My partner Dave spends his waking hours advocating for a shift in thinking about how we can solve the biggest global problems, the ones that can be named in just a few words that everyone everywhere understands. Clean water. Health care. Housing. Safety of women and children. Human trafficking.

On the topic of human trafficking, Dave recently pointed out that this social problem is most prevalent in locales where the environment is also being ravaged.

From Linking Human Rights and the Environment, by Romina Picolotti and Jorge Daniel Taillant:

All over the world, people are experiencing the effects of ecosystem decline, from water shortages to fish kills to landslides on deforested slopes. The victims of environmental degradation tend to belong to more vulnerable sectors of society—racial and ethnic minorities and the poor—who regularly carry a disproportionate burden of such abuse. Increasingly, many basic human rights are being placed at risk, as the right to health affected by contamination of resources, or the right to property and culture compromised by commercial intrusion into indigenous lands. Despite the evident relationship between environmental degradation and human suffering, human rights violations and environmental degradation have been treated by most organizations and governments as unrelated issues. Just as human rights advocates have tended to place only civil and political rights onto their agendas, environmentalists have tended to focus primarily on natural resource preservation without addressing human impacts of environmental abuse. As a result, victims of environmental degradation are unprotected by the laws and mechanisms established to address human rights abuses.

The way we think about our world—consciously and unconsciously—is deeply complex and the ramifications of that thinking is so much more powerful than we might have imagined. This point of view dovetails with my recent reading from Becoming Animal, the latest book by David Abrams (whose previous book is The Spell of the Sensuous):

We are by now so accustomed to the cult of expertise that the very notion of honoring and paying heed to our directly felt experience of things…seems odd and somewhat misguided as a way to find out what’s worth knowing. According to assumptions long held by the civilization in whicih I’ve been raised, the deepest truth of things is concealed behind the appearances, in dimensions inaccessible to our senses.

As Abrams points out, a thousand years ago these dimensions were viewed in spiritual terms: reality could only be understood in its reference to heaven, and the church and the clergy mediated with the “celestial agencies” on behalf of the common person.

And even though our culture has shifted in its general perception of things, a basic disparagement of sensuous reality continues to play out. “Like an old, collective habit very difficult to kick, the directly sensed world is still explained by reference to realms hidden beyond our immediate experience. Such a realm, for example, is the microscopic domain of axons and dendrites, and neruotransmitters washing across neuronal synapses.”

Every one of these arcane dimensions radically transcends the reach of our unaided senses. Since we have no ordinary experience of these realms, the essential truths to be found there must be mediated for us by experts, by those who have access to the high-powered instruments and the inordinately expensive technologies…that might offer a momentary glimpse into these dimensions. Here, as before, the sensuous world—the creaturely world directly encountered by our animal senses—is commonly assumed to be a secondary, derivative reality understood only by reference to more primary domains that exist elsewhere, behind the scenes…

This directly experienced terrain, rippling with cricket rhythms and scoured by the tides, is the very realm now most ravaged by the spreading consequences of our disregard. Many long-standing and lousy habits have enabled our callous treatment of surrounding nature, empowering us to clear-cut, dam up, mine, develop, poison, or simply destroy so much of what quietly sustains us.

Our sensual gifts—smelling, seeing hearing, tasting and touching—are more than the components of an epicurean pleasuredome. There are political and survival implications in our ability to value the scent of a rose, the sound of waves.

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