425. Dark Side of Engagements with Nature

February 6, 2015

Maine is known as a so-called natural-resource state. Think trees. Lumber. Paper. Wood pellets. Firewood. Peat moss. Lobsters. The once-famous fish in the Gulf of Maine. Sand and Gravel. Granite. Seaweed. Scenery. Wildlife. There are a lot of jobs dependent on those resources. A huge chunk of the Maine economy.

Resources, by definition, are supposedly renewable. That’s what re-source means. It’s a source again and again. Which requires careful management, including setting quotas that can safely be “harvested.”

When the price of elvers—tiny eels migrating back to their home habitat areas in Maine rivers—rose to a thousand dollars a pound, you can bet the eel catchers did everything they could to capture as many as possible in their nets. That collective effort put tremendous pressure on the homeward-bound elvers, which Asian nations raise to mature eels to feed their burgeoning populations.

Industrial giants make billions from their many natural-resource extractions. We mine the Earth, trawl the seas, cut the tops off mountains, spew our spent space apparatus as a belt of scrap metal circling the Earth—because that’s how we engage natural resources as our personal cornucopia. Enterprise we call it. Big business. Making a living.

How ironic is it that we plunder the Earth in order to live?

What others have, we want for ourselves. That’s called jealousy. Jealousy, it seems, runs the world. We are envious of others for what they take from the Earth. What they possess. What they engage with. We envy their circles of engagement with life itself, and treat them as celebrities.

We want to attain such a level of engagement for ourselves. To own such possessions. To have them available for our personal use.

Having and owning are the basis of our possessiveness, our shopping sprees, our powerful concept of personal ownership of a planet that clearly supports us all. Private ownership is the dark side of human engagement. Of consciousness gone haywire.

What if I claimed, these are my horseshoe crabs, my eelgrass meadows, my fish in the bay? If life has a mystery, personal ownership is it. How working for a living turns into an engagement that degrades the Earth. How our engagements come to master us as if we had no control over them. And once we initiated them, they had to run to their inevitable conclusion.

Ownership and control are such fundamental parts of our nature, of our natural heritage, we devote a huge amount of our cultural law to protecting the rights of individuals to engage as they please. This we call freedom, life’s blood of the capitalist system of consumption.

We interpret ownership as a right to engage whatever we want, however we will. Even unto destroying that which we love and desire.

But as the word “resource” implies, we own something, not by buying it or extracting it, but by caring for it and keeping it safe so we can enjoy it again and again. Not to exhaust it, but to ensure it will be available forever.

Engagement is a fundamental property of mind. It comes with coupling perception to action by way of meaning and judgment. In that sense, all property is intellectual property, property that reflects the workings of our minds. You’d think that if we all want the same thing, then we would be sure to keep that thing safe for everyone’s use.

But that’s not how our engagements work. Property is an attitude, a state of mind, a combined outlook and inlook. When we engage, we know exactly what we’re doing. Or should, if we keep our eyes open. If we do damage, we can see it for ourselves. And modify our behavior accordingly.

Engagement is strong stuff. Powerful in getting at the heart of our life as conscious beings. Of our having and holding a particular way of life we can count on, now and forever. Don’t come between me and my significant other—what- or whoever it might be. I will get very angry because you are threatening my way of life. My perceiving, judging, acting, and engaging. If you break my accustomed loop, I will take it very personally.

That loop is me as I know myself from the inside. It is who I am on this Earth. I am an ongoing process. I live to engage as I am with whom or what I choose at the time. I am beholden to those people or things I am responsible to in asking them to be responsible to me. That is all I want. Mutual engagement, commitment, and responsibility. Ownership and freedom as I say. The right, within limits, to live my life according to natural law.

That is the state of mind I am trying to get at in this post. The conflicted inner life we lead by leaving a sacked Earth in our wake. We engage our home planet as if it were the peel of a banana we lower the car window to toss into the road. Do you feel the power of that image? The true horror? If I didn’t believe it was the culminating truth of our existence, I wouldn’t be writing these words.

The course of our everyday mental functioning creates the worlds we live in as individuals who are living the lives we have made for ourselves. The lives we live out every day by maintaining the engagements we do with all that we care about. In our respective black boxes, unsupervised, we are at the center of those worlds, creating them day-after-day as the foundation of the life we hold as a commonwealth for one another.

The upshot of this line of thinking is that nature and its resources are not for sale and cannot be put on the market as the basis of our gross domestic product. That would be an absurdity. A for-sale sign on either the richest or poorest piece of land is an oxymoron, a contradiction unto itself. Nature is that which cannot be bought or sold. As Earthlings, we are born of the Earth; it is not possible to own our own mother. We survive as members of Earth’s family.

The point of our mutual engagements is to celebrate our common family together. Nature cannot be for sale, and cannot be bought, no matter what you hear in the market. Nature is a gut-level attraction we recognize when we go to open places and pay attention to the ambient energy falling on our sensory receptors.

We have to open our personal expectancy to such experience. No matter how many safaris we go on, and trophy heads collect, money won’t get it for us. To enjoy a truly natural experience, we must hold hands together, take the deepest possible breath, and breathe out a sigh of thanks for all that has come our way as a gift without our even having to ask.

The moral of this post:  We are stewards of our every engagement.

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