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Re: “Outthinking Ourselves,” by
Jonathan Kay states that our rational mind “evolved only in the last 250,000 years” (and with no clear evolutionary purpose).
Surely the reason for our rational mind is to create modern structures that advance the commons and encourage a civilized life for all.
That we have not been that good at overriding our lizard mind is no reason to stop trying to construct a world that does not abduct schoolgirls for sale as sex slaves.
Re: “Spiritual Rambling,” by
Candace Savage’s review of my new book stimulated some thoughts about the limitations of nature writing and the writer’s reluctance to step beyond the relatively safe boundaries of observation, science and cultural critique.
As a naturalist, I love to write books about nature and environmental issues from a macropolitical and scientific perspective. Throw in some nice lyrical writing, an elegiac tone, and readers usually are happy to take your book home with them. I have done that, but analysis and lament will only get us so far. My weakness is that I am not willing to give up all hope yet, and the only way I know how to account for such an unfounded thing as hope is to wander off into the darkness and try to find new ways of seeing. If we are to live through the challenges we have ahead of us, we will have to inquire into our values and certainties more deeply than we can with the usual rationalist-determinist tool box that dominates everyday life. We need science, but we also need spiritual inquiry, which is always a groping in the dark through landscapes where there is little in the way of material evidence. Worst of all, those of us foolish enough to write about it have nothing to work with but clumsy words, which are fraught with much of the superstition, prejudice and myth that modernity helped us escape from.
The Road Is How: A Prairie Pilgrimage through Nature, Desire and Soul may challenge people who are reluctant to walk in the dark with an imperfect guide and his coarse tools, but I hope some will come along anyway. After a couple of days on a lonely road, it becomes possible to imagine and perhaps even experience a realm of meaning and connection that does not yield to our usual forms of inquiry. Long walks seem to be in our genetic coding, but I invite readers to consider that our bipedal journeys do more than keep us physically fit; that, if we open our hearts, they may also help to align our cultural and spiritual coding so that we can begin to hear and respond to the suffering of the earth we walk upon.
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