Science to Live By: Floriescence and Our Common Home

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© J. Dirk Nies

First follow Nature, and your judgment frame
By her just standard, which is still the same;
Unerring Nature, still divinely bright,
One clear, unchanged, and universal light,
Life, force, and beauty must to all impart,
At once the source, and end, and test of Art.
–Essay on Criticism (lines 68-73), Alexander Pope, 1711.

Sometimes the necessities of life thrust upon us the need to change. What once was appropriate (or at least expedient), under present circumstances no longer is. Traveling uncharted waters is nerve-wracking, and arriving at a solution from widely diverse interests is difficult to achieve. Productive change is hard work! Tried and true virtues—wisdom, fortitude and perseverance—and a supportive community are helpful in this regard.

Two hundred and twenty-eight years ago, the loosely confederated American States found themselves in just such a situation. The existing Articles of Confederation were inadequate for the aspirations of our fledgling nation. The structures of national government needed to change. To this end, they sent delegates—like Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania; Alexander Hamilton of New York; George Washington, James Madison and George Mason of Virginia—to the Constitutional Convention convened at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The revolutionary outcome of that summer of hot, sweaty, intense deliberations was the creation of the United States Constitution, adopted by 38 signatories on September 17, 1787, and ratified by a majority of States the following year.

This year, from November 30 to December 11, the nations of the world, including the United States, will grapple with a highly contentious and thorny issue. 40,000 delegates will gather en masse at Le Bourget outside Paris to create—for the first time—a legally binding, universal agreement “that will enable us to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.”

A compelling, unifying narrative—steered by guiding principles and underpinned with reliable, practical examples—can prove invaluable when working through a complex array of issues.

Back in the eighteenth century, the Constitutional Convention delegates drew inspiration and guidance from numerous written sources, both ancient and new, in crafting the founding document of our federal republic. Among these was A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America published by John Adams while he was in London and hot off the presses as the delegates gathered to debate.

This past June, in a similar fashion, Pope Francis released a guiding document for the upcoming and potentially momentous United Nations Climate Change Conference. His 40,000-word encyclical titled Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home is an urgent call for action to address human-caused climate change. Its title is taken from the opening lines of Saint Francis of Assisi’s 13th-century Canticle of the Sun, an Italian poetic prayer praising God for the splendor of creation. Pope Francis appeals “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet” and he wishes for “a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” He says this is needed because “regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.”

Like so many citizens, I feel frustrated, discouraged and dismayed with our all too often ineffective, highly polarized, overhyped, left versus right, religious versus secular logjam we frequently find ourselves mired in. I want to free up our creativity, engage our imaginations, find common ground, encourage our better selves, and institute productive change where needed.

To this end, after many years of independent, self-funded research and development, I humbly introduce a fresh, engaging framework to accomplish these goals. I call it Floriescence—the Art and Science of Flourishing. Floriescence frames our discourse within the broad disciplines of science, virtue ethics and aesthetics, using Nature’s patterns, boundaries and limits as a guide.

Did I coin a new word? Words matter. Words profoundly affect our perception and they influence our understanding of our lives and the world around us. No expression in our lexicon captures the breadth and scope of the floriescent framework for human health and well-being within a vigorous economy and a vibrant ecology. No single word adequately conveys a vision that is at the same time scientifically verifiable, nature-inspired, virtuous, aesthetic and harmonious. No phrase encompasses a comprehensive model for flourishing that promotes the arts, celebrates and honors local human culture while welcoming thoughtful innovation, adaptation and change. Sustainable doesn’t, nor does organic, green, renewable, biodynamic, permaculture, agroecology, cradle-to-cradle, transition movement, or deep ecology.

Floriescence is a way of viewing the world that couples enduring, universal principles with dynamic, local knowledge; tempering the immediately practical with a long-term perspective. It promotes the present economic, social and environmental well-being without unduly constraining future generations with adverse consequences arising from our actions today.

Pope Francis acknowledges: “The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.” Nevertheless, he comments: “Given the scale of change, it is no longer possible to find a specific, discrete answer for each part of the problem. It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”  The Holy Father exhorts: “There is a need to change ‘models of global development’” to encompass the “notion of the common good” and an “integral ecology” that respects the “human and social dimensions” of the global crisis.

From a floriescent perspective, a trustworthy foundation for a resilient human economy is established when its primary operations emulate Nature’s economy. To transition away from our present unsustainable economic foundation, we will need to broaden our mindset from environmental protection to envisioning environmental emulation. We can’t ‘protect’ our way out of this crisis. We are not smart enough to devise benign remedies for every environmental problem we create.

Think of this: Does Nature need protection from its own untrammeled economy?

No. Nature’s economy works. It works over the long haul. It works locally and it works globally. Sure, we can depart from Nature’s ways. But to our chagrin, we so often find that the greater we diverge from Nature’s patterns and the more we misalign our economy from Nature’s paths, the greater we despoil the planet. I believe that designing our economy to be more in line and in balance with Nature’s economy is the only long-term solution. In the process, we will be reducing the need for often contentious, governmental control. Some may find this to be in itself a strong motivation to consider seriously what I am suggesting.

Science has uncovered strong geological evidence that life was present on Earth 2.7 billion years ago; and began possibly as early as 3.5-3.8 billion years ago. With its three billion year track record, we have available a treasure trove of information regarding how life has made Earth its home under widely varying conditions. Proven patterns and methods are to be found under widely varying circumstances in Nature for renewing and replenishing flows of energy; recycling and reforming materials; growing food in sustainable ways; constructing shelter from local materials. These patterns await creative integration into our stagnant and stale conventional economic theories.

On the title page of ‘A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America’ John Adams quoted Alexander Pope in a floriescent way: “All Nature’s difference keeps all Nature’s peace.”  Adams advocated that Nature’s pattern of checks and balances was a reliable model that the delegates should imitate in establishing the framework of the Constitution. He wanted the inherent structure of government to check one center of political power against another; to balance the interests of one branch against the other branches of government. For the sake of peace and tranquility, I suggest that the delegates at the UN conference follow this same advice as they craft a universally binding agreement.

Pope Francis says: “Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities.”

When I look each day upon the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding Piedmont, I marvel at the gifts flowing from Nature’s economy. And I find inspiration and hope, and you can too. We do not need to stumble along in the dark, trying to invent from scratch the foundations of a healthy and socially just economy. We have a model shining right in front of us; a magnificent model for art, government and the economy.

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