Privilege 1: the lottery of birth

I did pretty well in the birth lottery. Born in the mid 20th Century in Los Angeles as a White male in a stable and caring middle-class Republican family. I’m tall, reasonably intelligent, and free of childhood trauma; oozing privilege from every pore. Well, almost every pore, I didn’t do so well on the physical dimensions – I’m left handed, nearsighted, and I was slow and clumsy at sports. Later in life I have had numerous health and medical challenges.

I am a birthright Feminist. My mother had a university degree and a successful career. My father treated my mother with kindness and respect and did lots of housework — most of the dishes and all the heavy cleaning. I grew up in an environment of gender equality and mutual respect.

There were almost no Black people, Asians, or Native Americans in my young life. My parents were mildly racist and anti-Semitic but did not attempt to instill those values in my brother and me. Instead they emphasized that everyone deserves to be treated with courtesy and respect.

About 80% of the children in the schools I attended were Jewish. Many had parents in the film industry and business, but many had parents who were refugees from Europe and who had lost friends and loved ones. My peer group was mostly Jewish and as a result I was well-informed about Judaism, Zionism, and the the Holocaust.

Thus, by my late teen years I had only experienced a life of first-world White privilege which I didn’t know I had; there were no people of colour with whom to compare myself and I had never travelled outside California. I had internalized values of Feminism and respect for human dignity from my family. Regarding anti-Semitism or the opposite, I was much more influenced by my peers than by my family.

This is my background of privilege. In the next few posts I will describe the events that led to my awakening to my privilege and how I have dealt with it. Perhaps this will lead to clarity for people other than I.

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The Separation from More-than-human Nature

This is an article I wrote back in 1999, so the references are a bit dated.  I feel it is still a useful review of the literature up until then.

To most ecopsychologists, the existence of a human-nature disconnection in most modern individuals and in modern culture as a whole may be self-evident: In industrial societies, most people live indoors and most interactions take place either with other people or with human-made artifacts. Most people spend more time watching television than being outdoors. More people go to theme parks than go to national parks. Continue reading

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Waterfall teachings

Helmcken FallsWe are in Wells Gray Park, a huge protected natural area in the Caribou Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. It is a land of mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests with a diversity of wildlife, notably bears, moose, birds, fish, and more than 30 species of mosquito.

More than anything else, though, Wells Gray is a land of waterfalls. Due to its unique geological history, there are about 39 named major waterfalls and uncounted smaller cascades in the park. Helmcken Falls is the 4th largest waterfall in Canada, about three times the height of Niagara Falls.

Much can be learned in the company of waterfalls. Watching a river’s wild cascade, breathing the mist, and experiencing the roar, it is clear that a waterfall is a living being. The word “waterfall” tells of relationships. A waterfall is the event when a particular river arrives in a particular location. It is the immensely powerful and beautiful shape water takes for a moment in its journey down a stream.

If we stretch the time scale, we realize that everything (and everybody) is a temporary event like a waterfall. Just as a waterfall is a momentary shape of water, a tree is the shape takon by sunlight, water, and certain chemicals for a few centuries. Animals, including humans like myself, are the shape food, water, and air takes for less than a century. The waterfall is the story of life written in an instant.The power of turbulent water

A striking feature of many waterfalls is that the water above the cascade is deceptively smooth, quiet, and calm, giving little warning about the confusion and danger ahead. From the quiet of a lake the current accelerates imperceptibly until suddenly the water rushes over the fall in a paroxysm of energy, chaos, violence, and beauty.

Calm water above the falls

The same may be true of human affairs. As we age, life can go smoothly until we become ill or reach old age and our systems begin to fail at an increasing rate. For society, it seems the pace of technological and social change is gradually and smoothly accelerating, like the river above the falls.. Suddenly, a threshold may be reached and chaos ensue. The swimmers ahead of us may already be in the maelstrom while for those of us farther behind, everything may still seem safe and calm. Listening with an alert mind, we may hear the sound as we approach a fall before it is too late to swim to the safety of the bank.

There are always lessons in nature.

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Nature Rx

This says it all:

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This Changes Everything and ecopsychology

“We accept it as normal that people who have never been on the land and have no history or connection to the country may legally secure the right to come in and by the nature of their enterprises leave in their wake a cultural and physical landscape that is utterly transformed and desecrated”  –Wade Davis (2012)

This article began as a review of Naomi Klein’ 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, but it has grown into something much larger, a consideration of the roles of ecopsychology and our individual connection to ecology in the greater politcs of climate change, resource extraction, and environmnental destruction. Continue reading

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Spiritual Ecology — of cashiers and birds and other beings

In the supermarket, I am barely paying attention to the woman passing my purchases under the scanner. As she recites here formula, “Did you find everything you want?” it is clear she is barely paying attention to me. Our minds are occupied, but not with each other or with the here and now. We are both somewhere else. Continue reading

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What I talk about when I talk about Nature

My title is spun off from a fascinating book, What I Talk about when I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami. He modelled his title on a collection of short stories, What We Talk about when We talk about Love by Raymond Carver.

Most of us can agree that ecopsychology is about the human-nature relationship. Using this phrase, we mostly know what humans are, but what is “nature”? And what do we mean when we talk about the separation from nature? Continue reading

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