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Letter from the Editor

Naming Things Right 

John Terry, Ph.D.


Before the arrival of European settlers on the shores of what is now New England and the Canadian Maritimes, Indigenous people lived and thrived for some twelve thousand years. Their lifestyle, a mix of hunter/gathering and agriculture, included movement within the region tuned to seasonal food rhythms and or seeking new planting sites as old ones became nutrient depleted. Their story is one of living sustainably. Hold this thought, as we will come back to it shortly.


First, ancient and contemporary wisdom about truth and deception may be helpful today. Confucius (C, 551-479) advised those who would govern to name things “as they are “ (tell the truth) if they wished to manage wisely. A little later, Socrates (c.470 - 399.), in his "Allegory of the Cave," warned against perceiving reality as presented by sophists, those who gain and retain power and wealth through deception.  


Contemporary natural and social science, applying this doctrine in a more pragmatic and methodological form, states that defining the problem correctly is the surest path to its solution. Similarly, contemporary medicine and psychology that are committed to primary prevention seek to cure the principal cause over treating symptoms.


But truth now is difficult to uncover. Behavioral psychology, marketing "science," and the Internet have manufactured manipulative tools for influencing our values and behaviors more powerful and deployable than any Confucius or Socrates could have imagined. The creation of stories or myths[1] that intentionally shape how we view and behave within the larger society form our worldview.


Why does this matter?


It matters because treating symptoms is not curative and may even lead to worsening the symptoms, and it is not good practice. 


It matters because our current existential crisis daily presents us with growing scientific evidence of the shattering effects of climate change and the apocalyptic consequences of the decline in biodiversity – most acutely loss of natural pollinators. The symptoms, climate change and biodiversity loss, are misrepresented as the problem or cause. This is not true.


The problem is we practice a world view that exploits beyond the natural system's resilience.


"The Economy" has become our purpose for living. "Consumerism', the principal feeder of "the Economy," exalts ownership as evidence of individual success. The GNP measures "the Economy's health," and equates it to the measure of our progress as people and a nation. This view commodifies the natural world and rationalizes its exploitation. Land and natural resources can be owned privately and exploited for private profit. Essentially this view puts humanity outside of and dominant over the natural world.


In simpler form, this worldview arrived with the colonists. It was antithetical to the Indigenous inhabitant's view that land and natural resources are communal life sources for all beings and, therefore, sacred. Nature was a place to live in, not dominate. 

It is not a romanticization of Indigenous people to acknowledge they had something right about how to view the world and how their view might provide insight into the source of our current conundrum.  In fact, not to is arrogance. For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples inhabited the GoM watershed and stewarded its natural abundance and preserved its sources of clean air and pure water. In fewer than 400 hundred years, a blink of our evolutionary time, the settlers' view dominated and prevailed, and the symptoms are harbingers of an unthinkable consequence – the 6th extinction


Understanding the prevailing and conflicting views, past and present, of reality matters. Like most myths, our current "the Economy" myth attempts to subvert inconvenient truths by deception. Climate change and its origins are one of these inconvenient truths. Concerns from the scientific community began over fifty years ago, but the world, in denial and deceived into complacency that technology will “fix it”, has only recently taken up the call to action.  Despite strenuous opposition and sophistry to mute them, the voice of scientists has begun to amplify, especially in our youth. Their influence is awakening growing numbers to the problem. Scientists are providing irrefutable evidence of climate change and importantly, are also providing abundant knowledge to help guide us to solutions here and now, not relying on fantastical and problematic ideas (myths) like colonizing Mars to escape our problems.


The Mars myth is a disturbing expansion of “Manifest Destiny”.  It tells us to waste Earth because we can replace it with Mars. The movie "Don't Look Up!"[2] is a dark comic parody of this view. Taking our worldview to Mars will have results consistent to the  colonists taking their version from Europe to New England. We could become the first invasive interplanetary species.


We need to change our narrative and be architects of our Destiny.  We need to name our worldview as the problem, shed our deleterious norms and behaviors for healthy ones, and steward wisely within the natural system(s). This remedy does require a bit of what my friends in drug rehab call "Hard Love." Certainly, it is a dose of nasty medicine needed to bring us better health and a longer life. We can coevolve within Nature. We can measure our progress by the abundance of clean air, pure water, rich biodiversity, and the added mental health benefit of no more Nature deficit disorder anxiety[3] - not by GNP. Not a utopia, just a safer and healthier place to live.


Required are short and long-term action goals intended to eliminate or mitigate the causes and effects of climate change and other impacts of human “progress”. Our marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, meadows, and forests need repairing, restoring, and renewing as we rebuild the resiliency of our natural systems. Douglas Tallamy's Home Grown National Park Movement is an excellent example of one such way. It is a brilliant beginning move because anyone with a backyard or access to a garden lot can participate in this national movement. (For more, I recommend Tallamy's book Nature's Best Hope [4]). Long and short-term, we must educate current and future stewards to live within the new worldview; this is good news because we evolve with it, not disappear.


Those who argue this view is unrealistic, impractical, and irrational!  Imagine you are in your car, driving hell-bent to where? Well, you're not sure where. You are passing roads signs sequentially shouting out, "Danger, Slow Down!"," Danger! Turn back!" "Danger! Bridge Out Ahead!" You ignore them, believing they are "false signs" or someone, maybe the Army Corp of Engineers, will build the bridge before you get there. So, you speed along, oblivious to the reality that no one can build the bridge! Sadly, on this road there is no other side on which to anchor a bridge. Is asking you to change direction, difficult as that may seem, naive, impractical, or irrational? In this new direction, there is another side to the abyss, and we can anchor the bridge to it.  This is good news!


Time to change destinies. “Look up!” and “Buckle up!” Take the next off-ramp called “Destiny Staging!” This dead ends at a staging area where a bridge is being built. The bridge, named “Pluribus,” will connect us to the Land of “Unum.”  Controlling our destiny is the most optimistic, rational, and spiritually uplifting approach.

Note: Our spring issue will introduce you to some builders, young and old, so “Look up” and “Stay tuned!” And join us.





[1] A  worldview  that determines our values and how behave within our larger society and is held by most living within that society. A myth supports the world view with made up explanations as to why it is true.

[2]  After wasting Earth, colonization of Mars will only migrate the problem to Mars with similar results to the colonization of New England. (Note: Those who wish to colonize Mars may, in fact, have other motivations beyond the salvation of humankind. A point  well made by the movie "Don't Look Up!")   [3] Louv Richard, N, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, NC, 2011 

[4] Tallamy, Douglas, Natures Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation  That Starts in Your Yard: Timber Press, Portland OR, 2019


John P. Terry, Ph.D.

John founded the Gulf of Maine Institute in 1999. John was Editor-in-Chief, CYD (Community Youth Development) Journal from Aug. 1994 to Nov. 2002. John has broad teaching and administrative experience at the university level including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1969-1984, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, 1985-1992, and Union College, Schenectady, NY, 1964-1969. John received national recognition in 2006 when selected as Civic Ventures,’ Lead with Experience Program 2006 Purpose Prize Fellows. He is also a 2008 recipient of the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment Visionary Award

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