to avoid responsibility for all sorts of things they simply choose to ignore. They're very big on what they call "personal responsibility" but in reality this becomes a convenient excuse for avoiding responsibility that they can lay off on others, or deny outright.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
"Think Globally, Act Locally" (0.00 / 0)
One thing I tend to notice when these threads come up is we actually do have many of these myths, memes and messages in place.  The more I think of it, the more examples I can come up with.  The word "holistic" itself is something strongly identified with the left, for example.

We don't embrace these ideas in any public, political way.

It's Not So Much That We Don't EMBRACE Them (4.00 / 1)
It's that we don't articulate them--explain their meaning, significance, relevance, applicability, and how they fit together.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
RE: "The word 'myth' as used in that diary--and the article by Ira Chernus... (4.00 / 1)
...doesn't mean something untrue, necessarily.  Broadly speaking, it means a shared framework for understanding that guides action." - Paul Rosenberg

MY COMMENT: Yes, I had certainly presumed that. And you knew it. And Professor Chernus knew it. And Noam Chomsky and George Lakoff would certainly know it.
But I fear that for many fairly intelligent, college-educated progressives, the term "myth" conjures up notions like thunder being caused by God/gods bowling up in the sky. Or perhaps Thor and his hammer.
What about calling this "shared framework for understanding that guides action" a quintessence? [mostly in jest]


genie January 20th, 2011 5:22 pm
Ira Chemus wants progressives to come up with a great progressive myth to make it safer for Obama to change course and perhaps save his presidency. Progressives deal in reality not mythology.

GreenDragon January 20th, 2011 1:22 pm
It's unfortunate that Chernus framed this piece around "myth," but the basic idea that you have to be for something rather than just against things seems valid and crucial. It's not a question of telling the truth about the problems and who is causing them and why. We need to say what we are fighting for, in terms most Americans will understand. What kind of world are we fighting for?

Peterpeacenik January 21st, 2011 2:16 am
Obomber is a Con Man. The only myth really at play here is Ira's belief that Obomber will change and do the right thing for all the people.

Leea January 21st, 2011 7:56 am
...regarding myth, I don't think we need new myth, the time of myth is ending, and that is the real point of humans deconstructing myth. We will now participate in the mystery directly, and create directly from the source, we will become the savior within that we have been constructing without through time past....

katrine January 21st, 2011 9:31 am
...So according to this line of reasoning, once again "we are the change that we seek" or some meme to that respect. Likewise, there should be a well-articulated and collective myth designed to save Obama from himself along with the people of Afghanistan.
I've got a condo I want to sell in Santa Fe. It's out-of-this-world and overlooks the Pacific; the setting alone would provide instant and quantum enlightenment, along with the creative ability to construct a world-altering myth...


Well, they need to be challenged on that front, frankly. (4.00 / 3)
It does come up all the time on political blogs, and it's hugely problematic. There's no understanding among these types that people aren't computers, that the brain is designed to operate through emotions. It's cognitive science 101. The Enlightenment was quite some time ago, kids, and anyone who's clinging to it as if science and culture stopped there should really be fairly embarrassed with themselves instead of looking down at others for being insufficiently "rational." Anyone who's ignoring that much science, that much philosophy, that much art, that much literature, etc.- they ought to be a lot more be careful about how snotty they get about others' purportedly inadequate reasoning. You just can't ever sell progressive candidates and policies going wah, wah, wah why don't people understand that we're the smarter choice? Is there just no sense here that there's no thing as a singular "reality?" A policy that benefits your life is not necessarily going to benefit my life; a policy that benefits my own life in x,y,z fashion may be incredibly detrimental to my life in a,b,c fashion. And that impact, even within the context of my own life, could morph completely over time. That's precisely why politics exists, no? Otherwise they could have just decided what was sensible thousands of years ago, and we'd all stick to it forever and ever. Really, it's just endless how many ways the faith in a singular "reality" is problematic.

And, I would add, once you've stopped showing a basic respect and empathy for others you've really failed progressivism. If you've decided that other people are worthless if they don't have your IQ or your education (which is most certainly the subtext of these discussions,) and that there's not some way that everyone has some sort of valuable insight to offer to you, even as the may be spewing utter inanities on some other subject...Eh, you're really not in any position to define progressivism, as far as I'm concerned.  

[ Parent ]
re: myth (4.00 / 1)
I agree with Paul that

The word "myth" as used in that diary--and the article by Ira Chernus from TomDispatch that it spun off of--doesn't mean something untrue, necessarily.

but I also agree with you that many progressives will perceive it as "something untrue"

Broadly speaking, it means a shared framework for understanding that guides action.

yes, let's use the word framework

[ Parent ]
Story (4.00 / 2)
Let's not use the word framework.  That is too wonky and easily turned into something policy and data centric.

If you don't like the word "myth" use "story", because that is what progressives forget to do: tell stories.

[ Parent ]
I remember a book I read on rhetoric. (4.00 / 1)
The author said, "There are two questions you must be able to answer for your audience before you can do anything else -- who are you? and why should we listen to you?"

When we as progressives get that worked out for ourselves I think the rest will follow organically.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
An alternative national security "myth" for the U.S. (4.00 / 1)
The Global Marshall Plan  
The NSP wants advanced industrial countries of the world to use their resources to eliminate, once and for all global and domestic, poverty, homelessness, and hunger; provide quality education and health care for all; and repair the global environment. As an initial commitment, we want the U.S. to donate at least 1-2% of its Gross Domestic Product each year for the next twenty years, in the form of a Global Marshall Plan (GMP).
SOURCE - http://www.spiritualprogressiv...

Having 700+ military bases around the world and using our military to go 'wilding' about the globe like uncivilized "savages" does little more than generate new enemies. Some of these new enemies have been so enraged by the use of our APACHE™ helicopter gunships (containing crews with code names like Geronimo), PREDATOR™ drones, HELLFIRE™ missiles and the like that they are determined to strike back at the U.S."HOMELAND™".
By instead allocating some of these resources to a "Global Marshall Plan", we can begin to actually reduce the number of "bad guys (savages) lurking in the wilderness beyond the borders of our civilized land (a/k/a 'THE HOMELAND™')." Consequently, the "Global Marshall Plan" is very COST-EFFECTIVE means of making "us" more secure from the oh so scary threat of "bad guys (savages) lurking in the wilderness beyond the borders of our civilized land (a/k/a 'THE HOMELAND™')."
P.S. But remember, it's just a "myth" so don't you rational/logical types give it any more consideration than you do the myth that thunder is caused by G_d bowling up in the heavens! Because it's a myth! Just a myth! And everyone knows what a myth is. Maybe we should have called it a "old wives' tale" instead! Or "urban legend"!

[ Parent ]
RE: a "old wives' tale" (0.00 / 0)
SHOULD HAVE BEEN: an "old wives' tale"
The 'old' was added at the last minute and I neglected to change 'a' to 'an'. Plus, the "preview" absolutely refused to work as I have occasionally had happen before. So I really did not expect the post to work. So I really did not give it a final proofread.

[ Parent ]

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