The first thing I noticed was how the light fidgeting on the water moved, like jazz. Usually, autumn Adirondack mornings have more of a classical come-on, in a way that brings Walt Whitman to mind with his longing recollections of halcyon seasons enough to conjure this jigsaw of ochre and red around the pond and up the mountains; this deep and satisfying breeze whispering shhhhhh.
Yet, this morning something about the landscape looked like Carl Sandburg’s poems feel when read aloud. Sandburg, with his 1916 Chicago cadence was on the wind making oozing trombones of those same trees, going husha-husha-hush. A subtle difference sure, but still enough to make me wonder at it. In a while I cracked on NCPR and let the world into my wood stove morning to shouts of “we are the 99 percent!” I listened, still looking out at the unsettled light and wondered at a world where a protest hundreds of miles away could change the rhythm of this morning, deep in the northern forest. Sandburg, indeed.
How many times have I read aloud in the voice of the “workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes?” With a soft slam down in emphasis right at the beginning as the subject reveals herself boldly, as if stepping out from the same morass of humanity now gathering on Wall Street “I am the people–the mob–the crowd–the mass.”
Further on gaining momentum in a kind of surrender with the repeated act of forgetting:
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget. Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then–I forget.
Then beyond forgetting, lifting the emphasis and re-placing it on a new narrative of resistance:
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool–then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision. The mob–the crowd–the mass–will arrive then.
In the lull between radio reports I realized that I had been quietly reciting this poem to the morning, keeping time with the rat-a-tat-tat of light off the pond and the staccato chanting of protesters. Sometime later, this morning’s tempo eased back into the familiar cadence of Whitman making sense of how each of these stories across hundreds of miles are one:
On solid land what is done in cities as the bells strike midnight together, In primitive woods the sounds there also sounding
On its best day, philosophy succeeds in sending “the conversation off in new directions.” With a free exchange of ideas and a commitment to inquiry, philosophy as both catalyst and conveyor ought to “engender new normal discourses, new sciences, new philosophical research and thus new objective truths.”
In this spirit the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Northern Forest Institute invites submissions for its Symposium of Interdisciplinary Scholarship in Land Use and Ethics, to be held at the Adirondack Interpretive Center on Huntington Wildlife Forest in Newcomb. I envision this project as an opportunity to open up the dialog around issues of land use and ethics on local, national and global scales. This is the place for ideas in-process, unfinished research and to introduce work in its various stages of development. We’re welcoming research from across professions and disciplines on topics related to balancing individual and community priorities with respect to land use and the associated expectations for human and ecosystem stewardship and social and environmental ethics.
I hope to see independent scholars alongside industry and agency professionals and students from across the humanities and the sciences. Presentations are meant to generate conversation around a variety of approaches to land use, the moral implications of these approaches, as well as the ways that they influence the ongoing debate over how to achieve social and environmental justice.
Philosopher John Dewey referred to active discourse as “breaking the crust of convention” and I’d like us to use this symposium to get together and get on with it.
For information on how to join the conversation email [email protected]
References from Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Richard Rorty
Here is a recent exchange between me and a colleague:
Colleague: So, what do you do?
Me: I’m a philosopher, much of my work involves teaching.
Colleague: (Amused) like what, the philosophy of green?
Colleague: So you’re here to do philosophy with the students.
Me: Yes, environmental philosophy.
Colleague: I think that’s great, because students come to me for content and they come to you for this kind of (gesturing as if wafting an unwelcome scent) experience.
Both of these exchanges, and rest assured I have enough of these for a night at the Improv, were with colleagues in environmental science. In fact, most of my interactions are not with other professional philosophers but with scientists and students of science in the Adirondacks. I consider this unusual situation a privilege and one that most of my colleagues in the humanities, philosophy in particular, don’t enjoy and therefore don’t benefit from intellectually – mindfully.
Though from time to time I wonder, when did intellectual curiosity stop at the shore of empiricism? When did it become frivolous or worse, vacuous, to engage in thoughtful discourse about patently irresolvable and fundamentally human notions of ethics, values, personhood, identity, agency, responsibility and so on?
Another colleague that I work with closely precisely because he has never wavered in his certainty that (as I often remind students) this is not nothing, related a conversation to me in which he had explained to a third party “Marianne’s work hasn’t always been taken seriously, so she’s particularly committed to a high standard of academic and scholarly integrity.” The former is true and the latter is kind and yet, ouch!
I spent a little while turning this over in my mind until another colleague came by. I shared with her this bit about being taken seriously and we agreed that this work is bound to have a different contour here among scientists, and that the utility of philosophy outside the silo of the humanities is at once harder to understand and deeply important once it is.
Later that evening I gave a talk to a group of incoming freshmen and returning undergraduates about the critical need for us to interrogate the social/sexual/political “positionality” (as in view point and bias) of established institutions and comfortable habits of scholarship and politics, to name a few. We talked about how “decentering” or removing the privilege of accepted truths and norms that are often the product of a dominant and sometimes oppressive majority is the first step in liberating marginalized communities whose truths and traditions have been relegated to “alternative” status in the process of sanctifying one type of worldview. We talked about “rupturing” (as in creating an opening) in the often codified boundaries that surround disciplines in order to make way for so-called other knowledges to participate in and enrich the discourse.
After the lecture a former student and I stood together quietly until she looked over at me and smiled, “troublemaker” she said. Well, somebody’s got to do it.
They were young, these students, and for some the hour may have been late and some others might have had their minds on the bonfire to follow, but most (most) were enlivened. Emerson called teaching a drawing out of the soul and the Greeks understood happiness as harmony between one’s soul and the good; this is my work.
A few months back one of my colleagues here at the Almanack wrote a fine post that raised the question of whether or not it is feasible for New York State to acquire Follensby Pond and surrounding lands.
I had great fun weighing-in on an element of philosophical gamesmanship that Phil Brown touched on related to Aristotle’s notion of begging the question. A short while later, I was describing what I thought had been my clever contribution to a friend who asked “yes, but what was your position?” Well I never! No really, I never even considered entering the conversation with my position on the situation. As a philosopher, much of my work involves drawing out the views of others into a constructive space where disagreement operates alongside mutual respect for differences of opinion. In this process I act as facilitator, offering my own opinion only when it might help to further the discourse. This method is useful, at the same time it is almost entirely without risk. Whereas others who participate in a dialog (say around Adirondack land acquisition) lead with their position and without the safety of neutral ground. This came up for me during a recent conversation with a few colleagues who work in the field of environmental education.
We were talking about how much of what we believe can and should we reveal when talk turns to issues that are invariably fraught with tension and where perspectives, and ultimately the people who hold them, are judged by what they believe. In other words, how much of our personal and ideological positions can we show up with while taking care to subject ourselves to the least amount of ire?
Each of us enters into a private negotiation to gauge this type of risk countless times a day. And the stakes are particularly high when viewpoints push past our personal belief into a professional space where often unspoken expectations about who we are and what we think are nearly written into our job descriptions as environmental educators, ecologists, biologists, and naturalists etc.
But what happens when our personal and public personas don’t seamlessly match, or when I hold to a belief that might put the two in conflict? What are the boundaries of my duty or the limits of my professional responsibility when what I believe isn’t consistent with what I am expected to believe? Am I duty bound, as German philosopher Immanuel Kant believed, to conduct myself with an artificial unanimity when I am in service to an institution or organization acting in the interest of the community? In this case is Kant right to call for obedience or submission to a disciplinary or professional agenda?
Maybe, but as members of the whole community or of a society of world citizens and thus in the role of a scholar he can argue without hurting the affairs for which he is in part responsible. In other words, as citizens and public intellectuals we are indeed obligated to speak our minds. Kant’s adamant belief in our responsibility as public and private citizens comes from his belief that freedom and righteousness always operate in concert. He envisions a landscape where we emerge as independent thinkers who value our own worth and every man’s vocation for thinking for himself where a greater degree of civil freedom appears advantageous to the freedom of mind which fosters the propensity and vocation to free thinking.
Once upon a time wayfarers, who Thoreau writes “had a genius for sauntering,” were thought to be in search of the holy land. In this, the act of walking is itself a practical expression of a deliberate life that is bound by nothing but the search for something blessed.
These days we walk in solidarity, in opposition, in mourning as a funeral procession, to war we march from the French marcher to stride – and each time it is the behavior of walking and of setting-out that is a declaration. Here in the Adirondacks on endless paths we go-ahead and follow Thoreau’s lead as he unlatches the door and steps out into the air. We sally forth in the way-making tradition that brings the thinking body into communion with its surroundings almost intuitively responding to Emerson’s call to hear what the earth says, as often we listen for thought’s new-found path.
In discussions around the body as a subject that can be read for meaning the way we read language, there is an idea called the body-moment that is meant to describe a dual sense of observance that happens at once in the body and the mind. In this double-bound world where the body and the landscape operate together, we recognize the self in a world of relations. This is the practice of life – or in our case the practice of walking – and the behavior of living that is twice connected, once with itself in the body and twice in the body on the land.
Whether we walk in service to a cause or in quiet homage for the landscape where we amble on, this fusion of mind and body in simultaneous observance invites a degree of attunement or awareness to the private, often solitary question of what it is we tune into as we wander away…
I recently gave a talk at a gathering of philosophical practitioners on making the transition from theory to praxis as it relates to environmental conservation. In other words, how do I make the shift from caring about a situation to doing something about that situation? At what point does sentiment or care become the behavior of care?
Incidentally, this question is subtly though importantly different from the one that those of us who advocate for a particular agenda generally ask namely: how can we get others to care about and participate in this initiative? » Continue Reading.
This week I happily begin work as a public environmental philosopher at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Northern Forest Institute. Naturally I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how I can be of service to the Adirondack community in this position, so I thought this might be a good forum to explain a little bit about what it means to do philosophy followed by what we’re actually planning to do. On thinking for a purpose I see philosophy as an integrated practice of right-thinking and right-doing that has led to my decision to work as a philosopher in the Adirondacks. Years ago I became enlivened by an ecstatic pursuit of Philo Sophia and in the process, I became urgently aware that the subtext of my studies drew me towards philosophy as a lived intention that requires its practitioners to push to the outer edge where thinking becomes action and ideas have impact. » Continue Reading.
Her name was Hypatia and she lived, taught and published in Alexandria at the Platonist school from approximately AD 370 – 415. If the practice of western philosophy (φιλοσοφία) as we know it is from the Greek philo meaning lover and sophia meaning wisdom, then Hypatia might have been Sophia herself. One of her contemporaries wrote, “There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time.”
I had Hypatia on my mind this past weekend as I prepared for a Young Women and Girls in Science event sponsored by SUNY ESF’s Northern Forest Institute. I was asked to talk about the intersection of science and the humanities and more specifically, why the study of science is incomplete without the study of philosophy. Not least among the reasons why, is that the western scientific tradition comes from the western philosophical tradition and before knowledge splintered into specializations and narrow silos of information, there was unbounded curiosity and conversation. This style of conversation became the dialectic or discussion model that some of us are trying to move back towards as a method of inquiry, interdisciplinary learning and teaching. So I thought I’d begin to introduce young women and girls who might be thinking about a career in the sciences, to this question of why scientists should care what philosophers think. It seemed that the best way to do this would be by talking about a philosopher who happens to be a woman and who is as often cited as a mathematician and an astronomer as for her progressive attitudes on sex, or what currently falls within the realm of identity politics. So if taking on the question of what philosophy could possibly have to do with science wasn’t enough, I’d planned to head straight towards what identity politics has to do with science.
Talking with young women and girls about why philosophy matters to science made me think about why women and girls matter to science. In other words, why should we care that women and girls enter into the sciences? Why, for that matter, should we care that any particular group is represented in any public/professional area? In the case of science the answer is somewhat heretical (and I’m mindful here that Hypatia met her unspeakable demise for such acts…). Science is not objective; in its entirety it is not the pure and objective pursuit of extracting truth from the physical world.
As the philosopher Cornel West puts it truth “is a way of life, as opposed to a set of propositions that correspond to a set of things in the world.” Well, that’s all well and good for the humanities but science isn’t subject to the complicated dynamics of culture, perspective, subjectivity and the human condition generally – or is it? As philosopher and scientist Hypatia cautioned “Men will fight for superstition as quickly as for the living truth — even more so, since a superstition is intangible, you can’t get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”
The scientific method is bookended by the philosophical method. Empirical data collection doesn’t emerge in a vacuum but first a mind (not exhumed from, but as one part of the sensual human condition) has to be drawn to an inquiry, has to draw the parameters of that inquiry based on the desire to discover one thing or another about the physical world. These elements of drawing towards and of desire have no relationship to the type of objectivity that science is premised upon. (I’ll leave politics and capitalism as drivers of science for another post…) Even the most basic scientific discovery has to be interpreted, given meaning and brought about in language and often through metaphor.
All of which brings us again into the philosophical domain including ethics, emphasis, coercion, manipulation, bias and on and on. Every discipline including science, which in contrast with West’s earlier assertion, understands truth and fact as discoverable aspects of the world through its method, is a discipline brought about in the context of the human condition and the human condition is the concern of philosophers.
I understand truth to be something that is emergent and as the philosopher Richard Rorty suggested, it is created in the swamp of the human condition or in the lifework of a people rather than discovered whole in an objective state. Moreover, as soon as we begin pointing out truth with certainty and locating it within particular disciplinary or societal boundaries, then we invoke a universal style of truth that can’t be extracted from dynamics of power and ultimately (at least ultimately as history shows us) hegemony.
Philosophy (or at least some of its more recent work) has become about recognizing the amorphous nature of nature and navigating it for – as a conservation biologist colleague of mine so beautifully states, for “meaning and purpose” rather than mining it for truth and certainty. This leaves us on very unstable ground wherein all of these issues (including scientific issues) seem endlessly unstable. It is not, I believe, a matter of firming up that ground but rather of entering the landscape differently, recognizing that stability is (as Foucault would say) a chimera and the only truth that we can hope to achieve is subject to culture, identity and perspective.
If these ideas are useful at all I hope it is because they bring us closer to answering the question of why philosophy and women matter a great deal to science and why science as our most exacting tool of understanding the physical world, should be important to all of us. I hope it also seeds the ground for more conversation around these topics …
Portrait of Hypatia by Elbert Hubbard, 1908
Marianne is a philosopher living, writing and teaching in the Adirondacks.
The 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume may seem like an unlikely lens through which to interrogate our Adirondack situation, except that all of our contemporary discord over public versus private land ownership and conflict over the need to manage natural resources in order to ensure human and other-than-human flourishing for generations to come, all sounds vaguely familiar.
Hume makes an impassioned argument for the commons when he writes of a world where resources “would be used freely, without regard to property; but cautiously too” after all he asks “why raise land-marks between my neighbor’s field and mine, when my heart has made no division between our interests” (Hume, 1777). » Continue Reading.
Discussions around the American wilderness story are numerous and they stem largely from the historical narrative established by long-revered visionaries of Wild America including Ralph Waldo Emerson, the subject of my last post, and his neighbor and fellow philosopher Henry David Thoreau.
I often hear Thoreau cited for his 1851 declaration from his essay “Walking” that “in wildness is the preservation of the world.” This sentiment is invoked time and again when Adirondack citizens, scholars and officials tell the story of how the cultural and regulatory boundary of the Park evolved and also to underscore why the Preserve is important – why it should be important to all of us. » Continue Reading.
It has been suggested that the philosopher must go to school with the poets in order to learn the art of exploring one’s own mind. As a philosopher I have a preference for the narrative and the poetic method, and since the Adirondack Park is the landscape of our philosophical inquiry it seems fitting to begin with our patron poet. Ralph Waldo Emerson reflects on his time at Follensby Pond: » Continue Reading.
I’m pleased to announce Adirondack Almanack‘s newest contributor, North Hudson’s Marianne Patinelli-Dubay. Marianne is a philosopher dedicated to understanding Adirondack issues at the intersection of environment and culture. She began The Forgotten Muse Project as a forum for deepening the Adirondack discourse and cultivating a practical style of philosophy. Her work on the Project includes designing and teaching seminars and workshops for university students and the general public, consulting on new institutional initiatives as well as writing and teaching undergraduate and graduate curriculum. The Project includes the Adirondack Society for Applied Philosophy, which also welcomes members interested in the integration of thoughtful inquiry and philosophical agency. The majority of Marianne’s teaching has focused on the philosophy of science, eco-phenomenology, social and environmental justice, Adirondack land-use ethics and the ethics of environment and culture. She is on the National Editorial Review board of Philosophical Practice, the American Philosophical Practitioners Association’s peer reviewed journal, and is an active member of the American Philosophical Association and the International Association for Environmental Philosophy. She is currently at work on her PhD thesis, working title Transgressing the Blue Line: Toward an Inclusive Narrative of Adirondack Wilderness.
Please join me in welcoming her as our latest contributor. Her first post will appear at noon today.
The Adirondack Almanack is pleased to offer this guest essay by Trudy Rosenblum, founder and editor of the Jay Community News. The Jay News is a free e-mail news service whose purpose is to bring folks around Jay closer together and to quickly spread local news and information. In addition to the email service there is also a Jay Community Services Directory that lists local products or services offered by the community. Trudy recently took a trip to the Caribbean island nation of Aruba, and brought back the following lessons for the Adirondacks.
We had a lovely vacation in the warmth and sunshine of Aruba. I feel compelled, however, to offer something about the conditions of that tourist spot that was once the gem of the Caribbean. Aruba can be a lesson to us here in the Adirondacks.
Like Aruba, the Adirondack Park is also a tourist area and like Aruba, much of our area receives its revenue from tourism. If we ruin it, not only will people not come and we will lose our jobs and revenue, but, and this is just as important, the land and animals will suffer and something beautiful will cease to exist on this planet. There are still very beautiful places in Aruba; clean beaches with white sand and lots of beautiful corral; blue-green water and wonderful sunsets. But sadly, much of the coastline is trashed. Locals there say it is Venezuela’s garbage taken by the currents to Aruba. They also blame ships dumping waste and tourists who don’t care, as well as locals. At present there is so much trash it seems unlikely it can be cleaned up.
Tourists want to recreate. They will hike, ride bicycles, motor cycles, ATV’s, jeeps and ride horses. If one doesn’t designate areas for these things to be done, the tourists will go anywhere they please destroying delicate eco systems along the way. These things should not be forbidden, just managed, maintained and policed.
We found Wendy’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza everywhere; and we were hard pressed to find local crafts as the kiosks sold the same things one can find in any market south of Florida.
We in the Adirondack Park could be like this. Thank God for those who went before us and had insight as to how to preserve the park as well as attract tourists. Thank you to every person who reaches down to pick up someone’s trash, even when no one is looking. Thanks to the DEC, APA and others who designate activity-specific areas, stock fish, care for our waters, limit development, maintain and police our precious park to keep it attractive and thriving. Thank you to those who kept the fast food chains at bay and to the many local craft people who provide unique keepsakes for visitors to buy. Thanks to the planners who understand that there is room for recreating with motorized vehicles as well as for primitive areas where no motors are permitted. People in our area have understood that if we provide areas for recreation and maintain and police them we can both attract revenue and preserve the park.
Thank you to all the quaint little shops where things cost a little more but where the culture of rural America thrives in such an attractive manner.
Thank God oil or natural gas has not been discovered in our area, and thank you to those who said no to the big corporations who do not care about fitting in to the environment. It is tempting in this terribly difficult economic period to lose sight of the long term effects of neglect of our park. I deeply hope preservation for its own sake and for the sake of attracting tourist revenue will not be sacrificed to the short-term gains such economic times tempt.
As Prince Charles has said, we will probably survive for some time if we destroy the wilderness, but the lives of our children will be a misery. This is as true in the Adirondacks as it is in Aruba.
Last month I “discovered” some wonderful backcountry ski trails in the Bog River region south of Tupper Lake. I liked them so much I wrote a story about them for the March/April issue of the Adirondack Explorer.
I feel guilty about that.
You see, the trails lack the imprimatur of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. They’re marked by homemade disks and signs. As a journalist, I had to ask the question: is this legal? » Continue Reading.
Recently Governor Cuomo gave his first State of the State address and President Obama delivered his third “State of the Union.” New endeavors, or a new year, are popular times to “take stock and look forward”. As we begin to build programmatic structure for the Adirondack Interpretive Center, where natural history and ecology are a foundation of our content, it seems appropriate to consider the State of Nature-based Education.
Nationally, nature-based experience – formal and informal, rural and urban – is increasingly recognized for the critical role it plays in the healthy physical and mental development of children and the on-going health of adults. This role is being supported by peer-reviewed research from diverse academic fields, including medicine, education and ecology. » Continue Reading.