Monday, March 31, 2008

ISLAND Influences: Michael Pollan at TED

It's not always easy to explain what ISLAND is doing or where we're going (particularly when talking with potential grant makers or other large institutions). We often tend to fall back on some simple(r) answers: an arts residency program, workshops in green building, putting up solar panels, etc.; these answers never really give the full picture, and rarely illustrate the connections between these solitary bits of our mission.

Even so, the term "residency program" often needs further explanation (no, it's not a colony for artists; no, it's not a collection of classes; no, it's not an intentional community) as do terms like "permaculture," "ecological design" or "connection to place."

For example, there are a whole slew of ways to think about a tree - as something pretty, as lumber, as something that could fall on your house, as a source of fruit or nuts, as something to get rid of, as a guiding spirit, as a great spot for a tree house, as a symbol of trees, as something to protect, as an ecological component, as protection for the surrounding soil from erosion, wind and sun, and on and on and on... If you look at a tree differently than I do, much of our conversation about the forest is going to be lost, or even potentially offensive, even though we may both believe that we're talking about the same thing.

With that in mind, I think it's worth directing those of you that care about our work to some of our influences. Not only do these folks' ideas shape the way we approach our work at ISLAND, they shape the way our minds work: how we conceive of ideas, how we parse information and how we relate to the world around us. While watching this video of Michael Pollan at TED, I realized not only does he speak with great precision about the kinds of ideas we hold, he also talks about the fundamental assumptions that are required to hold those ideas.

The video is here (18 minutes and worth it!):

Listen for this: "the real literary conceit is that nature is opposed to culture."

Like a good number of ecologists and ecologically-minded designers, ISLAND works to think in a non-Cartesian way. We fail, consistently, but through patient and thoughtful observation of the land where we're based, we begin to understand the role that the land is asking us to play. That sounds like a new-agism, but it's not. It's just better science. The section of Pollan's talk on Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms gives a clear, practical example.

Finally, at ISLAND, we tend to use the term "ecological" more than "environmental." Often the environment is seen as the object to be protected, exploited, visited or considered by us, the thinking, cognitive humans. We prefer to think of the ecology: the connection of all the components, including the biological us. John Muir says "Tug on anything at all and you'll find it connected to everything else in the universe." This is also the key conceptual component of Permaculture.

We'd love to hear from you about this post - is it useful? Does it make sense? Do you want to see more like it?


Daniel Proudfoot said...

It very important that you have this sort of post as it communicates the reason for Island.
It helps to line up the head and the heart behind some actions that you are attempting to realize in the natural world.
It is easy to press to hard on any one mode of experience, ie, -emotional, intellect or physical, most organizations do and then become unbalanced when trying to interact with the greater human world.
Thanks for the post


turtlewoman said...

I agree with Daniel, this type of post is important. We need to know who we are, know that we are not alone, keep the lines of communication open and the art of networking moving forward. This type of posting is useful, it does make sense, it provides awareness and a broader perspective of understanding.

You're absolutely right Brad when you say it is not easy to explain some of these things. I am still trying to find a really good way of explaining permaculture to the fast food crowd. The best way is by showing people but it is not the members of the fast food group who show up at our permie workshops.

Regarding posting comments: It's quick and easy to post a comment. I for one would like to see more of ISLAND's readers and members post responses. We need to know how we are thinking, where we are coming from and where we hope and plan to go from wherever we are at right now. We need to communicate and not worry about upsetting someone or making someone angry. We need to stop worrying about what others may think and say what is on our minds - with tact of course :).

And while I'm at it I want to thank Brad for posting the great video by Michael Pollan.


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