Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 1

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Issue Contents

Introduction from the Journal Editors
by Gabe Dayley and shah noor hussein

Introduction from the Guest Editor
by LaDawn Haglund

An Ecodharma Prayer of Earth
Adam Lobel
This poem was composed spontaneously near a red cardinal in western Pennsylvania
on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, amidst a global pandemic, rising temperatures, melting ice, and mass extinction, April 2020. 

Death Denial, Human Supremacy, and Ecological Crisis: Indigenous and Euro-American Perspectives
James Rowe & Darcy Mathews
We live in a period of heightened environmental crises and scholars have long pointed to narratives of human supremacy as central drivers of ecological destruction. We explore an overlooked but powerful explanation for stubborn attachment to the idea of human supremacy in the Euro-Americas: the political force of death denial. Human feelings of fear and belittlement in the face of finitude easily become fuel for compensatory attachments to narratives of supremacy. In making this connection between death denial and narratives of human supremacy, we draw on the work of anthropologist Ernest Becker and Indigenous scholars such as Vine Deloria Jr. and Michael Yellowbird. We then explore alternative ways of thinking about death through the case of the Coast Salish peoples of southwest British Columbia, arguing that the non-supremacist worldviews and ecological successes of Salish peoples are deeply connected to their different orientation toward death. Our case study shows that environmental education and advocacy must begin by addressing the death fear that underpins Euro-American culture. Until the problem of death is honestly and collectively faced in the Euro-Americas, stubborn and often unconscious attachments to human supremacy will remain, making the necessity of ecological redress nearly impossible to achieve. Keywords: Death Denial, Terror Management, Human Supremacy, Kincentric Ecology, Coast Salish, Mindfulness, Affect, Decolonization

Bright Spot Ethnography: On the Analytical Potential of Things that Work
Sarah Osterhoudt
Much research in anthropology excels at systematically uncovering how larger economic, environmental, and cultural forces have perpetuated unjust relations of power and environmental degradation. Often, such research is motivated by narratives of crisis, suffering, and alarm. Is there a way to bring this analytical attention to examine not only “what went wrong” in a given situation, but also “what went right”? Drawing from emerging models in the natural sciences on “bright spot ecology” and my on-going ethnographic field research with smallholder farmers in Madagascar, I consider what a program of “bright spot ethnography” may look like that encourages ethnographers both to emphasize with the suffering of others, and to celebrate in their success. While an anthropology of “things that work” presents theoretical and methodological challenges, it may also help orientate the field toward imaginative engagements for sustainability and renewal, as it underscores the range of experiences and engagements that comprise human and nonhuman relationships. Keywords: Bright spots, ethnographic methods, anthropology, crisis, sustainability, Madagascar.

Reframing Vulnerability as a Condition of Potential
Jason von Meding
Scholars most often frame vulnerability as a condition with an implied likelihood of violence or other harm. They classify “the vulnerable” as people who lack resources, face hardships, are marginalized in society, and generally need help. But this is not the only way to frame vulnerability. This essay examines the underexplored potential of vulnerability—to be affected and to affect in turn.

“What Have We Done?” An Eco-sin Approach to Environmental and Social Hazards
Sally L. Kitch
The devastation created by the coronavirus pandemic has made clear that the crises currently facing humanity—environmental degradation and climate change, social injustice, and the coronavirus pandemic—are inextricably intertwined. It is no longer possible to separate the social injustices, especially those resulting from racism and sexism, that both exacerbate and are exacerbated by environmental hazards and the pandemic, from those hazards themselves. In this article, I coin the term eco-sin to signify that interconnection by examining the social and environmental wrongs, injustices, and injuries exposed by the pandemic. The concept of eco-sin utilizes but does not depend on religious ideas about sin, including ecological and social sin. Indeed, redressing eco-sins requires understanding how religious as well as political and economic beliefs and practices have helped to establish and aggravate intersecting eco-sins. Going beyond conventional religious notions of sin also reveals foundational conceptual eco-sins—instrumentalism, binarism, and reductionism—that must be addressed before eco-sin reparations can truly begin. The article concludes by suggesting approaches to the intertwined challenges of eco-sin based on combined environmental and social justice insights and principles, a collective moral sense, and new structures of feeling. Keywords: Sin, climate crisis, racial capitalism, extractive economies, eco-feminism, feminist theology, sexism, racism, patriarchy, white supremacy, pandemic

Zara Jamshed

Healing the Disembodied Sacred: Beyond Spiritual Bypassing and Shadow Activism
Josie Gardner
There often feels like an invisible, though seemingly cavernous, divide between so-called spiritual and activist communities. However, both communities often reveal the same core wound: a disembodied response to the work of healing social divides. This shows up differently in each community: spiritual bypassing on the one hand— meaning the attachment to a utopian vision without addressing the reality of suffering— and “shadow activism” on the other—meaning action based on the projection of one’s own unprocessed shame and pain (the shadow). While spiritual people may bypass the outer reality, activists may bypass the “inner” work. In this essay, I call for activism that integrates both inner and outer worlds, and that is grounded in both our inner (spiritual, universal) and outer (sociopolitical, contextual) identities. This requires us to reembody the sacred in order to approach activism as relational healing between self, other, and earth. 

Neoliberal University, Institutional Diversity, and Pedagogy of Nonattachment for the Left
Charles T. Lee
This article addresses how neoliberalism splinters the left-leaning force within the university by perniciously drawing people away from their core values and progressive roots and compelling them to abide by the logic of academic capitalism instead of committing to preserve education as a public good for transforming the neoliberal imperatives. If unchecked and unbalanced by their deeper values and democratic commitments, left-leaning faculty can be surreptitiously induced by neoliberalism into an illusive state of attachment to the market rationality and the model-minority myth. I articulate a “pedagogy of nonattachment” as a contemplative political intervention to respond to this neoliberal condition in ways that are grounded on the Buddhist idea of nonattachment. Amorphous and polymorphous, a pedagogy of nonattachment draws on an eclectic repertoire—including pedagogies of invitation, persuasion, reappropriation, anger, flight, and refusal—to unsettle and transform the deceptive and insidious attachment to the neoliberal logic that is colonizing everyday institutional life.

Breath of Other, Breath of Self
Kira Jade Cooper
Together, we are struggling to breathe. A devastating respiratory virus has impeded the ability of millions to bring enough oxygen into their bodies. While COVID-19 has caused immense suffering, it has also raised awareness about our precarious relationship with Earth’s life-sustaining system—the biosphere. This unlikely teacher has reminded us that the current pandemic is not some isolated health crisis but rather the result of our prolonged alienation from the planet. It has also shown us that our exploitative relationship with nature stems from a deeper spiritual crisis in which we see ourselves as separate entities, operating above and beyond the rules that govern the natural world. In this place of separation, we have become lost and are now desperately searching for meaning, connection, and solid ground. This essay invites readers to reconnect with their breath and begin the process of collective healing and creation of a more sustainable future.

A Daughter of the Buddha on the Frontlines of War
Richard Reoch
Book review of Fortune Favors the Brave by Kiri Westby (New York: Waterside Productions, 2021). ISBN 978-1-954968-20-2 | ISBN (eBook) 978-1-954968-21-9 

Living with Eco-Anxiety
Melissa Moore
Psychologists, in seeking to normalize and to label what they view as a growing emotional dysregulation due to climate change, have proposed labels such as “eco-distress”, “eco-melancholia”, and “eco-anxiety.” From a contemplative psychology perspective, working with eco-anxiety is similar to working with heightened emotions. The contemplative method leans into feelings energetically as they arise, staying with the emotional sensation instead of thinking about the issues or ruminating in fear. This methodology powerfully demonstrates that eco-anxiety is an expression of sanity; the antidote is to feel genuine grief over the state of the world as it is arising.

Notes from the Field
David Marshall
This essay reports on the design and results of two pilot mindfulness-based outdoor workshops conducted in July and September of 2020 that were intended to broaden awareness, sharpen observational skills, and strengthen our sense of love and caring for other beings and their habitats. Participants were offered exercises in cultivating different modes of attention, learning about the ecosystem qualities and conservation values of a local nature sanctuary, practicing detection of human traces on the land, and enjoying aimless wandering and the power of stillness. The workshop concluded with a sharing of experiences. Participant feedback was used to design a monthly series of immersive nature workshops to be offered in the following year. Keywords: Nature, Awareness, Conservation

Illustrations by Rae Minji Lee and Chetna Mehta

Note: A correction was made to the issue file on August 3, 2021 at 1:30pm Eastern Time US. If you downloaded the issue before that time, please download the current version.