The Furrow, a UK publication by the John Deere corporation, provides some additional information about burning the tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills. The information in this paper will interact in relationship with you like the information in the previous article did. Be aware of this. Watch it take place by paying attention to the different ways your mind processes and attempts to rebalance shifting perceptions in the face of new information. Writing out those responses and comparing them to the steps of a paradigm shift may be helpful. You might find that your process involves going back to take another look at the previous smoke article, or even the story about the mustangs and the fire or wildfire itself, that you read back in the main Weaving part of this exercise. That’s fine. Let things shift around a bit as they need to until you feel comfortable enough to go on.
You may feel disquieted by what you read here, and that’s all right. Remember that this exercise is designed to help you identify a major Western paradigm and its several roots. The exercise is not about resolving any specific ecosystem problem or verifying principles of ecology. You may also want to remind yourself that Western culture generally finds the quadrant of West an uncomfortable place to be, and that all the crucial examples of environmental issues we need to look at, including natural hazard mitigation, are in the West. So a certain amount of discomfort is built into the situation. But remember, as well, that acknowledging and accepting this quadrant can release you from the paradigmatic trap you’re in. If you still find yourself feeling too uncomfortable, perhaps it can help to remember that the Land instigated this exercise and suggested its pedagogical design. To me, this strongly suggests that what we’re doing together could make a real difference. That’s worth a bit of discomfort, don’t you think? You can do this.
So go ahead and visit the link for the article at The Furrow now, and read the article. (If the link stops working at The Furrow, you can download a not very good, but at least readable, PDF here.) Then, when you’re ready, let’s reflect, together, on what’s going on inside you now that you’ve read these things.
The story in The Furrow probably agitated the same paradigm that got riled by the smoke article, but far more strongly. When you read this article, you were already sitting in an uneasy place thanks to having read about the smoke problem. So finding out what the ranchers in the smoke story really meant when they said the burning was a business issue probably had considerable impact. In fact, you might have had a strong emotional response to what you read. Stop and write down your emotional response, and the thoughts you’re having right now, before you go further.
This may be a good time to remind you, yet again, that we’re working to identify and evaluate a major Western paradigm here, not evaluating any environmental actions or people. Please notice this means the paradigm we are talking about, that’s been getting agitated by information in the things you’ve read, is not the one you probably thought it was. It is NOT a paradigm about prairies or fire. Does that surprise you?
The paradigm we’re trying to reveal is a sort of “super-paradigm” that informs most environmental paradigms (and many other things in Western culture), but in a fairly invisible way. That invisibility allows the paradigm to trap you, because you can’t escape something you can’t see. The cool thing about the article in The Furrow is that the information it provides very specifically agitates the invisible super-paradigm we’re trying to catch sight of. This is what creates the internal conflict that feels so uncomfortable, is that the information you’ve read agitates the super-paradigm in such a way as to threaten to overturn it. But that super-paradigm is inextricably attached to a “smaller” paradigm about burning prairies that’s probably important to you. It feels like if you overturn the big super-paradigm, the small one will flip with it, and you don’t want the small one to flip. So you’re resisting flipping the bigger one. And this has you caught.
Please also notice that although your feelings of anger are undoubtedly laced with adjectives such as “greedy,” the deeper reason you might feel angry is that you’re mad someone put you in a pickle that threatens the burning prairies paradigm but, more significantly, threatens a super-paradigm whose shift has so many consequences that it feels terrifying. Remember that the paleontologist in Jurassic Park was overjoyed to see living dinosaurs. But he still nearly fainted from the emotional impact a person feels when a major paradigm moves out from under their feet and they suddenly find themselves in temporary free-fall. Do you see now why I put so much information about paradigm shifts in this exercise? If you skipped that stuff, this is the time to go back and pay close attention to it.
The smoke article presented a low-level threat to the super-paradigm too, but you were probably able to find a way to explain away or resolve the problem. The reporter’s helpful quotes, and her choice of interviewees, helped you bend things enough to keep the prairie-burning paradigm largely secure. (One smoke sufferer even suggested she might have to move, which subtly suggested a larger solution to the whole problem — if you were willing to accept it as such.) The point is, because you were able to largely placate the threat to the burning-prairies paradigm within yourself, you could ignore the more subtle threat to the deeper super-paradigm. But the Furrow article presented an enormous threat to the super-paradigm, and in doing so it shattered the burning-prairies paradigm. Suddenly, instead of having a simple situation of good/bad or right/wrong, you were faced with a complicated situation in which some burns are good, some burns are bad, and you have absolutely no way to argue the difference between them that could hold up in business practice or a court of law — unless you’re willing to overturn the entire idea of burning as a natural part of environments that’s good for ecosystems. You knew there was something wrong but you couldn’t put your finger on it in a way that could prove it to anyone else.
Which, if you think about it, is the same way you felt about the powerline corridor clearings and their possible edge effects. The problem was simply smaller that time, so you were able to shrug it off and go on about your business. You can’t shrug off the Flint Hills burning situation unless you engage in the “third-step” kind of response to a paradigm shift that involves shutting down. And people do sometimes do that. But a stronger and more productive alternative is to face what happens if you let go of the old paradigm, as scary as that feels, so you can receive a new one. That new paradigm is the one you’ve been trying to find.
But you have to let go of the old paradigm first. So now we’ve got hold of it, let’s see what it looks like. Please go to The Burning Prairie Paradigm.