Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Thirty-Meter Telescope on Hawai'i

What I've been trying to work my way up to, this week, is discussion of the Thirty-Meter Telescope. It's... complicated, to say the least.

One of the first principles of intersectional work, is that anti-oppression should be led / centered by the voices that are directly affected by it. That being said, this is my blog / my space. So I'm going to begin with this great list of links: http://www.aoletmt.com/

And this Storify that Janet Stemwedel (@docfreeride) put together. My own analysis / processing will be below the cut.

Pay attention, in this Storify, to who are the kanaka maoli, the pre-European Hawaiian voices:



My own processing is below the cut, in two parts: 1) Who I am / Why I care, and 2) What I think.

This is a long post.

Who I am / Why I care

Since it was part of yesterday's discussion, I'm going to start with who I am, to get it out there. It colors my perspective. I like to think that trying NOT to repeat my ancestor's mistakes has helped me to grow better... but I am also aware that, because fish discover water last, I probably still have unconscious biases.

There are the parts I've already written about, being at least 1/4 German-American. I may also have mentioned that the side that goes back to the Mayflower, came through farmers in Kentucky. One of my aunts has worked with our genealogy, and found the census that lists an ancestor's slaves. I think... I was surprised, when I first found out, but it has been several years. I am NOT proud of it, but neither do I think it is something I should hide or deny. It is a part of our shared history that must be recognized and acknowledged in order to move forward.

(The drawback to growing up far away from any extended family, is that I don't know my Shoshone cousins well enough to see their perspective in discussions like this. I care, but I am very ignorant.)

I have written about growing up military and Catholic, which also affects where I come from. What I haven't shared, so much, is my faith journey. I mean, I do write about Unitarian Universalism. But I am not currently a member of a UU church. I try not to get into what happened, suffice it to say that I would return to my Houston church if we get back there. We're currently members of a United Church of Christ congregation.

When I declined to get into the 7 less-popular world religions and the 58 million people that practice "other" religions, it wasn't because I couldn't. (When it comes to indigenous religions, though... the two points of general advice are all I feel qualified to give.)

My faith

My relationship with Christianity is... complicated. I was raised within it, and like the Kings I recognize that it carries within it the power to do good in this world. Particularly when faith communities work together. As part of my faith journey, I did considerable reading into early Christianities and the first century CE, as well as Joseph Campbell and other books on (primarily Eurasian) mythology. 

I lean towards a "Jesus of History, Christ of Faith" perspective. I believe there was a Jesus of history, who was a wise teacher, and who was probably crucified. I try to follow many of the teachings of Jesus. I think the resurrection of Christ is probably a myth, consistent with many other dying-and-resurrected agricultural and harvest gods around the Ancient World, from Persia to Rome and probably beyond.

As a community, I am a member of the United Church of Huntsville. As an individual, I identify as neo-Pagan. Specifically, my training and practice has largely been eclectic Wiccan.

Coincidentally, the United Church of Christ is encouraging dialogue on Multiple Religious Belonging this week, using the hashtag #hyphenatereligion. I'm peeking into the dialogue every now and then, was glad to see that colonialism was brought up in the discussion.

Now, Wicca is a new tradition, pretty much invented by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s. The lineage of European paganism was mostly broken by (in most regions) a millennia or more of Christianity. (Anyone who claims an unbroken lineage... well, ask lots of questions. Family traditions are possible, but unbroken family traditions... seem unlikely.)

There are a variety of attempts at reconstructionist Euro-pagan religions, learning and building on what records exist. There are some pre-Christian sacred sites that remain in Europe, that weren't built over with cathedrals.  Stonehenge is perhaps the best known. But how the sites were used, what rites and religious practices were used there... are largely archaeological questions (learned from diggings and objects), not anthropological (no living traditions left to observe/ask) in and for Europe.

What that means for indigenous peoples, is two things:

  1. There is ongoing discussion about cultural appropriation in neoPagan traditions, and the need to find / use / create our own traditions, rather than steal someone else's. Like, well... the sweat lodge is a good example. There are sweat traditions, saunas, all across northern Eurasia, from Scandinavia through Russia and across to Korea. We don't need to steal a Native American ritual in order to practice a sweat.
  2. The example of European paganism is exactly what we do not want to see repeated with indigenous cultures. Faith, religion, culture are intertwined, and a source of strength for the people who practice. Many indigenous faiths are also linked with ethnicity, much like Judaism and Hinduism. Because faith is a source of strength, colonizers and oppressors in history have often attacked and destroyed places of worship. It's as ancient as the destruction of the Jewish Temples, and as modern as the telescopes in Hawai'i.

What I think

As we process these issues of science, religion, globalization, and modernity, I see five aspects. For the most part, I phrased them as "and" rather than "vs," because in order to succeed, we need to harness the best of both. However, that should not imply "both sides are right and compromise is needed."

About compromise:

I have discussed the book, Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems . One of the topics in Panarchy is how many systems are not actually a circular cycle. Many systems have two cycles: a) a flourishing cycle, vibrant with life and diversity, and b) a diminished cycle, that is missing key pieces that allowed it to flourish. There is usually a tipping point that determines whether the cycle continues to flourish, or has kicked over to the diminished cycle. However, unlike Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, this tipping point is usually negative. We often Do Not Know how to get out of the diminished cycle and back into flourishing again.

Panarchy uses the example of a lake, with fish, and determining how many fish can be caught & eaten in order for there to be fish again the next year. Science can determine the quantity of fish that makes a difference between the "flourishing cycle" and the "diminished cycle." However, in political governance, people seeking a "compromise" often try to split the difference.

If we only overfish a little bit, the pond will be fine, right? Wrong.

I have seen assumptions in the Twitter conversation. Westerners assuming that there is no archaeological evidence on the mountain. Westerners assuming that the construction won't hurt anything. We need to check our assumptions, and *listen* to what is said. Integrative negotiation begins with understanding the principles, the values and needs BEHIND the position. When the things that matter to both sides is laid out, THEN the territory to a mutually beneficial solution might be found.

Five aspects of Discussion:

As I think and read through the issues of the Thirty-Meter Telescope in Hawai'i, 
  1. Our shared history of Colonialism, which promotes a Euro-centric worldview. This Euro-centric worldview has always been harmful. In Colonial days, it was supported by the hegemony and power structures in place. In the modern, Cosmopolitan and Globalized world, this Euro-centricism is a severe barrier to cross-cultural communication.
  2. The relationship between Progress and Tradition.
  3. The relationship among Science, Atheism, and Faith / Religion, which has historic roots, but also influences the next section.
  4. The antagonism science has had towards Traditional Knowledge. To me, this seems related to the need to relate science to the Humanities, specifically Poetry and Myth or Literature.
  5. Finally, when it comes to TMT, the first four issues influence the critical questions of Sacred Land, Sacred Space, and appropriate use.

1. Euro-centrism and Cosmopolitan Culture

The Utilitarian discourse system likes to think that its logic is the only thing that matters. That the Euro-centric perspective is "right" and everyone else is wrong.

I've done considerable study on Globalization. In the 1980s, Globalization meant that Western businesses and Western values were being pushed out all over the world, causing conflict with Traditional cultures. In the time since then, the rest of the world has pushed back. Japanese and Korean electronics, Bollywood, Chinese consumer goods have also become available worldwide.

My sister shared with me a textbook about Cosmopolitanism. After reading it, I returned it to her, and now I can't distinguish which of the possibilities on Amazon it was. The book discussed how, in smaller towns and more rural regions, a mono-culture can develop, where there is "one correct way" of doing things.

But in the bigger cities where trade occurs, different cultures come into contact with each other. This contact with other cultures in the cities, the "cosmos", encourages "cosmopolitan" thought, that there are many ways of doing things, and more than one way is, or can be, "correct."

In the United States, Christianity is privileged, and often assumed to be "the way it should be for everyone."

In Europe, Christianity used to be privileged, but there is now more atheism, more sense that personal faith should be personal, not shared with the world. Personally, I have a lot of respect for Secularist and Constructive atheists. The fifth source of Unitarian Universalism is "Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit."

I have considerably less respect for Evangelical Atheists who ridicule all religion as myths and lies. More on that in points 3 and 4. The short of it is that ridicule is disrespectful, rude, anti-social, and destructive to a Cosmopolitan or multi-cultural society.

2. Progress and Tradition

I'm an engineer, a technocrat, and I love Star Wars, Star Trek, Science Fiction in general. I want to see humanity grow beyond just this one planet. I think that would be progress, if done in the right way. But as the "decolonizing the narrative of Mars settlement" discussion shows, we have to be conscious of how we do it.

I'm also a firstborn, and birth order theory suggests that makes me more Traditional than most. But Traditional Conservatism has often limited the roles of girls and women to Kinder, Kuche, Kirche.  For any number of reasons, I cannot accept that. A free society must be free to all adults, not just men, and it must also be respectful of the needs and rights of children.

But just as colonization lies about the value of individuals, so does patriarchy lie about the value of genders. There are traditions of educated women, single women, women in business, women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, throughout history and throughout the world.

In Future Studies, they point out that the Future is multiple, with the traditional and the modern coexisting. 
The thing to remember about technology, though, is that high-tech is not always the best solution. In design, there are often discussion about form and function, and which follows the other. When one wants to transport a satellite to a launchpad, that's the function. Does the form matter? Does it really have to be a car, a high-tech carrier? Or can it be a bullock cart? The answer is, the bullock cart is functional, and it suffices, then yes..

And, with time, with effort, a satellite can lead to bigger things.

So we need to be careful, with Tradition. We need to be careful, to be aware of our status as outsiders vs. insiders. Outsiders do not know all the many different connotations and perspectives that particular actions may carry. There's a great image that Sociological Images discusses, the burka vs. the bikini, that illustrates one component of the discussion.

Each interpretation, each integration, of progress and tradition must be both individual (I choose to wear / do / be ___), and it happens within a community, within the context of children, parents, teachers, elders.

As an outsider, not living on the islands, this documentary is one example I observe of the gender discussion happening in Hawaii.

3. Science, Atheism and Faith / Religion

Many of the "culture wars" occurring in the United States come from particular segments of Christianity. Creationism has at least some roots in Biblical literalism.

One thing I learned when reading The Voyage of the Beagle: Charles Darwin's Journal of Researches, was that Darwin's theory of evolution was meant to *support* the Bible, not oppose it. The extreme differences between New World flora and fauna and Known World (Eurasian + African) flora and fauna had led to the question, was there one Creation or two? Evolution showed that there IS a relationship between the Old World and the New, that there could be common ancestry that went different directions in different places.

At Purdue, one of my Spanish Literature professors pointed out that many of the top scientists were people of faith, were religious and not atheists. Evangelical atheists often argue that any kind of religion is inherently harmful, but I think they ignore and dismiss the power that faith can have to bring people together, and carry them through tough times.

Existentialism has shown that religion doesn't have to be about God and mythical beings. Faith can be about how one answers questions about life, one's individual decisions about meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.

Spiritual practices, also, don't have to be about mythical beings. Spiritual practices like meditation, prayer, the rituals of movement and stillness, each have an effect on the brain.


Five from The Mercadantes on Vimeo.


4. Science, Poetic license, Traditional Knowledge and Myth

I was raised Catholic. Modern Roman Catholicism sees no conflict between the Bible, the Big Bang, and Evolution. Modern Roman Catholicism says "God made the world," and lets Science figure out "How."

Some Christians take Genesis literally, and believe that the universe must have been created in 6 days. Catholics say, "Who knows how long a day is, for God?"

Some Christians believe they should count up the years in Biblical lineages to determine the age of the young Earth, and believe that this disproves evolution. Most Catholics understand the lineages as poetic.

Being a bridge, between Science and Humanities, I know it can be hard, to let go of scientific literalism and enjoy poetic expression.

Joseph Campbell, in his books, lists four functions of mythology:

  1. To reconcile waking consciousness to the mystery of the universe as it is.
  2. To create a mental model of the universe as it is.
  3. To enforce a moral order, "the shaping of the individual to the geographically & historically conditioned social group."
  4. To "foster the centering and unfolding of the individual in integrity, in accord with d) himself (the microcosm), c) his culture (the mesocosm), b) the universe (the macrocosm), and a) that awesome ultimate mystery which is both beyond and within himself and all things"

Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. Penguin Compass. New York. 1968.

Yes, most traditional religions have had to adapt their mythos to adjust to our changing knowledge of the world. That doesn't make them useless.

The Colonial and Christian hegemonies have been particularly harsh on Traditional Knowledge and indigenous religions. I discussed some of that yesterday, where scientific knowledge was sometimes used against "primitive and superstitious" peoples. Let's stop doing that, okay? It's patronizing and demeaning.

5. Use and Treatment of Sacred Land, Sacred Space

All of these factors, Tradition, Faith, Progress, Dominance, then come to affect how we treat the Earth.

Those who believe we have dominion over the Earth, seek to shape it however they wish, to suit their needs. However, too much reshaping can tip the balance, out of the flourishing cycle and into a wasteland.

Now, will one more telescope do that? For all the earth, I doubt it.

But for Mauna Kea, we need to listen to the Kanaka Maoli, the people who lived there, and work with their representatives, their elders.

I'm an outsider, I don't know how the site was selected, I don't know who was involved in the discussions. I do know that we (white people) need to take a break, and LISTEN.