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666: Mark Plotkin: Learning From Indigenous Cultures, the People Not Just Our Projections
Every step I take toward sustainability leads me to learn how much humans have figured out how to live sustainably. I'm far from living sustainably, though I've come a long way. We are wiping out the cultures living sustainably these cultures, now hanging on by threads. Besides practices and viewpoints, I'm learning humility. We don't have all the answers. Far from it. They may not either, but at least they can help us restore lost values of community we're jettisoning in favor of isolation and humility to nature we're jettisoning in favor of ignoring that our attempts to dominate nature are accumulating unintended side effects hurting us more than helping.
Such are my views. I haven't lived among indigenous cultures and don't expect to. Mark has, among several for long times. He can speak more knowledgeably, compassionately, and helpfully than many can.
In this conversation he shares his decades of learning from experience and research. He describes actual people and cultures, not projections or hopes. I share some views I've developed, which he helps me refine and extend based on that experience. We talk about how life benefits from learning from them, contrary to what our culture tells us, that without what fossil fuels and other tamed energy bring we would suffer.
On the contrary, on what means the most to us, we would thrive. And we'd stop wiping them out.
Tony turns out to live a few blocks from me. I met him at his home, where we recorded. He shared his experience knowing E. O. Wilson, who, as Tony described, conceived of the plan to protect half the Earth's land to protect biodiversity and more to sustain Earth's ability to sustain life.
I'd heard Wilson describe the plan many years ago and had seen some analysis that it could protect up to ninety percent of biodiversity if implemented effectively, whereas saving less land or implementing ineffectively might save markedly less, which could put humanity at risk, not to discount the value of other species' existence independent of humans (I confess to valuing humans more than others, but still value other life).
I hadn't heard the stories of people discovering the problems and finding solutions. His book, Rescuing the Planet, tells their stories and the project's history and chance for success. Some of the stories give remarkable hope. Our conversation tells the stories behind the stories of some of the people in the book as well as his motivations and history.
Ethnobotanist Rodrigo Cámara-Leret first describes how podcast guest Alan Ereira chose him to live and work with the Kogi, who want to share, in my language, how to stop wrecking the biosphere.
He has visited them and seen behind what they show of themselves in the documentaries. Unlike typical scientific research, he will bring his family and learn beyond what they plant. The condition of their environment is the physical manifestation of their culture, as is ours to ours. They aren't living in the Stone Age or as noble savages. They are living appropriate to their environment, sophisticated in their understanding of nature.
Rodrigo and the organizations supporting him are approaching the Kogi with humility, as I understand, not trying to teach them or assimilate them. He shares some of the challenges to overcome as well as what he looks forward to.
We all can learn from cultures living sustainably, like how to restore the values we've jettisoned of Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You, Leave It Better Than You Found It, and Live and Let Live.
Nadeem committed to reducing his doof. He bravely shares the challenge.
Even in Norway, he's surrounded by messages to keep consuming it. Imagine any other unhealthy addictive substance---cocaine, heroin, etc---was advertised and sold everywhere. On top of extra availability, imagine it was portrayed as like food, which it isn't. Nadeem stopped drinking alcohol long ago despite its prevalence in Norwegian culture, and compares how avoiding doof was harder.
If you're struggling with getting clean from doof, you'll appreciate hearing what it's like.
He also shares more about living as a Muslim in Norway.
I've said before and I'll say again that conversations like mine with Mark Mills are what I value and wish we had more of. We do our research, we have strong opinions, we agree on many things, we disagree on some things we care about.
Most of all, I believe we learn from each other, respect different opinions, and try to understand the other's view and goals.
In this conversation we talk about his book and the challenges of predictions at first, The most interesting parts are challenging each other on our understandings of our environmental problems and what we can do about them. We agree most proposed solutions that humanity is pursuing don't work and people are misguided. We differ on our expectations in what can work between technology and people. He has me opening my mind to some things I'd be closed off to otherwise, in part because he's not just spouting opinion or blind hope. He's done the research. I believe I have too.
I can't tell you how valuable (and entertaining) I found Daniel's video series.
Regular listeners and readers may know how important I find anthropology to solving our environmental problems. If we want to change our culture, we have to know why it is this way, how other structures have worked, and how we can change.
I started realizing this importance when I noticed that I had read podcast guest Sebastian Junger's book Tribe the day I unplugged my apartment. It showed me what we lack in our culture that others have: freedom, equality, community, connection, and what we value when calm, not bombarded with ads and feeling guilt, shame, helplessness, and hopelessness. It gave me something to look forward to beyond being able to fly to see the Eiffel Tower whenever I wanted.
Next, reading The Dawn of Everything, another book on anthropology, showed a variety of cultures I hadn't known. We don't have to feel constricted to "returning to the Stone Age." But that book left open its main question: why are we stuck in our current culture?
Enter What Is Politics?. In the series, Daniel clarifies what a lot of loose terms mean, thereby simplifying how to understand politics. It led me to understand why we're stuck and what we have to do to free ourselves.
Daniel and I went to town talking politics, anthropology, hierarchies, how and why they form, sustainability, and more.
Normally when my conversations go longer than an hour, I break them into parts, but if you like our conversation, you'll keep listening. I expect what we cover here and his series covers to ground a lot of what we have to do to change global culture. I'll close by reminding you of my mission statement on my bio page:
My mission is to help change American (and global) culture on sustainability and stewardship from expecting deprivation, sacrifice, burden, and chore to expecting rewarding emotions and lifestyles, as I see happen with everyone I lead to act for their intrinsic motivations.
In my case the emotions have been joy, fun, freedom, connection, meaning, and purpose.
Everyone’s experience will be unique to his or her experience, but I know we all love nature so I don’t have to change anyone. I reveal what’s already there.
Martha Nussbaum's new book, Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility, looks like it's about animals, but the more I read it, I found it about us, our values, and our behavior. Regular readers and listeners will see the similarity to how I approach the environment in general.
Not having eaten meat since 1990 and no animal products at all about ten years, I don't find new materials on human treatment of animals. Candidly, I thought I'd just browse the book. I also don't read much philosophy, which I find too often hard to read.
Instead, I kept reading the book until I finished it. I found her writing style accessible, her material heartfelt, and her motivations genuine. She takes a few controversial points, like predation and whether wildlife still exists. I don't agree with each point but value that she made them.
I was interested in learning more of the story behind the story, which she shared in this conversation. She approaches how we treat animals from a more theoretical perspective than I do. She traces a history of humans considering animals' rights, contrasting what worked or not with her view.
Part 2 of the introduction shares a few stories that illustrate the Spodek Method, a leadership technique to create mindset shifts and continual improvement on the environment. The optimism girds us for a more challenging next episode.
Watching environmental documentaries means having seen the Tickells' work, especially Fuel and Kiss the Ground, which they did with podcast guest Bill Benenson. Bill introduced us, though we scheduled this conversation to release the day before their new movie On Sacred Ground, on the Dakota pipeline.
In this conversation, they share about the process of choosing the subject, the story and its roots in their lives at the protests, the actors performances, interacting with indigenous cultures, and the emotion the movie evokes.
You'll hear some behind-the-scenes stories, but most of all, you'll feel compelled to watch the movie. The movie tells the story of an outsider coming to the protests of the Dakota pipeline and seeing the community there, particularly Native Americans, as a last stand to stop the pipeline coming through their land.