Saturday, March 05, 2011

chillin' and gelassenheit

--climate happenings are at blisterdata--

The USF Humanities Center did a symposium on the crisis of the humanities (the 'Global Humanities Symposium'). I was on the "Cultural Sustainability" panel to say something about "thinking ahead--globalization, sustainability, and existence." I pulled out a few stats on the American Disenlightenment and Year One of the Long Emergency, and asked: how can the humanities help?

The other panelists suggested answers.

Cheryl Hall (Poli Sci) discussed the meaning of being Green.
Dell deChant (Religion) talked about the consumer economy as the American god. Laura Runge (English) shared her creative reflection on the waters of the Hillsborough River.
Carl Herndl (English) offered observations on Levefre, social space, and farms--the authentic sort and the alienated sort. This spawned a Q&A on why green farms, using intercropping, are more resilient to climate change.
Christian Wells & Rebecca Zarger (Anthropology) talked on Mayanization in Honduras and Belize: how children preserve their native culture as long as it is still there, and how entrepreneurs resurrect it when it has already disappeared.
The panel ended with slides from Art History. The curator Noel Smith showed images of Cuban art; and a graduate student (Sofi Ruhi) introduced the project of Cesar Cornejo, how to turn favelas into humane living spaces that double as art galleries.

As we do Abendgespraech in einem Kriegsgefangenenlager in Russland in my seminar, I have been mulling over Heidegger's use of Gelassenheit (chillin' or letting-be).

Gelassenheit matters in space, in a chemical fashion. Less busy people leave smaller carbon footprints. In "Shifting Values in Response to Climate Change" in the 2009 SoWR, T Kassner writes:

A recent cross-national study concluded that, "if, by 2050, the world works as many hours as do Americans it could consume 15-30 percent more energy than it would following Europe. The additional carbon emissions could result in 1 to 2 degrees Celsius in extra global warming.

(See D Rosnick/M Weissbrot, "Are shorter workhours good for the environment? A comparison of US and European energy consumption," CEPR, Washington DC 2006.)

Chillin' matters in time. Kassner coined time poverty for the result of a lack of gelassenheit. Its presence creates time wealth; a desideratum but also inexorable: when gelassenheit is spurned, nature's Way just crams it down our throats anyway, by not sustaining the unsustainable. A talk by D. Orlov, posted on Idleworm, touches on how the meltdown of the USSR created a new social experience of time. Suddenly everything takes forever. Going to the grocer (as in: walking, since gas is rationed and mass transit breaks down) then takes the whole day.

I showed statistics about how the consumer world is a culture of suffering (as reflected in the 43% polled by gallup who don't see themselves "thriving," which places the US fourteen notches below happier nations); about how this culture produces the profitable imprisonment of its citzens, 743 per 100,000, higher by an order of magnitude than Japan (59) or Canada (117); and about how this waning and troubled society leaves behind the worst per capita carbon footprint in the world, only being surpassed by urban islands and Arab gas stations.

So here is a culture entering failure mode. Everyone works too hard, consumes too much stuff, and creates too much waste. The crisis of the humanities is symptom of an out-of-whack culture based on unsustainable neoliberalism.

How can the humanities help out?

Hall proposes inspired environmental sacrifice.
DeChant suggests a cultural reload with a dark green religion.
Runge shows how, if we're willing to listen, the rivers teach us love for the place, a first step to a new cultural paradigm.
Herndl makes it clear that there is no alternative--runoff from industrial Iowa farming creates a dead zone in the Gulf.
Wells and Zarger show how to retrieve indigenous knowledge.

And Smith as well as Ruhi depict the time wealth of a culture of gelassenheit: in a post-consumerist world, you paint; you turn your dwelling into a space of art; and you just create beauty.

Sixty-nine months left.

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