Western Philosophy

Drowning sorrows

About a year ago I wrote a piece about the need for Kiwis to move on from the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude when it comes to water safety. I’m talking adult responsibility here, and I might even add driving, drinking and sex to the list of things we’d rather not talk about or simply assume this thing called ‘common sense’ will offer some guidance and protection. I’m wondering what all these things have in common and what aspects are unique or perhaps not so easy to make sense of. With four possibly five people drowning in just a single 24hr period it’s more than a personal tragedy it’s a question of relationships that go beyond individuals and notions of responsibility.

In terms of a philosophical shift in ‘where the buck stopped’ the move from God to the individual happened a while back (more commonly referred to as the Age of Enlightenment – although there are always shadows) and we’re still trying to figure out what that actually looks like in practice. We’ve made some reasonable steps in terms of recognising what chronological age might limit and we probably over cooked the gender thing at times. But the idea of connection and taking care of others has mutated into a ‘them and us’ separation with ‘them’ also incurring some form of repellent type shield protecting ‘us’ from any sense of care or even interaction. The emerging apathy becoming more a form of collective sociopathy. This is what concerns me and I don’t think we need another advertising campaign, or philanthropist chucking money at it.

What I do think (for what it’s worth) is if people can reconnect with a sense of community and connection regardless of the amount of length of time that community remains together, then ‘care taking’ might take on a more active and interactive form. A group at the beach, a line of traffic, a park, dance party, festival, these are ‘pop-up’ communities. In a way what probably needs to happen is something similar to what has occurred with technology where relationship have adapted and changed. Part of the hang up is about the meaning of ‘individual’ and ‘response-ability’. The idea of caring about others needs a 21st Century reboot, a decent ‘control-alt-delete’ jolt from Western metaphysical defaults – especially the Cartesian split.

Keeping others and ourselves safe from harm is an ethic, one that is sometimes a matter a life and death. Let’s talk about it and say hi to each other as a first step. Be safe out there – I care.

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Home Grown

Turning over the garden, turning over thoughts and memories of growing up in a hunter growing family I noticed the accumulation and intersections of meanings unfold. There was also the realisation that there is a purpose for crocs, they are in the garden – socks optional. So while I have been reading and immersing myself in some rich philosophical texts I still feel a need to ground my thinking in familiar activities and metaphors. However it isn’t the growing ideas I want to go with, it is the process of gardening itself, of cultivating, deciding how to plant seeds and the ways this reveals some of the cultural and historical practices of knowledge.

My Dad grew up in the 50’s, hunting and fishing were part of the Man as provider story emerged out of other philosophical discourses about nature (woman) needing to be tamed, dominated, conquered, brought under Mans control. Gardening was a big part of my childhood as was fishing and a bit of hunting and I feel enriched by these experiences. Dad’s garden and style of gardening reflected the values and self sufficiency of an age where industrial production of food was still in it’s infancy. The post–war generation learnt how to take care of themselves, it wasn’t a fashion statement it was born out of a genuine experience of hardship. But my goodness as a kid in the 70’s, it was like a religion with Eion Scarrow being our own green saviour. Yates bibles filled the shelves and anything that got in the way of producing perfect tomatoes, silverbeet, etc was annihilated. Chemical warfare was absolutely legit practice, he was Mr “Spray and walk away”. If things weren’t growing you just put more fertiliser on – more, more, more. Bugs didn’t stand a chance, neither did weeds, neither did birds – nature had no business in nature. Being alongside it and respecting the natural world wasn’t the kind of relationship being modelled at the time (things did change). But we ate well (let’s just side step the chemical bit) – no shortage of greens. And I learned about generosity and sharing. Because there really are only so many grapefruit and tomatoes you can eat juice, freeze, pulp. Looking after your neighbours was part of it and a good way to practice your fishy story telling (probably where I learned the art of hyperbole). People swapped seeds, shared tips and tools and connected over their successes and failures, learning from each other.

Moving through the 80’s – 90’s saw a huge shift economically and as such culturally for the ways we related to food production and what we ‘consumed’ in terms of associating gardening with lifestyle. For me this is where I feel a bit of nostalgic loss for ye old school ‘rip shit and bust’, ‘number 8 wire’, ‘bit of 4 by 2’. DIY grow your own has been reabsorbed as a commodity, a brand. Garden stores are almost like jewellery stores – just going into certain ones gives people a sense of status. Cooking shows dominate our screens, often with ‘fresh home grown’ produce as part of the tag line and ‘looking good’ while doing these activities ensures there are also stylish gumboots to wear. Now it’s not just ‘putting in a garden’ it’s ‘what kind of garden’ with an undertone of assessment of the gardeners ethics or spiritual alignment with the earth – or brand loyalty.

I’m not sure what kind of gardener I am, but I do know the joy and pleasure of eating something you have grown. I don’t mind sharing with the odd snail or white butterfly. I’m unlikely to buy fancy footwear for the garden, isn’t that what old running shoes are for? Dad doesn’t garden so much these days, however the silverbeet self-seeded and is growing wild outside the confines of the neat and tidy cultivated earth, in the hard clay – and it is thriving. Go Nature.

Crossing the Tasman in a Kayak – why not making it means more

Scott Donaldson – you can read all about his epic solo kayak trip from Australia to NZ in a number of places. He won’t go down in the history books as the guy who made it because he didn’t quite make land. He nearly got home…he could probably smell the pies, but he was tantilisingly close when nature put on the biggest ‘fend’ in the form of an easterly and a rather persistent one, more than halting his progress but sending him west back toward Australia, immigration would not be happy over there after thinking they’d finally found a way to dispose of their excess kiwi (minus the fruit flies?).

Three months alone in a kayak and to not walk ashore but be unceremoniously plucked from the sea by helicopter might appear to be the epitome of failure but I felt strangely elated. When I think of traditional notions of conquering nature there is a tendency to default to Sir Edmund Hillary who  so eloquently put it after summiting Everest “knocked the bastard off”. As flippant as it sounds really did capture the philosophical ideals of the time around dominating, taming and controlling nature. The ‘enlightenment’ period brought about Cartesian thinking and dualistic separation of the Body and Mind. More significantly the separation of Nature (woman) and Culture (man).

Ok so most people won’t really care to think deeply and fair enough. But if you feel  a bit of dose of deconstruction then dive on in – the water isn’t too rough. Why unpack this further? What’s to be gained? For me, it makes for an interesting re-reading or a way to look at meanings that can be made if we look at what ‘failing to overcome nature’ might hold for a dialogue about being with nature. One of these could be accepting limits, not as some sense of weakness or personal deficit. Nature ‘winning’ might have been viewed in the past as the feminine/female side defeating man, something akin to a fate worse than death with the shame and humiliation that comes with being ’emasculated’. The private/public dualism sits alongside the nature/culture again with significant gendered implications for meaning. Family is the realm of private and the support required for Mr Donaldson to complete his journey was 5years in the planning and training as well as the 3 months at sea. In the past the significant contribution wives, mothers and children had in supporting conquests would have never been considered (that probably goes for all aspects of philosophical, scientific and literary greats – well those who are recognised). Mr Donaldson has his own words about the significance of his family in his blog and while he might not appreciate the importance of bringing them into consideration it is a shift away from separation and silencing of the support family play. He has his own response to questions about the ‘cost’ of his expedition and I like his account of meaningful family time. To be absent for 3 months at sea might seem a long time but there are many other ways parents can be ‘absent’ from their families. His own critique gives a valuable alternative to the well worn path of macho masochism in the mountains.

I’m not sure how Scott Donaldson will be remembered in years to come but I don’t think we need to worry about any mass migrations via kayak any time soon. Lets hope no-one tries a double crossing…not for any safety reasons but because I couldn’t stand a revival of Six Months In a Leaky Boat.