A small circle: Imagination vs. pride & nationalism    
 Imagination vs. pride & nationalism2 comments
picture23 Aug 2004 @ 01:20, by D

Painting | Meeting, 1997-2001, Mary Frank

"Rhetoric masquerades as thought. Dogma is dressed up like an idea. And we are told what to do, not asked what we think. Security is guaranteed. The lie begins to carry more power than the truth until the words of our own founding fathers are forgotten and the images of television replace history..."

"Do we have the imagination to rediscover an authentic patriotism that inspires empathy and reflection over pride and nationalism?"


So asks Terry Tempest Williams in, Commencement, the first in a series of three essays she has been writing for Orion Magazine.


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7 Nov 2004 @ 09:36 by ov : Commencement
Dianne I would like to thank you for finding and posting this article. I notice that it was posted over two months ago, but for some reason I only discovered it last week. I've spent a fair bit of time thinking about it, and I've noticed that it reflects a lot of the proactive and positive inquiries that have been happening lately in some of the logs around NCN. Most of these comments will be excerpts, and perhaps later I will add some more thoughts of my own.

The first article of three is about a commencement speech that she gave to graduating students at the University of Utah, where she was also being awarded with an honary doctorate in humanities.

"Before the speech, I had had the great pleasure of meeting with a group of graduating seniors. What I heard were mature voices, steady minds, speaking from a generation that had witnessed the beginning of two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, while students at the university. They were not interested in ideas or language that polarized people: Christianity vs. Islam; republicans vs. democrats; Mormons vs. non-Mormons; wilderness vs. development. They talked about alternatives, solutions, how to speak a language that opens hearts rather than closes them. These students were acutely aware of complexities and hesitant to take sides before considering all the evidence."

Terry's speech reflected those values expressed above. She listed some criteria such as in the open space of democracy:

- there is room for dissent.
- there is room for differences.
- the health of the environment is seen as the wealth of our communities. We remember that our character has been shaped by the diversity of America's landscapes and it is precisely that character that will protect it. Cooperation is valued more than competition; prosperity becomes the caretaker of poverty. The humanities are not peripheral, but the very art of what it means to be human.
- is a landscape that encourages diversity and discourages conformity.
- can also be messy and chaotic. It requires patience and persistence.
- every vote counts and every vote is counted.
- beauty is not optional, but essential to our survival as a species. And technology is not rendered at the expense of life, but developed out of a reverence for life.

"Reverence for life" was a point that was worthy of repeating.

Her speech continued with a call to think, and to question tyranny, and finished up with following excerpts.

"Our insistence on democracy is based on our resistance to complacency. To be engaged. To participate. We may be wrong. We will make mistakes. But we can engage in spirited conversation, cherishing the vitality of the struggle. Democracy is built upon the right to be insecure. We are vulnerable. And we are vulnerable together. Question. Stand. Speak. Act. Make us uncomfortable. Make us think. Make us feel. Keep us free."

The response was very interesting, the humanity students cheered, and the business studends booed and gave catcalls. Terry said she was witnessing the ideological split that reflected the rest of the nation. The university officials were not that happy with her speech. Senator Bennett expressed his strong dissent to her speech, and in a letter to her explained his position and then asked her "what she would be willing to die for." She thought about it for a few weeks and turned the question around and asked him "what would he be willing to live for."

Terry explains the positive side of this question further in her second article, which I've summarized in the next comment. I have a few ov comments though, and they concern the problems of polarization. As soon as the "with us or against us" proposition is accepted, both sides are loser strategies that endorse conflict and opposition, and set the determining priority as death rather than life.

Any moral appeal implies that the opposing side is immoral, which falls on deaf ears because both sides think they are moraly superior to the other. Even more dangerous however is that this framing avoids and hides the amoral alternative which does not even recognize the legitimacy of morality. Reason, ideology, economics, pragmatics are all amoral conditions. Morality becomes reduced to a rhetorical tool, and the opposing side is seen as using sophistry. Is it any wonder that fundamentalists fear intelligence. And is it any wonder that intelligence is abused and needs to be evaluated within a moral context. This is not an impossible task, nor is it simple.

Humanitarian and economic are not by definition dichotomous, but the differt responses between the humanities faculities and the business faculties in attendance at the commencement ceremony show that this is a key element of our current polarization.

Another issue which seldom gets discussed is whether the moral foundation is based on exclusion or inclusion. This is the "lifeboat game" on a global scale, and it underlies all discussions on this issue, but it would be taboo to even mention it, and as a result both sides are talking to deaf ears.

Life and death, moral and immoral, inclusive and exclusive, and all of these need to be seen as polarizing extremes.  



7 Nov 2004 @ 09:38 by ov : Ground Truthing
Orion -- Ground Truthing by Terry Tempest Williams

"The land speaks to us through gestures. What we share as human beings is so much more than what separates us."

"In the open space of democracy, beauty is not optional, but essential to our survival as a species."

"What are we willing to give our lives to, if not the perpetuation of the sacred?"

"What I know [of the Artic Tern] is this: when one hungers for light it is only because one's knowledge of the dark is so deep."

"It is called "Bear Shaman" -- an Iñupiat sculpture carved out of soapstone. At one end is Man, crouched close to the earth. At the other end is Bear, in search of prey. Both Man and Bear live inside the same body. Their shared heart determines who will be seen and who will disappear. Shape-shifting is its own form of survival."

A local example of syncronicity was this Man Meets Bear which was the cover story for this month's "Shared Vision" magazine. The subcaption says "Some expereinces alter your view of things" and the article opens with "The fall is a sad season for me. (Don't ask.) At this poignant time of year I try to soothe myself with beauty." A few paragraphs later "As I stared at those bottomless eyes, I felt that the bear and I were peering into each other, and into ourselves. In that frozen instant, like merged shadows, we were not two. Within the bear’s eyes I saw a cedar carving. I had seen it before, at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology. This Coast Salish wall board depicts a bear crawling from the crescent mouth of its lair, coming nose to nose with a man on his belly. The man grips a rattle in one hand, a knife in the other. Their eyes are locked, intimate, waiting for a move." Beauty and the Bear, man and nature locked in mutual stare, these are major themes in this second article by Terry Tempest Williams. And now back to Tempest.


"the open space of democracy is interested in circular, not linear, power -- power reserved not for an entitled few, but shared by many."

"The Arctic is made up of dreams. And not everyone's is the same. My dream of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was planted in my heart by Mardy Murie. ....... Revolutionary patience. This community of Americans [Murie's clan] never let go of their wild, unruly faith that love can lead to social change. The Muries believed that the protection of wildlands was the protection of natural processes, the unseen presence in wilderness. The Wilderness Act, another one of their dreams, was signed in 1964."

"That [the Arctic] continues to survive, resist, and absorb our own greed and economic tensions, year after year, is evidence of the force of love that has protected these wildlands for generations."

"I want to hear a different discussion," [Carol Kasza] says. "I want people to ask, 'How does it feel to be in this country? What do you remember here that you have otherwise forgotten? Why do we want to destroy or diminish anything that inspires us to live more honestly?'"

"We can only attain harmony and stability by consulting ensemble," writes Walt Whitman. This is my definition of community, and community interaction is the white-hot center of a democracy that burns bright.

"In the Arctic, I've learned ego is as useless as money. Choose one's traveling companions well. Physical strength and prudence are necessary. Imagination and ingenuity are our finest traits. Expect anything. You can change your mind like the weather. Patience is more powerful than anger. Humor is more attractive than fear. Pay attention. Listen. We are most alive when discovering. Humility is the capacity to see. Suffering comes, we do not have to create it. We are meant to live simply. We are meant to be joyful. Life continues with and without us. Beauty is another word for God."  



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