I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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When the earth is whole, it is resilient. But when it is damaged too severely, its power to heal itself seeps away. If we continue to turn against the land, pour chemical fertilizers onto worn-out fields, sanitize wastewater with poisons, dam rivers, burn oil, and bear more children, then there may be no chance of healing. A weakened world cannot forgive us.
Ladakh is a high-altitude desert on the Tibetan Plateau in northernmost India. To all outward appearances, it is a wild and inhospitable place. In summer the land is parched and dry; in winter it is frozen solid by fierce, unrelenting cold.
Our mission, in both our business and our nonprofit, is to increase respect for the natural world. Creating more-sustainable products and processes is just an extension of that. To learn from nature, you have to become involved with what Wes Jackson calls the “deep conversation.” To learn how to take carbohydrates and water and turn them into a fiber as strong as steel, as a spider does, you go to a spider and respectfully ask, “How are you doing that?” Then you go and try to do it yourself. And when you fail — it’s very hard to do! — you go back to the organism and ask again.
When I feel so much grief over the woundedness and brokenness of the world that I lose the power or the desire to go on, I turn to members of my family for consolation. Another thing that moves me out of a state of grief is beauty, in all its forms: in nature, in the face of someone you love, in music, in language, in scientific formulas, and in images of remote constellations beamed down from the Hubble space telescope. Beauty reminds me that all the grief, all the loss, all the sadness that is terribly meaningful to me, personally, is just a dust mote in the grand scheme of things. It’s tiny, ephemeral.
Nothing shocks us anymore. The line between social truth and social fiction has been erased (from the Warren Commission to Watergate we have been asked to disbelieve our eyes and ears) and we are in the curious no-man’s-land of the artist, the madman and the saint. There is no consensus reality; there never was.
I don’t want to alarm people. Right-wing populist movements seldom become fascist, and fascist movements seldom take power. But when you build a major social movement around scapegoating and resentment, things can move quickly in a bad direction.
As we increasingly connect with the world through computer screens, we’re removing ourselves from direct sensory contact with nature. In other words, we’re learning to substitute symbols of reality for reality itself. I think that’s particularly true for children who’ve grown up surrounded by screens from a young age. You could argue that this isn’t necessarily something new, that it’s just a continuation of what we saw with other electronic media like radio or TV. But I do think it’s an amplification of those trends.
Time was when I knew the racists were the lunch-counter owners who refused to serve blacks, the warmongers were the generals who planned wars and ordered the killing of innocent people, and the polluters were the industrialists whose factories fouled the air, water, and land. I was a good guy, boycotting, marching, and sitting-in to protest the actions of the bad guys.
Someone once pointed out to me that the word respect comes from the latin respectus, which means “to see again.” It’s a beautiful concept. We have to see each other again. We have to see the gang member again, and the poor farmer, too. As we see them again, we find they’re not that different from us, that a thread connects us all: the Indian on the reservation and the immigrant just arriving on these shores; the middle-class kid in the suburbs and the gang member in the inner city. The more we look, the thicker that thread becomes. Sometimes it may be invisible, but it’s there. We’ve got to make it more visible. There is no such thing as a separate reality. What we do here affects people over there.
Really, unless you’re from one of the targeted immigrant communities, you have no idea what’s going on there. Streets are empty. Stores and businesses are closed because people have been detained or deported, or their customers have disappeared, or residents are just afraid to go out. These used to be bustling, vibrant neighborhoods, but if you don’t live there or have reason to visit, you would never know the impact homeland-security policies have had. In the two months following September 11, more than twelve hundred Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men were rounded up for indefinite detention. Then, starting in September 2002, there was “special registration,” where noncitizen males from Islamic countries were required to register with the INS.