A Bioregional Seminar — The Second Letter

The Second Letter (December 1988)

Hello again. I enjoyed spending time with the first set of responses to Tom’s essay. Quite a return on investment–to send out one letter and get 23 back! Thanks, Stan, for your initiative and your efforts. This is a wonderful opportunity.

I was moved by everyone’s clear concern for the Earth and encouraged by the diversity of viewpoints. Perhaps of most interest were the scattered expressions of the need for a new story. Some were implied; others direct. I felt J. Linn Mackey, for example, speaking my mind when he asked, “What are humans? Where do we belong in the scheme of things, and what is our role?” And then going on to say, “Some deep and informing vision of our new planetary and even cosmic role seems essential…”

Frank Traina likewise struck a responsive chord with his exploration of various windows through which we might choose to view humanity: as a “planetary cancer rapidly metastasizing”; or as “one of many ‘mistakes’ of nature–an experiment that failed”; or as an experiment that is as yet unfinished, and one that is potentially “so beautiful and different that a very high price must be paid for it.”

These kinds of questions and choices, this search for a new story, is highly significant, given that how we see ourselves as a species greatly shapes how we see ourselves as individuals. And how we see ourselves as individuals (our self-image) profoundly affects not only how we see and therefore relate to others–other people, other sexes, other cultures, other races, other species–but also how we define the limits of what is possible for us to do and to be.

Tom has likewise spoken to the need for a new story. The one he has chosen (i.e., the emergence of exploitative anthropocentrism and the transition to a participatory biocentrism) is the foundation upon which the edifice of bioregionalism seems to be built. Some of those responding to Tom’s essay can easily accept this foundation. For them, Tom is “preaching to the choir”. Their main focus is on how to spread the message and/or how to implement this version of the new story in a practical way; how to actualize the bioregional vision.

Others, myself included, want to step back a moment and consider the adequacy of the foundation; its “carrying capacity.” I would like, for example, to ask Tom some of the same questions I keep asking myself.

First, is our sense of estrangement from the Earth and from our local bioregions the cause of our other problems, both personal and collective, or are these many problems (including our alienation from the Earth and its bioregions) symptomatic of a deeper, more fundamental alienation?

Second, when did this separation from our biological and planetary matrix occur? Assuming that in an earlier time our species was more intimate with the Earth–its needs and gifts and seasons–how and why did we lose this precious intimacy? Was it due (as you suggest, Tom) to the development of our “scientific and technological skills”? Was this the forbidden fruit whereof we ate, causing us to be cast out of the “Garden”?

If so, then who (figuratively speaking) is to blame for our predicament? The weak “man” who succumbed to temptation? Or the seductive “woman” who offered the fruit? Or the subtle “serpent” who planted the seed? Or the inscrutable “god” who placed the subtle serpent, the seductive woman, the weak man, and the irresistible tree within the Garden and then demanded an impossible abstinence?

Finally, and growing inevitably out of the earlier questions, is the bioregional goal of “re-inhabiting the Earth” essentially a call to repentance for having eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, so that we may return to the Garden and restore our lost Edenic intimacy with the Earth? Or was the “fall” from grace, from biological and bioregional integrity, from an easy and innocent attunement with our fellow creatures, in some mysterious and disturbing way a necessary alienation? Does it perhaps serve some deeper, more inscrutable, not-yet-fully-realized purpose? And if so, what might this purpose be?

What story, myth, or metaphor, in other words, might help us remain open and responsive to the rising planetary tide of suffering and despair without indulging in self-recrimination; without yearning for a return to an earlier era of innocence and simplicity; without throwing the “baby” out with the bath water?

My gut feeling says that a growing, practical bioregional and biocentric vision and lifestyle is crucially needed in these times. It also says to be careful not to build such a vision and lifestyle on certain old and tenacious assumptions that may no longer be relevant or viable. And it says that bioregional awareness is but one beautiful theme being chanted around the evening fire, under the stars, in a circle of storytellers. Thank you all again, and especially Tom, for sharing your stories.