Green Fire Times

Consciousness as Commons I


Jack Loeffler


Decentralized habitat-specific cultural coherence—how’s that for a thought?—yet I can imagine it. Cultures that emerge from habitat—including Tanoan, Athabascan, Hispano and Anglo ranch culture in New Mexico—have a more natural depth of perspective to be plumbed than the peripatetic uprooted global cultural consciousness that perceives the planet but not the Earth, and that is adhered by economics rather than recognition of our species’ place in Nature. We must return to a Nature-based cultural perspective, or else…


This can be likened to the difference between thinking like a watershed and balancing your checkbook. When thinking like a watershed, the mind is engaged in perceiving many interrelated factors simultaneously and in constant motion such as we see within the flow of Nature. When balancing your checkbook, the mind is engaged in a step-by-step procedure motivated by hoping that economic well-being will be the outcome. Thinking like a watershed requires perceiving from within a sphere of reference of myriad associated factors that are constantly interacting. Balancing a checkbook is a practice of reductionist procedure—in my case, reductio ad absurdum.


In truth, global corporate capitalism has wrought an artificial culture of practice that is unsustainable because of its sole focus on unending accumulation of wealth that excludes recognition of our species’ place in Nature. That may seem simplistic, but it really isn’t. Metaphorically, it’s as though today’s global cultural mind has been shorn from its rootedness in Nature. This is why entomologist Edward O. Wilson’s concept of consilience, or jumping together of scientific disciplines within the milieu of Western Arts and Humanities, is incomplete as the result of exclusion of Indigenous Mind in his menu. Indigenous Mind is that aspect of collective human consciousness that is shaped more by the flow of Nature through homeland than by a list of facts about the nature of homeland.


Global corporate capitalism as a culture of practice must ultimately fail due to unsustainability within the natural world of finite resources. Capitalist economics can only continue to work on a small scale, from within regional and local human communities—not the prevailing global scale that is resulting in rapid depletion of natural resources that concurrently leads to vast accumulation of personal wealth by corporate hierarchs who dominate the economic field as “money-kings,” masters of empire.


Right now, global economics as a corporate capitalist phenomenon is plundering the commons, the planet-wide ecosystem of common-pool resources upon which every species, including our own, relies for survival. Selling Navajo Reservation, or Montana strip-mined coal for financial profit to China to fire up electrical generating stations is disastrous on many fronts, including contributing enormous quantities of already over-abundant CO2 into the planetary atmosphere, an atmosphere that doesn’t abide over China alone, but is slowly darkening the skies over New Mexico and everywhere else. Meanwhile, money changes hands, big money—dangerous fruit of turning habitat into money for its own sake.


Economics is but one of many factors within human conduct, and must not continue to be regarded as the primary driver. Unless economics as the dominant cultural paradigm is checked by a concerted, overriding human will of global coherence, there will be enormous human and other species’ die-off in the decades and centuries to come. Nature will reassemble survivors in smaller site-specific groups that will either re-harmonize with remaining sustainable habitats, or not. This seems inevitable. And obvious.


John Wesley Powell’s opposition to inter-basin transfers of water provides a great insight into the error of readjusting the flow of Nature to suit perceived human needs. For decades, thousands of acre-feet of water from the Greater Colorado River watershed have been diverted annually beneath the Continental Divide into the greater Río Grande watershed through the San Juan/Chama diversion. This creates a false sense of water prosperity in the Río Grande watershed that lasts only until the Colorado River watershed is so diminished that it can no longer yield the promised waters, by which time the human population of the Río Grande watershed has exceeded its natural carrying capacity.


Ecosystems, bioregions and watersheds must remain self-sustaining in order to endure. Community-based cultures of practice are wieldy within the continuum of Nature. They are commensurate within Nature’s habitat-specific organizing principles. They breed mutual cooperation within cultures of homeland to which present-day global corporate capitalism is antithetic. American “Indian Reservations” are potential seedpods of human survivability by virtue of vestigial traditional “naturistic” perspectives as applied to homeland habitat. As are acequia-based Hispano communities. And ranch communities that overlay vast grasslands, themselves endangered ecosystems.


Ultimately we have to understand that human over-population and concurrent over-extraction of natural common-pool resources with accompanying pollution lie at the heart of many of today’s crises, thus invigorating a doomsday scenario that clouds our future as one of many species. We are thwarted in reacting to human over-population by both corporate and religious governance of cultural mores. “Growth for the sake of growth” mentality within the corporate world of economics, in conjunction with the biblical apothegm, “Go ye forth and fructify,” creates a tough cultural paradigm to overturn. Yet, if we don’t turn it around by human volition, Nature will take its own stand.


Here in New Mexico, the fifth-largest state with the least amount of surface water, we presently have a human population of just over two million humans. We have cowboys and Indians, vaqueros y acequieros. We have urban centers including Albuquerque—the 53rd largest metropolitan area in the United States—with a surrounding population of over 900,000. We have national forests, designated wilderness areas, national parks, state parks, historic sites. We have a powerful rural human population that understands intrinsically that we are shaped by our aridity. Thanks to our rural populations, who still tap into the natural wisdom of homeland, in conjunction with a few enlightened scientists and environmentalists who have resisted being held in thrall by corporate funding, and those of us who simply love Nature for its own sake, we just may be able to re-sculpt our approach to the future, even though “growth for the sake of growth” continues to spur on developers of every ilk.


Already, urban populations are pitted against rural populations over water rights and access to other common-pool resources that the corporate mentality would privatize for profit. Fortunately, common consciousness is evolving to meet this growing crisis, a crisis better suited to be solved through mutual cooperation and respect than through antagonism and mutual misery.


Can we gradually adapt to a system of steady-state economics that is locally and regionally governed, that hearkens to the harvest of homeland as the sustaining characteristic? Can we finally recognize that consumerism for its own sake is an unnatural act? Can we listen to the heartbeat of homeland and recognize that its pulse alone sustains us all?


These are aspirations of intrinsic worth, especially as we enter this new age where we finally acknowledge that global warming and climate instability are continually reshaping the flow of Nature. In my opinion, to adapt to changing natural conditions, we must intelligently determine the level of human cultural attainment that Nature can afford of us, beyond which our “anthropogenic” highway shoots over the edge of the abyss.


Think about decentralized habitat-specific cultural coherence. Recognize possible local alliances based on mutual cooperation. Invigorate homeland-based cultures of practice that share common awareness of our place in Nature. And recognize that being alive on our living planet Earth has resulted in the evolution of human consciousness, itself a commons of rare and extraordinary magnitude, a commons to be nurtured by the flow of Nature, and thus revered.



Jack Loeffler and Gary Snyder are keynote speakers at the 2013 Quivira Conference.