On how we manage to avoid thinking about the crosscutting scales in our lives

I am chewing on an issue about scale, more specifically how we manage to avoid thinking about the crosscutting scales in our lives. All of us are embedded in and engage with intersecting processes of varying scale, in time and space, and extent. But we manage to take much for granted; if we think about it, we do not have a good way to take more responsibility. Let me give you some examples.

1. All of us are born to a mother and many of us acknowledge and affirm that relationship in a Mother’s Day gift, say, of flowers. We might wonder where the flowers come from in May. If we pursue this question we begin to learn about the global flower trade and realize that when we buy flowers we are also buying into a larger political economy of various corporations and their relationships with contracted farmers, the setting of exchange rates and interest rates, futures markets where money is made by speculators who can afford to take more risk than the corporations, who in turn arrange the contracts with growers so that they take most of the risk (see bit.ly/GlobalFlowers).  (This example came to mind because two days ago I flew, in the middle of the night, over the equatorial regions of South America, which is one source of flowers for United States.)

2. Many of us are taking up new possibilities around the Internet and social media. I write this blog entry, for example, to post on a WordPress site that is then available for others to read worldwide. And I imagine —fantasize—that this then can attract far more attention to my thinking and a far greater community of correspondents than I receive as a teacher and a writer of scholarly articles.  I also feel that when I do not get involved – for example I have no smartphone and pay no attention to new apps – that my possibilities are buffeted and shaped by our politics and economics that is using social media. Even as we live in our “move” mode, we look for our bodies and minds to be nourished or shield by a slower mode of interaction and reflection. We also want to rely on institutions and arrangements that have been established, including the old-fashioned infrastructure of pipes and wires and the newer infrastructure that supports the cloud, as well as the family that we affirmed with flowers and often depend on in times of ill health or crises.

These two examples point to a challenge for ethical practice, not to mention a challenge for theories of ethics. They also point to a challenge for teachers. How does a teacher help students trace the crosscutting scales in a way that illuminates possibilities for engagement to change the intersecting processes and to influence the ever ongoing change in which we are embedded? Moreover, how does an older teacher help a younger person see that they will come to see the passage of time differently when they are older? I ask this in part because I am visiting Santiago, where I am staying in a well-built adobe house in a community that began as tenants and an exploration of alternative modes of living, even as, or perhaps in protest modest protest quiet protest against the military regime of the time, 30 to 40 years ago. A few months ago I visited the rural cooperative in Australia that I had helped create 40 years ago. We also built an adobe house, which still stands but is not yet complete — and is not nearly as convenient for a person who wants to partake of city life and modern technology. That last point aside, what struck me were the ecological changes surrounding the house. Trees that had been planted after my time in the cooperative are now towering 25 m high. And that was just the start. I won’t going to details about blackberries, cockatoos, deer, feral cattle, but the point was that, I think, that I could not imagine 40 years earlier looking back on 40 years.  That younger self could have been helped by perspectives of the older so as to see alternative paths to choose amongst or build.

My host in Santiago works on community participation in responses to disasters. His office window looks out at the Andes Mountains, very recently formed in geologic time by processes that continue to produce earthquakes and tsunamis that require development of physical and regulatory infrastructure at a very current time scale.

Let’s see whether future posts return to clarify and extend the crosscutting scales theme.


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