Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Brief (Re-)Introduction

It has been quite some time (nearly ten years!!) since I last used this medium, but the time seems right for me to take it up once again. In its previous form, this blog served as an opportunity to explore through writing my personal and intellectual interests. Similarly, this time around, I hope to use it in the service of considering some important ideas that are occupying my time these days: namely the theory and practice of living sustainably. For now I'll leave the definition of “sustainable” living open-ended, although my sense is that it broadly involves finding ways for humanity to be able to participate in the long-term course of cosmic existence. For reasons I note below, I will withhold further elaboration on the meaning of this tricky concept for now.

The motives for these new thought process meanderings are both personal and professional. Professionally, I most commonly describe myself as a lawyer and, more recently, as a planner. In the past I have acted as a community organizer, program coordinator, researcher, and policy strategist. In all of these capacities, I see myself as working to promote a sustainable future. I enjoy wearing many hats and finding alignment and overlap between my different interests, skills, and experiences. Currently, I am in the process of identifying how I can maintain and foster the alignment between my work and the promotion of sustainable living. Part of this requires mapping out what the concept of sustainability means to me in a workable and practical sense, which is what I hope to achieve here.

Personally, I have long considered myself an environmentalist and proponent of sustainability, but have only recently been provided the opportunity (through my coursework at the University of Cape Town’s City and Regional Planning Masters Programme) to engage more deeply in the theoretical and intellectual basis for living sustainably. I am also at somewhat of a crossroads--or perhaps it is better described as a pause or transition--where I have made a little space for myself to reflect, re-adjust, and re-prioritise how I live and work according to values and principles that I am able to articulate. I figure now is as good a time as any to explore these in a more formal manner.

Throughout my life, and now as much as ever, I have found myself straddling the polarized position of being both idealistic and practical, moral and pragmatic when it comes to addressing humanity’s relationship with the earth. I often oscillate between sense of complete hopelessness and a buoyant sense of possibility regarding the prospects and pitfalls of our shared future on this planet. While I am convinced that individual decision-making is not enough to address the monumental issues we face, and that those who are committed to sustainability must look beyond personal choice as a means of facilitating change, I also feel both a moral imperative to “walk the talk” and a personal predisposition to lead by example. Indeed, when searching for solutions that promote sustainability, I often look towards my personal actions and patterns and see my own life as a starting point for making these changes.

Accordingly, this series of posts also straddle the line between theory and practice, as well as between personal choices and broader social transitions. My hope is that in making sense of the theoretical alternatives to the status quo thinking about our relationship with nature, I can both make a compelling case for change as well as chart my own course, personally and professionally, towards a more impactful and satisfying state of being.

With this background in mind, my purpose in the following posts will be to (a) investigate the insights and teachings of various sustainability thinkers; (b) apply values and theories regarding sustainability in a practical manner to various aspects of my personal and professional life; and (c) explore some of the broader issues affecting communities with which I am associated, particularly those composing the city of Cape Town, South Africa, where I currently reside. Ultimately, I hope that the confluence of these writings outline a manifesto for sustainability that works on multiple levels and perspectives, and that can be used by myself and others to navigate our modern/postmodern lives.

Along these lines, I plan on alternating between posts that dissect the writing of sustainability theorists whose arguments I find most useful, interesting, or compelling; posts that focus on broader social, political, and economic changes and adjustments towards more sustainable living; and posts that reflect on my own personal choices and quandaries. I fully expect and hope that there will be significant overlap of topics between and even within posts, and will strive to make these connections explicit.

One final word on the word sustainability: I’m actually not a big fan. As has been pointed out in many contexts, sustainability can mean everything and nothing, and completely different things to different people. I use it for lack of a better word (perhaps I’ll find one along the way), but as will probably become clear, I believe I have a very specific set of concepts and values in mind when I think about, and advocate for, sustainability. Because the word itself takes some unpacking, and because I think this can be done more usefully through discussion of a range of articulate thinkers, writers, and philosophers, I will withhold from offering my own definition or criteria, aside from the somewhat broad and vague one I provide above. With any luck, this exercise might help me provide a more concrete or comprehensive definition down the road.

Looking forward to the journey!

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