From David McCloskey:
What end does politics serve? Surely it must serve ends beyond itself. Why seek greater bioregional autonomy? For self-determination. Yes, but what purpose in turn shall that value serve? None some may say, it’s self-justifying. But then it becomes an absolute unto itself which can be used to justify many different things, some questionable. Why not come right out at the beginning and say what you’re really for?
The primary purpose of seeking greater bioregional identity and autonomy is to serve the life of the place and its people as a whole. Indeed, the primary purpose of Politics is to serve the life of the place and its people on many levels in an equitable and sustainable way.
But if Politics remains as the regulated struggle for power between parties (war being the unregulated struggle for dominance), then partisans will always rule no matter who wins, so it’s business as usual. Once they’ve seized power they can do whatever they want—practice any depredations of Ecology & Community… and these are legion—knowing no limit—until an opposing power usurps control, and then the pendulum seems to swing the other way. But, in the end, Ecology & Community always seem to suffer further violence, no matter who’s in power at the moment…. This is a deal with the devil…
Hence, the deeper question is not whether the place belongs to them or to us—who’s in control of the territory?—but rather how do we belong to the place? And, are we worthy of it? Remember: it’s not whether we claim but rather are claimed by the place. Those who proclaim their control are by that very act self-disqualifying!
We need to dig much deeper here—to truly fundamental or “deep down things”…. Let’s begin by unpacking this pledge.
- Stand for the Life of the Place as a Whole.
We begin with the place and its people. In an era in which everything is being transformed and undermined, we are called to “come home” to the places we live. Instead of remaining mere residents or exploiters, we commit ourselves to becoming inhabitants, true “dwellers in the land.”
a) Life. The places we live are alive and full of life. They live in us and we in them. Cascadia especially is a land of super-natural abundance, life bursting from every pore. Life is a current of animating energy flowing through the land which vivifies us. Life itself is a great “give-away,” a deep well of over-spilling abundance, an infinite river of surprise. In the “potlatch” spirit of our region, we are called to “give-back” and celebrate the great good gift of life. Hence, we follow the ethical rules of all life: “give as you are given” and “the gift must move.”
b) Place. Place is habitat and home, the locus of our daily lives together. It is our life-world. In this perspective place is not irrelevant, for where we are still matters. Think of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat—in each case our well-being is related to the health of the place. For geography and ecology have not been rendered obsolete by technology. The real question, however, is how we choose to “dwell there.” Humans cannot hope to dwell—create a meaningful life in many dimensions—in empty abstractions such as markets, states, or cyberspace. Such hubris is an illusion. Place is not virtual but as tangible and real and vital as our own breathing bodies.
The intimacy of our relationship with place is as close as soul to body. Here we encounter one of the great mysteries. We try to remember that we are embodied souls within ensouled bodies. And just as soul is the “golden flame” of the human body, so, too, this earthly dwelling place is our larger extended collective body, and we its shared self-awareness. So close is this intertwining that when mind-spirit flies off into space and divorces itself from body-in-place, the resulting disorientation makes us behave weirdly, leaves us lonely, drives us crazy. Healing of this split involves reintegration of mind-soul-body-in-place, the recovery of a primordial life-giving relationship.
Place, then, is not, as commonly thought, the same as space, a point on a grid on a map. Place is not merely an empty container without significance to be filled up at will from the outside. And place is more than mere extension, “that which differentiates here from there.”
For place is not the same as space. Indeed, place is not empty at all but full of powers and presences, radiant in beauty, resonant with history and tragedy and promise. On its material levels, place is a nexus of action, an intersecting field of forces, the matrix of life. Accordingly, the history of the working out of each particular nexus makes each place somewhat unique. Indeed, each place takes on its own character or “spirit.” These distinct qualities of different places then become generative on another level–as a prime source of innovation and diversity in evolution as well as human history. Remember—the place itself is creative! The Region Acts!
In an era of global homogenization and loss of diversity where everywhere begins to look the same, the special character of place needs to be preserved and enhanced.
On its human levels, place as a dynamic field of forces becomes organized in terms of “centers and bounds” charged with significance. And so we take up our dwelling there in our daily “comings and goings” from “home to range” and back again, a rhythm as natural as breathing in and breathing out.
Landscape is the face of the place, formed by the crossings of this earth and that sky. The play of elements as energies inscribe a living memory into the landscape. Humans further the process through their wanderings and buildings, transfiguring the place into a “storied landscape” full of power and significance.
In these and many other ways, the place becomes the locus of our dreams and aspirations, the holder of memories, as well as the soul’s safe dreaming bed. Place is imbued with meaning and value. In the long dialectic of human “journey and dwelling,” place becomes our “home-land.”
Today we also know place as “ecosystem” in the natural world and “community” in the human world. Indeed, Community is a place-based organic social bond, primordial in time for humans as it continues to serve as the basic matrix of social and cultural life. Since Ecology and Community are being lost together throughout the world, they also need to be restored together as two sides of the same river of life.
c) Wholes. We belong then to the larger community of life in the place. We stand for the whole of life in all its dimensions throughout all its cycles.
Now, we are all called to lead a two-fold life: to live a life in relationship, and a life in depth. Together they make a whole life, as we are called to form ever-wider relationships, ever-deeper wholeness.
This means, first, learning how to work on many dimensions simultaneously: physical, biological, psychological, sociocultural, ethical, spiritual, metaphysical, etc. It means to pay attention to the inside as well as outside of things, the unconscious as well as conscious levels, the visible and invisible worlds, and so on. It means learning to dwell within the tension of the polarities of existence without wishing them away. To stand for life then means to enter into its density and numinous depths.
It also means to follow life through all its changes and temporal cycles. The ages and stages of life, phases of development, thru short-term and long-term cycles, etc. It means to pay attention to the dynamics and flow of things—to shifts, innovations, breakdowns, and breakthroughs. It means to learn to follow out the changes of things—ironic reversals and surprises, their inner turnings and twistings, as well as the invitation toward transformation, the ever-present need for healing.
Surely wholeness in all these ways is good, essential—but what does it truly mean? “Whole” here does not mean some abstracted undivided unity imposed on us from the outside. It does not mean everything melted into one. It is easy to get lost in these matters. People often say that Ecology, for instance, means “wholeness,” or Community means “common unity,” a persistent mistake. Or that “wholeness” implies “unity and oneness.” Such “wholeness” is often linked to global, to universal and “higher levels” of being, to transcendence, etc. But these common confusions get in the way of a deeper understanding of what is involved in “making things whole.”
For wholeness has nothing inherently to do with unity, universality, totality, etc. We may be surprised to learn, for instance, that at root our word for “whole” did not derive from the Greek holos which gives us our word “holistic.” Rather, it came down to us by a separate path thru a raft of words having to do with safety, shelter, health, and holiness. The key cluster of meanings which gave us our English words “hale, hole, holy” (to which a w(hole) was added in the fifteenth century) center on being preserved from harm, remaining complete and entire, being restored to one’s full capacity and nature, being integral. This is the “wholeness” (“hale and hearty”) we seek.
Unfortunately, these meanings of wholeness were captured and transposed thru history into other terms such as unity, oneness, universality, etc. But such notions of The One and the Many, Unity vs. Plurality, Universals vs. Particulars, the Center vs. Peripheries, etc. all rest on hierarchy and conceal the metaphysics of domination (derived from Greek philosophy). For all these versions of wholeness–unus, universus, totus in Latin– imply a vertical relationship descending from heaven to earth in which an abstracted One, the Universal, the Center of Authority and Power, etc. takes over diversity and subsumes the part. This destructive mindset is deeply embedded in our civilization and part of the cultural unconscious which holds us captive. It solves the problem of “The One and the Many” by effacing the identity of parts and melting everything into one in its transcendent unity. Such false notions of unity and universalism demote regionalism, for instance, into tribalism, provincialism, parochialism, sectionalism, etc. as backward moments or regressive movements in moral evolution.
Such a wrong-headed idea of wholeness deals with diversity by undermining it. This kind of universalism speaks of wholeness under the guise of generality in which the different and “Other” are subsumed under the category of sameness. (The “powers-that-be”often employ a distanced language that obscures their real intent, and covers-over what’s really at stake—running a kind of fog-machine whose latent function is to “mystify” us….) Such power to erase and vacate difference in the name of unity then imposes a static or fixed order of things thru colonization and homogenization in terms of an endless “repetition of the same” (think McDonalds, WalMart, Amazon, or even Starbucks). It’s not only destructive but boring and stupid, a colossal waste of human intelligence and our time! Today globalism is the latest misadventure in this destructive vein of universalism (global to globular, everything melted into one, endlessly repeated over and over and….).
In sum, much of the prevailing received wisdom about such profound matters is merely a “take-over” and management philosophy, imperialism’s drive for control in disguise. But we’ve had quite enough of the “take-over boys.” Its time to move on….
From such dead-ends and confusions let us return to our earlier key insight that the core human experience which our word “wholeness” expresses centers on “preserving the identity and integrity and vitality” of things. Remember that it is life itself and not abstraction which provides our primary images of wholeness. Think then of wholeness as “health” of mind, soul, body together with others fully alive in the place. The wholeness we seek, therefore, is fundamentally neither a willed unity nor a forced totality, but rather an organic unfolding integrity. There is all the difference in the world between these notions, and the gap opens a window into our future….
From this deeper perspective “whole” is shorthand for relationships between “parts and wholes.” Such inter-relationships are horizontal and generative, not vertical, derivative, subsumptive, or otherwise destructive. When we say “wholes” or holistic we mean organic inter-relationships of parts in whole systems such as the body, ecosystem, community, bioregion, planet, etc. Such embodied intertwinings cannot be encompassed by abstract categories (unity-plurality) or functions (e.g. agencies), nor by interest groups (business or enviros) nor jurisdictions (states, nations, etc.) For all these separate what needs to be joined, decompose the very integrities and contiguities we stand by. The key here is standing neither for the parts alone nor the wholes taken separately, but rather for their relationship. Relationships are as real as things, and far more significant.
Such intertwining of parts and wholes is not simple, however, nor static nor set in one fixed order. It is self-evident, for instance, that there are parts within wholes (eg. organs in the body) as there are wholes within parts (e.g. DNA in every cell). Indeed, parts compose wholes, while wholes serve to regulate and sequence the integration of parts over time.
Further, the question of what serves as a part or a whole can change as they take on different roles at different levels in time. For example, on one level surely the organism is a whole as is the human person—it enjoys a self-sameness and identity over time. In terms of a wider set of relationships, however, the configuration may change, for here the organism is a member of a population and species living in a certain niche in a community within an ecosystem, etc.
Thus, what constitutes a whole may change depending on the frame of reference and configuration, and as the complexity of inter-relationships shift. Indeed, this multiplicity of possible relationships and flexible “gestalting” is crucial to the fecundity and complexity of life. There is no one simple unitary fixed permanent whole to which everything can be categorically assigned for management purposes! You have to stay alert , in relationship in depth, and pay attention….
Therefore, when we serve the wholeness of the life of the place we stand for the organic integrity of parts and wholes unfolding through time on many levels. This is what it means to “live by life.”
David McCloskey is the founder of the Cascadia Institute and creator of evocative Cascadia maps: