Review: The Disfiguration of Nature: Why Caring for the Environment is Inherently Conservative

In his provocative, controversial-at-times book, James Krueger makes his case why environmentalism is inherently a conservative cause. He prefers the term “conservation” to make clear the word’s ties to conserving and conservatism. This book is of supreme relevance in a time when political divisions are becoming starker, nuance feels like a relic, and we seem to have forgotten how to submit to one another for the good of the whole. At times his rhetoric is abrasive and grating, especially when he adds in inflammatory topics of LGBTQ and abortion rights. But don’t give up and throw the book aside. We already do too much of that in our inabilities to truly dialogue anymore. Krueger has much of value to say and it is important to at least be open to his challenges, lest we only wall ourselves into echo chambers of those who think and believe just like we do.

Krueger’s main premise is that our political identities have strayed far from their origins, and both sides now believe in the goodness of progress (however that is defined) regardless of cost (e.g., neoliberalism), and very often to the detriment of the very earth we live on. He re-defines (or rather hearkens back to) definitions of conservative and liberal. “Conservatives” were once defined as those who use tradition as a guide for the future, who strongly value family life and other social organizing systems that keep us beholden to one another, and who prioritize morality and personal integrity (p. 6). “Liberalism,” as he defines it, prioritizes progress for the sake of progress, supports technological advances, and a market- and profit-driven system that is given free reign by a limited government (p. 7). Clearly, our conservative and liberal political parties have moved a tad from such origins. Today’s Republican party has much more of a libertarian instead of a conservative ideology, and both parties swim somewhere in the soup of classical liberalism. Because of this, classical conservatism has been lost.

A conservative by his new / old definition, Krueger is not against a government with authority to set limits on businesses and provide social safety nets for the vulnerable in society. He acknowledges that big business is very poor at self-regulation and believes it is the role of government to set the needed limits that then benefit all instead of the few. What is important to him is respecting the laws and limits of nature and being humble about our own place in the world.

Krueger brings in LGBTQ and abortion issues because these are often, for Republican voters, issues that keep them away from a pro-environment vote (which is now solely the realm of Democrats). He does not support governmental promotion of LGBTQ or abortion rights, because he believes that both of these issues go against laws of nature and traditional moral principles. In some ways, especially with LGBTQ rights, I feel he is setting up a straw man argument (though it may appeal to today’s conservatives) about what the LGBTQ population wants: the destruction of the marriage institution, sex and sexuality becoming un-sacred and used solely for one’s personal pleasure, without concern to how we are responsible to one another in relationship. Perhaps it is my own personal experience of knowing so many married or monogamously committed, and very often Christian, LGBTQ couples that this argument barely makes sense to me. He also assumes there is no biological basis to homosexuality, whereas I do not think you can make such an argument based on what we witness even in the rest of the animal kingdom. On the issue of abortion, I give him credit that he supports much more social, governmental support for single mothers who keep the babies they are not ready for. I too wish for this and wish the Republicans could take this up as a pro-life issue.

Krueger’s book is a thin volume but very densely and academically written. It is not for the faint of heart if you fear being challenged, inspired, and even angered all in the same chapter. I do not agree with all of what he has written, yet I still want to shout the underlying message from the rooftops: Conservation is not an inherently liberal issue! Conservatives need to take up the issue of conservation! We have no time (or land, or water, or air) to waste!

Those of us who live in small towns, who naturally have more connection to the land and may either farm or know farmers nearby, easily understand this. My own town of Bellefontaine, Ohio has a free recycling program, has reduced their trash waste by 24% just this last year, and many people compost in their own backyards. They also tend to vote Republican. Conserving and being a conservative are not mutually exclusive.

So what is it we must do? In my opinion, people on both sides of the aisle must stop monolithic thinking and bring some humility to the table. Democrats, especially big-city Democrats, must gain respect for the giant red swath of America in the heartland, the people who are often much more intimately connected with the land and submission to the cycles of earth. Republicans need to recall their roots and end the unhealthy marriage to big-business interests and false individual autonomy (e.g. through lowering taxes no matter the cost) that has somehow come to define them.

Additionally, I appreciate Krueger’s bold yet hard-to-swallow stance that we cannot continue our technological race forward that serves to consume more and more resources, even when we try and commit to using renewable resources in our gluttonous consumption. A lesson that seems most difficult for Americans to learn is that we cannot have it all, we should not have it all, and we must stop thinking we can have it all instantly. I’m only a fish swimming in this same water yet I know this greedy desire is one of our great moral downfalls. Are we willing to give up our pride, our greed, and be willing to submit to each other and to the earth in time to rescue our planet from destruction?

TURN YOUR ALARM SYSTEM OFF!

Two women, worlds apart, are talking.

“It is hard to listen to me?”

“It’s not hard. I have my alarm system turned off.”

On Being with Krista Tippett, interview with Arlie Hochschild

You know the feeling. My alarm system is on almost all of the time, so much so that I don’t even realize I have an alarm system. My hackles get raised when Fox & Friends plays on the gym’s TV during my morning workout, or when I think people are going to speak derogatorily about immigrants, Muslims, the LGBT community, Millennials, etc. Such things are my alarm system finely tuned to.

Our church is doing a book study called “Anxious to Talk About It: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully About Racism,” by Carolyn Helsel. Talk about an opportunity for alarm bells! “Anxious” is an appropriate word: we can be anxious that we will say something offensive, anxious that the conversation is going to devolve into politics, anxious that someone else is going to say something that really gets under our skin and our face will flush and we will try and talk honestly about systemic racism without being written off as a naïve, bleeding-heart liberal (oh whoops, was that just me??).

What would happen if we could just listen to people without alarm systems going off? With the understanding that others will say things we don’t agree with, but that we don’t have to let this hurt us. They got to their positions and beliefs somehow, just as we got to ours.

Don’t think I’m suggesting we just roll over and play dead when the “other side” starts raising its voice. Not at all. I firmly believe in the importance of truth-telling, honesty, and objectivity. But I’m also aware that facts do little to change people’s opinions when their emotions point them a different way.

Sometimes giving facts to emotion-driven people is about as useful as this dog is presently being.

Our brains are ruled by confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is not exactly objective: it feigns objectivity while really just reinforcing what we already believe at an emotional, gut level. We want so badly to understand the world we live in and make it a safe, habitable place. We make it safe by making it small. Once we think we understand something, we try and fit in all new pieces of information into the systems we have already worked out for ourselves. This has been our survival strategy for millennia upon millennia: we had to quickly learn how to categorize stimuli into “safe” and “not safe,” so we could, you know, act quickly and not get eaten by bears or stomped on by wooly mammoths.

Admit it. You don’t want to be stomped either.

So what can help us increase our capacity for feeling safe – and also for helping others feel safe?

There are many routes to do this. Just being aware of our own hyperaroused alarm system is a step. I would add in cultivating qualities of curiosity, compassion, empathy, and openness.

Cultivating openness.

Retrieved from www.pickthebrain.com

For me, spirituality helps inform the approach to the “other.” In non-dualistic ways of being (which I would describe, in part, as the place God dwells), the distinction between “self” and “other” is a false dichotomy. We are somehow deeply interconnected even with those who feel like enemies. Yes, that means I’m even connected with Trump. My ego may throw a little fit about that and my surface-level skin might crawl, but the deeper part of me has compassion for the both of us because we’re just human, trying to get by. Our wounds are different. He has a little more power (in the traditional sense) than I do. He has more of a temper than I do. But a belief I hold is that we are both image-bearers of the divine, muddled as that image may be.

I thought about inserting a pic of Trump instead… but I like this better.

Perhaps one of the hardest tasks of spirituality is navigating the path between the contemplative knowledge that we are all connected and everything is, ultimately, okay — with the reality that we are in a world where real-life issues need to be addressed, people’s rights need to be protected, where the poor, broken, and wounded receive real-life healing. I’m not saying I have the answers. But I believe we need both parts to be fully human. Hating the perpetrator while tending to the victims does not actually bring about the beloved community.

These are hard words to swallow. I write them and I want to believe them, but it is so difficult to live into. But if we can, we find the alarm system is suddenly a relic. We don’t have to hate and be alarmed by the other. And then, maybe then, will our world start to become the place we so desperately need it to be.

using our voices

I don’t know about you, but this has felt like a rough week.

Honestly, the last two years have been disheartening (to put it mildly) and soul-crushing (if my feelings speak for themselves), in a way I wouldn’t have guessed political situations could make me feel. There is so much hate, distrust, and lying in our national space that it feels like evil will take us over. The news still tends to infuriate me, but recently, I’ve found myself slipping more often into feelings of despair.

I went on a short, silent retreat this week. It was a wonderful chance to read, write, meditate, and take long walks in the forest. I know I am lucky I get to do such things. My fears about myself still crept up on me (does my voice matter? What meaning will I make of my life? Who do I think I am, anyway, trying to claim a space with my words?). But I moved forward, pushing back the fears, being present, and putting down words anyway.

Then we left the camp and had the news on the radio as we drove home. Real life hit me like a ton of bricks. A president trying to incite fear about Middle Eastern terrorists hiding among people who are trying to take refuge from an unsafe environment in Central America. Tax cuts promised that can’t be passed before election day, but truth doesn’t matter anyway so say what you will. And then, all week long, bombs that don’t detonate arriving to prominent liberals around the country. I don’t need to give you details – you already know them.

What kind of world are we living in?

What can I do?

What can we do?

While on retreat, I brought my good friend Thomas Merton along with me in book form. Reading him inspires and challenges me. Merton was a Catholic monk and prolific writer who died in 1968. Monks take vows of poverty, submission, obedience. But Merton was also compelled to write – and write boldly. He didn’t hide his head in the sand but was acutely aware of what was happening in the world. He called out the violences and injustices of his day (think Cold War and nuclear threats, and the divisiveness both sides were partaking in). Even when the Catholic Church censored him, even when he scandalized people. And he did it all from a deeply spiritual place.

I know I’m no Thomas Merton, but if I could follow just a tiny bit in his footsteps, I would aspire to do that. To speak the truth that needs to be told. To love deeply. To live fully one’s authentic life that they are called to.

What are you called to do?

What voice were you given to speak to the world?

Our voices matter. Trust me, a lot of the time I have trouble believing this. I took my small step today and early voted. I felt grateful to still belong in a democratic republic, with a still-functional news media, and to safely cast my vote without fear of reprisal.

Voting is one way to matter – and an important one. But there are so many ways to raise our voices in support of love and all that is good in the world. It is hard to keep that faith, but if we do it together, maybe somebody will hear it, and believe that this isn’t how it has to be.

We must not stay silent. If we are privileged enough to be comfortable staying silent (i.e. if you believe yourself to be unaffected by all that is happening), but if you are also a person of faith, then let your faith be the motivator to speak. To stay silent and do nothing is to be complicit. Stand up for the vulnerable and the oppressed. Stand up for morals and values. Believe in the power of love over the darkness of hate and terror. Pray. Extend compassion to your neighbor: whether that is your family member or your fellow global citizen.

It’s easy to lose sight. Just writing this post, I am mocked by the inner voices: who cares about what you say? No one will read this! You’re not saying anything new! You’re not good enough! Do you really think you can make a difference at all?

But maybe you’ve been tormented by those voices too. Maybe sometimes, the anger and despair presses in on all sides. Maybe you feel too small and insignificant to have an impact. Maybe you’re so frustrated by the whole thing that you’ve checked out. Please come back. We need your voice, too.

Maybe if I can be brave enough to put the imperfect and the unoriginal and the vulnerable out there, you will know it’s okay to do it too. Maybe we will start to push back the darkness.

It’s hard work. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Find the beauty in the world. Remember that the sun rises every morning – regardless if we see it or not. Let yourself be nurtured by relationships. Nurture others. Find something that makes you laugh. Find something that gives you hope.

However it is that your life speaks, I hope we can believe that if we each do our part to speak the truth in our own sphere, it matters.

God, I hope it matters. Let it matter. But we will only find out by trying.

Enneagram, Election-Style

I listened to a great podcast about the Enneagram recently (it’s 2 hours long, but if you’re driving from Chicago to Indy, it really helps the time pass!). Click here: Liturgist Podcast

Then I chatted with my ever-insightful mother about the Enneagram and the presidential candidates, and was inspired to write a post about what Enneagram types I think Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are.But I gotta give credit to my momma for helping me think about what they are. Thanks, Mom! ;D

Generally, Hillary is commonly typed as a ONE (Reforming / Perfectionistic), and Donald as a type EIGHT (the Asserter / Controller). I’m going to disagree with both of those. (Daring, I know!). Some other random folks on the internet are in my camp, but I’ll lay out some reasoning.

Punchline first: My hypothesis is that Donald Trump is a THREE, and that Hillary Clinton is an EIGHT.

Let’s start with Mr. Trump since he’s more entertaining. In my opinion, lots of Enneagram people automatically type him as an EIGHT because he’s noisy, belligerent, insistent on his own way, and many people don’t like him. (Unfortunately, poor 8s have gotten a bad rap for being dominating / controlling / forceful people, and lots of people who aren’t 8s, or don’t know 8s, don’t like 8s). Many Enneatypers lump Trump in with 8s without thinking too much about what’s behind an 8.
Luckily, both my mom and my boyfriend are, I suspect, 8w9s, so I have more reason to ponder 8s and think kindly of them.
What is behind an 8’s forcefulness is a need to not be controlled. They want to be independent, and fear being dominated. They secretly are quite tender on the inside, if you can get past the brusque exterior. 8s also often have a passion for justice and tend to root for the underdog.
Mom (who understandably does not want to be associated with Trump) made me recognize that doesn’t seem to be Trump’s motives.

No, what seems to motivate Trump is his image, or how he is perceived by others. This screams THREE on the Enneagram.

THREEs on the Enneagram have a lot of underlying motives related to image (how they are perceived to others) and feelings related to shame. They are generally very successful, accomplished, and driven, doing what others only dream of having the energy for. 3s need to look good to others. Because of this need, they can be charming and popular but can also be shape-shifters, changing their persona to match what the crowd/person they are working with wants to see.
At healthy levels, 3s use their energy and drive for accomplishment for good, and they inspire the rest of us. At unhealthy levels, they can demonstrate psychopathic behavior and narcissistic personality.

You may be putting the puzzle pieces together yourself, but it seems clear to me that what drives Trump is how he appears to others. Whether he’s in real estate, firing people on The Apprentice, or, say, running for president, he’s in it because of what it does for him and what it does for his image. We can imagine the thought process leading up to his run for president. What else is there for me to do? Running a country is something I haven’t done. Imagine how that would make me look!
3s at their unhealthy levels (which I would posit, Trump is at) can be grandiose, narcissistic, exploitative, and might sabotage others to preserve themselves.

I was already thinking he was a 3 when I came across this article that was the clincher for me, called “Donald Trump’s Sad, Lonely Life.” The article speaks of Trump’s lack of an emotional life or any kind of reflection capacities. 3s can become so fixated on doing and achieving that they discount emotions – emotions just get in the way of accomplishing. The article also talks about how the worst thing possible to Trump is the feeling of humiliation – and he strongly judges others when something bad happens to their image.

Enough about Trump. On to Mrs. Clinton.

Many people think of her as a ONE, the reforming, perfectionistic type. I’m not in total disagreement, but I’ve been reading a book about the Clinton marriage (Bill and Hillary: The Marriage, by Christopher Anderson) that has me thinking she is more of an 8. 8s, to remind you, are motivated by a need to not be controlled. They want to leave their mark on the world. They are often decisive, full of common sense but also vision. They fear being hurt, so they often close themselves off emotionally to others.

From an early age, her mother taught her to not show emotion, to always maintain a sense of emotional equilibrium and not let her feathers be ruffled. She intimidated the boys growing up (and in college too). She was really a force to be reckoned with, taking part in so many groups in college and law school that I get tired just thinking about it.
(She also is reminiscent of an achieving 3 in many ways, but I would say her husband embodies that more than her). She practiced law and worked for organizations defending children’s rights – that 8 passion for the vulnerable, the underdog. She was so proud to marry Bill, whom she declared to people even before he was governor of Arkansas, “He’s going to be president someday.” She believed the best way to effect change was to go big – small-time community organizing was not enough for her; politics and law were more effective. Being married to the future president of the U.S. would probably work, too.

The danger of power is that it can become corrupting. When you are willing to bend rules to achieve your own means. “Crooked Hillary” is, I think, not unfounded – I just think Donald is even more crooked and dangerous. In the dualistic world of politics, we have to pick a side or not play. Good luck for the next 4 years, ‘Murica.

 

Of course, no outsider can ever decisively “type” another person on the Enneagram. These are just my ponderings and my best guesses. Thinking about the Enneagram is my form of mental play. I invite dialogue!