My supervisor had asked me the other day what I thought sustainability was. She had had a conversation with Dr. Luis Fernandez, Director of the Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities program at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Fernandez has a PhD in Social Justice and his interests include protest policing, social movements, globalization, and issues in the social control of the late modernity. They were discussing the precarious situation in Anaheim, CA over the police shooting of an unarmed man there, and how Anaheim is on the verge of a riot.
She asked me how I thought sustainability fits in during a situation like that. I started out by saying that when I was in the Sustainability program, every time our core class met, we asked the question, “What does sustainability really mean? How can we use the word without it being co-opted and used for so much ‘greenwashing’?”
This is what I shared with her . . .
We [my class] determined that sustainability reached beyond the environmental “green” movement – though that did remain a big part of it.
Sustainability touches on balance and harmony not only with the planet, but with our communities and ourselves. We studied civilizations and their breakdowns, the multiple causes of communal and societal upheavals (one student’s thesis was on cruelty or the breakdown of kindness, power, and Hitler), happiness, the use of power and control over people, how architecture and art affect human (and plant and animal) well-being, relationships (vast! Not only human to human relationships, but how we relate to plants and animals, to our surroundings, to our computers . . .), different cultures and worldviews, economics, religion . . . it was all-encompassing.
Sandra Lubarsky’s thesis was about the need for Beauty (with a capital B) in sustainability. Where does Beauty fit in? (So many groups that are trying to be environmental or “sustainable” forget the importance of Beauty. A simple example, people will want to drive hybrid cars when they look as good as a Mustang). Plato’s definition of Beauty is essentially that which makes us want to live.
My thesis was regarding creativity and the need to communicate (to create and share beauty) – and essentially how that boils down to relationship – how we relate to the world, how the world relates to us. To live in balance requires creativity!
Luis Fernandez’s study of riots would certainly fit in to sustainability. What sustains a community? What factors lead up to a riot? How does a community recover? How does a community find harmony with change? (And I am adding this now . . . How does a community find harmony with/after violence? When do people have enough?)
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To sustain – to last. I think of notes that sustain in music, they are haunting, powerful, they last in our memories. (Jeff Buckley was an expert at sustaining notes . . . oh heck, I’ll share a video . . . Jeff’s version of Nina Simone’s Lilac Wine)
I wrote a short paper on Beauty – Dr, Lubarsky (and I) have found that many intellectuals want to dismiss the importance of Beauty. I’ve shared it before, and I am sharing it again. It’s about Beauty, and Beauty is about relationships. Sustainability is about relationships.
Plato said the only real thing in the universe is Beauty. The far-eastern Vedics said the only real thing in the Universe is Brahma, and that all else is Maya, or illusion. They are talking about the bliss of realizing we are One with everything, of experiencing such completeness that we lose our Selves. It is as if the body becomes a string that sets to humming as it resonates with the vibration of life. Beauty is relational. The relationship is based on harmony that brings about a loss of ego – moments of just “be”-ing are “be”-autiful. The experience of beauty extends beyond the self and out into the world, as well as arising from the cosmos to the self (and the rest of the world).
What are your feelings about sustainability? I would love to hear from you!