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20th Anniversary Rendezvous - Murry Bookchin

The question of how to think today is what troubles me more than anything else. People aren't thinking out ideas. They have more and more accepted a bumper-sticker notion of reality. Everything has to be put into a simple slogan. Quite frequently these slogans are just premises which still need to be thought out. For example, if I say, "Split Wood, Not Atoms," it's very possible that I won't think out what that actually means. We might very well forget that by splitting too much wood we will help deforest the planet and contribute to the greenhouse effect. This is no justification, of course, for splitting atoms, but merely the simplest example of what I mean by not thinking out problems.

Moreover, when people do profess to be discussing ideas, they always try to find some low common denominator on which they agree. I'm all for agreement and conciliation wherever that is possible, but when different basic ideas lead to conflicting conclusions I think these conflicts have to be faced. For example, I'm engaged in a dispute with deep ecology right now. I've tried to follow the logic of deep ecology and social ecology, pointing out where they conflict on very major points. What I encounter most of the time is that I'm being accused of being divisive! If I point out major differences, I'm being accused of trying to divide people around views, of being a sectarian, when in point of fact all I am trying to do is to show that there are certain basic conflicts that have to be resolved.

In addition to the rationality that we use in everyday life, such as is used to build bridges, we have to develop a broader rationality. I like to call it an ecological, an organic rationality or a dialectical one. Instead of accepting quick and snappy bumper-sticker slogans for ideas, ideas should be ways of grasping the unfolding of things, of grasping their development. For example, we can't think of a human being just in terms of the statistics that describe his or her measurements ■ intelligence quotient, pulse rate, etc. We don't truly understand that person until we understand his or her biography, his or her entire history, all the factors that enter into his or her development from infancy through adolescence, and finally adulthood. That person consists of that entire history. We need to think out the logic of a development, and understand that everything is its own history just as any person is his or her own biography. It is an evolutionary approach.

There is also a tendency to overlook content for style. We overlook the importance of moral outrage, of anger, of strong feelings in presenting views. Everyone wants to talk in a low-keyed way, and seek out commonalities everywhere. There's a place for moral outrage when very ugly things are being said. For example, when David Foreman of Earth First! declares that we should let Ethiopian children starve and let nature take its course, people repeatedly tell me that I should get to know what a great guy Foreman is. I have no doubt that personally he may be very lovable. In fact, as an old hiker and camper, long before many people in Earth First! were born, and one who's loved the wilderness all his life, I feel a very great empathy for the people in Earth First! I wrote a 23-page reply to Foreman's remarks, but I was simply censored out of existence. I've never been able to publish a single response to the columns and columns of criticisms of often very personal and vitriolic attacks against me in Earth First!, but I was bitterly angry by their statement that Ethiopian children should be permitted to starve, that the famines in Africa today seem to be the result presumably of natural laws, whereas in point of fact they know that they stem from social causes, like agribusiness, civil wars, and colonialism. They kept on looking at my demeanor, at the way in which I expressed my outrage, at my anger, instead of looking at the content of my criticism.

I'm deeply concerned that we're ignoring differences that should be resolved, and that sometimes involves confrontations. I'm not seeking conflict for its own sake, but I don't believe that we should mute them in the name of a totally false harmony, when in point of fact there are major differences. If we keep trying to mute differences, to deal with challenging ideas in a completely conciliatory way, to complain about differences and deep diversities of ideas, without the give-and-take dialogue and evolution of ideas through contesting views, then I have very little hope that people will enter into the next 20 years in anything more than a rather intellectually numbed manner. We may turn our society into a huge aggregation of encounter groups, but the reality of the conflicts will not disappear and they will grow until they undermine the planet and all life on it. That's why I believe we must face our differences honestly, think them out, and find solutions to the terrible problems that confront us.