Wednesday and Thursday of this past week, the Sidore lecture series took place in Huddleston. The theme of this year’s series was “Sustainability Unbound”, the goal being to free the concept of sustainability from its mainstream and often narrow-minded definition. The series featured five speakers, Melissa Lane, Lewis Hyde, Jeff Todd Titon, Enrique Leff, and Rafique Keshavjee, who enlightened us on a variety of topics. Unfortunately I was only able to attend three of the lectures, but I feel that my view of sustainability has been expanded nonetheless. I could go on forever about the lectures I did get to see, but I for the sake of space and the attention span of my readers, I will only highlight a few points from each.
The first lecture I attended was “Cultural Commons and the Collective Being,” presented by Lewis Hyde, professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College. His lecture drew on the idea of “the commons”, which refers to something that everyone can access and use. While Professor Hyde’s work originally focused on relating this concept to internet usage, in his lecture he expanded “the commons” to include common access to ideas, for example in music or science. From his lecture there were two points that stuck with me. The first was Hyde’s discussion of the founding fathers and how they felt about copyright laws. In their attempt to institute democratic self-governance, they felt that it was a necessity that barriers to the circulation of knowledge be low, for example in news sources. This would create a general level of awareness among the population, allowing for intelligent discussion and decision-making, a “creative community”. This seems to be an issue today; the access to and circulation of truthful information in our society is stinted not only by copyright laws but also due to the corporatization of the media. This creates quite a hurdle in achieving social change when the general population is receiving discordant, incomplete, or politically-motivated information. The second significant point was in Hyde’s discussion of ownership. He said that, in a society such as our own when everything is owned, leaving something un-owned is dangerous. An idea connotative of Aristotle’s “Politics”, if it is assumed that everyone is attending to it, no one attends to it. This concept can be applied to natural resources in the U.S. No one technically owns them, so no one and everyone are simultaneously responsible for the upkeep of the environment.
The second lecture I was able to attend was presented by Jeff Titon, and focused on ethnomusicology. The majority of this lecture focused on the journals of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote about the sound of nature as vibrations that caused listeners to vibrate in turn and care for nature. He believed that every organism participated in the “soundscape” and had an acoustic niche. Relating this to sustainability, it was interesting to consider how the soundscape, which Thoreau thought of as eternal, has probably changed considerably as species have become endangered or extinct. A thought-provoking comment from an audience member was that, in Thoreau’s writing he thought of the train, which was an expanding industry at the time, as a “devilish Iron Horse”, while today it has become a sign of sustainability, since it decreases car usage.
The last lecture I attended was that of Enrique Leff, which focused on Political Ecology and environmental philosophy. Listening to Leff’s lecture was refreshing; he was clear that it is his belief that the current economic values are one of the many obstacles for achieving sustainability, coupled with the fear that it will shake or derail the established institution. Our natural resources are quantified and given economic values; they are thought of as raw materials and humans as a labor force. According to Leff, sustainability is rejected by our society because it binds the economy. In order for our modern economic rationality to become sustainable, it must be deconstructed or completely reconfigured. An ecological collapse is imminent if Business-As-Usual continues. We must work with nature rather than against it. A topic I found particularly interesting was Leff’s discussion of indigenous populations whose management of ecological processes are guided by cultural practices and values; instead of exploiting the ecosystem, they reside in it.
The Sidore series definitely achieved its goal this year. It is necessary to expand sustainability beyond the science behind it; it must be “de-disciplinized”, both to be able to progress and to convey the true gravity of the term. The incorporation of the Humanities is essential for this to occur. Even from the few lectures I attended, the speakers brought many new innovative ideas to our discussion of sustainability, and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to listen to them.Written by Megan.