On Reaching Joe Flounder

Overfishing, water chemistry changes, thermal fluctuations, invasive species…causes for fish population changes are complex. Reducing fishing pressures is one way to conserve what stock remains until conditions improve.

Our son-in-law is a prosperous, young, thinking Republican. He laments the mentality of his hunting and fishing buddies (Joe Flounder in our discussion) who blames current restrictions on flounder fishing on the whims of environmentalists. They are indignant over any rules that restrict their total freedom to keep everything they catch on their three-day weekend fishing trip.

He challenged me to confront with my writing such contrarians directly and make them see the light. If only it was that easy. I penned a lengthy reply to his email this morning, and have included it here, since it speaks to the current work on the book and the voice and values it hopes to share with readers. Heck, you might be one of them!

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To be sure, we as a nation and planet are on the precipice of a crisis that is complex and centuries in the making. In its coarsest features seen through my 50-year thirty-thousand foot view of things, it is a divide of values that drives the two camps to very different conclusions about who deserves what and why.

Again, in my view, we suffer the consequences of broken relationships with nature, place and community (human and other.) Perhaps the most stark distinction is that one side sees humankind’s ecology and economy as one web of relationships, the other as two distinct and separate circles on a Venn diagram, if you will.

The Enlightenment, scientific revolution, then the industrial revolution moved the movers and shakers to understand that man was separate from nature, holding dominion over it (according to one mis-reading of Genesis) and turning it to our purposes alone. Thus the ECONOMY became an engine to generate profit and stuff, with Earth’s matter, space and living substance (ECOLOGY) the fodder for the machine. The growth model of economics has been very good for many stockholders, CEOs and politicians, and as we have known now for a half-century, increasingly bad for the health of the planet that sustains us.

So with that broad sweep of understanding, my presuppositions about Joe Flounder’s world view (of which he is not the least be aware or interested) is that there is a wide, deep and well-entrenched gulf to cross to reach Joe and his pals who think ME-HERE-NOW while those on the other side of the divide prioritize THEM-THERE-THEN. Why are we here? What is our purpose?

Is a well-lived life one that serves the planet and the common good or one that serves self in the here and now? (Almost every major religion and ethical systems comes down on the side opposite the SELFISH side.) Which story gets us where we all want to be–living in a world that works, where prosperity is measured in more than dollars, where people show respect for all others and honor and steward the natural systems–the ecology–of a “living” planet for authentic and universal well-being?

So I do not write about climate change as such, though of course I mention it in some places. Book 3, like the others, is not about facts so much as it is about healing broken relationships. Joe F will not change his mind based on new facts. But if he can be made to feel and give voice to what is missing and what is essential in his life, he might actually find that he can be outdoors without a stick in his hand after all.

The golf club, fishing pole and shotgun are all “real guy” authenticators, because anybody outdoors just taking it in is surely a fag or intellectual (god forbid!) But what most guys really want, I think, is to be OUT THERE because there is a goodness about being in the world not made by hands, as john Muir called wilderness. They acknowledge that, but our distorted understanding of manliness makes them uncomfortable if they don’t carry the authenticating stick (and besides, this reinforced stereotype is really good for the GDP.)

So Book 3 (One Place Understood: Field Notes from a Personal Ecology) consists of personal writing (essays, natural history, nature advocacy, lucid daydreams and reflections) that arise from my attempt to better know who I am by where I am. And this means a sharpening and intentional use of the senses. It means living with perpetual curiosity about the ordinary in our living spaces–the soil, air, water, human history and the passing of time through place.) It means seeing ourselves as part, not the whole, of a functioning world we did not make but are quickly damaging beyond repair for human generations.

A personal ecology (my terminology as I define it in the book) in its grandest sweep is a nurturing by which every future person learns to see themselves fully within the circle of nature and the web of the Whole Ecology of Earth. One place understood helps us know all places better, Eudora Welty said. And when we have this kind of wisdom and vision, priorities realign within the human economy so that we make right choices about our consumption and behaviors in light of its impact on the common good, and especially the good of forests and coral reefs and oceans and rivers and…

There is a phrase among writers that you should “show not tell.” So again for the third and last time (if this thing actually gets between covers) I show what my relationships (ecology) mean within my slice of time and space. And perhaps if Joe Flounder’s wife or grand-daughter happen upon the book and are touched in some way by it, they will have the words (or model the changed understandings) to influence our good ol’ boy so he stops tossing beer cans in the bay. Hell, he never even thought about “the commons” before!

A wider audience: that’s a tough nut. While working sporadically to get all the pieces completed and ordered, I’m wading through how to write a book proposal, how to pitch to a publisher, etc. I may end of self-publishing, and that too will require a lot of research since those options have changed so much since book 2 in 2009. I am not bored.

And so it goes. SustainFloyd struggles every year with how to reach Joe Farmer in Floyd–firmly entrenched in the Tea Party mentality and damned if they’ll be seen with those pointy-headed tree huggers.Damned buncha socialists!

We have a new project a few of us talked about last night–a Community Chestnut-planting effort–that hopes to find stories and willing hands across the political-intellectual-values divide. We’ll see how it goes.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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