Relationships and Environment

I haven’t blogged in a while and miss doing so; this is a start at getting back into it…even if they are short pieces like this. Couldn’t help but share this quote when I read it.

From the Facebook page of She Sings to the Stars:

Life wants to continue.

When we look at all the damage we’ve inflicted, it is easy to believe the Earth has been broken, the land is broken; but it is our relationship with the land that’s broken and we have the power to change that.

We can choose to consume with honor from the Earth. We can choose to consume less. We can choose to understand the world as a gift and respond accordingly.

Not more policy, not more data, not more money, but a change of heart.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, biologist and member of the Potawatomi Nation

In our mechanistic life it is extremely difficult for most people to “see” relationships. Yes, we all acknowledge them, but generally not very consciously until something has caused a distinct change. We go about our everyday lives almost robotically; it is when something disrupts that we sit up and pay attention: we found out our life partner has been cheating on us; a storm damages the neighborhood we live in perhaps even our home; a wildfire threatens to take every material thing we hold dear; and so on. Even in the face of these devolving situations we still do not recognize the dynamic that is occurring, concentrating only on its affect upon us. And even then, if it does not affect us either/both mentally and/or physically right away, we think nothing more of it. This is not to say we should ignore the atomistic aspect and how it does affect us both mentally and physically – but what we are missing are the dynamics of the thing itself that affect us – i.e. the very relationship. By not consciously living and participating in the relationship as it goes through its normal dynamics of ebbs and flows we keep ourselves just separate enough that we do not truly see this undulation. This also causes us to disregard the fact that something that occurred relationally 10 or 20 years ago could now be manifesting itself into an anomaly within us.

Let me give an example: we often say we have a relationship with something…so for instance we think we have a deep abiding relationship with our farm, our land. Some gas company dude comes along and tells us how much money we can get for the land, giving us all kinds of “scientific” analyses that say how benign fracking is; we’re getting on up in age, kids are grown and no one in the family is interested in farming any more…so we sell, take our money and move to the city to enjoy a new life. Yet we’ve said all these years how much we “love” our farm and would always take care of ‘it’ – that is, until some “prettier face” comes along. In this situation, what is lacking is the ontological relationship…there is only the farmer and his/her family vs the land; this is what can be called a substantive relationship. Defined within ecopsychology (aka conservation psychology), we see this kind of relationship as just described as individualistic in which reality is reduced to its fundamental or atomistic parts that interact with each other regardless of what those parts are – atoms, people, nature, cultures, etc. This makes the reality of the relationship always viewed and understood in terms of the individual identities of the respective parts. (Wiggins,, 2012)

Let’s look at a different kind of relationship, the ontological or strong relationality in which the relationship itself is the ontological foundation of the identities of the respective parts. This means that the identity of any organism, place, object, or idea is not self-contained but is in fact mutually constituted from the relationship. (Wiggins,, 2012) In other words in viewing relationships as individualistic, we lose sight of the fact that, at each moment, we are a creative function of each and every relationship we engage in. So, if we view relationships as integral parts of the living organism (and yes, we can think of an entire culture as an organism, just as the entire earth is an organism), in the example I gave above regarding the selling of the farms to the gas companies, in essence those people selling have literally severed a part of their “body”. The relationship between the entities is the phenomenon from which the natural world flows. David Seamon talks and writes wonderfully about this when discussing place attachment and the six-place process he developed to describe one’s relationship with place, in all its dynamic evolving and/or devolving forms. You can access many of his articles here:

And my example is not to be taken as a judgment as to whether the land should have been sold or not in this manner. What I am trying to work toward here is one of the most important values to be learned from Goethean science; and that is to foster understanding. “To understand, says [Henri] Bortoft, is to see the way things belong together and to see why they are together as they are.” (David Seamon, 1997; emphasis and text added) Environmentalism has reached epic proportions regarding polarization…to the point that not much else is being accomplished except bickering. We have extreme environmentalists on one side who seemingly want to declare every living species (except humans) as endangered regardless of what impact that has on the entire ecosystem – including disregarding human beings and their “rights”, to the relatively recent movement of post-environmentalism (aka “green” environmentalism) in which the earth is regarded as a “garden”. Now if everyone could agree on exactly HOW to go about gardening, this might not be so bad. Unfortunately we have the Monsanto advocates on one side vs the organic/vegan cult on the other with many people falling somewhere in between and not really understanding the impact of either. And then of course we have those that basically don’t give a *&^% and will continue doing whatever they please without any regard for any other life form. This is what Henri Bortoft says (The Wholeness of Nature, 1996; added text by D. Seamon) regarding knowledge:

Knowledge is not achieved by the senses alone. There is always a nonsensory element in knowledge, and this must be so whether this element is verbal-intellectual [analytical] or intuitive. The difference is that, whereas the verbal-intellectual mind withdraws from the sensory aspect of the phenomenon into abstraction and generality, the intuitive mind goes into and through the sensory surface of the phenomenon to perceive it in its own depth. It is by first going into the full richness and diversity of sensory detail that the intellectual mind is rendered ineffective, so that we can escape from its prison into the freedom of intuition.

We have relegated ourselves to the analytical aspect of science only, forgetting that every relationship is a functional dynamic. Yes, relationships will change – that is the dynamic part – but if we can begin to understand and view them from an ontological perspective instead of reducing them only to the parts (the players involved), there will be no need for bickering over this or that restrictive policy.

Breaking through the ‘space barrier’ from abstract perception to alive natural perception

Fantastic article!

The Nature of Business

This is a guest blog written by scientist and natural philosopher Dr. Alan Rayner.

Imagine yourself standing petrified on the concrete edge of a swimming pool, while being jostled by those next to you. Someone splashing about in the water shouts to you. ‘Come on in, the water’s lovely!’ But you’ve never experienced full immersion in water before and you’ve never been taught how to swim. How do you feel?

Our cultural and educational institutions teach us, from a young age, to perceive our selves and others as if we were separate, isolated objects, both set apart from one another and boxed in by rigid boundaries.

In order to feel secure, we mentally sever ourselves from each other and the creative wildness of the natural world by setting in place an imaginary hard line or ‘cut’ – what I call ‘the space barrier’ – that enforces profound social and…

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Incorporating Goethean Science into Equine Ecology

The science of ecology studies the interplay between individual organisms and their environments, including interactions with both conspecifics and other species – including humans. Ecology is an interdisciplinary science that embraces both the biological and Earth sciences. Ethology is the study of animal behavior under natural conditions (as opposed to behaviorism, the study of behavioral responses under laboratory settings). Anthrozoology (aka human/animal studies) is a subset of the biological sciences that is also very much interdisciplinary with ethology as well as anthropology, human and veterinary medicine, and psychology. All of these disciplines are quite interrelated. Ecology should not be confused with environmentalism; the latter, in its more common definition, is more a system of social and ideological beliefs. Nonetheless, we cannot lose sight of the fact that a sustentative environment is a requirement for a healthy organism. Instead of taking a traditional segmented approach to equine behavior and welfare that concentrates on individual “parts” *, I have chosen to approach all aspects through the ecological environment in which the horse lives. In other words, this allows me to view the species as a whole from its overall biological needs while also regarding each individual horse as it lives and interacts within its own particular ecosystem.

* The “parts” that I am referring to here equate into the various “fields” in the equine sciences including nutrition, behavior and its modification (aka “training” whether by classical, operant or any of the so-called “natural” methods), medicine, and so on.

The Enlightenment historical period gave us scientists and philosophers such as Newton, Descartes, Galileo, Bacon, and Locke. While they all differed in their individual philosophies to varying degrees, their works shaped and molded our current quantitative, materialistic approach within the sciences. Modern science attempts to understand the world and everything in it through a veil of mathematics breaking it down into parts, quantitatively analyzing each phenomenon in (primarily) artificial settings in attempt to understand cause and effect, with the ultimate purpose of prediction and control. This is a science in which human perception is regarded as untrustworthy. It is one in which the methods to achieve the results have become the ends in themselves rather than a means toward extrinsic value. (Robbins 2005) This approach to science as applied to nature can become monstrous and destructive when it loses sight of the original purpose of its calculations. This type of “monster” brings us everything from the capability of mass destruction to pharmaceutical drug side effects. While modern science claims to be objective and not subject to the subjectivity of human “nature”, it is really nothing more than an odd, historically contingent way to view the world. (Robbins 2005) To say that science is without any subjectivity is to say that humans are not part of nature, and indeed modern science has given us the view that humans are “aliens in the machine” known as the world. (Robbins 2005)

It is not that understanding the function of all the “parts” (i.e., “reductionism”) is a bad thing in itself. It is, in fact, necessary. It is the total reliance upon what we discover in these parts and then thinking we can sum up the parts to achieve the whole without ever having examined the whole (and how it is affected by its environment) in the first place that gets us into trouble. Reductionism is then used to explain the world of experiences by reducing their meaning to the causal events behind the phenomena. Reliance upon this type of science to provide all the answers gives us “nothingbutness” disease (Frankl). And so we see the living body as ‘nothing but’ a structured sack of bones and soft tissues in which parts operate under a system of complex chemical reactions; in other words, we lose the extrinsic meaning or purpose.

In the century following the birth of the Enlightenment period, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) gave us another approach to science – a participative one that makes a distinction between living, growing, developing forms, and dead ones. Modern science on the other hand loves to perform scientific investigations by dissecting dead organisms and/or by taking things apart. Goethean science does not look at just an interconnected set of actualities but also considers a holistic structure of possibilities. Goethean science is formed out of reciprocity for each phenomenon being studied. Goethe wrote: “Natural objects should be sought and investigated as they are and not to suit observers, but respectfully as if they were divine beings.” (Seamon 1998). Conventional science investigations tend to separate the student/scientist from that which he is studying and can lead to arbitrary or inaccurate understandings. (Seamon 1998) In contrast, this participative, engaging type of science actually becomes therapeutic for the scientist. According to Brent Dean Robbins: “The process of owning up to our obligations is one that can be a healing process, a process of coming home to ourselves; hence it is “therapeutic”.” (Robbins 2005) [Quotes original] This process is what Goethe referred to as delicate empiricism; in other words, direct, sensorial experience. Every part of nature is always in a process…of being born, growing and developing, and of dying. Understanding of this continual cycle in a holistic manner cannot be reached through mathematical abstractions; it can only be reached through careful observation and perception.

There are at least two aspects of this delicate empiricism: 1) the empiricism gives primacy to the perception; and 2) out of the “delicacy”, there is an ethical responsibility to what is being observed. (Robbins 2005) The first aspect leads to the second (at least in a healthy person); and if the second aspect were always observed, there would be no discussion about welfare of laboratory animals and no need for animal advocacy.

To ignore our own, initial, living, responsive relations to living phenomena in our inquiries into their nature is to cut ourselves off from the very spontaneous calls and invitations they exert upon us in their way of coming-into-Being—and thus to deny ourselves the kind of knowledge we need if we are to answer their calls in ways that ‘they can understand’, that are appropriate to their nature. (Shotter 2000) [Emphasis original]

Shotter referred to Goethe’s method as “relationally-responsive” in contrast to conventional science’s “referential-representational” approach to understanding. In the latter we are acting separate from nature and never allow the phenomenon being investigated to “claim” us, and thus we never have any obligation to what is being investigated. In a relationally-responsive understanding “…we allow ourselves to be claimed by phenomena, we open ourselves to feel our relational obligation to them. In other words, we become morally engaged with them. Indeed, when we spend time in deep contemplation of the structure of a plant, for instance, we come to appreciate the plant as an end in itself rather than a mere means. We come to better understand ways that we can live harmoniously with the plant. We sensitive [sic] ourselves to actions that may violate the value of the plant. And through the wisdom we gain, we create a space not only to improve our own lot, but also ways to improve the plant, which we come to understand as an extension of our own existence, indeed, as part of the ground of being that sustains us.” (Robbins 2005) Every bit of this applies to animals as well as any living organism.

Goethe borrowed his manner of observation from the external world, not forcing his own upon it. We tend to view the entire world in one of two ways: from a mechanistic viewpoint that mathematically maps out inter-dependencies and effects; or we see the external world as some secret mystical element. While one or the other may be appropriate for one or another class of objects, we find ourselves in all kinds of errors when we try to apply one or the other to all classes of objects, and become very one-sided in our view; we open ourselves up to forcing constructs upon the object that were never there to begin with. Instead, when we allow the object itself to dictate the manner of observation, as Goethe did, we simply cannot err because the object of the observation will tell us everything we need to know.

These are the philosophical underpinnings with which I approach all aspects of animal welfare and behavior, and, indeed, all aspects of my life.

Philosophy doesn’t ‘stand above’ thought, but unfolds from ‘within’ it. Science, likewise, is a grand enterprise but, in my view, subsists not in totality (as a total explanation of phenomena) but rather in spontaneity (as a way of engaging phenomena). (Goff 2010)

Animal “Whisperers”

What is wrong with this picture? What is wrong is that this is a completely human centric, human dominated way to approach an animal. It comes from an ego-centered need to control. It is not derived from an understanding of the species. For many people, this is a conscious, desired way of interacting with other species (and even with other humans); and for others it is simply because they have never opened their eyes to see another way. To watch this, one sees a condescending attitude toward the woman, and yet she seems in complete awe of these two, not unlike my memories of young girls swooning over the Beatles (ok…I probably did that part too -)). And this same condescending attitude carries over to interaction with the animals (although this intro video clip does not go so far as to work with the animals – it just leaves you with the feeling that these two animal “gods” will “fix” everything).

Can we live and interact with animals without the need for this kind of domineering approach? Absolutely. The “alpha horse” and “pack leader dog” theories were invalidated quite a number of years ago. Apparently not very many people got the message.  Jose Schoorl put it this way:  “This is so not 2013!”  We do not need to resort to these kinds of emotionally and mentally (and sometimes physically) abusive methods.  Animals communicate – they do it all the time.  We humans have to learn to SHUT UP once in a while and listen.  There is no “whispering” to Milan’s & Parelli’s methods.  With Parelli’s (and others) methods, yes, you typically get a submissive horse that will do “tricks” for you; you get a horse that will obey your commands.  You get a horse that has no depth to the eyes – the soul is lost, the feelings shut down.  It’s called learned helplessness – a recognized psychological disorder.  That is at least until you meet that one horse in a thousand or more that is very strong willed and doesn’t submit as easily.  Then you have to ramp up the physical part; then you get into a fight; then the human gets hurt…then the horse is labeled “crazy” and disposed of.

Learn the participative approach.  Learn to SEE the phenomena that exists between you and the animal – that is where the relationship is.  It is not in you, it is not in the animal – it is that energetic space in between.  It is the dynamic that flows between two beings – of any species.


Photo credit:  LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Host Cesar Millan and Pat Parelli pose for a picture.  (Photo credit  © Paul Coneys / MPH – Emery/Sumner Joint Venture)


Documentary – A Silent Forest

If you don’t think genetically engineering life is questionable science at best, then please watch this documentary and read the following Biotech Essay by David Suzuki.  It is time for a wake up call!  Not only is our food supply being contaminated, these biotech companies have “played God” to create things like vaccine-containing bananas, goats that produce spider silk in their milk, venomous cabbage, chemotherapy chicken eggs, and even glow-in-the-dark cats. (1)  As bad as all these things are, the last straw may literally be genetically engineered trees.  I am not talking about the occasional tree here and there, I am talking about the forest industry backing this, proposing planting large tracts of GE trees; I am talking about large plantations of fruiting trees such as papaya; and it doesn’t stop there.

Trees are the lungs of the Earth – what do you think is going to happen when the Earth no longer recognizes parts of her body?  The same thing that happens when a human receives an organ transplant and the body cannot recognize it – it rejects it.  And this “transplant” is completely foreign to the Earth body, it never “lived” in any place but a laboratory.  Then there is the greater ethical dilemma of being able to patent life.  It IS being done.

Biotechnology is being pushed forward at alarming rates without performing appropriate safety studies – all with the blessing of the US government.  The US government has allowed the biotech companies themselves to be the sole reviewers of their own “research”.  In other words if the biotech company says its “safe” then that is taken without further questioning.  The consumer has no way of knowing what they are buying as there is no requirement to label any GE product.

Removing the incentive (profit motive) from the biotech companies is the only realistic way to stop this – before it is irreversible.

David Suzuki Biotech essay