An Inconvenient Attitude

This month David Suzuki has kicked off a year’s schedule of talks across Canada. If you are fortunate enough to be able to get to one of the venues and hear him talk it is well worth the while. I saw a televised speech of his in Australia and I was changed by it. It is statements like this following one by him that made me understand what is wrong with the way we are living:

The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are our biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity – then we will treat each one with greater respect. That is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective. (From A David Suzuki Collection)

I think respect is the key word here. We simply do not treat the world with respect. He mentioned earlier in the same piece I quoted from that if we could see how the world has changed in four billion years to become a life sustaining planet for all life including ours then we will be humbled by what we have, and understand that is not for us to indiscriminately take as though we own it, but to share with all other life.

This week I also saw An Inconvenient Truth. It was a little late in coming to Japan (early this month, to my neck of the woods). I was also too busy with final reports to make the seventy minute drive to see it in town.

The film had stated much of what I already knew. So I do not think the film is there to convince people like me. But rather it was a film to preach to those yet to be convinced or have not heard the message yet. In that sense it is a necessary film. But why does it have to be from a former politician before we will listen? Anyone could have said it with the same evidence in hand. People are already saying it. People like David Suzuki have already said it. So it must necessarily say something about the culture of America, to whom much of it was aimed, that they will only listen if it is from someone important.

Mr Gore did make one point which I have always harped about here – that disinformation and deliberately confusing the public by false talk has prolonged the problem. We have not been playing on a level field when it comes to information dissemination. By scare tactics and other means the public has been split into two or more minds. And it comes back to the concepts of propaganda, advertising and commercialism.

So how do we deal with the agenda of others which are not the best for sustainability? In the West that is dominated by advertising, a kind of capitalist propaganda if you will, the highest bidder gets to persuade us that buying is good, not just their product but any product. This idea is therefore not about just one producer but about producers as a collective. I don’t want to sound Marxist but Karl Marx had a point. What scares me is not the fact we don’t have choices, but that we are only seemingly making free choices when we are not. So Capitalism is no better than Communism, if you look at it this way. Personally both systems fail. There are only two choices in our current paradigm so we must only choose between the two evils.

The pseudo-choice concept isn’t new of course, but it needs to be remembered or recalled. Those studies of the 1970s and 1980s on advertising have all but been forgotten. My favourite books from that period have to be Ways of Seeing by John Berger and On Photography by Susan Sontag. It has a lot to say about our use of images and imagery still relevant (if not more) to today’s advertising-polluted world.

And just a final note: the strategies used in Mr Gore’s “award winning” documentary also come from this same well-honed philosophical logo-technology (as in “logos” or “word”). It is slick, almost too slick, but you can notice its agenda if you look hard enough.

6 thoughts on “An Inconvenient Attitude”

  1. Magne,

    Thanks for the link. I read it and it does read like something Dr Suzuki would say. It reflects his spirituality with the Canadian First Nation people which of course is linked to the Hopi.

    I like the bit about the choice of paths between technology and harmony. I hope we can learn to live with the planet not against it.


  2. ulriquinho,

    Thank you for your reference to the two books. They sound very interesting. I found the Graeber in my university library so I will pick that up for reading soon. But I couldn’t find Anna Tsing’s work here at my university library.

    I am always looking for things to back up my amateur scholarship here. My ideas and opinions just seem to reflect opinion flying around but I can never find any references. So your input is most appreciated.

    I am also struggling to find classes relevant to my line of thinking here, which is a shame. I will have to do it on my own, and wait until my PhD before I can move to find someone who can supervise me in this area.

    Thank you again for your comment.


  3. Hi, I just discovered your blog, and I must admit I am impressed. Right now I am an undergraduate anthropology major in Portland, OR. When I am done here, I was thinking of going to Maitripa Institute, a Buddhist studies program here in Portland. I am hoping to write my Maitripa thesis on the buddhist metaphysics and epistemology behind buddhist social justice, and hope to make my own normative claims in a final chapter.

    Anyway, as I was reading some of your posts, I kept thinking of two anthropological works you might enjoy a lot. One is Anna Tsing’s Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection, which is about global environmental politics in relationship to Indonesia and local communities that live in the forests of Indonesia; the other is David Graeber’s Toward an Anthropological Theory of value, where he attempts to connect linguistic value, ethical values, and economic value. Anna Tsing’s work clearly fits in the postmodern trend in anthropology, though she criticizes many aspects of it, whereas Graeber is very critical of postmodernism and thinks it’s just another neoliberal tool disguised as “activism”. Also, I should note that Graeber is both an anarchist and an anthropologist, but his ideas are refreshing even if you don’t accept anarchism as an alternative solution to either communism or capitalism.

    I know that when one is working on a thesis (whether undergraduate or graduate) there isn’t much time to do outside reading, but I strongly recommend these readings for your kind of work. I was introduced to both Anna Tsing and Graeber’s works in my Commodities and Human Agency Class which precisely deal with some of the issues you mention here in your blog.


  4. Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind was the first book I ever read on Zen. And most of D T Suzuki’s books I have read (and own).

    Yes, respect is important to all three. It could be said to be fundamental to all life. Any thought about the relationship between the self and other should come to this same conclusion.



  5. That quote by David Suzuki is a true gem. I’ve seen some of his documentaries and read some of his essays on the web. Actually the last thing I saw implied he was retiring from the public eye, so I’m glad to see you reporting otherwise.

    I can’t help but note (since you talk about Buddhism here) that two other Suzukis (all unrelated) have been very important to me: Shunryu Suzuki who founded the San Francisco Zen Institute and D. T. Suzuki who was a significant force in bring Buddhism to the West.

    They all emphasize respect for yourself, other beings of all sorts, and the world.

    As the metta saying goes: may all beings everywhere be safe, happy, healthy, at ease in the world, and free.


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