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Or Die Trying

By Guy R. McPherson

11 February, 2011

I wrote an entire book on the life of the mind, if you can imagine that. A significant portion of the book was dedicated to the importance of a liberal education, and I’ve written about that topic in this space, too:

Liberal teaching means putting everything I know, and everything I am, at risk in the classroom. And not just in general, but specifically as well. That is, I put it all on the line during every meeting of every class. I’ve been wrong often enough to know it could happen again, and I’m willing to admit my errors in the pursuit of truth.

How courageous is this approach? Remember how it turned out for Socrates.

Pursuing a liberal approach to teaching is dangerous. It requires courage, a thick skin, and recognition that the personal costs of pursuing liberalism in the classroom are far exceeded by the opportunity costs of failing to do so. Indeed, I would argue that the pursuit of a liberal approach to any of life’s important activities is dangerous.

I am often criticized for continuing my educational efforts here at Barefoot College. During the last couple years, I have hosted more than 200 people, showing how we might muddle through an ambiguous future if we work together. In return, many people question whether I should be demonstrating this doomstead to potential future marauders. Most of these people are anthropocentric, short-sighted, narcissistic cowards commenting anonymously on fora focused on economic collapse.

When I point out I’m anti-civ, these and other people take issue with the language: “It’s better to be for something than against something, so your message should be pro, not anti.” I point out anti-civ means pro-life, but the latter label has been co-opted by a group with which I fundamentally disagree.

And so it goes, spiraling down into the uncomfortable abyss of talking past one another. We are so adept at finding an other with whom to part ways.

And I am not surprised many people fail to understand that we’re all in this together. Our culture has driven us apart, valuing competition over cooperation. I am not surprised many people fail to understand that, as the expression goes, divided we fall. And so we are. Our culture has promoted faux individualism instead of real collaboration. It’s all about me and my stuff, me and my success, me and my ego in this hyper-indulgent morass of American exceptionalism. It’s small wonder, then, that many people fail to understand the importance, to me, of educating others. It’s everything to me, more important than life itself.

I am profoundly committed to a life of service. For me, a life lived otherwise is not worth living.

As any real radical reformer knows, some things are worth dying for. Service to community and lifelong learning certainly fill the bill.

Mind you, I’m not acting heroically. I’ve built a lifeboat, after all, that might allow my survival for a few years beyond completion of the ongoing economic collapse. I’m not dependent on western medicine to maintain my life. In addition, absence of free will precludes an alternative route.

If you’re looking for heroes, look no further than Derrick Jensen. His level of commitment extends beyond his own life. He depends in the short term on the industrial economy, a system that is killing him in the long term. Yet he is willing to sacrifice the ability to extend his life to give the living planet a chance. Somebody who comments now and then in this space, demonstrating he is halfway along the path toward becoming an idiot savant, used Jensen’s example in a botched attempt to argue the contrary point. Jensen’s writing and speaking are heroic because he argues for termination of the industrial economy, knowing it will lead quickly to his own death.

I recognize that it’s too late to save society, and industrialized society is irredeemable, regardless. Capitalism is assumed to be the best, most efficient economic system, but I think it’s better described as a pathology than an economic system. So I’ll keep moving seemingly immovable individuals beyond their comfort points. I’ll inject empathy, therefore resistance, into a sociopathic culture largely devoid of people willing to stand in opposition to the mainstream. I’ll move individuals beyond dark thoughts and into the light of a new world. I’ll move them beyond inaction. I’ll move them beyond the oppression of civilization and into the brave new world of a life that gives as well as taking.

Or die trying.

Guy R. McPherson is Profesor Emeritus at the University of Arizona. Educated in
the ecology and management of natural resources, his early scholarly efforts
produced many publications of little lasting importance. In mid-career, he
began to focus on development and creative application of ecological theory,
primarily with an eye toward conservation of biological diversity. Currently,
his scholarly efforts focus on social criticism, with results that appear most
frequently on newspaper op-ed pages. In addition, he facilitates research by
students and he prepares synthetic documents focused on articulation of the
links between (1) environmental protection, social justice, and the human
economy and (2) science and its application. These efforts have produced more
than 100 scholarly papers and nine books.

In 2009 at the height of a productive career, McPherson left the university to
prepare for collapse. He now lives in an off-grid, straw-bale house where he
puts into practice his lifelong interest in sustainable living via organic
gardening, raising small animals for eggs and milk, and working with members of
his rural community.

contact information:

Guy R. McPherson, Professor Emeritus
University of Arizona
School of Natural Resources & the Environment and
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Biological Sciences East 325
Tucson, Arizona 85721

email: grm@ag.arizona.edu




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