Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Curious About Consumerism? See "The Story of Stuff"

Friends, I've been involved with the environmental movemement since Earth Day 1970, and everyone needs to see this film! Here is the link to a wonderful, 20-minute film that is the best description I've seen of how consumerism is leading us to consume our planet. Annie Leonard has done an amazing job putting this all together.
For a sample, check out this excerpt on youtube: (The Story of Stuff Teaser #1)
Film Biography The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute film that takes viewers on a provocative and eye-opening tour of the real costs of our consumer driven culture-from resource extraction to iPod incineration. Annie Leonard, an activist who has spent the past 10 years traveling the globe fighting environmental threats, narrates the Story of Stuff, delivering a rapid-fire, often humorous and always engaging story about "all our stuff-where it comes from and where it goes when we throw it away." Leonard examines the real costs of extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal, and she isolates the moment in history where she says the trend of consumption mania began. The Story of Stuff examines how economic policies of the post-World War II era ushered in notions of "planned obsolescence" and "perceived obsolescence" -and how these notions are still driving much of the U.S. and global economies today. Leonard's inspiration for the film began as a personal musing over the question, "Where does all the stuff we buy come from, and where does it go when we throw it out?" She traveled the world in pursuit of the answer to this seemingly innocent question, and what she found along the way were some very guilty participants and their unfortunate victims. Written by Leonard, the film was produced by Free Range Studios, the makers of other highly popular web-based films such as "The Meatrix" and "Grocery Store Wars." Funding for the project came from the Sustainability Funders (The Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption) and Tides Foundation.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Observing Apes In Order To Understand Human Nature

My book project is "Divine Primates: How Human Nature Has Gotten Us Into - And Can Help Get Us Out Of - Our Global Crises." Basically, I propose that we need a more grounded understanding of our own human nature as primates in order to deal with our global sustainability crises. Currently, we are trapped in a distorted paradigm that sees humans as some sort of divine race of super-beings. In fact, science shows us that we are not all that different from other species. The vast majority of our decisions involve lower order needs and desires that have nothing to do with our highly developed intelligence. Perhaps if we were less impressed with our creativity and scientific accomplishments, we would stop messing around with our global ecosystems.

Two recent news items serve to illustrate the proposition that we are not nearly as intelligent as we might like to believe. First, the Seattle Times, November 1, 2007, reported the death of a person named Washoe at the age of 42. Washoe was a chimpanzee. In fact, she was a world-famous chimpanzee who was probably the first of her species to learn American Sign Language. She could use around 250 signs from American Sign Language to communicate with people. However, what may be more remarkable is that Washoe taught sign language, without assistance, to another chimpanzee, named Loulis.

Second, Dr. Laurie Santos, a Yale Psychologist, has been conducting cognitive research on monkeys that is breaking new ground. Dr. Santos is studying aspects of human congnition that relate to our unconscious behavior. This research reveals our nature as humans, rather than the nature of the constructed intellectual worlds we like to inhabit. Dr. Santos has found that monkeys make the same kinds of poor economic decisions as humans do, over and over again.

For me, these two views of the similarities between human and non-human primates confirm that I am on the right track with my book. Humans, indeed, can be trained to do many amazing things. We can become doctors, researchers, baseball players and entertainers. Yet, we still appear incapable of living sustainably on our planet. This isn't about our intelligence, but rather about how our nature manifests. We choose to be entertained rather than educated, very often. We are often inclined to view or interact with members of the opposite sex we find attractive, rather than more productive activities. We are drawn to shiny objects rather than books or conversation, very often. We are drawn to SUV's rather than bicycles, etc., etc. We sometimes get angry, rationalize and/or make excuses rather than face up to our problems and our failings.

There are ways to help us construct a healthier, more sustainable culture and I address these in my book. While there is plenty of room for non-exclusive spirituality and diverse traditions in the future, a new look at human nature will probably indicate that old-fashioned "my way is the only way" religions need to be replaced by interspirituality that respects all traditions.
To read more on my book project, see my other blog entries at or go to my website, Your comments are welcome, right here, right now, on this blog! You must have some reaction or opinion on this topic!

Jeremiah May Have Been a Bullfrog, But Gandhi Was a Lawyer

Yes, Mahatma Gandhi was trained and experienced as an English Barrister. Early in his career, he traveled to South Africa and experienced first-hand the legally imposed descriminations against Indian and Muslim people. The rest is history. Gandhi's skills as a lawyer were an important part of the tremendous eloquence, discipline and intensity he brought to bear upon unsuspecting government officials.

There are stereotypes about Lawyers that seem to discourage people in the legal profession as well as young people considering a future in law. For those of us in the field of law, many feel that conformity and peer pressure excuse us from claiming our destiny to make a difference in the lives of our people. However, the exceptions, like Gandhi, Lincoln and Clarence Darrow, for example, are of epic proportions. Gandhi was a barrister and a highly evolved thinker, writer and activist. Many lawyers work for change (although not all of it is altruistic.) Lawyers are trained in the theory and practice of both change and non-change; both rigid thinking and openmindedness.

Some people believe that the work and role of lawyers derive from the tradition of the shaman, the holder of powerful words, and that there remains great positive power in the role of attorney. I am currently a healing bodyworker and writer, but my years in legal work were very gratifying and cutting edge. Rather than perpetuate prejudice against lawyers, let's be open to progress with social justice through stronger focus on the spirit of the law, rather than mechanistic application of laws designed to help the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

In the meantime, let's revel in the diversity and creativity of lawyers whose lives bring other careers and/or spiritual practices into the mix. Some famous law school graduates who are best known for other endeavors:

  • Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) Philosopher and Political Reformer
  • James Boswell (1740-1795) Biographer of Samuel Johnson
  • Francis Bacon (1561-1626) British Philosopher
  • Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) Statesman, Saint
  • Rene Descartes (1596-1650) Philosopher, Scientist
  • Cicero (106 BCE - 43 BCE) Roman Philosopher, Statesman
  • Patrick Henry (1736-1799) Statesman, American Revolutionary
  • Noah Webster (1758-1843) Political Writer, Lexicographer
  • A total of 25 US Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln
  • Jeremy Bentham (1749-1932) Social Philosopher
  • Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) Historian, Social Philosopher
  • Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) Novelist, Poet
  • Franz Kafka (1883-1924) Author
  • Washington Irving (1783-1859) Short Story Author, Essayist
  • Jules Verne (1828-1905) Science Fiction Author
  • Studs Terkel (1912 - ) Author, Historian
  • Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970) Author of Detective Stories
  • Robert Traver (1903-1991) Author, "Anatomy of a Murder"
  • John Grisham (1955 - ) NovelistScott Turow (1949 - ) Author
  • Louis Auchincloss (1917 - ) Novelist, Historian
  • Daniel Boorstin (1914-2004) Historian, Writer
  • Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Novelist, Poet
  • John Wesley Hardin (1853-1895) Outlaw and Gunfighter
  • Marcus L. Urann ( 1873-1963) Inventor of cranberry sauce, founded Phi Kappa Phi
  • Chester Carlson (1906-1968) Inventor of xerography
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton (1947 - ) Politician, Author
  • Bella Abzug (1920-1998) Activist and Politician
  • Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) Politician and Writer
  • Alice Paul (1885-1977) Suffragist and Author of Equal Rights Amendment
  • Carol Mosely Braun (1947 - ) Politician
  • Ann Coulter (1961 - ) Author, political commentator
  • Conde Nast (1873-1942) early Publisher of Vanity Fair and Vogue
  • Mortimer Zuckerman (1937 - ) Publisher of US News & World Report
  • Sam Houston (1793-1863) Statesman, Soldier and Politician
  • J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) FBI Director
  • Ralph Nader (1934 - ) Consumer Advocate and Political Activist
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon (1946 - ) Feminist, Legal Philosopher
  • John Cleese (1939 - ) Comedic Actor, Writer, co-founder of Monty Python
  • Paul Robeson (1898- 1976) Author, Athlete, Singer/Performer, Civil Rights Activist
  • Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981) Songwriter, Pianist and Bandleader
  • Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) Author, composer of "Star Spangled Banner"
  • Peter I. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) Composer
  • Julio Iglesias (1943 - ) Singer
  • Kay Kyser (1905-1985) "Big Band" Leader, Radio Celebrity
  • Henri Matisse (1869-1954) Artist
  • Otto Preminger (1906-1986) Actor, Movie Director
  • Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) Poet, author of "Desiderata"
  • Tony La Russa (1944 - ) Baseball Manager
  • Steve Young (1961 - ) Pro Football Quarterback
  • Pat Haden (1953 - ) Pro Football Quarterback
  • Dick Button (1929 - ) Champion Figure Skater and Sports Commentator
  • Howard Cosell (1918-1995) Sports Commentator
  • Mel Allen (1913-1996) Sports Announcer
  • Jerry Springer (1944 - ) Television Personality, Politician
  • Star Jones (1962 - ) Television Personality
  • Charlie Rose (1942 - ) Television Journalist, Interviewer
  • Ben Stein (1944 - ) Author, Television Personality, Game Show Host
  • Geraldo Rivera (1943 - ) Television Journalist/Personality
  • Fred Dalton Thompson (1942 - ) Politician, Actor
  • Fidel Castro (1926 - ?) Cuban Leader
  • Rossano Brazzi (1916-1994) Actor
  • Horace McMahon (1906-1971) Actor - Stage, Film and Television

Major source: you are aware of other famous people who are also lawyers, but known for something other than the practice of law, please let me know and I'll add them to this list.

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