Knowledge is Patient, Not Panicked

People of Indigenous traditions often see people of Western culture as responding to challenges with a panicked determination to “do whatever it takes to fix things now, and handle the fall-out later” (Whyte 2018 and 2020, Gergan, Smith and Vasudevan 2018). Indigenous people note that the negative consequences these kinds of solutions generate are usually NOT easy to fix later, but instead make everything a great deal worse and are even harder to handle than the original problem. Resilience ecologists have, in fact, recognized this pattern in real-world situations of environmental intervention and named it the robustness-fragility trade-off, or RFTO. In other words, it’s so common for Western culture’s solutions to generate even bigger problems down the road that ecologists in Western academia have identified and named the phenomenon.

As a result of all this, Indigenous people generally feel that however painful it may make us feel to face a serious problem without “doing whatever it takes to fix things right now,” we owe it to future generations — those who will have to face the system fragility our “problem-fixing” generates — not to mortgage their lives and their worlds to salve our own feelings of helplessness in the face of suffering today (Wildcat 2009, cited in Corntassel 2014). After all, that’s how we got into the difficult place we are now. Whatever we do to the natural world, it’s naturally going to respond by finding a work-around that permits it to reestablish its own internal balance or homeostasis. So  a river  drops the silt suspended in its waters on its bed instead of the floodplain when levees are artificially raised, for example, because the silt has to go somewhere. This kind of response is simply part of the natural resilience of ecosystems. And we certainly don’t want resilience to go away to solve the problem, because resilience is the only thing that can preserve life in a rapidly changing world that’s lost its equilibrium.

Questions to facilitate your conceptual weaving process:

How does the requirement for patience play out in engineered ecosystem such as the Mississippi River delta or California forests whose emerging fragilities are reaching critical stage?

What does the idea of Knowledge being patient rather than panicked mean in terms of human adaptation to changing environments?

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