Sunday, January 24, 2016

Why Liberal Arts?

As we start a new semester at WPC in the environmental studies class called "Earthkeeping" we asked the question: Why is this class within Liberal Arts? The answer of course is not simple and will take many sessions to get to some kind of unified statement. But, one thing is for sure, "liberal Arts" are addressing the relationships between our 'human nature' and our 'human activities.' For instance: what is our sense of place? How do we relate to the environment that surround us based on our knowledge of it. This analysis includes the development of a language, with proper vocabulary and nomenclature. Words, like 'bioregion', 'biocommunity', and 'biodiversity' have become vernacular but in many ways our society use them without proper rigor. Thus, it is necessary to produce proper definitions for these terms. 

Next we have to make the connection to all aspects of our humanity. Not only we are or should be interested on our biological nature but also (and I believe, most importantly) with our spiritual nature. Questions like: How does 'sacredness' applies to our relationship with the Earth? Do we have to develop a sense of reverence when dealing with natural resources? What would be the guiding principles to do this?
As humans we share a unique sense of being, but it is critical that we also understand the variety of sensibilities as developed by cultures around the globe. Becoming aware of how different cultures like the Japanese, and other Asian cultures, Native-Americans, and other primitive cultures, and Western cultures starting with the Greeks from antiquity is critical for the understanding of our modern relationship with the environment.
In order to do this in class we have seen videos like Kurosawa's 'Dreams' that reflect a deep sense of reverence to nature. Bible verses like Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; Leviticus 25:4-19, and Exodus 3: 1-12 (Moses and the Burning Bush) that bring a sense of 'moral' landscape to our daily life.

On the other hand, we have to address the notion of scientific knowledge. Also, as a human endeavor the natural sciences, from physics to biology are the practical tools we have to develop technologies that will help us to use natural resources without compromising the needs of future generations. Which by the way is how the UN defines sustainability. We can think of 'sustainability as a 'friendly relationship' with the environment. Where the word friendly would indicate that is this relationship there is no harm but beyond that we need a more accurate definition of the word sustainability or of the idea of sustainable development. That is if we agree that our society has to be in perpetual development as some of us think as we do not see how can we as a society live without change. 

As we create a language to address our survival in relation with the use of natural resources, words like ecological, environmental, and resources will need to be defined and used in a precise way.

Many times definitions use the negative as when we mention what it is not in the clarification of what it is! For example conservation is not in general about keeping things as they are, as many practices today in the extraction of natural resources can't be kept for ever, these resources will diminish and eventually cease to exist.

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