Standing Rock

Well, I’m heading off to Standing Rock to spend Thanksgiving with the Native Americans of North America. The indigenous Water Protectors of Standing Rock have taken an unprecedented stand against the corporate interests of fossil fuel industries and their financiers. This stand-off, the first coordinated, principled, and indigenous confrontation with the juggernaught of global capitalism in my lifetime, rivals any movement in the US in the last century for its dedication to ecology, people, and justice.

While during the 1960’s and 1970’s it wasn’t until the general population (including sons and daughters of influential Senators) got involved on a mass level that the US withdrew from its quagmire of a war in Vietnam, in the present set of civil rights violations we are confronted with, we haven’t yet hit critical mass. Sure, on the eve of November 20th 300 inhabitants at Standing Rock were injured by concussion bombs, rubber bullets, ice cannons (water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, where the water blasted turns to ice en route). But in 2016, unlike 1974, the news media has blacked out any relevant coverage of domestic atrocities, just like they tried to block out coverage that this Vermont Senator named Bernie Sanders was running for president. The amount of control and constriction of mainstream media, rendering it all but obsolete for people under 40, preclude a nation from actually looking at the violence that it perpetrates. This lack of feedback from the bottom-up further weakens any sort of civic bonds, and is acidic on the body politic.

Solidarity is a virtue too infrequently overlooked by Americans, who are tooled by education and business culture to believe in the myth of the autochthonous man. Our rabid individualistic culture–where all are supposed to inherit an equality of opportunity–has been thoroughly dissapated through empirical work by Claude M. Steele and colleagues demonstrating empirically the degenerative effects of “stereotype threats” to undermine the performance of those discriminated against through the normativity of the masculine, heterosexual, male, white standard. The fact that those not part of the old boys’ club constantly consciously or (more often) unconsciously are struggling to prove themselves against a stereotype that downgrades their identity group at particular abilities (such as intelligence), means that those competing in the meritocratic game are competing not only along the parameters of the task at hand (i.e., an SAT test), but also are competing against the stereotype promulgated through

Of course, due to the violent response of militarized police and private security operatives, firing at the water protectors, and even allegedly spraying them with chemicals from cropduster planes (see video below), I have some trepidation going in to this situation over my own safety. The use of chemical warfare against the people of Standing Rock, at night, is a serious allegation that Candida Rodriguez Kingbird calls “an act of terrorism… against the indigenous peoples of Standing Rock.”

While there is a 500 year history of European colonialism, and a history of broken treaties, dislocation, and violence against indigenous native american peoples, one would think that in 2016 that the post-Civil Rights US government would adopt an approach to dealing with sovereign native nations that doesn’t railroad over their rights. It is depressing, then, that US is increasingly–from Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock–increasingly being scrutinized by the international community as a serial Human Rights violator. International bodies are increasingly concerned with the barbarism exhibited in racist  displays of power, overriding the basic dignities of non-white people. As in the water poisoning disaster in Flint, Michigan, the complete lack of care for marginalized and poor people unable to escape from the toxins perpetrated by poor planning and the normal accidents of global corporate commodity exigencies, exhibits a pattern of underhanded responses to government and corporate created environmental and social catastrophes. Human Rights Watch reports that

particularly in the areas of criminal justice, immigration, and national security, US laws and practices routinely violate rights. Often, those least able to defend their rights in court or through the political process—racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the poor, and prisoners—are the people most likely to suffer abuses.

Such condemnations of a country that fancies itself the pinnacle of progress may be too much for many to digest. The cognitive dissonance of “make America great again” and the likely impact of policies constituting the road to this so-called “greatness” will more than likely exacerbate existing injustices, not repair them.

There has got to be a better way to govern than to protect the powerful and throw the poor and marginalized under the bus. This approach plays a short-term game, designed inevitably to implode. Ignoring climate limits, collapsing ecosystems, destroying communities, and seizing the last shreds of sovereign indigenous land–these are the desperate attempts of an out-of-control addict. These are the signs of wetiko, the Tibetan “hungry ghosts” that eat the whole universe until there is nothing left to eat, at which point they cannibalize themselves. This is the obscura parasitic energy/entity in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, resulting from a self-loathing repression that explodes in bursts of anger and violence.

It is time to play a long-term game, one in which we think ahead seven generations. One in which instrumentalizing life no longer plays center stage, but instead that relationality governs our thoughts, words, and actions. One where we reclaim a concept of the sacred, gratitude, and humility, so that we can acknowledge our interconnectedness, and that nothing we have ever done or been has been by our own hand alone. This symbipoeisis replaces autopoeiesis (as Haraway emphasizes), and the myth of the autochthonous man gives way to Indra’s web, the co-constituing of beings.

So, I will go and meld with the force of nature which is the Water and the Water Protectors of Standing Rock. I will share my healing arts, be a gadfly, contribute in whatever ways I can, and learn. The alternative, of safe comfort, simply would be too bitter. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I didn’t do my all to show up and be present in this dark moment of colonial violence and neoliberal slow violence, that has seeped into our culture so thick, that we’re no longer surprised when the sacrifice zones of capitalism fall, one after another, in order to supply the latest distractive widget, so that we can forget all the harm we’re doing. Electronics and VR are the new river Lethe. We scurry away into our safe zones, all the while making the world even less safe. The personal commodity bubbles of VR, online life, or second life, eclipsing the breathing world, is nothing more than the zenith of Idealism. Deny the body, the material, the world, and retreat to the mind. This has been the strategy of numbness for centuries, when met with the fallout of capital accumulation. But now, as we reach the end of this story, its no longer even satisfying. It’s no longer a successful strategy. We have reached a punctuated equilibrium, and now what worked before no longer is a successful evolutionary strategy. We must learn surréflection, as Merleau-Ponty suggests: we must become conscious of those things we are unconscious of, in order to surmount or supersede the stuckness in antagonism. We must learn to live as a  community, diverse and without ever a final authority over and against another, on this ever-flourishing earth.


Philosophy of the City Conference


The Kallipolis: an ecological city? (photo credit Erik Johansson)

This week in San Francisco, I’ll be presenting at the Philosophy of the City Conference November 17-19 on November 17th at 4pm on “The Limits of the Automobile City.”

My talk, alongside the “Extending the Land Ethic” National Endowment of the Humanities Summer Scholars I had the privilege of spending this past summer with in Flagstaff, Arizona, investigates the piecemeal versus the holistic approaches to green city planning. I argue that attending to low-hanging fruit alone fails to “green” a city, and that more foundational steps must be implemented to create a livable, diverse, ecological city, rather than one tied into the path-dependency of automobile-centric city infrastructure.

I’ll be sharing a panel on “Extending the Land Ethic into the City” with Alexandria Poole (Elizabethtown College) who will be presenting on “The Socio-Politics of Walking in the Land Ethic” and Sean McAleer  (University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire) who will address “Plato’s Leopoldian City”

Here is my abstract:

The auto-centric city—cities whose infrastructure have been built around the car, rather than human-scale and ecological forms of human locomotion—present a quandary for progressive city planners shackled to existing infrastructure. Only so many parklets and bicycle or pedestrian-friendly corridors can be tacked on to the urban landscape without fundamental rezoning and reconstruction. How do cities reconfigure themselves despite the entrenched commitments and expectations given inherited infrastructure? The thesis presented here is that post-carbon-centric economies that simultaneously achieve a vibrant public sphere will be lead by cities swiveling focus from mechanical to human and ecological flows. Looking at livable European cities built in the pre-automobile era, such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam, can aid in diagnosing the specific substitutions required for the transformations needed to evolve cities into ecologically and socially sustainable places.


For more information, please see: 

An Obituary for Douglas Tompkins

Douglas Tompkins (1943-2015) was a mountaineer, Deep Ecologist, conservation activist, lover of nature, and textile entrepreneur, founder of Esprit and North Face. A footloose entrepreneur turned activist, after starting two global clothing brands, Tompkins renounced the ecologically unsustainable fashion industry and moved his assets and passions to South America, where he proceeded with Kristin Tompkins (neé McDivitt) to make the greatest land conservation purchases of any private individuals on earth. For their tireless conservation work, Douglas and Kristin received the 2015 Global Economy Prize from the Institute for the World Economy, at Kiel University, my alma mater.


While many nay-sayerying environmental justice academics, salmon fishery owners, loggers, and nationalists decry Tompkins’ environmental conservation as a new wave of green imperialism, Tompkins, after suffering such attacks in Chile following his purchase and gift of Parque Pumalín to the Chilean people as a protected national heritage sanctuary, those following the Tompkins’ legacy from a less partial point of view cannot help but acknowledge his enormous contributions to current and future generations.

Tompkins took pains to reconcile differences, to ask for forgiveness as an American foreigner in Chile, and as a rabble-rouser sparking Chile’s environmental movement in a resource exploitative economy. Generously compensating peasants and squatters who had taken up residency in public rainforest lands, Tompkins’ political enemies often charged him–falsely–with unfairly displacing Chileans for fortress conservation. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Parque Pumalín, Tompkins’ flagship gift to the Chilean people and to humanity for generations, is a pristine ecology filled with rare species and containing numerous biomes.  It is one of the last places on earth of its kind, and incorporates in organic farms to supply food for visitors and jobs for locals. In creating the farms, Tompkins created buy-in and business opportunities for the local struggling community, which before was largely based on small-scale timber extraction. This sustainable model replace the previous unsustainable model, and brings recognition and orgullo to Chile as a protector of global patrimony.


Learning about his death earlier this year was particularly impactful for me, as it was back in Santiago de Chile in 2002 at age 21 in a Pontificia Universidad Católica course on Environmental Politics that I first learned of Tompkins and the type of conservation work he was engaged in in Chile.

While I was in Chile, studying abroad during my undergraduate years at UC Berkeley, I was working at the Facultad Latinoamericano para las Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) in Santiago, and learning about Tompkins’ work in the Palena province (XII) inspired me to shift into environmental political theory, which grew into my love for environmental philosophy and ethics, and eventually philosophy of biology. If it weren’t for my teachers in that Environmental Politics course at la PUC, and doing that report on the conservation movement and that controversial fellow Douglas Tompkins, I would never have attended the Rio +10 conference in Johannesburg, South Africa as UC Berkeley’s student delegate that following summer, and I would never have the insights, passions, and life path that I inhabit today. For Douglas Tompkins good work on this planet and the inspiration I found in his life’s work, I will always be grateful.