Much of the world’s environmental troubles can be traced to the fact that we once were a thriving part of nature, but now we view it as “the outdoors,” something put there for our recreation and as a storehouse of resources, according to a noted author, cultural ecologist and “geo-philosopher” speaking tonight in Ashland.
In a talk at 7 p.m., Wednesday, June 13, at Ashland’s United Congregational Church, David Abram, Ph.D,, will speak on humanity’s ancient but tragically lost immersion in nature. The event is a fundraiser for KS Wild.
Abram became a noted voice early in the environmental movement, since his 1996 book “The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World,” which detailed how we live in one socially-defined reality, but are surrounded by many vast worlds of “animals, plants, winds and waters” we can barely perceive.
Abram worked his way through college as a magician, becoming fascinated with “the ecology of perception and sensory experience, how our eyes, ears and skin bind our nervous system into the surrounding ecosystem” — then pursuing it by living and learning from medicine men (and women) of Nepal, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, as well as the Southwest and Northwest of this country.
He studied under and co-lectured with James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, who in the 1970s founded the Gaia Hypothesis — that Earth and its life forms consciously work together to maintain the temperature, oxygen level, sea salinity and all other factors essential to the balance of life.
Abram, in an interview, said he explores the “ecology of language and how what we say profoundly influences what we see and hear of the animate Earth around us. There are ways of speaking that profoundly constrain our senses and stifle the instinctive reciprocity between our animal senses and the animate Earth. There are other ways of speaking that open our animal senses and enhance and encourage a spontaneous exchange or rapport between our sensing body and Earthly sensuousness.”
His lecture here is called “The Primacy of the Atmosphere: On Climate and the Psyche.” It explores how humans perceive the atmosphere, through the lens of indigenous cosmologies and the intellectual history of the West.
“The atmosphere is a sensitive organ of this planet, an invisible ocean generated by the interbreathing of innumerable plant, animal and bacterial species, as well as ourselves,” he said in a statement. “How can we open a fresh and unshakeable solidarity between humankind and other animals, plants and elemental forces that comprise this breathing biosphere?”
Event producer Julie Norman of Ashland, retired from Geos Institute, said Abram offers historic evidence that “long ago people had a very different relationship with the Earth, more respectful, that is worth exploring in these times, evidence of a very complex system of atmosphere, earth and oceans that are going through a very big change because of the impact of humans and the view that the Earth is just here for us to use.”
Abram said his work is not intended to inspire any environmental action, but rather to echo what indigenous medicine people have done — “function as intermediaries between the human and more-than-human world, not a supernatural world, but a world that contains us humans and all other walking, flapping, swimming animals, as well as all the plants, trees, herbs, rivers, dry river beds, winds, weather patterns, all of whom are assumed to be living, animate residents by the citizens of most traditional, indigenous cultures.”
In a four-day retreat at Siskiyou Field Institute near Selma, Abram will teach how pre-literate oral cultures thrived in a more-than-human world, Norman said, and will guide participants in waking up their senses to nature. Rachael Resch will lead movement and dance.
Abram is founder-director of the Alliance for Wild Ethics (AWE, www.wildethics.org). He is a graduate of Wesleyan University with a doctorate in philosophy from State University of New York. As a philosopher, he is considered a phenomenologist. He is author of “Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology.” In 2014 Abram held the international Arne Naess Chair of Global Justice and Ecology at the University of Oslo, in Norway. Naess pioneered the concept of “deep ecology.”
The lecture is a benefit for Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. Admission is on a sliding scale of $10 to $20($5 for students and those under 21). For more information, email Julie@JulieKayNorman.com.
The event includes updates from KS Wild Executive Director Joseph Vaile and Bella Mannray of Ashland’s Youth Climate Action team.
Vaile said of Abram, “His eco-philosophy is fascinating and helps human beings build a better relationship with nature and how society relates to the natural world. It’s on an individual level, helping us recover our lost connection. Too often we get a sense of despair from hearing about the environment, but I feel a sense of hope from this. It’s right there in front of us.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.