I read a quote on a website dedicated to a new documentary about the brilliant British anthropologist Gregory Bateson that so perfectly said what I wanted to say about our current economic crisis that I will simply copy it here:
“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.” – Gregory Bateson
I have been contemplating about what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he used the word “nature”, what William James meant when he used the word “experience” and what John Dewey meant when he used the word “culture.” And I was approaching the conclusion that in essence they were all pointing to the same thing – the totality of what is.
Emerson was not only talking about ecosystems when he talked about nature, James wasn’t referring only to thoughts and feelings when he said experience and Dewey didn’t mean merely social structures when he talked about culture.
Perhaps Dewey had the most complete picture of “what is” when he describes reality as the ongoing interaction between the individual and the experience of what he called culture. The present moment, as he saw it, is an unending collision with ‘what is’ and ‘what is’ includes seemingly external things and forces, our own individual ideas and thoughts, as well as cultural norms and social structures.
I imagine that when Bateson writes “how nature works” that he could be talking about the whole of ‘what is’ – not only ecological principles. Living in right relationship with “the way nature works” is what allows us to adapt and grow creatively.
To Emerson, James and Dewey the way nature works had a lot to do with the way nature evolved and the way we could evolve as individuals and as societies. From this point of view the problems that we face occur because we are not evolving, because evolving is “the way nature works.”
This is a topic that I would like to spend some more time developing in the future.
Further Reading for the Meantime:
For more information about the documentary about Bateson that I was reading about visit:
Bateson died in 1980 here you can find an obituary that nicely sums up his life:
I love Emerson’s essay “Circles” for an early and poetic expression of evolution as the way things work. You can read the essay here: (Emerson is not always an easy read, but if you give it time – or listen to the audio also available at this URL – it is worth it!)