Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

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The book! Part Five: Honesty.

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In one very real sense, a chapter about the quality of honesty in dogs is bizarre. Surely, honesty, and dishonesty, are terms that exclusively describe human tendencies. When the term “dishonest” is used to describe a person, most often we are describing an effort by that person to deceive another. It is a description of someone who intentionally is trying to mislead or misinform us.

But in terms of honesty, or dishonesty, what I am about to say probably applies to all animals; I don’t know. Namely, that if there was one animal on Planet Earth that is incapable of guile or deceit, it has to be the dog. There is no doubt in my mind that dogs remain one of the most beautiful gifts nature has bestowed upon us humans.

Now that last bold statement is not to imply that dogs don’t try to manipulate us humans; far from it. Their attempts at manipulation would impress any three-year-old child! But there’s nothing dishonest about a dog trying to manipulate its owner into giving the dog whatever it wants; they are far too obvious in their motives and methods. As I read somewhere, dogs are: “Just scavengers looking for a way to get something with minimal effort.

Thus I think we can take it as a given that dogs are honest; fundamentally so.

OK, dear reader, you have no way of knowing that after writing that last sentence, I sat staring at the screen for a good ten minutes. I didn’t know how to continue the theme. I couldn’t think of anything to add to what every “good person and true” knows, and has known since time immemorial: honesty is a fundamental aspect of being a good person; the enviable of all titles, as George Washington is reputed to have said.

What was exercising my brain was to come at the subject of honesty in a way that offered a compelling reason for being honest; over and above the natural assumption about honesty, that it is so blindingly obvious not to require being spelt out; in a manner of speaking. It struck me that honesty is very different to the majority of the other qualities that we need to learn from dogs.
Different in the sense that the other qualities are open to being embraced as something that may be learnt, with clear rewards from so doing, whereas honesty seems a fundamental, core way of relating to the world around one. Mind you, there was a tiny voice in my head that was nagging away at me that said that honesty may not be so ‘black and white’. For example, the question of ‘white lies’. But, at heart, I was still lost as to how to proceed.

So, I spent another thirty minutes exploring the web looking for clarity; looking for some inspiration. Yet those web searches just ended up confusing me more. About the least confusing item I came across, more or less at random, was a section from an article read[1] on the website The New Atlantis. The full article was entitled: The truth about human nature.

The section that I read, and is reproduced below, seemed to confirm in my mind that honesty; something that, by rights, should be so fundamentally understood, was anything but simple.

Since Nietzsche, the choice of which version of ourselves we identify with has been widely understood as a choice between lying and truth-telling — to ourselves as much as to others. The moral ideal has become authenticity — a particular kind of honesty. Of course, just about any philosophical ideal is grounded in some sort of honesty: the search for Truth requires truth. Yet Aristotle describes honesty as a virtue only of self-presentation — the balance between self-deprecation and boastfulness. And Plato never lists honesty as a virtue at all, and even distinguishes between “true lies” and useful or noble lies. From the modern to the post-modern era, honesty and authenticity shifted to become much of the telos[2] of life, where before they had been but means in our progress toward that end.

Here was me looking for clarity only to find anything but that!

So what to make of all this?

I am going to fall back on the ideas expressed in the chapter on community. Rather on the closing words of that chapter, “… the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.

There’s a sense of hope in me that we are heading for an era of new localism that will, in and of itself, reinforce a culture of honesty in one’s life. Why such hope? Because there are signs. Such as this one: the growing concern about factory farming, surfacing as increasingly more vibrant local food movements, demonstrating that people are really scrutinising where their food comes from. More than that! There are increasing concerns as to where our medicines are made and the possible side-effects, and a dawning awareness of how we are living on the backs of exploited third world workers (and poorly paid service workers here at home). Possibly all under a global umbrella of awareness that big government is no longer working as it should be; evidenced by falling voter turnout numbers at key elections in the USA and many other countries.

My hope is that this growing ‘honesty’ about the reality of our present world and where it appears to be heading is at the heart, in my opinion, of an expanding local consciousness permeating the hearts and minds of many people, leading them to want to become more “local.”

Should this come about, and I hope that it does in my lifetime, then an honesty of thought and deed will be, nay, has to be, a core attribute of life in a well-functioning local community.

982 words. Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-truth-about-human-nature
[2] As in an end or purpose of life

Written by Paul Handover

December 12, 2014 at 00:30

The book! Part Five: Sharing

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Dogs share so much of themselves in such an easy fashion. Here’s a story that made me laugh.

A man in a casino walks past three men and a dog playing poker.
“Wow!” he says, “That’s a very clever dog!“
“He’s not that clever,” replies one of the other players.
“Every time he gets a good hand he wags his tail!“

This very clever dog playing poker couldn’t hide his happiness and had to wag his tail!

One of the remarkable things that is noticed by those that have a number of dogs in their lives is the very natural way that they share so much. In our own case, we live with nine dogs, seven of whom are ex-rescue dogs. It would be fair to imagine that any dog that had come either straight off the street, a feral dog in other words, or from a dog rescue centre, would have some behavioural issues. To a small extent, this has been noticed by us; that some dogs come to us with a few minor, anti-social issues.

But the way that existing dogs in the home quickly assess and welcome a new dog, how they instinctively know that they are going to fit in, is a model of openness and acceptance. But more on that in the forthcoming chapters on those topics of openness and acceptance. Here, I want to stick specifically to sharing.

Sharing is synonymous with selflessness. One couldn’t openly share much of our life if it wasn’t easy to push to the back of one’s mind, one’s consciousness, our need for self. In more easy terms, our egos. For if our egos are dominant then selfless sharing would be very difficult; some might say impossible.

A dog seems to know with certainty that its best interest lays down the pathway of getting on with other dogs in the family. Inevitably, the boundaries of sharing, from the perspective of the dog, indeed from a philosophical angle of this quality in the dog, are intermingled with all the other qualities previously written about, and many of the qualities coming up in the next few chapters. So we observe how dogs will lick each other, snuggle up and sleep together, play together and share; all the attributes of a trustful, loving community.

That natural sharing sense of a dog links effortlessly with our human need for sharing. I had to look up and remind myself who it was that coined the expression: “No man is an island.” It was the English poet John Dunne[1], by the way. A beautiful, masterful reflection on our human need for sharing.

There are numerous benefits for having a dog, or two, in one’s life but possibly the core benefit is the one of never feeling alone. Think how often one sees a homeless person by the side of the road begging for food, money or for a lift somewhere else, and nearby is their dog. Irrespective of the fact, the certainty, that being homeless is tough, is the added certainty that it is a great deal tougher if there is a dog to feed and look after. My strong sense is that the sharing of the lives of two creatures, man and dog, more than offsets the added challenges of having a dog in your life if you have no permanent home.

No better underlined than by an article seen on the online presence of Flagpole Magazine[2], the “locally owned, independent voice of Athens, Northeast Georgia.”

The article[3] was called: Dogs and Their Homeless Owners Share Love, if not Shelter, and was written by Stephanie Talmadge. It opened:

If you walk down Clayton Street, specifically near the College Avenue intersection, you may have received a furry greeting from a little brown, scraggly pup. Usually a blur, due to near-constant wagging, this tiny dog, Malika, spends many of her days guarding that corner for her owners, David and Dorothy Gardener, who are experiencing temporary homelessness.

Though the Gardeners are homeless, little Malika is far from it. She’s not in the pound, waiting to be adopted or rescued before her time runs out. She’s not running around in the streets or woods, fending for herself.

Stephanie Talmadge then makes an important point towards the end of her piece:

Homeless or not, owning a pet is a huge responsibility, and obviously it can be extremely rewarding, well worth the complications it creates. Plus, a person doesn’t have to be homeless to have financial barriers to providing good care. Plenty of dogs who live in permanent housing are neglected and mistreated daily.

Just because someone’s homeless shouldn’t mean they’re not allowed to have a companion animal,” Athens-Clarke County Animal Control Superintendent Patrick Rives says, “And there may be some good reasons for them to [have one]… There is a psychological impact of having a companion animal, and I wouldn’t want to take that away from someone.”

Around 1870, Senator George C. Vest delivered a powerful and moving eulogy for the dog; delivered to the jury at the Old Courthouse in Warrensburg. It was in response to his dog, Old Drum, being shot the previous year. Here are his words:

The best friend man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son, or daughter, that he has reared with loving care, may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and good name may become traitors to their faith. The money a man has he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our head.

The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground when the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only to be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wing, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives his master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when that last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there, by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even in death.

Now when it comes to us humans learning the quality of sharing from our dogs, there is no shortage of examples of humans engaged in wonderful acts of sharing. In undertaking research, I came across an article in the Houston Chronicle[4] headed: What makes us human? Teaching, learning and sharing.

We wanted to understand how all of these behaviors came about specifically for humans,” said Steven Schapiro, an M.D. Anderson professor at the Bastrop facility. “And we wanted to understand why our closest living relatives can’t do all of the kinds of things we do.”

Professor Schapiro went on to explain: “To address their question the scientists devised a series of puzzles with escalating difficulty, the solving of which would produce rewards – stickers of increasing attractiveness for kids; carrots, apples and then grapes for the monkeys.

Then observing:

During the experiment the researchers observed that the children treated the puzzles as a social exercise, working them together and giving verbal instruction to one another. When successful, they shared the rewards.

In contrast the chimpanzees and capuchins appeared to only see the puzzles as a means to obtain rewards, and worked mostly independently and did not learn from their efforts. They never shared.

Humans, then, have ratcheted up their culture by teaching one another, imitating the successful behaviours of others and altruism.

When successful, they shared the rewards.

Who knows if us humans uniquely having dogs in our lives over thousands of years, way back to the times when we depended on our survival through hunting and gathering, if learning to share the hunting and the gathering with our dogs, embedded within us the sharing of rewards? I would like to think so.

I want to end this chapter by promoting two wonderful modern examples of a culture of sharing. Firstly, I’m referring to the Buy Nothing Project[5] that has as it’s subheading: Random Acts of Kindness All Day Long.

As the ‘About’ page[6] explains:

Buy Nothing. Give Freely. Share Creatively.

The Buy Nothing Project began as an experimental hyper-local gift economy on Bainbridge Island, WA; in just 8 months, it has become a social movement, growing to over 25,000 members in 150 groups, in 4 countries. Our local groups form gift economies that are complementary and parallel to local cash economies; whether people join because they’d like to quickly get rid of things that are cluttering their lives, or simply to save money by getting things for free, they quickly discover that our groups are not just another free recycling platform. A gift economy’s real wealth is the people involved and the web of connections that forms to support them. Time and again, members of our groups find themselves spending more and more time interacting in our groups, finding new ways to give back to the community that has brought humor, entertainment, and yes, free stuff into their lives. The Buy Nothing Project is about setting the scarcity model of our cash economy aside in favor of creatively and collaboratively sharing the abundance around us.

It has become a social movement …. collaboratively sharing the abundance around us.

Secondly, to a completely different example, that of software. Let me explain or, better, let me quote from the home-page of the website Open Source Initiative[7]: “Open source software is software that can be freely used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone.” [My emphasis]

Here’s the opening paragraph of an article[8] in Forbes Magazine; written by George Bradt.

Why Open Leadership Has Become Essential

You would not be reading this if open source software did not exist. Without open source standards, the Internet would not exist. This article would not exist. Those of you whose parents met on Match.com would not exist. All of you should be thankful for open source software. Now, as the world has changed, open source software’s principles of openness, transparency and meritocracy have become essential standards for leadership in general.

… principles of openness, transparency and meritocracy have become essential standards for leadership in general.” Not just for leadership but for all of mankind! Sharing seems like the way to go!

If I was a dog, it would be impossible to stop my tail wagging!

1,930 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] It was a famous line from “Meditation XVII,”
[2] http://www.flagpole.com/about-us
[3] http://www.flagpole.com/news/news-features/2014/10/08/dogs-and-their-homeless-owners-share-love-if-not-shelter
[4] http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/What-makes-us-human-Teaching-learning-and-3375389.php
[5] http://buynothingproject.org
[6] http://buynothingproject.org/about/
[7] http://opensource.org
[8] http://www.forbes.com/sites/georgebradt/2014/11/25/why-open-leadership-has-become-essential/

A breath of common-sense.

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George Monbiot perfectly spells it out.

Regular readers of this place will know that it is a rare couple of weeks without a republication of a George Monbiot essay.  His voice seems so often to be a ray of common-sense shining into a dark cave of present-day madness. None more obvious than this essay that was published last Monday under the title of There Is An Alternative.

It’s a huge honour to be able to share this with you, dear readers.

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There Is An Alternative

December 8, 2014

The great political question of our age is what to do about corporate power. It’s time we answered it.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th December 2014

Does this sometimes feel like a country under enemy occupation? Do you wonder why the demands of so much of the electorate seldom translate into policy? Why the Labour Party, like other former parties of the left, seems incapable of offering effective opposition to market fundamentalism, let alone proposing coherent alternatives? Do you wonder why those who want a kind and decent and just world, in which both human beings and other living creatures are protected, so often appear to find themselves confronting the entire political establishment?

If so, you have already encountered corporate power. It is the corrupting influence that prevents parties from connecting with the public, distorts spending and tax decisions and limits the scope of democracy. It helps to explain the otherwise inexplicable: the creeping privatisation of health and education, hated by almost all voters; the private finance initiative, which has left public services with unpayable debts(1,2); the replacement of the civil service with companies distinguished only by their incompetence(3); the failure to re-regulate the banks and to collect tax; the war on the natural world; the scrapping of the safeguards that protect us from exploitation; above all the severe limitation of political choice in a nation crying out for alternatives.

There are many ways in which it operates, but perhaps the most obvious is through our unreformed political funding system, which permits big business and multimillionaires effectively to buy political parties. Once a party is obliged to them, it needs little reminder of where its interests lie. Fear and favour rule.

And if they fail? Well, there are other means. Before the last election, a radical firebrand said this about the lobbying industry(4): “It is the next big scandal waiting to happen … an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money. … secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics.” That, of course, was David Cameron, and he’s since ensured that the scandal continues. His lobbying act restricts the activities of charities and trade unions, but imposes no meaningful restraint on corporations(5).

Ministers and civil servants know that if they keep faith with corporations while in office they will be assured of lucrative directorships in retirement. Dave Hartnett, who, as head of the government’s tax collection agency HMRC, oversaw some highly controversial deals with companies like Vodafone and Goldman Sachs(6,7), apparently excusing them from much of the tax they seemed to owe, now works for Deloitte, which advises companies like Vodafone on their tax affairs(8). As head of HMRC he met one Deloitte partner 48 times(9).

Corporations have also been empowered by the globalisation of decision-making. As powers but not representation shift to the global level, multinational business and its lobbyists fill the political gap. When everything has been globalised except our consent, we are vulnerable to decisions made outside the democratic sphere.

The key political question of our age, by which you can judge the intent of all political parties, is what to do about corporate power. This is the question, perennially neglected within both politics and the media, that this week’s series of articles will attempt to address. I think there are some obvious first steps.

A sound political funding system would be based on membership fees. Each party would be able to charge the same fixed fee for annual membership (perhaps £30 or £50). It would receive matching funding from the state as a multiple of its membership receipts. No other sources of income would be permitted. As well as getting the dirty money out of politics, this would force political parties to reconnect with the people, to raise their membership. It will cost less than the money wasted on corporate welfare every day.

All lobbying should be transparent. Any meeting between those who are paid to influence opinion (this could include political commentators like myself) and ministers, advisers or civil servants in government should be recorded, and the transcript made publicly available. The corporate lobby groups that pose as thinktanks should be obliged to reveal who funds them before appearing on the broadcast media(10,11), and if the identity of one of their funders is relevant to the issue they are discussing, it should be mentioned on air.

Any company supplying public services would be subject to freedom of information laws (there would be an exception for matters deemed commercially confidential by the information commissioner). Gagging contracts would be made illegal, in the private as well as the public sector (with the same exemption for commercial confidentiality). Ministers and top officials should be forbidden from taking jobs in the sectors they were charged with regulating.

But we should also think of digging deeper. Is it not time we reviewed the remarkable gift we have granted to companies in the form of limited liability? It socialises the risks which would otherwise be carried by a company’s owners and directors, exempting them from the costs of the debts they incur or the disasters they cause, and encouraging them to engage in the kind of reckless behaviour that caused the financial crisis. Should the wealthy authors of the crisis, like Fred Goodwin or Matt Ridley, not have incurred a financial penalty of their own?

We should look at how we might democratise the undemocratic institutions of global governance, as I outlined in my book The Age of Consent(12). This could involve the dismantling of the World Bank and the IMF, which are governed without a semblance of democracy, and cause more crises than they solve, and their replacement with a body rather like the international clearing union designed by John Maynard Keynes in the 1940s, whose purpose was to prevent excessive trade surpluses and deficits from forming, and therefore international debt from accumulating.

Instead of treaties brokered in opaque meetings between diplomats and transnational capital (of the kind now working towards a Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership), which threaten democracy, the sovereignty of parliaments and the principle of equality before the law, we should demand a set of global fair trade rules, to which multinational companies would be subject, losing their licence to trade if they break them. Above all perhaps, we need a directly elected world parliament, whose purpose would be to hold other global bodies to account. In other words, instead of only responding to an agenda set by corporations, we must propose an agenda of our own.

This is not only about politicians, it is also about us. Corporate power has shut down our imagination, persuading us that there is no alternative to market fundamentalism, and that “market” is a reasonable description of a state-endorsed corporate oligarchy. We have been persuaded that we have power only as consumers, that citizenship is an anachronism, that changing the world is either impossible or best effected by buying a different brand of biscuits.

Corporate power now lives within us. Confronting it means shaking off the manacles it has imposed on our minds.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.dropnhsdebt.org.uk/

2. http://www.monbiot.com/2010/11/22/the-uks-odious-debts/

3. http://www.monbiot.com/2014/05/05/land-of-impunity-2/

4. https://tompride.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/lobbying-camerons-deleted-speech-and-his-jaw-dropping-hypocrisy/

5. http://www.lobbyingtransparency.org/

6. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/oct/22/vodafone-tax-case-leaves-sour-taste

7. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2011/oct/11/goldman-sachs-interest-tax-avoidance

8. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/may/27/deloitte-appoints-dave-hartnett-tax

9. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/may/27/deloitte-appoints-dave-hartnett-tax

10. http://www.monbiot.com/2013/11/29/hidden-interests/

11. http://www.monbiot.com/2011/10/17/show-me-the-money/

12. http://www.monbiot.com/books/the-age-of-consent/

The book! Part Five: Play

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So what can we learn from dogs from the way that they play?

It’s a fair question yet one where it might be perfectly reasonable to wonder if we humans have anything to learn from the playing of dogs. The answers may surprise.

But first, let’s examine what is known about the playing of dogs.

Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is referred to extensively in The Washington Post; May 19th, 2014, in an article written by David Grimm, author of a new book: Citizen Canine.

David Grimm writes about the research undertaken by Marc Bekoff, who studies dog play and that, “studying dog play reveals more than the animals’ emotional lives. It could ultimately shed light on the evolution of human emotions and how we came to build a civilisation based on laws and co-operation, empathy and altruism.

Now that is a fascinating idea; that understanding why dogs play might help our understanding of how our emotions evolved. Up until this point, it had never occurred to me that our emotions evolved in just the same way that the rest of who we are today evolved. Sort of common-sense, I guess!

David Grimm goes on to write in that Washington Post article: “All of this suggests that dogs have a kind of moral code — one long hidden to humans until a cognitive ethologist named Marc Bekoff began to crack it.

As I read the article it started to dawn on me that possibly the reason that we humans devote so much time, energy, and frequently money, in playing, may have much deeper roots, as with our dogs.

Few people had studied animal play, but Bekoff was intrigued. “Play is a major expenditure of energy, and it can be dangerous,” he says. “You can twist a shoulder or break a leg, and it can increase your chances of being preyed upon. So why do they do it? It has to feel good.

Suddenly, Bekoff wasn’t interested just in behaviour; he was interested also in emotions and, fundamentally, what was going on inside these animals’ heads.

As the article reveals, Professor Bekoff, “wasn’t the first scientist to become intrigued by the canine mind”, reminding us that Charles Darwin was sure that dogs could engage in abstract thought, owned a sense of morality and used language. In Darwin’s lifetime he had thirteen dogs so had plenty of opportunity to become aware of what most of today’s dog owners know: that we humans and dogs can communicate with each other.

But back to emotions.

Back to David Grimm’s article:

Even morality hints at something deeper, however. To enforce moral conduct, dogs must be able to experience a spectrum of emotions, from joy to indignation, guilt to jealousy. They must also be able to read these emotions in others, distinguishing accident from intent, honesty from deceit. And indeed, recent studies by other scientists have shown evidence of these abilities (confirming what many dog owners already feel about their pets).

Scientists have found, for example, that dogs trained to shake hands with humans will stop shaking if they notice that they aren’t being rewarded for the trick although a nearby dog is — a sign, the researchers suggested, that dogs can sense inequity.

Thus from the playing of dogs (and wolves) comes great insight into the emotions and social conduct of humans. I will return to that idea at the end of the chapter.

Like millions of other dog lovers, I know from strong personal experience that dogs have a great sensitivity to how I am behaving and feeling. Even almost taking it for granted that when I yawn, the chances are that one of our dogs will yawn. Or believing, without any doubt, that dogs show empathy for us humans; I can easily recall my Pharaoh licking tears from my face. What I didn’t realise until reading the Washington Post article is that empathy is a rarely documented trait in the animal kingdom.

We know what our dogs are feeling from their behaviour and their vocal sounds. Know instinctively that when a dog nudges me awake in the early hours of the morning, it is because it needs to go outside for a ‘call of nature’ and can’t wait until the normal waking hour.

Our dogs know what we are feeling from our behaviours, our body ‘language’ and our vocal sounds.

We all, all of us dog owners that is, know this and take it for granted. Perhaps not quite in the clarity of Professor Bekoff’s recent work that “suggests another remarkable canine skill: the ability to know what another animal is thinking — a so-called “theory of mind.””

Back to play. Science is suggesting that play, as initially researched with dogs, is very important, incredibly so, to our species. That without play, us humans would have had an impossible task of learning or interacting with the world around us. That our insight into our human emotions and the way we conduct ourselves, in a social context, flows down from learning from dogs.

Leaving one inescapable conclusion, one that so perfectly links to community: never stop playing. Never stop playing with others; humans and dogs alike.

872 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

December 10, 2014 at 00:30

Towards a new world.

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A republication of a fascinating essay.

When I posted yesterday about a ‘growing’ awareness, I had no idea that earlier this morning, Oregon time, I would read an essay over on Rob Hopkin’s Transition Network blog that just had to be shared with you. But such is the wonder of our wired-up world.  The essay is called From dismal science to language of beauty – Towards a new story of economics and is authored by Inex Aponte and is republished in full. (The emboldening is mine.)

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Inez Aponte: From dismal science to language of beauty – Towards a new story of economics

Humans are storytelling beings. In fact one could argue that it is impossible to make sense of the world without story. Storytelling is how we piece together kite1-620x260facts, beliefs, feelings and history to form something of a coherent whole connecting us to our individual and collective past, present and future. The stories that help make meaning of our lives inform how we shape and re-shape our environment. This re-created world, through its felt presence in structures and systems as well as its cultural expressions, in turn tells us its story.

We live in a time of powerful globalised narratives. We no longer (or rarely) sit and listen to tales that were born of places we know intimately and told by people deeply connected to these places. Ours is a world saturated with information from every corner of the planet, voiced by ‘storytellers’ on television, radio, the internet, mobile phones, newspapers, billboards, books and magazines. It would appear that we now have access to a multitude of perspectives and, with that, more understanding of the different options open to human beings to live fulfilling lives. In reality however, the majority of us have to conform to a narrow set of rules not of our own making: the rules of economics.

The way in which our lives have become dominated by the pursuit of financial gain is full of contradictions. We may not be driven by the ‘love of money’ but we still have to ‘make a living’. The fluctuations in the economy have a profound effect on our everyday lives, but very few of us understand how it works, let alone feel we have the power to influence it. This lack of agency fills most of us with a degree of ‘background anxiety’ that drives many of our decisions, consciously or unconsciously. The economic story is possibly the most powerful story being told at this very moment.

So how is this story being told (and sold) to us? How is it being framed?

1- The work/life balance

This term has become so ubiquitous that it is often used in its English form even in non-English speaking countries. It seems to be a concept that needs no translation; it can easily be swallowed whole. But hidden inside this seemingly innocuous phrase are some powerful assumptions.

On one side of the scales we place work, not just any work, but paid labour. On the other side we place life. By life we don’t mean the actual fact of being alive, but our aliveness, our joy, our pleasures. Placing work and life on opposite sides of the balance we are tacitly agreeing that paid work is worth sacrificing our aliveness for, that it is ok to be a little bit ‘dead’ in your job. If you are lucky enough to have a job you love the concept may seem irrelevant, but for people whose work is tedious, soul-destroying or even dangerous this is the perfect frame to diffuse any discontent: ‘We agree that having a degree of aliveness is important, but you cannot have all of it. You have to sacrifice some of your aliveness just to stay alive.’ The framing of paid work as a necessity for ‘earning’ one’s existence remains unquestioned.

2- The economy must grow

Having determined the necessity of jobs it’s no surprise to hear world leaders repeating the growth mantra over and over. The story goes like this: we need growth so we can create jobs so we can pay people money to buy stuff that creates more jobs. Nobody questions whether the jobs that are created are worth giving up their aliveness for or even whether what is being produced or provided adds any further joy or satisfaction to society. The frame of ‘employment for all’ is so sacred that anyone pointing out how many of the businesses providing these jobs destroy the planet we depend upon for our survival is presented with another false dichotomy: people against nature.

When George Bush sr, at the time of the Kyoto protocol, told Americans “I am the one that is burdened with finding the balance between sound environmental practice on the one hand and jobs for American families on the other.” he was setting up a frame that continues to be echoed by world leaders today. Even if in our heart of hearts we know we need the earth more than we need the artificial constructs of jobs and money, by now we have become so dependent on money to stay alive that this kind of language stifles our capacity to imagine a different solution. Fearing for the survival and safety of our loved ones we accept the war declared on nature in our name.

3- Humans are selfish

This experience of fearing for our survival dovetails neatly with our third and perhaps most powerful economic frame: the rational, utility maximising individual – Homo Economicus. This story tells us that given the choice humans will seek to get the most for themselves with the least amount of effort. It’s simply a ‘dog eat dog’ world.

Funnily enough it looks like the people who most fit the stereotype of the selfish utility maximiser are economists themselves. Various studies have repeatedly shown that non-economists are not as selfish or rational as economic theory would have us believe and that economists, or students of economics, consistently score higher on selfishness than ‘ordinary’ people. Despite these insights, the story that humans are by nature selfish and competitive persists.

But are any of these frames telling us the truth about ourselves and the world? Do we have to accept work as a necessary burden? Do we have no choice but to destroy the planet in order to survive? Are we really as selfish as economic textbooks suggest?

Perhaps the first thing we need to ask is: Is any of this about true economics in the first place?

To answer this question we need to travel back to ancient Greece where Aristotle was musing on two distinct practices: Oikonomia and Khrematistika. Oikonomia is where we get the word economics from and is described as ‘the management of the household so as to increase its use value to all members over the long term’. Khrematistika on the other hand (from khrema, meaning money) refers to ‘the branch of political economy relating to the manipulation of property and wealth so as to maximize short-term monetary exchange value to the owner’.

In their book ‘For the Common Good’ economist Herman Daly and theologian John Cobb, Jr distinguish between the two as follows:

Oikonomia differs from chrematistics in three ways. First, it takes the long-run rather than the short-run view. Second, it considers costs and benefits to the whole community, not just to the parties to the transaction. Third, it focuses on concrete use value and the limited accumulation thereof, rather than on an abstract exchange value and its impetus towards unlimited accumulation…. For oikonomia, there is such a thing as enough. For chrematistics, more is always better…

By now you might recognise our current economic system in this description of chrematistics. No wonder we are confused. We believe we are practising economics when we are in fact practising chrematistics. This has far reaching consequences for both the practice of economics and its perception. By allowing chrematistics to masquerade as economics the owning classes have perpetuated the illusion that increasing their financial wealth will be good for all of us and we, in our own misunderstanding of the proper function of an economy, have accepted chrematistics as the dominant form of resource management.

But what if there was another way of thinking and speaking about the economy, one that was in line with the true meaning of the word: the ability to manage the home for all, the art of living? What if we were able to redeem the language of economics so that it might liberate our imaginations and creativity and tell a beautiful story that expresses what we truly value?

Human Scale Development

In the 1970s, after many years of researching poverty in Latin America, Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef came to the conclusion that conventional economics, in practising chrematistics, did not have the tools to adequately address the experience of poverty and could not serve to alleviate it. What was needed was a language that allowed poverty and wealth to be understood in much broader terms. Together with his colleagues he developed what is now commonly known as Human Scale Development (HSD) or ‘barefoot economics’.

HSD proposes that there are nine fundamental human needs which are universal across time and place (as opposed to wants which are subject to cultural and historical trends). These fundamental needs are: Subsistence, Protection, Identity, Understanding, Participation, Creation, Freedom, Affection and Idleness.

Needs are not the same as the strategies or satisfiers we use to meet those needs. Needs are finite; satisfiers are culturally determined and infinite. In HSD each satisfier is valuated according to its impact on the rest of our own needs, the needs of others and, most importantly, on the conditions for life itself: a living thriving planet.

In this model of economics, you are wealthy when your needs are satisfied and if one or more of your needs are not met you are poor. Whereas our current model has conventionally defined wealth as how much money you possess and poverty as a lack of money – expressed as a poverty of subsistence – in HSD you may suffer from any number of poverties if one or more of your needs are not adequately satisfied. So you may have a full belly and suffer from poverties of affection, understanding or identity. Or you may feel safe and protected by having a secure well-paid job, but work so much you suffer from poverties of creation, participation and idleness. When enough members of a community suffer a particular poverty for prolonged periods it develops into a pathology. It becomes a sickness that is often hard to recognise because it has been normalised. We may ask whether our tendencies towards addictive behaviours, whether they be addictions to work, alcohol, gaming or sex, are expressions of such pathologies.

In HSD the key to living well, and therefore the purpose of a true economy, is to adequately satisfy our fundamental human needs within the Earth’s natural limits. Our role within such an economy is not only to seek to get our needs met, but to use our gifts to meet the needs of others.

This is good news, because here the time you spend playing with your child and meeting their need for creation, affection and participation creates a positive balance in the economy. As does the meal you made for your elderly neighbour, (meeting the needs of subsistence, affection, understanding, and protection) as does joining a community garden, learning a new skill, lying in the grass watching the clouds go by. Framing economics in this manner tells us that we are economic participants regardless of whether we are making financial gains. Other skills, gifts or abilities become our ‘currency’. In fact most things that the conventional (chrematistic) economy ignores create wealth in a Human Scale Economy.

The reverse is also true. Actions that are now considered beneficial for the chrematistic economy – for example, cutting down forests to build roads – soon appear uneconomical through an HSD lens. The destruction of the natural world also destroys opportunities to meet many of our fundamental needs: for idleness (going for walks in nature) identity (these places hold meaning that stretches back over centuries) participation and creation (it is where the community gathers, connects, plays) and understanding (the opportunity to connect with and learn from the more-than-human world).

Economies are created by the people

Economies, large or small, local or global, are created by the people. They depend on our collective efforts, labour and entrepreneurship as well as our songs, our dances, our poetry, our joy, our curiosity, our dreams. The macro economy must be reformed from the inside out, it must start with an understanding of who we are, what is dear to our hearts and from that place radiate our values outwards in order to truly meet our needs. A ‘barefoot’ economy is an economy where people – liberated from wage slavery, and with access to the means by which they can satisfy their fundamental needs – are able to choose adequate satisfiers suitable to their region and culture. It is one where we acknowledge and respect our dependence on a thriving earth. It is a place where we have once again understood the meaning of ‘enough’.

If we are looking for insurance against want and oppression, we will find it only in our neighbors’ prosperity and goodwill and, beyond that, in the good health of our worldly places, our homelands. If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, (…) then we would begin to turn to our communities – and not the communities simply of our human neighbors but also of the water, earth, and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared.”

“The Earth is what we all have in common.” (Wendell Berry)

I look forward to a time when students of economics are required to study the work of artists, poets and makers. When economic text books, as well as addressing how we manage the earth to provide food, homes, clothing and jobs, also speak of the need for beauty, intimacy, community and love.

The Art of Economics (and may it one day become an art) needs a new story and a new language that doesn’t require us to choose between self and others, work and aliveness, our own lives and the lives of fellow humans or the health of the planet. A language that has the potential to re-frame the story, re-educate our thinking and get us back on the side of community, on the side of the earth and on the side of life.

Inez Aponte is a facilitator, storyteller and activist, and co-founder of the Well & Good Project. You can contact her about talks and workshops on HSD and the Fundamental Human Needs framework at inez_aponte@hotmail.com.

www.somesmallholding.wordpress.com
www.wellandgoodproject.wordpress.com

——————————————-

This article was written based on a talk given in Bonn within a series of REconomy-Events organised by the Bonn Transition-Town Initiative “Bonn-im-Wandel” and supported by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and was originally published on the website of the recent Degrowth conference in Leipzig.

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 Don’t know about you but I found this both fascinating and very informative.

The book! Part Five: Community

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Dogs offer many beautiful examples of the benefits of community. For the powerful reason that their genes, from the days of wild dogs, still guide their behaviours. When dogs lived in the wild, their natural pack size was around fifty animals. As was explained in more detail in the chapter Understanding the dog’s world, only three dogs held positions of status. The leader of the pack, the female alpha dog, the ‘second-in-command’, the male beta or teaching dog, and the ‘omega’ dog, a dog of either gender whose role was to be the clown dog, keeping the pack happy and playful. It should be added that all three dogs of status were born into their respective roles. Their position in the pack was instinctive.

All the other dogs in that natural grouping would be equal participants with no ambitions to be anything else. There was no such thing as competition for a role, as how a dog fitted into his or her pack was a product of birth.

When we see how dogs are as the domesticated animals we humans know and love, we still come across, from time to time, a dog that is an alpha, beta or omega role dog. At the time of writing this, we have nine dogs in the house. Of those nine, two have an instinctive status. Lilly, a very old female dog, was born an alpha dog, and Pharaoh, was born a beta dog.

Let me explain more about Pharaoh and him being a beta or teaching dog.

In my early days of having Pharaoh in my life, I wondered if Pharaoh was an aggressive dog. My uncertainty with regard to Pharaoh followed a number of occasions when walking him in a public area, with other dogs around, and he had been very threatening, both in voice and posture, towards some of those other dogs.

I was put in contact with an Angela Stockdale who for years had helped owners with aggressive dogs. Helped them by retraining their dogs. This is what she arranged. I took Pharaoh up to her place at Wheddon Cross, near Minehead in Somerset. When we arrived, Angela was standing just by a gate that led into a fenced paddock, maybe a half-acre in size. In the far corner of the paddock were two dogs.

Angela asked me to bring Pharaoh to the gate and let him off the leash. It was clear that the intention was to let Pharaoh into the paddock. I cautioned that Pharaoh could be quite a handful with other dogs and, perhaps, it would be better that I walked him into the area still on his lead. Angela replied that it wouldn’t be necessary. So, as she held the gate open sufficient for Pharaoh to enter the paddock, I unclipped the lead from his neck chain and backed away, as requested.

Pharaoh had hardly taken two or three paces into the grassy paddock when Angela called out, “Paul, there’s nothing wrong with him!

I was astounded and stammered, “Er, er, how can you tell so quickly?

Because my two dogs haven’t taken any notice!”, came Angela’s immediate reply.

As we both watched the interaction taking place, Angela explained that in the paddock were her female Alpha dog, Leda, and her male Beta dog, whose name now escapes me. In other words, these two dogs were number one and two in terms of status, so far as dogs see other dogs.

In fact, Pharaoh was utterly subservient to these dogs, in a way that I had never witnessed before. Later on, as Pharaoh relaxed and started playing, Angela said that she thought that Pharaoh was a Beta dog and later was able to confirm that.

Anyone who has the privilege of owning a group of dogs will know without doubt that they develop a community strength that is an incredible model for us humans.

So now to turn to how we can learn from this aspect of dogs.

Many people think more and more that nations, governments, call it what you will, are less and less effective at understanding the needs of their people. I’m not even going to go down the road of the corruption of our leaders, both big ‘C’ and little ‘c’, in terms of power and money. No, I’m thinking of the top echelons in many societies being very disconnected from the needs and aspirations of their people. The widespread sense that representative democracy, as a process, is broken. As a quick aside, I must add an amusing comment that came from a neighbour: If one can bank online, we can certainly vote online! Does make one think about new ways of governing ourselves in this online world of ours.

Yet it would be very wrong to imagine that mankind has no experience of community living. Erik D. Kennedy wrote an essay: On the Social Lives of Cavemen[1]. Under the sub-heading of The Tribe, he offers:

Human beings are no strangers to group living. Call it a family trait. Our closest animal relatives spend a good bulk of their time eating bugs off their friends’ backs. While I’m overjoyed we’re not social in that manner, I’m less pleased that we’re not social more to that degree. In study after study, having and spending time with close friends is consistently correlated with happiness and well-being. And yet, the last few decades in America have seen a remarkable decline in many things associated with being in a tight-knit social circle — things like family and household size, club participation, and number of close friends. Conversely, we’ve seen an increase in things associated with being alone — TV, commutes, and the internet, for example.

This trend is quite unhealthy. It’s no surprise that humans are social animals — but it may be surprising that we’re such social animals that merely joining a club halves your chance of death in the next year — or that living in a close-knit town of three-generation homes can almost singlehandedly keep you safe from heart disease.

Thus, a sharing, community life is not just some cosy idea, it could be core to the sort of healthy society we need to return to. Erik’s essay continues to expand this idea by quoting the particular case of Roseto in Pennsylvania[2]:

In 1950’s Roseto, the incidence of heart disease in men over sixty-five was half the national average (and suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and serious crime were also basically unheard of [ii[3]]). Bewildered doctors searched for solutions in genetics, diet, exercise, and geography, but finding nothing, reached the conclusion that it was the close-knit social life of the community that kept its residents so healthy. Dinners with grandma, friendly chats between neighbors, and a precocious level of civic involvement were the driving factors in the health of a town that nothing but old age could kill.

The circumstances behind the remarkable and uncharacteristic happiness and health for the residents of Roseto came down to one fact: “The whole reason Roseto was an outlier is because it was a town whose inhabitants more or less collectively moved from rural Italy to the middle of Pennsylvania over a few decades.

That, essentially, Roseto became “an Italian village in the American countryside.

One doesn’t need to reflect for very long before the obvious question arises: If fifty dogs is the optimum number for a pack of dogs, is there a limit to the number of people we can have in the human equivalent of our pack?

Well, says anthropologist Robin Dunbar, that number is about 150 persons. Robin Dunbar achieved fame by drawing a graph that plotted primates’ social group size as a function of their brain sizes. He inputted the average human brain size into his model, and up came the number 150. Beyond that number is past the upper bounds for both hunter-gatherer tribes and Palaeolithic farming villages. More than that, it appears that everything from startup employee counts to online social networks show this number as a fairly consistent maximum for the number of close social ties.

Back to Erik Kennedy:

Regardless of the specific implementation, the point is this: we stand to gain a lot from living in larger, closer groups. That’s how we were kicking it in the monkey days; that’s how we should be kicking it now. I say that not because of a romantic attachment to our Palaeolithic forbearers, but because of the fact that a good deal of health and happiness is ripe for our picking.

Erik Kennedy offers advice as to how to translate that into practical actions. Such as watch less television, live in a bigger group, for example, dine with the same people more often, and always resolve any disputes that you have with close friends. Also, have your children spend more time with trusted adults and, in turn, spend time with the kids of adults who trust you. Not forgetting to mix up age groups and stay close to your parents and grand-parents.

In essence, adopting such a lifestyle is not without precedent; paleo-social lives are common all over the world. In fact, paleo-social lives may not only be common but an age-old wisdom in many other parts of the globe. However, in many parts of the ‘Western’ world chances are good that we have seen very few people living in anything vaguely resembling a tribe; to use the more common vernacular for the term paleo-social.

For one thing is clear: isolation and loneliness is taxing on our mental health. Humans are not designed to be alone.

Just another important way of living to learn from our dogs: the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.

1,642 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] http://www.erikdkennedy.com/essays/social-lives-cavemen.php
[2] Referred to by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.
[3] I believe one of the surest signs that your lifestyle is aligned with your physiology in some way is that the benefits come in clumps.  Just as the paleo diet helps people with weight, energy levels, digestion, complexion, resistance to illness, and other areas of health, it’s no surprise that a proper paleo social life would be a holistic boon to health.

Written by Paul Handover

December 9, 2014 at 00:30

A ‘growing’ awareness.

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The pun is deliberate!

Just at the moment there seems to be an incredible explosion of awareness about the need to change. Won’t say anymore other than from the day of the Winter Solstice, less that two weeks away, I will be publishing a number of posts about this new awareness and the implications, the positive implications, for the coming years.

To set the tone, I am republishing an article that appeared on the website of the organisation Nature Needs Half. I am grateful for their permission to so do.

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Nature Needs Half in the Earth Island Journal

Originally published in the Earth Island Journal by William H. Funk

Conservation group promoting an ambitious new proposal for wilderness protection

During the last half century conservationists around the world have won some impressive victories to protect wild places. Here in the US, the Wilderness Act preserves some 110 million acres of public land. Private holdings by groups like The Nature Conservancy safeguard tens of millions of additional acres. The idea of protecting ecosystems from industrial development has spread around the world. There’s the Mavuradonha Wilderness in Zimbabwe, the El Carmen ecosystem in northern Mexico, Kissama National Park in Angola, and the Tasmanian Wilderness in Australia, to name just a few stunning parks and preserves; UNESCO’s world heritage list includes 197 sites of special beauty and/or biodiversity.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff Nature Needs Half has set out an unbelievable challenge: to formally, legally set aside one half of Earth’s land and water as interconnected natural areas.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff Nature Needs Half has set out an unbelievable challenge: to formally, legally set aside one half of Earth’s land and water as interconnected natural areas.

But conservation biologists now recognize that these sanctuaries are limited in what they can accomplish precisely because they are special — which is to say, rare. Parks and preserves are all too often islands of biological integrity in a sea of human development. To really protect natural systems, healthy biomes need to be the rule, not the exception.

To achieve that vision, The WILD Foundation, a multinational NGO based in Boulder, Colorado, is pushing a bold concept called “Nature Needs Half.” In a world in which even the wealthiest governments routinely abdicate their responsibilities toward future generations and the environment, Nature Needs Half has set out an unbelievable challenge: to formally, legally set aside one half of Earth’s land and water as interconnected natural areas.

This is, of course, a hugely ambitious endeavor, opposing as it does the assumption that Earth’s resources are here to be exploited solely by humans. We live in what some have called the “Anthropocene,” the Age of Man, a world in which every aspect of physical being, from the oceanic depths to the troposphere, has been radically altered by humankind. Rivers are being dammed, forests leveled, oceans emptied and wildlife eradicated. It’s not a pretty picture, but as an empiric truth it’s difficult to refute. Consider a few facts:

The long-term acidification of the oceans by our ongoing buildup of industrial carbon dioxide is killing off coral reefs around the world, resulting in the loss of a critical barrier to storm surge and further endangering coastal areas at heightened risk from rising seas and stronger and more frequent storms.

Hydropower is increasingly being developed in South America, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, preventing the migration of anadromous fishes and destroying the elaborate flood-regime ecosystems of biomes like the Amazon.

The accelerating rate of animal and plants extinctions under the twin hammers of climate change and habitat loss is being compared to Earth’s five other extinction events that followed catastrophic geophysical change such as meteor impact or sudden tectonic shifts. In the case of the sixth great extinction, however, the root cause is purely biotic: us. Either from directly causing species decline through poaching, habitat conversion and the introduction of competitive exotic species, or by indirectly altering ecosystems through our industrial assault on the planet’s atmosphere, one in eight birds, one in four mammals, one in five invertebrates, one in three amphibians, and half of the world’s turtles are facing the eternal night of extinction.

Given those facts, the Nature Needs Half goal is startling in the grandiosity of its vision and the ambitious range of its projects. It is also, in a word, fair. “Half the world for humanity, half for the rest of life, to make a planet both self-sustaining and pleasant,” is how eminent naturalist E.O. Wilson explains the idea in his book The Future of Life. Other endorsers include marine explorer Sylvia Earle and the Zoological Society of London. And while the scope and scale of Nature Needs Half is unprecedented, conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund recognize that connecting biodiverse “hotspots” must guide preservation efforts.

The stated goal of Nature Needs Half is “to ensure that enough wild areas of land and water are protected and interconnected (usually at least about half of any given ecoregion) to maintain nature’s life-supporting systems and the diversity of life on Earth, to ensure human health and prosperity, and to secure a bountiful, beautiful legacy of resilient, wild nature.” Underlying this objective is the assumption that humanity, despite its often destructively “unnatural” behavior, is inescapably a part of life on Earth, and that efforts to preserve and protect untrammeled wilderness areas are ultimately means of assuring that the ecosystem services people depend upon are available to us in the distant future. We’re all in this together, and the sooner H. sapiens gets that through its pointy little head, the better off we’ll all be.

How is “protected” defined? The International Union for the Conservation of Nature defines it quite flexibly: “A protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.” Thus any number of means may be put into play to preserve land, from conservation easements in Virginia to armed ranger patrols in Namibia; what matters is the end result, namely the retention of naturally functioning ecosystems over time.

During the past two decades scientists have determined that the planet’s ecoregions need at least 50 percent ecological integrity, and in some cases more, to ensure the survival of their biological productivity over the long term. (In plain language, “ecological integrity” means that an area’s biodiversity and basic processes are mostly intact.) The goals of Nature Needs Half simply echo the empirical scientific reality: to function over time the world’s biomes need at least half of their structural integrity preserved from human alteration. We are currently falling short of that. A recent report from Yale’s Environmental Performance Index states that just17 percent of Earth’s terrestrial areas and inland waters, and less than 10 percent of marine areas, are currently protected (though for many parks and refuges in poorer countries this protection is often illusory), while about 43 percent remains relatively open and undeveloped, with low human populations and generally undamaged ecosystems.

Nature Needs Half is pursuing its aim in two simultaneous directions: the protection of at least half of the planet’s mostly intact contiguous wilderness areas — concentrating on Eurasian boreal forests, the Amazon basin and Antarctica — and the identification and protection of those fragments or hotspots of abundant biodiversity that have become isolated islands in a sea of human activity.

The aims of Nature Needs Half are precisely the kind of bold approach, rooted in cutting-edge science, which our increasingly desperate times call for. In an Anthropocene of radical climate change and accelerating species extinctions, nothing less than a grand vision of what might yet be achieved will bring about the preservation of our remaining unspoiled landscapes. As the most farsighted wilderness preservation program on Earth, Nature Needs Half promises to be the kind of revolutionary undertaking that, if its aims are fully or even mostly achieved, will be looked back on centuries from now as perhaps the most important attainment in modern human history.

William H. Funk
William H. Funk is a freelance writer, documentary filmmaker and environmental lawyer living in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. His work explores the confluences of the natural world, history, culture, law and politics, and as an attorney he has had broad experience with land preservation and endangered species. He may be contacted at williamfunk3@icloud.com or williamhfunk.weebly.com

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Rather puts my next book chapter, Community, into perspective; that chapter being published in thirty minutes time.

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