Archive for July, 2008

Educating People How to Feel

I just finished reading Jeanette Winterson’s new sci-fi novel The Stone Gods, a profound book in many ways, dense with meaning layered via allegory and allusion.  It is set in a post-apocalyptic world we have destroyed by nuclear war, consumerism, pollution, and it’s about the longing for a “place to land,” a new beginning after the shipwreck of our birth.  At one point, the main character, Billie Crusoe (alluding to the shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe), is explaining to a Robo sapiens why World War III occurred.  It’s worth quoting at length:

The theory is that this latest war was a crisis of over-emotionalism.  Fanatics do not listen to reason, and that includes the religious Right. Since the Enlightenment we have been trying to get away from emotionalism….all those so-called gut feelings that allow us to blame our aggression and intolerance on what comes naturally.

Yet the evidence suggests that rational people are no better than irrational people at controlling their aggression–rather, they are more manipulative. Think of the cool, calm boss at work who has no care for how his workers might be feeling. Think of the political gurus who organize mass migration of people and jobs, home and lives on the basis of statistics and economic growth. Think of the politicians who calmly decide that it is better to spend six hundred and fifty billion dollars on war and a fraction of that on schools and hospitals, food and clean water.

These people are very aggressive, very controlling, but they hide it behind intellectualization and hard-headed thinking.

For my part, I think we need more emotion, not less. But I think, too, that we need to educate people in how to feel. Emotionalism is not the same as emotion. We cannot cut out emotion–in the economy of the human body, it is the limbic, not the neural, highway that takes precedence.  We are not robots…but we act as though all our problems would be solved if only we had no emotions to cloud our judgment. (141-42)

Winterson echoes the findings of recent neuroscience on the centrality of emotions in thinking (think Damasio, Minsky, LeDoux).  The point she makes about educating people how to think is simple but significant.  It reminds me of a previous post about “mind control,” about learning how to control our emotions, channeling the energy flow through our brain (“psychoenergonomics”).

A recent book by Thich Nhat Hanh, titled The Art of Power, has exercises in its appendix for learning how to control intense emotions.  Perhaps we should have classes in meditative practice in public school, as the Dalai Lama suggests in Destructive Emotions.

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27 July 2008 at 11:26 am Leave a comment

Connecting to Natural Energy Flows

Our “Green Sanctuary” book group at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Haverhill just finished reading and discussing Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, a book with so many ideas focused on the concept of energonomics or energy management that I could write a month of entries on just this one book. But I wanted to make sure I made mention of it at least once. I’m calling this book THE most important book on the planet, because I think it provides a blueprint for moving forward in sustainable living. The book proposes the elimination of waste–or, rather, the transformation of all waste into food (waste = food), which simply uses nature as its model:

Most packaging (which makes up about 50% of the volume of the municipal solid waste stream) can be designed as biological nutrients, what we call *products of consumption.* The idea is to compose these products of materials that can be tossed on the ground or compost heap to safely biodegrade after use–literally to be consumed. (105)

The concept of “connecting to natural energy flows” is ultimately a kind of energy management–an issue of energonomics:

In the long run, connecting to natural energy flows is a matter of reestablishing our fundamental connection to the source of all good growth on the planet: the sun, that tremendous nuclear power plant 93 million miles away (exactly where we want it). Even at such distances, the sun’s heat can be devastating, and it commands a healthy respect for the delicate orchestration of circumstances that makes natural energy flows possible. Humans thrive on the earth under such intense emanations of heat and light only because billions of years of evolutionary processes have created the atmosphere and surface that support our existence–the soil, plant life, and cloud cover that cool the planet down and distribute water around it, keeping the atmosphere within a temperate range that we can live in. So reestablishing our connection to the sun by definition includes maintaining interdependence with all the other ecological circumstances that make natural energy flows possible in the first place. (131-132)

Humans have come to rely on fossil fuels rather than “harnessing and maximizing local natural energy flows” (31):

For the majority of our simple energy needs, humans could be accruing a great deal of current solar income, of which there is plenty: thousands of times the amount of energy needed to fuel human activities hits the surface of the planet every day in the form of sunlight.” (31, 32)

I am happy that human ingenuity is beginning to turn its attention to capturing, storing, and efficiently employing energy. Perhaps it is not too late for us.

25 July 2008 at 7:42 pm Leave a comment


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