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In this post Desmond Berghofer describes our preoccupation with perpetual economic growth at the expense of our environment. He compares the concepts of economic mind and eco-mind. While it is true that capitalism and globalization have brought immense value and benefits to billions of people around the globe, there is a dark undercurrent of resource exploitation and environmental degradation that is catching up to us. We are nearing a fork in the road. Can we have both ongoing growth and a clean environment? Can we save both? Not without a paradigm shift from the economic mind to the eco-mind. (Rolly Montpellier ~ Editor-BoomerWarrior).

Economic Mind to Eco-Mind

ec0-mind, ecomind Humanity in the industrialized world of the 21st century is held fast by the dominant and destructive paradigm of the economic mind.  We can expect no possibility for sustainability if we don’t break free from it.  But what to replace it with?  Frances Moore Lappé suggests the eco-mind.  What is that?  This post will explain.

In Ecology: How we should live here on Earth, Richard Louv gave us the “nature principle”—seeing ourselves and nature as inseparable.  That’s similar to Lappé’s eco-mind.  She says that humanity’s only path to a prosperous future for all is to break free from our current “mental map.”  That’s what Canadian environmentalist, David Suzuki, calls the destructive mindframe “locked inside our skulls.”

You may know of Frances Moore Lappé from her 1971 bestseller, Diet for a Small Planet with its transformational message about how to think about food.  Her new book, EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want, published forty years later in 2011, offers us hope that we can break free from the “thought traps” that keep us locked in the destructive ways of the economic paradigm.  We must look at our lives through “an ecological lens” and take “thought leaps” that can unleash our hidden power as we embrace an eco-mind.

Developing an Eco-Mind

Lappé is writing mainly for a US audience.  She begins with the conviction, backed up by evidence, that Americans do care about the environment and that it is deteriorating in front of their eyes.  They “yearn to be part of the solution.”  But things don’t seem to change for the better.  Why? Because “too many of us feel powerless,” says Lappé.  This paralyzing mindframe comes in part from the sense that the problem is too big for the individual to even think about, let alone influence. But it also comes from something deeper in the American psyche – “the premise of lack, the notion that there just isn’t enough of anything.”

Lappé argues that this sense of lack comes from an upbringing filled with the message from modern economics, now become the equivalent of a dominant world religion, which defines itself as the science of allocating scarce resources. People grow up feeling they are in a struggle against scarcity – and not just scarcity of the things needed to live well, but also scarcity of “goodness.”  People define themselves as a caricature: “We are selfish, materialistic, and competitive. . . The worldview we absorb every day is driven by a fear of being without. . . Within this Western, mechanical worldview that we absorb unconsciously, we are each separate from one another, and reality consists of quantities of distinct, limited and fixed things.”  Lappé calls it “the three S’s: separateness, scarcity, and stasis.  That’s our world.”

For Lappé that’s the reason why so many Americans say that “government is the problem.”  They are encouraged to see themselves in “endless competitive struggle,” so they turn against the “essential tool that we have in common to meet our common needs.”  Americans accept policies that hurt them, like “massive cutbacks in services and the refusal to tackle the environmental crisis,” says Lappé, because they are locked into limiting “thought traps,” which are preventing them from finding a different sense of meaning in their lives.  “We must see a new path in order to leave the old.”  Lappé’s book and the movement she is encouraging through it are imbued with the hope – indeed, the conviction – that human beings are capable of “gigantic shifts of perception. . . By probing the thought traps that disempower us, we will realize the most stunning implication of an ecological way of seeing: endless possibility.”

The Eco-Mind: Thinking like an Ecosystem

boomer warrior, ecosystem

Essentially, what Lappé is asking us to do is to break free from limiting thoughts about how big and difficult the problems are, and how small and insignificant each one of us is –  to break out of that mindset and focus on questions of what we need to do to make life rich and enjoyable.

She is encouraged that our understanding of life’s rich complexity and human nature itself is expanding exponentially as the concept of ecology gains traction in our culture: “it is a new way of understanding life that frees us from the failing mechanical worldview’s assumptions of separation and scarcity.”

Thinking like an ecosystem means understanding that everything is connected and each organism comes to life with the potential to flourish through its vibrant connection to everything else.  So our question to ourselves and each other is, “What conditions enhance life?. . . What specific conditions bring out the best in our species?”  The answer, from the perspective of an eco-mind, is that we create the essential context for our thriving by ensuring the well-being of all other species, and seeing that the “key dimensions of our wider ecology remain conducive to life.”

Thinking in this way leads us to see the contradictions and absurdities that go on in industrial society.  She takes the American food industry as an example.  Beginning with the rule that all corporate activity must bring the highest return to the shareholders and executives, the industry degrades its products, stripping them of nutrition, selling them as junk food through convenience stores, and maintaining the process through effective lobbying on government to get huge tax subsidies for corn so that ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup shows up everywhere, contributing to the obesity epidemic in the American population.

Lappé’s main point in citing this example is to say that the issue for Americans is thinking about how they can “reclaim democratic decision-making to shape smarter rules, rules that align the food corporation’s and the farmer’s incentives with our well-being.”

But people to a large degree are afraid to act, so Lappé says that “among all the human traits we need to cultivate, we must place first what I now call ‘civil courage’. . . Humans are plenty good enough, but we do need to work on one thing: more backbone.”  This means cultivating passion so that it trumps fear, and aligning our sense of power with the experience of co-creating with nature.

If we reframe our thinking, boost our passion for life, strengthen our backbones to act with courage, and, above all, see ourselves as part of nature, not separate from it, Lappé is confident that we can rise to the great challenges facing us.  We will know “that we’ve evolved precisely the capacities we need now, along with our greater clarity on the conditions essential to set them free.”

In conclusion, she urges her readers to put their eco-minds into action by banding together, forming their own “eco-mind thought-to-action” discussion groups.  In doing so, she assures them that they will by no means be alone, for there are already thousands of great organizations in place ready to help. She concludes her book with an impressive list of organizations, books, magazines, and websites that people can turn to for help and encouragement.

You can read the entire article previously posted at GrandparentsFortheFuture.

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    • Don – you are so right. It’s about cultural change. Unfortunately, it takes at lease one whole generation to make that kind of mindset change. If we can do it in one generation, then humanity has a chance to survive and reverse some of the environmental damage we’re witnessing on the planet.

      Thanks for the comment.

  1. It has been said that the difference between bounty and desert is not water but man. It is clear that mankind has geo-engineered the Planet from divine diversity to the door step of Planetary ecocide in a twinkling of geologic time. The road to recovery will be far slower and in the case of species extinction, never redeemable. Assuming of course humanity in fact takes the first tentative steps. I am sad to say that I have seen pitifully little to raise my spirits in my 73+ years of promoting the transition.

    • Leif – I like your reflection on the human condition. The transition that humanity has to make to ensure survival will likely be too slow and too little too late. What will our planet be like in 50 years? We are supposed to leave this world in better condition than when we inherited it from previous generations. That has always been the covenant. I dread the future of my grandchildren.

      • It is the fiduciary duty of the living to assure that the Planetary life support systems requirements of the kidders remain in tact. I am an atheist and as such call on morality, justice, equality, and love, to underwrite that statement. However, if you are religious it is my understanding that the majority of followings decree that “God” requires (His?) children to be stewards of his creation. Failure to do so leads to “Hell.” I have no quarrel with either goal.

        When people unite Pollutocrats take flight.


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