June 19, 2024 | By:

Extrapolating Future Probabilities

Extrapolating future probabilities—a highfalutin phrase for taking stock of what’s to come based on an honest assessment of what’s happening now as the result of what’s already happened. This is most easily accomplished on a full belly, while comfortably protected from the elements, yet with some awareness of what’s going on in the world at large, and caring, having a sense of compassion, being kind. The trick is making the honest assessment. This requires a level of non-linear consciousness where one perceives the whole before getting reductionist about it.  Some call it holistic thinking. For the last eight and a half decades I’ve been privileged to go skinny-dipping in the flow of Nature almost on a daily basis. I think of it as the practice of bioregionalism.

For many years, I’ve carried a recorder and microphones in my kit. In 1983, I recorded Ed Abbey saying, “I think the human race has become a plague upon this Earth. There are far too many of us making too many demands on one defenseless little planet. Human beings have as much right to be here as any other animal, but we have abused that right by allowing our numbers to grow so great and our appetites to become so gross that we are plundering the Earth and destroying most other forms of life, threatening our own survival by greed and stupidity and this insane mania for quantitative growth, for perpetual expansion, the desire for domination over Nature and our fellow humans.” Ed also coined the appropriate apothegm, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

In 1984, I recorded my friend Dave Foreman:

Dave Foreman © Jack Loeffler

Dave Foreman © Jack Loeffler

“I sometimes tell people that I think the Earth evolved some of us—if you look at the human race not as the consciousness of the Earth, but as the cancer of the Earth—that we’re a disease ecologically, and that maybe Nature has evolved some of us as anti-bodies. That’s the only way I can explain why some of us love wilderness and other people have no conception of it at all. And so, our role in the future, I think, is to try to preserve as many areas of natural diversity as possible. To make sure that there are some wolves and grizzlies, ponderosa pines and spotted owls, snail darters and what have you, so that when this human insanity runs its course, there is life to come back and re-populate the world. And also develop the ethics and the potential for a human society that can live in harmony with the rest of the planet after this industrial madness burns itself out. There are really two things I’m trying to do in the long term. One is to lay the groundwork for a human society in the future that is ecologically based, and the other is to preserve as much natural diversity now as we can.”

In 1985, I recorded another old friend, Gary Snyder:

Gary Snyder, 1989 © Jack Loeffler

Gary Snyder, 1989 © Jack Loeffler

“’Bioregion’, the term itself, would refer to a region that is defined in some way by its plant and animal characteristics, its life zone characteristics that flow from soil and climate—the territory of Douglas fir, or the region of coastal redwoods; short grass prairie, medium grass prairie, and tall grass prairie; high desert and low desert. These could be, or verge on, bioregional definitions. When you get more specific, you might say Northern Plains short grass prairie, upper Missouri watershed, or some specific watershed of the upper Missouri. The criteria are flexible, but even though the boundaries and the delineations can vary according to your criteria, there is roughly something we all agree on. Just like we agree what a given language is, even though languages are fluid in their dialects. So bioregionalism is a kind of creative branch of the environmental movement that strives to re-achieve indigeneity, re-achieve aboriginality, by learning about the place and what really goes on there.

Bioregionalism goes beyond simple geography or biology by its cultural concern, its human concern. It is to know not only the plants and animals of a place but also the cultural information of how people live there—the ones who know how to do it. Knowing the deeper mythic, spiritual, archetypal implications of a fir, or a coyote or a blue jay, might be to know from both inside and outside what the total implications of a place are. So it becomes a study not only of place, but a study of psyche in place. That’s what makes it so interesting. In a way, it seems to me, that it’s truly the first concrete step since Kropotkin in stating how we decentralize ourselves after the 20th century.”

These three great thinkers and practitioners were espousing their perspectives when the human population had yet to reach five billion. Now, four decades later, the human population has climbed to over eight billion. Ed and Dave are gone now. Gary is still alive at age 94, still thinking, still writing.

Ed Abbey and Jack Loeffler

Ed Abbey and Jack Loeffler © Katherine Loeffler

If one melds the messages of these three men, one has the basic criteria for perceiving from within an expanded sphere of reference, no longer limiting one’s self to a frame of reference. It seems to me that bioregionalism is the practice of rewilding consciousness, thus preparing one to extrapolate future probabilities and acting accordingly.

I am honored to have known Ed, Dave, and Gary as friends with whom I have shared many a campsite. Dave and Gary had met in person as had Dave and Ed. Ed and Gary never met face to face, but knew of each other, shared respect for each other, and occasionally corresponded back in the day when snail-mail was fast enough, yet provided time for reflection.

As I sit here in Durango writing this essay, others are attending a gathering in the Gila Wilderness celebrating the hundredth anniversary of its founding with profound thanks to Aldo Leopold. Leopold remains the man we hearken back to, who to this day provides mighty insight for those of us who have been involved in the so-called environmental movement. Back in 2009, I was honored to be invited to produce a one-hour radio documentary about Aldo Leopold in the Southwest. He’d arrived in 1909 as a young forester and took great inspiration from what he witnessed as he rode on horseback through a landscape whose main characteristic remains aridity. I read and re-read his great book, A Sand County Almanac that was published shortly after he died while fighting a grass fire in 1948.

Perhaps the greatest, or at least most provocative essay in his book is titled A Land Ethic. That has served as a model for consideration for three-quarters of a century. Another essay titled Thinking Like a Mountain inspired Ed Abbey to speak of what a magnificent idea must be spawned by a mountain that has time to ruminate for millennia. What I gleaned from that essay is that we don’t have that kind of time to think about the fate of our natural world. Thus my own idea was to think like a watershed, which is in constant motion, ever a model of interaction between the components that characterize a given watershed. To me, thinking like a watershed is the very essence of bioregionalism. Thus, in 2012, my daughter, Celestia Peregrina, and I collaborated on production of both a radio series titled Watersheds As Commons and a book titled Thinking Like a Watershed. Coincidentally, in my final essay in that book, I identified at least some of the factors necessary for extrapolating future probabilities. I began by taking a cue from Donella and Dennis Meadows who identified five major factors in their provocative work, Limits to Growth published in 1972. Here, I cite from our book:

“Let us recall the five exponentially growing issues forwarded by the Limits to Growth project mentioned in the introduction:

Food production
Consumption of non-renewable resources

And we add a few more issues of growing probability:

World war
Economic collapse
Climate instability and global warming

Obviously we are in the midst of a complex system of factors of our own creation that pose increasing peril to the entire biotic community including our own species. In this world, the territorial imperative is enacted within a mosaic of nationalistic phenomena such as we see today, each nation complete with its own legislated laws and system of standards, all vying for position within the prevailing collective economic house of cards. It certainly doesn’t take a particularly gifted mind to extrapolate the inevitability of disaster. Rather, it takes some strength of character to look directly into the eye of darkening collective human consciousness for any spark of insight, any glimmer of understanding as to how we attempt to wend our way back from the edge of the abyss.”

The above was written twelve years ago when Barack Obama was president and much of American culture floated on modest waves of hope. Today, we are bifurcated nearly as badly as we were in 1861 when we engaged in a dreadful civil war sparked by conflicting ideologies over human rights including the practice of enslaving fellow humans whose skin tone was not paled by millennia of life in the British Isles, or other areas of northern Europe. We are presently ‘alienated’ within a mosaic of weirdly conflicting cultural absolutes in a world wildly over-populated by our own species. Just think—it took fifty thousand years for our species—Homo sapiens—to achieve a population of one billion around 1800 C.E. In the ensuing 225 years, our population has increased by 800%, ever exacerbating the ten inter-related factors listed above.

As a partial answer, I indeed try to think like a watershed in an attempt to ‘decentralize after the 20th century.’  I forward the concept of decentralized governance by hearkening back to the grass roots where we look at the very watershed where we live and invigorate grass roots governance by electing just plain conscious folks who look to the watershed itself as sitting metaphorically at the head of the table of self-governance. I regard the practice of bioregionalism as the guide to successful self-governance, but with a mind to the nature and needs of neighboring watersheds, and how to successfully interact. I assiduously counteract legislation at every level that runs counter to the flow of Nature’s principles. This occasionally calls for civil disobedience, but without causing physical harm to any fellow human—or, it is hoped, any other living creature. (Coincidentally, Mahatma Gandhi and Aldo Leopold both died in 1948 leaving humanity a lesser species.)

In large measure, we’ve gradually been seduced by techno-philia. I am not exempt, although I try to be moderate. My cell phone is an old fold-over. I write and edit on a Macintosh computer. For many years, I have recorded sound on a fine digital recorder with excellent microphones, and I edit on a different Macintosh using a high-grade sound editing system to produce radio programs for public radio and sound collages for museums. Before digital took over, I recorded on an analog tape recorder and spliced tape for my productions. Thus have I earned a living to finance my environmentalism which has remained the prevailing leitmotif of my existence since witnessing the detonation of atomic bombs at close range in 1957—nearly seventy years ago.

I’ve discovered the necessity for deep optimism in spite of evidence to suggest otherwise. I think ‘holistically’ to the best of my ability. I thus suggest a fine book by Fritjof Capra titled A Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision. It’s also an excellent primer in ecology and related fields.

I preach to the very choir of whom I am a member being a stickler for good intonation, having long ago been a performing musician. I don’t have perfect pitch, but I try to make as perfect a pitch as I can toward my interpretation of the greatest good which is simply to do everything my imagination can muster toward the restoration of balance between our species and the natural world that spawned and sustains us. This includes de-secularizing and re-sacralyzing homeland, developing a spiritual relationship with our planet Earth that supersedes any transcendental religion or economic imperative that is contemptuous of Nature.

Extrapolating future probabilities must be accompanied by creating a system of attitudes commensurate with restoration of habitat. What can we personally and collectively do to restore balance and health to this wondrous planet (with a lot of help from the Sun) that spawned life as we know it? It will take time, human generations of time, and enormous effort. But I think our species is essentially good-hearted (“except for generals and dictators” as Ed Abbey pointed out). I share Ed’s sense of egalitarianism which included everything natural—plants, animals, rocks, air, water—even humans, but earlier in our tenure. I look to Indigenous peoples whose traditions seem far wiser than the system of cultural coordinates in which we now abide. Indeed, they are seedpods of human survival potential if we would but let them practice their traditions that have sustained them for millennia.

So I say, “Think like a watershed as you extrapolate future probabilities. Go skinny-dipping in the flow of Nature every day. Think compassion and kindness, and remember that we are animals as are the deer, bear, squirrels—and we are kindred to the plants as well. We are all part of a whole.”

Spread Rewilding Around the Globe!
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