In his 2017 book The Patterning Instinct, Jeremy Lent suggests there are three forms of disconnection that lie at the heart of the global challenges we are creating and that are “inexorably leading human civilization to potential disaster.”
Those disconnections are within ourselves, between us and other people and between people and nature. Lent wrote: “Our minds and bodies, reason and emotion are seen as split parts within ourselves. Human beings are understood as individuals separated from each other, and humanity as a whole is perceived as separate from nature..
Lent’s three disconnects brought to mind one of my favourite framings of the principles that should guide us going forward. Forty years ago, in his book The Sane Alternative, the English alternative futurist and economist James Robertson described the SHE future.
SHE stands for sane, humane and ecological, he wrote, where sanity is about balance within ourselves, humanity is about balance between ourselves and other people, and ecology is about the balance between humankind and nature.
Robertson is suggesting here not only that mind and body, reason and emotion should be connected, but that they should be balanced. Similarly, it is not an either/or proposition between “I” and “we”, it is both/and; we cannot ignore individuals and their needs and wishes, but that has to be balanced with the needs and wishes of the group, as the COVID-19 pandemic so powerfully reminds us. And we cannot place the needs of humans above the needs of nature, since we depend upon nature for all that makes life and health possible.
A powerful personal example of the failure to balance both reason and emotion and the wellbeing of people and nature came 30 or so years ago. We were on holiday on Vancouver Island (we lived then in Toronto) and drove through a clear-cut on the way to Tofino. It was truly horrible, disgusting, it wrenched at my heart to see such devastation.
So I wrote a letter to the Times Colonist in which I suggested that this was ecocide, every bit as appalling as genocide, and I wondered how we had raised a generation of people who thought this was OK. (I have not changed my opinion in the intervening years.)
A few months later, back home in Toronto, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons (the licensing body for physicians) forwarded to me – without comment – a letter from a professional forester in B.C. who not only objected to my views but asked the College to suspend my medical licence. I clearly was not fit to be a physician because I had let emotion cloud my judgement and ignored the good science behind clear-cuts.
Setting aside the bizarre idea that you would want a physician devoid of emotion, I felt saddened by this forester. He could not connect and balance reason and emotion and could not feel the devastation he and his industry were wreaking on the forest. But what was sad for him was a tragedy for the forest and all the life it contains, a tragedy that has grown far greater in the intervening years.
Right now, the Sierra Club of B.C. tells us, “only three per cent of old-growth forests with huge, old trees are still standing across B.C. — and most are on the chopping block." In fact, they add, “every day more than 500 soccer fields of old-growth forest are clearcut in B.C.” (You can find their campaign to stop this on their website.)
As if that were not bad enough — and not unrelated to this massive forest destruction, B.C. is the province with “with the highest number of species at risk of extinction” — more than 2,000 — noted Sarah Cox in The Narwhal this month. And yet “B.C. still has no endangered species law, despite the NDP’s election promise to introduce one.”
If the challenge we face, as Jeremy Lent and James Robertson propose, is to re-establish connections and balance within ourselves, between ourselves and the community of which we are a part, and between ourselves and nature, then clearly the B.C. government is miserably failing to understand these vital connections and get the balance right, to the detriment of future generations and other species.