Setting Our Houses Straight

ECONOMY: Middle English yconomye, management of a household, from Latin oeconomia, from Greek oikonomia-, from oikonomos, manager of a household : oikos, house + nemein, to allot, manage.

ECOLOGY: German Ökologie : Greek oikos, house + German -logie, study (from Greek -logia-, -logy).

Both words much in the news these days come from the Greek root OIKOS for house. Ecology: to study the house. Economy: to manage the house.

We’ve so far mis-managed and mis-understood the workings of our one and only house, the oikos that is our Commons, the basic stock of necessary supplies from which we draw our living.

We’ve failed to bring humankind in any active way into the economy of the ecology. Our economies have been short-sighted, linear, and for the relative few with no consideration of their impact on the other house within which, rich and poor, now and centuries hence, we must all live. We have imperiled our ecology in a thousand ways by a mistaken dualism that sees economy as something separate, other, and independent. It is not.

I encourage you to read how Kentuckian Wendell Berry appraises the relative values of forest, soil and water of the OIKOS against coal extraction. We are selling our birthright for a pot of soup.

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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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