Short Reads

Moving Beyond the Language of Economic Utility

On a spring evening in Southern California, with too much school work and an uncooperative clock ticking away the day’s warmth, I glanced outside my window to find the sky imbued with the color of a sunset. Captured by its beauty and magic, I wondered whether I should take a break from writing my undergraduate thesis to watch. As the sky shifted from yellow-orange to reddish-pink, my thoughts turned to a cost-benefit analysis: “Is it worth it to go outside and watch? A break would interrupt my progress right now. On the other hand, refreshing myself might increase my productivity for the next half hour before dinner.” By then, of course, the sky had faded into deep purple, the sun slipping over the horizon. As an overworked college student, evaluating actions in terms of productivity was common. Even now, several years after Microeconomics initially offered a powerful language for describing human decision-making, marginal utility remains a convenient—if not a little contrived—way of understanding my everyday choices. Indeed, since its inception, the field of economics has …



Illustration of landscape with thunderclouds and rain storm

A Din amid Quiet Ruins

A year ago on a bright summer morning in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico, I took a break from a study on community water I was conducting to explore the countryside. All around me were the fields and orchards of Hispano ranchers whose Pueblo and Spanish ancestors had watered these lands for countless generations. A friend of mine among them, a builder and farmer and sometime engineer with the strength of a linebacker, said he’d take me to a trailhead of a place unlike anything I had ever seen, so long as I promised not to tell anyone exactly where it was. “We don’t want all kinds of people driving up and down the road, parking their cars, snapping pictures,” he said. I agreed, eagerly accepting his invitation. On the way to the canyon, he told me the trail would lead me upward to the ruins of a village of the ancient ones, the ancestral Puebloans, who lived in this place for generations and left mysteriously about seven hundred years ago. Most speculate …



Shimokitazawa, Tokyo
Photograph by Sam Holden

Rituals of Urban Life in Post-Growth Tokyo

Recently, as I pondered how the rituals of life in modern Tokyo emerged and evolved alongside the growth of the city, and what the rituals of post-growth Tokyo could become, I spent an afternoon wandering through Shimokitazawa, a neighborhood in western Tokyo that is popular for its sense of local charm. Since the end of the war the neighborhood has organically evolved into a mosaic of jazz bars and quiet cafes, shops filled with exotic fabrics and quirky trinkets, and artisans and residents who make their homes in a disorderly web of alleyways that emanate from the crossroads of two train lines. In a little second floor used book shop, I plucked a book off a shelf filled with titles on memory and ruins. My Map of Tokyo, written by Ineko Sata in 1949, is an elegy of the author’s lived experience of the city, recounting walks through the neighborhoods of her past, wooden planks over dirt alleyways lined by row houses, the oily smell of grilled meat wafting across the grounds of a quiet …



All That Is Solid Melts into the Air, All That Is Holy Is… Marxist?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a self-proclaimed Marxist, or at least half of one. This ideological preference is little-known but longstanding; in a 1993 interview he noted that “of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability.” But a key problem the Dalai Lama has identified within Marxism is a lack of compassion for the totality of humanity, including economic elites…



Visions of Enlightened Societies

“There is no hiding place. There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. It’s over. Give it up.” -Bernice Johnson Reagon1 The three articles in the first issue of The Arrow illustrate the challenge of articulating a single vision of “wakeful society, culture, and politics.” That is to say, their three authors—all experienced scholars and practitioners from the same contemplative tradition: Shambhala—do not exactly agree on what such a vision should look like. Consider how Richard Reoch offers a comparatively optimistic assessment of the present, finding in contemporary environmentalism “a fresh breath of the human spirit, and awakening from the dreadful history we have lived through,” whereas Adam Lobel seems more pessimistic, finding in the present an acceleration and compression of time that produces increased stress and deteriorating well-being. Or consider how Holly Gayley focuses in particular on the Shambhala view of how individual practice relates to social change, in contrast with Lobel’s broader view of a range of contemplative practices that can all function as sources of individual and social transformation. By …