Sunday, March 13, 2011

humus and the stem

--climate happenings are at blisterdata--

How can the humanities help out with the crisis of society? In the debate at USF two weeks ago a key was offered by Gurleen Grewal (USF India Center). She took issue with the myopic Western emphasis of the sustainability discussion and proposed a question that matters, too: what is it that we do love?

This gives us enough bits and pieces to pull it all together. For review, here's the summary of the points made by the panelists. Martin: "Houston, we have a problem." Cheryl: "whatever we need to sacrifice now is no great loss." Dell: "stop praying to false idols--go green!" Laura: "heed the river's being." Carl: "you don't like the Great Dying aka the hypoxic zone in your Gulf? Well, then how about thinking about agrobusiness in a clearer spatial framework?" Becky & Christian: "it's time to learn a new word: Mayanization." Noel/Sofie/Cesar: "forget wealth and the ugliness that it spawns. It's time to create beauty."

The old paradigm has failed. This paradigm contained Cartesian modernism, Christian dualism, and neo-liberal utilitarianism. This is the cultural humus in which our forebears had planted Science, Technology, Engineering, and Medicine, or what we call STEM here at USF. As a result of STEM growing the wrong way since 1900, we multiplied our numbers sevenfold; we multiplied the world economy twentyfold; we crossed all sustainable yield thresholds; we crashed through biospherical limits; and like utter morons we changed climate, thereby setting the world on edge.

This failure threatens world civilization. We need a new paradigm, of sustainability and resilience. To get there we must think outside the box. Outside the box means to retrieve native information, reinstate indigenous wisdom, and reconceive reality in terms of beauty, love, and meaning. Outside the box means to use the playful, creative, and interpretive skills of the humanities to guide the way towards a feasible and viable reload of culture. Gurleen's hippie question has heuristic power. The hermeneutics of drawing the arrow of love points the way to civil evolution.

This thinking is vital for competitiveness and survival. A case in point is the Humboldt academic reform in 19th century Germany. Humboldt stuck the stem of science, tech, engineering, and medicine in the humus of the humanities. He argued that the stem must be planted. Only then will it get enough humidity to grow tall, supple, and strong. Without humanities the stem will go brittle and break. By their very nature the result-oriented disciplines lack the capacity to think outside the box. Humboldt's academic reform was enacted. Fast forward one generation, and lo and behold, Germany was reaping all the Nobel Prizes ... in the STEM disciplines. That from our viewpoint the old humus is now poison does not matter. At that time, it was the right bunch of nutrients. What matters is Humboldt's insight beyond paradigms: any stem needs humus or it might break in the next stiff breeze. And a climate storm is rising.

Sixty-nine months left.

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