This interview originally appeared in:
Wild Duck Review: Literature Looking Home & Toward the Future

Vol. IV, No. 1, Winter 1998

Wild Duck Review
Interview with Charlene Spretnak

by Casey Walker, Editor

While a marvelously diverse range of human cultures is possible, human societies are either engaged or disengaged from the natural world. The latter orientation is both delusional and pathological.

CW: Will you begin by speaking to your main goals in writing The Resurgence of the Real?

CS: The central thesis of the book is that some of the very elements most strenuously devalued by modernity -- the knowing body, the creative cosmos, and the complex sense of place -- are, in the mid-1990s, breaking through the overarching ideologies that denied them. A profound correction of the destructive aspects of the modern worldview has gathered intensity from the very last places modern thinking would have expected: significant challenges were expected from left or right contenders in the political economy, not from sites of "dumb matter." Yet the assertion of the true nature of our bodies and the rest of the natural world are finally, after 350 years, nudging aside the mechanistic model. I explain why this began to occur in medicine on a large scale around 1995 and in natural science with the past decade of discoveries in complexity studies, chaotics, and systems dynamics. As for the resurgence of "place" in the 1990s, it is now key in two regards. First, the ancient nations, with cultures deeply embedded in the land, are demanding independence from the modern states, which were invented relatively recently and simply absorbed the ancient nations as invisible components in modern realpolitik. Those independence efforts are ususally baffling to the modern media, who refer to them as "unfathomable ethnic squabbles." Second, community-based economics and place-based education are emerging as a counterforce to the globalized economy and global monoculture. It's become very clear in the last two years that the new world order under GATT (and NAFTA, which is son-of-GATT) leaves all communities worldwide vulnerable to the transnational corporations, who can now challenge and supercede all local and national laws protecting the environment, labor, or sustainable development. Such a business!

In addition to identifying the crises of modernity -- particularly in the areas of economics, politics, and education -- as well as the corrective efforts that are emerging now, I sought to clarify the conceptual infrastructure of modernity, that is, its interlocking systems of beliefs and assumptions. You'd be surprised how many people are oblivious to that ideology, even though it shapes our socialization from day one and all our institutions. We're taught to regard it as "just natural" for an advanced civilization. Ecological activists, for instance, are often puzzled to find that their efforts seem to bounce off a brick wall; that's because they're deflected handily by the ideologies of modernity -- not corporate capitalism alone. On the contrary, rapacious industrialism, whether capitalist or communist, is embedded within the values of modernity. I explain how that entire worldview -- and the "modern condition" -- came to be. Needless to say, it's a somewhat different version than we received in modern schooling.

In the book I also propose a reframing of the lineage of movements -- including several in the arts -- that resisted the destructive aspects of modernity (Chapter Four, "Don't Call It Romanticism!") because so little is known, even among eco-social activists, about that impressive heritage. The final chapter then presents a pragmatic eco-social vision, by means of a story of an American heartland city set in the near future, the year 2024. My editor was somewhat alarmed that a nonfiction book ended with fiction, but, thankfully, he bit the bullet.

In a sense The Resurgence of the Real can be considered a companion volume to my previous book, States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age (1991) because they both engage with the crises of modernity. States of Grace, however, interprets four of the great spiritual traditions with regard to our understanding of the bodymind, nature, and social justice, whereas The Resurgence of the Real focuses more on cultural history, current affairs (how to read the news of the day!), and eco-social thought.

CW: Will you articulate the key forces of modernity that derail an ecological worldview?

CS: That's rather complex and ended up requiring an entire appendix, "Modernity Is to Us as Water to a Fish." A shorter version appears in Chapter Two, but here's an even shorter one. A core assumption of modernity is that the human is essentially Homo economicus. Consequently, the structure and quality of all other endeavors in life are thought to derive from the economics of a society. "Unfettered" economic expansion, through industrialization and computerization, is believed to yield abundance, well-being, the solution to social problems, and the evolution of culture and society.

In addition, three of the foundational movements of modernity -- Renaissance humanism, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment -- were inspired by a widely influential text known as the "Ancient Wisdom" or "Egyptian Wisdom," the main part of which was the Corpus Hermeticum. It "revealed" that humans have a different source from nature: we were created directly by God, but nature was created by the Demiurge. Nature was newly understood, from the 1460s on, not as the holistic cosmos of divine creation but merely as raw material to be used by humans as we come into our true role of terrestrial gods on earth. The thing about such hubris, of course, is that it hates humility. Hence the respect and reciprocity with which nonmodern peoples, such as traditional agrarian communities and indigenous cultures, regarded nature was perceived as an affront, a "backward" vestige of history deserving of being crushed for the good of Progress. For generations upon generations, both groups were indeed crushed and assimilated by modern industrial states, whether communist or capitalist.

In light of the deeply held modern belief that society progresses in opposition to nature, it's extremely difficult for voices for ecological sanity to capture the public attention for a sustained corrective effort. Eventually, even the most pressing ecological issue is resolutely brushed aside -- often with metaphors insinuating that the real grown-ups of society are restoring "balance." That sort of dismissal of ecological concern as an immature fixation seems natural and correct to the public since nature has so long been considered a mere "externality" by the modern mindset. That thinking is very deeply rooted.

CW: I appreciated your drawing distinctions between the modern, the deconstructionist postmodern, and what you call the "ecological postmodern" as fundamentally different ways of seeing the world. Will you briefly describe those terms and differences?

CS: I focus in this book on "the real" -- the realities of our physicality -- in order to reground our conceptualizations. The conceptual beliefs of both modernity and deconstructive postmodernism are extremely ungrounded. The contrast I offer is the emergent orientation I call "ecological postmodernism," which regards culture as a dynamic extension of the natural world, or Earth community. Human society is embedded in the processes of the Earth community, in this view, rather than oppositional toward it or oblivious of its presence in our lives.

I summarize these three orientations in a chart in the book. [below] The first column cites the core beliefs of modernity, with which we are all familiar since they are still the dominant influences today.

"The Rise and Fall of Modern Images of Denial"




Salvation, progress

(They're all power plays)

The cosmological unfolding

Truth mode:

Extreme relativism


World = a collection of objects

An aggregate of fragments

A community of subjects

Realtity = fixed order

Social construction

Dynamic relationship

Sense of self: socially engineered



Primary truth: the universal

The particular

The particular-in-context

Grounding: mechanistic universe

None (total groundlessness)

Cosmological processes

Nature as opponent

Nature as wronged object

Nature as subject

Control over the body

"Erasure of the body" (It's all social construction)

Trust in the body

Science: reductionism

It's only a narrative!


Economicts: corporate



Political focus: nation-state

The local

A community of communities of communities

Sense of the sublime: God the Father

"Gesturing toward the sublime"

Creativity in the cosmos, ultimate mystery

Key metaphors:
mechanics, law

Economics ("libidinal economy"), signs/coding


The second column cites the beliefs of deconstructionism (also known as post-structuralism, constructivism, or constructionism). This orientation asserts that there is nothing but "social construction" (of concepts such as language, knowledge systems, and culture) in human experience. That is, everything we feel or perceive is merely the result of social construction, a mesh of controlling concepts and beliefs that shape us in various ways. Hence we can know nothing about nature or our bodies, for example, since all we know is the concepts implanted in us about nature or body. All our thoughts are believed to be structured entirely by the language into which we happened to be born. All meaning and "truth," therefore, is strictly relative and utterly groundless. According to this orientation, the trouble with modernity is its oppressive power mechanisms, which "totalize" the particular and the individual by means of the ploy of "fictive unity," such as "metanarratives" about God, Progress, the brotherhood of man, and so forth. Deconstructionists believe that those power plays, or "discourses" or "narratives," can be deconstructed to reveal their oppressive aims so that we can then be free to create ourselves in "pure autonomy," as Foucault advocated.

Not in this universe. Nothing exists in "pure autonomy." Rather, every life-form in the universe -- from self-organizing galaxies to subatomic particles -- exists in an extremely subtle web of dynamic relationships. The third column in the chart, Ecological Postmodernism, cites values and beliefs that derive from acknowledging our embeddedness in the processes of the Earth community and the cosmos. Ecological postmodernism changes the gestalt: our field and grounding is neither the "modern project" nor extreme relativism but the cosmos itself. This orientation replaces freedom from nature with freedom in nature. It acknowledges the enormous role of social construction but also recognizes our constitutive embeddedness in subtle bodily, ecological, and cosmological processes.

CW: Would you explain how you see deconstructionism continuing the value system of modernity?

CS: You mean other than the fact that it's an idealist projection, pitifully solipsistic, escapist with regard to body and nature, insupportably abstract, and trades biological determinism for social determinism? Well, yes -- there is something far more serious than all those considerable problems with deconstructionism. It asserts that the main problem with modernity is the subtle power mechanisms. Now, all societies have power mechanisms; the more transparent, democratic, and accountable they are the better. As an activist, I find it tremendously important to analyze our society's assumptions and power structures -- which, believe me, was being done here long before deconstructionism was imported from Paris in the seventies. A formalist critique of modernity, which focuses on the various forms of power and control, however, cannot address the problematic content of modernity. The fundamental problem with modernity is that it intensified the perception of three core discontinuities present in Western thought since the Greeks: that there is a radical break between humans and nature, body and mind, and self and the world. The conceptualization of those core discontinuities -- which are not present in nonWestern, nonmodern cultures such as Eastern philosophy and native peoples -- shaped all our institutions, beliefs, and power structures. Yet that crucial aspect, which Bateson called the Western epistemological error, doesn't register at all with the deconstructionists. Why? Because, to them, whether a culture feels connected or disconnected from body and nature is just a matter of relative concepts. On the contrary, I believe that, while a marvelously diverse range of human cultures is possible, human societies are either engaged or disengaged from the natural world. The latter orientation is both delusional and pathological.

CW: You quote Max Weber's opinion of twentieth-century modernity: "Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved." Will you speak to this observation?

CS: Weber's analysis of the effects of capitalism has been cited approvingly by left academics since 1905, but rarely do his fans exhibit the sensibility he displayed with regard to what had been lost when the West abandoned spiritual depth, as well as community bonds, for a largely unregulated market economy that transformed Protestant asceticism into bureaucratic sterility. Weber displays an appreciation of the religious grounding of premodern society and a poignant awareness of what has been lost on a deep level -- far deeper than Marx's observation that modern workers are "alienated" from the disposition of their production.

CW: Many people justify the processes and values of modernity by pointing to better health and longer lives, greater levels of literacy, more material goods, helpful technology, etc. How are these "modern benefits" perceived from an eco-social point of view?

CS: To assess the effects of industrialization, computerization, mass media, or high-tech healthcare, one needs to make a systemic analysis. That's exactly what we're discouraged from doing by fragmented modern culture, with its what's-in-it-for-me? frame of reference coming at us relentlessly from every direction via the advertising industry. With regard to computers, for instance, all we hear from the industry, through their ads and planted op-ed pieces, are the benefits of various devices. People are conditioned to joyfully associate the word computer with the fact that there's an entire encyclopedia miraculously residing in their personal computer, that they can now buy books on-line (thereby putting local bookstores out of business), that they can buy airline tickets on-line (thereby putting local travel agencies out of business), or that they're suddenly free to swap duplicitous narratives in "chat rooms." All true, but who has benefited most from this technology? Computerization has made possible huge centralized data banks of information about all of us, huge flows of currency speculation sloshing around in the globalized economy and destablizing governments galore, and astounding capabilities for surveillance.

People socialized in a hypermodern society -- which is the term I use for the intensified version of modernity we now live with -- are socialized to have an amazingly uncritical attitude toward new technologies. We're carried along in the blind faith that technological innovation by its very nature delivers us to an improved future. In fact, we need to develop skills of critical analysis about technology so that we could perceive negative effects at the outset. Moreover, the burden of proof should rest with the manufacturer, not the public, regarding the harmlessness of a new device. Instead, we and our children are the guinea pigs.

We continue to take the "immense bribe" of the "Megamachine," as Lewis Mumford put it thirty years ago: the absorption of every human activity into the technological realm by seductive assurances of ever-increasing ease, power, and abundance. We seem oblivious to the dependence being created. Now that we have pocket calculators, few people master or remember basic arithmetic. Now that we have "spell-check," young people see no need to master spelling. Industrial arts classes, wherein boys and (at long last) girls learned the pride of accomplishment that comes from working with one's hands and natural materials, have been replaced in most schools with computer labs. Many young people can push a button on a microwave oven but cannot cook at all. Social skills and various subtle benefits of human interaction are also in decline, as growing numbers of us spend more time each day talking to machines than people -- and as children who log a great deal of computer time exhibit shyness and withdrawn behavior.

My point about technology, in the book, is that it's neither evil nor value-free. Rather, the design of every new technological device reflects our cultural history. An awareness of that history is essential if we are to recognize dangerous tendencies and chart an eco-socially wholesome future. Failing that, we're vulnerable to all the Empower-the- Autonomous-Individual hype that basically lets everything else go to hell -- and, in the bargain, diminishes to pathetic proportions the individual's full experience of being.

CW: The ability to read and discuss ideas, to lead lives of passionate interest, to engage in "the great dialogue," or even to think and employ vocabulary of an accomplished level of literacy all seem to be slipping out of the focus of mainstream culture.

CS: Very true. One of the major challenges of the computer age, surely, is to keep children reading. Shrunken vocabularies have all sorts of undesirable ramifications. It seems that the democratic dream of universal literacy through free education, which seemed to be cruising on an endless, if hard-won, plateau, is being challenged by an increasingly oral, post-literate -- and highly commercial -- culture. What's a realistic projection for the future? How about a young person sitting in front of a wall of tremendously powerful and sophisticated personal computer equipment, instantaneously transmitting messages worldwide such as "Me like gud. Yu want?"

I'm definitely a grinch about keeping computers out of elementary school, except for one or two in the library. Those machines operate on a binary logic system, for heaven's sake! Instead, kids in their formative years should gaining skills in tacit knowledge and engaging with their physicality: learning about relationships in their backyard or nearby park, the school yard and environs, and their bioregion, then gradually expanding to include their macroregion, their continent, and, eventually, the whole Earth community. If those and other studies are limited to the sort of data that can be fed through computers -- and, remember, the goal of several Silicon Valley foundations is to get a computer on the desk of every schoolchild -- then everything else, including intergenerational and community wisdom, becomes "low-status knowledge," if it is acknowledged at all. I think the best analysis of this sorry development is Chet Bower's The Culture of Denial.

I'm surprised by the silence on these issues. Very basic questions about the meaning and quality of our lives and about our interactions with other people and other life forms have been swept aside by hyped-up claims about how much faster we will be able to do things. There hardly seems to be a vocabulary for addressing what's being lost in exchange for shrunken and increasingly technologized options for the unfolding of the person. We experience spiritual and ecological yearnings, but we have only a diminished modern sensibility with which to think about the mounting crises. We need deeply evocative language to awaken the modern mind.

CW: Some research shows that children today between twelve and fourteen years of age are far less capable than their predecessors of perceiving metaphor, such as grasping more than the literal meaning of a rolling stone gathering no moss. It seems that modernity is cultivating in young people a certain kind of logic that silences the intuitive, the embodied, the rich resonance of language that is culturally bound to the earth. I find this troubling, especially since one of the diagnostic tools for schizophrenia is this very skill, the ability to interpret metaphor in a nonliteral way.

CS: Yes. There's a good deal of research -- much of it gathered in Evolution's End by Joseph Chilton Pearce -- showing that exposure to too much television too early can result in impaired neurological development in children, with the result that they have limited abilities to think and reason imaginatively. In later years, they often have learning problems and a tendency toward violence to settle disputes. Both of those conditions, however, improve after remedial work in imaginative, or conceptual, thinking.

Your concern about the eclipse of metaphoric literacy among young people reminds me of the related losses identified by Sven Birkerts in The Gutenberg Elegies. In teaching a course on 19th- and 20th-century American short stories to undergrads at a Boston-area college, he found they had trouble with allusion and with passages presenting a character's interiority. He also noticed that they have a fragmented sense of time and have largely lost the "duration experience," the depth phenomenon associated with reverie. Also, because they have a reduced attention span -- and have trouble slowing down from immersion in music, videos, and TV -- they are impatient with sustained inquiry. Imagine what that means for democracy in a complex world. Birkerts, like many other college-level teachers today, found that these students, the first generation to have been raised with electronic saturation, feel divorced from a vital sense of history, a geographic sense of place and community, and a personal or collective vision of the future.

I cited the work of Pearce and Birkerts in the section in my book on the state of education in our hypermodern world because they are in sync with countless surveys, books, and articles these days on the psychological state of the "plugged-in generation." These kids are variously described as disengaged, bored, sweet and slightly depressed, lazy, and unacquainted with academic hard work. Many feel entitled to effortless A's and become angry if lesser grades are given. They are careful not to commit the most uncool error of showing enthusiasm -- that is, intellectual passion -- about anything. Worst of all, it seems to me, they often have no vitality. It's as if the life force in them atrophied during years of sitting passively in front of endless streams of fleeting images -- of violence and banality -- so that they now have little sense of context or depth or embodied reality. Needless to say, extreme relativism substitutes for moral reasoning. In a sense, much of that generation has been sacrificed to the exorbitant claims of the telecommunications industry and the mind-numbing media. It remains to be seen whether the unfortunate results of young people's having been fed into the "wired world" from an early age will come to be regarded as a cautionary tale or accepted -- "Who can stop progress?" -- as a portent of passive cyborgian generations to come. We need to do more, though, than merely hope for the best. It's easy to feel that modernity is simply an unsteerable juggernaut, as Anthony Giddens put it, careening over everything in its path.

CW: With regard to your sense of "ecological postmodernism," how does the wild, and qualities of the wild, influence the values you've discussed? Is it related to the admiring mention in your book of Edith Cobb's book, The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood?

CS: The emergence of the modern worldview convinced us that we advanced humans live in a glass box on top of nature; the modern focus of our attention is the human projects within that box. Deconstructionist postmodernism shrinks the box to even tighter proportions: everything's really just a matter of the "language games" within those human projects. In contrast, ecological postmodernism proposes that we move in the opposite direction: open the box and reconnect on many levels with the rest of the Earth community and the cosmos.

"The wild" -- that is, the dynamic creativity in the cosmos, its novelty and continuity, its self-organizing, self-regulating capabilities from galaxies to mountain ranges to cells -- is the dance of "universe life" from which human existence derives and in which it participates. Educating children in the wonders of that existential truth is crucial. Toward that end, Edith Cobb's work was an ecologically healthy correction to Freud: she asserted that child development is not a matter of moving away from relationship to an autonomous state of a lone individual but toward an integration of self and environment. Such exploration of one's surroundings, she believed, was an intersection of cosmology and biology. Earlier, Maria Montessori had also developed a cosmological sense of a child's maturation. Today lots of bioregionalists and ecological educators are developing "place-based education," in which children learn about the embeddedness of their town or city in the natural systems of the ecocommunity.

CW: Do you think the environmental movement should be critiqued for operating as a branch of the modern worldview, which is generally antagonistic toward the wild?

CS: Parts of the environmental movement, yes. Ever since the Pinchot vs. Muir debate, we've had environmentalists who believe the key problem is how to agree on resource management that isn't too rapacious versus those who are dedicated to preserving the ecological integrity of habitat. The first group, loosely speaking, don't really believe that the underlying assumptions of industrialization and a consumer society can or should be questioned, so they're trying to fine-tune modernity. The second group, loosely speaking, calls for a profound rethinking about the way in which our species behaves in the Earth community; they try to move beyond the suicidal modern assumption that advanced societies are brilliantly at war with nature and can't afford to "get soft." In that work, I think it's very useful for ecological activists to be knowledgeable about the historical evolution and conceptual infrastructure of modernity.

CW: What did you mean in The Resurgence of the Real when you wrote that to be truly postmodern is to be ecological and feminist?

CS: Ah. I could not help but notice that the values of modernity fit hand-in-glove with those of male socialization in patriarchal cultures: low regard for reason that includes emotion; for females and "feminine" empathy; and for nature and body, both of which will supposedly do you in if not disciplined. Conversely, a high premium is put on dominance, control, and uniform results wherever possible. Obviously, many spiritual and ecological men have freed themselves from that mold and found better ways to be male. The more closely a man's identity is wrapped up with modernity, however, the more he resents any critique of it. I encountered an example of this reaction when I sent the proposal for this book to a dear friend of mine from college, who is, in his own words, "a bureaucrat and a damn good one." I was curious about what his comments would be. Well, he just went ballistic. Why in the world was I criticizing modernity? After all, it was working for him (although not entirely, if I may say so). It was then I realized that most people are so deeply embedded in the modern worldview that they cannot easily see all that it has devoured. So I composed the remembrance for the casualties of modernity. [See "A Memorial Prayer"]

As for the ecological component in truly postmodern thinking, I believe that the antidote to the hypermodern worldview is the ecological worldview (in a deep and broad sense).

CW: Will you speak to the difference between the what you call modernity's "Lone Cowboy" notion of individualism and the individuating self-actualization that Arne Naess and Paul Shepard write of as a process of self-in-nature? Can we dismiss individualism?

CS: It's the "ism" that's the problem. Individualism is an ideology, which posits the Autonomous Individual as the norm and measure of all values in the modern era; other considerations were made secondary. The concept of the Autonomous Individual, a product of the Enlightenment's impulse to break free in every way of "the ties that bind," is an intensification of the Greek ideal of the fully rational man. The hero of modern novels boldly escapes his place of origin -- site of the "constraints" of community, family, tradition, religion, and the requirements of the bioregion -- and heads for the new promised land: the city, where he is anonymous and can act with full autonomy. Or so goes the model, a rather pathetic patriarchal fantasy. As I mentioned earlier, life in the Earth community just doesn't work that way; every life form benefits every moment from subtle interdependence with other life forms.

The ecological sensibility is well aware of that interdependence, hence the terms self-in-nature (from the ecological philosophers) or self-in-relationship (from the feminist philosophers). Within a web of relationships of universe life (both the "animate" and "inanimate"), every organism unfolds, reaching toward its fulfillment: interaction, creative response to perturbations, maturation, reproduction, play (yes, birds and mammals play!), and waning. The universe unfolds in novelty and continuity, as Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme observe in The Universe Story. The human individual is no exception. Fr. Berry has written a lot about the deep interiority of every organism, its profound subjectivity. Both Berry and Swimme feel that every one of us has a cosmological responsibility to unfold as fully as possible; to hold back and do less is to fail the universe. Now, that's individuation. It has a lot of common ground with Arne Naess' concept of enlarging one's sensibilities to realize your "ecological self" and with Paul Shepard's observation that nature-deprivation causes the human mind to become unbalanced and diminished.

The Native American perspective suggests a healthy alternative to the alienated Lone Cowboy. They generally view the individual (who is encouraged to individuate in many ways, such as a vision quest upon coming of age) as derivative of the family, which is derivative of the clan, which is derivative of the nation, which is derivative of the land, which is derivative of the cosmos. The unfolding stories of all those entities are nestled, not cut off. Since contextual embeddedness is our physical reality, why not reflect that in our cultural concepts?

CW: I appreciated your discussing in the book Goethe's model of "a science of qualities."

CS: He was someone who definitely grasped the profound meaning of the subtle interrelatedness of the Earth community. He thought of himself, by the way, as primarily an organic scientist, although we think of his as the foremost poet of the German Romantic Movement. On both counts, though, he was a hero in the lineage of resistance to the mechanistic concepts of modernity.

I also cite the work of Brian Goodwin, one of the leading theoretical biologists today, who is dedicated to bringing forth and developing Goethe's notion of a nonreductionist, postmechanistic science. Goodwin's work with complexity studies in morphology, a field invented by Goethe, refutes the current genetic reductionism in biology, returns the focus to the holistic behavior of the organism itself, and enlarges our grasp of the complex dynamics of evolution, which are far less mechanistic that previously thought. (Goodwin is author of How the Leopard Changed its Spots and is director of a new masters degree program in holistic biology at Schumacher College in England, cosponsored by the University of Plymouth.)

CW: Will you speak briefly about your attraction to the Arts and Crafts Movement (including John Ruskin and William Morris), which figures so prominently in The Resurgence of the Real?

CS: It shows up twice in the book, but I guess you can tell I became moderately fanatical about it for quite a while. I first present the movement, and my thoughts about it, in the lineage of resistance movements in Chapter Four. I encountered it on a fluke -- what some people might call predestination, I guess -- when I had some spare time in London after a conference in 1992. Going on nothing but the fact that I just barely remembered William Morris's name from my English major days long ago, I was curious to see some of the renowned patterns he had designed for fabric in the 1870s and 1880s. So I tracked them down in the Victoria and Albert Museum and various departments within Liberty's and absolutely fell in love with those of his designs that are ecosensual, such as "Honeysuckle," "Pimentel," "Bluebell," and "Snakeshead." Once I was hooked aesthetically, I began to do research -- including lots of field trips -- on the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Europe, and the United States. Ruskin, the preeminent art critic of Victorian England, and Morris, who was greatly influenced as a young man by Ruskin's writings, were profound eco-social philosophers and activists who refuted the destructive assumptions of modernity and created alternatives, quite in sync with the orientation I call "ecological postmodernism." They went far beyond an economic analysis and countered the corrosive effects of the modern project by focusing in immediate and accessible ways on work, home, art, nature, vernacular culture, and the unfolding of persons in relationship. California, by the way, was perhaps the largest, most varied site of the Arts and Crafts Movement in this country -- until the values of modernity reasserted themselves after World War One with the machine aesthetic in design (Art Deco and other varieties) and the sterile "dumb box" of "Heroic Modernism" in architecture.

When it came time to present my positive vision, in the last chapter as I had promised the reader, I found myself gripped by the idea that that vision should be related as a story and that the story should pay tribute to our heritage of resistance: a story of the future that honors the past and suggests a course of action for the present. Specifically, I pay homage to William Morris's famous utopian novel, News from Nowhere (1892). As he often did in his long historical poems, he used the device of a time-traveller who wakes up in a strange time and place and is shown around. This time, instead of waking up on the banks of the Thames in 1952, the Morris character finds himself on the banks of the Scioto, the river that bisects my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, in 2024. He is escorted on a long walk over several hours, during which time he sees and hears about the ways in which that city of a million people began in the late 1990s to develop community-based economics and a local currency (both of which protected them from the vagaries of the global roulette wheel) and grounded its education and other institutions and programs in eco-social wisdom.

All the innovations described in the story are pragmatic and are already in place today in various locations; I merely brought them together and situated that Green vision in the near future in the hope of inspiring stronger efforts in that direction. So -- is it, horrors, didactic? Well, sure -- but I also had a lot of fun with it, showing William that his influence lived on in numerous ways, plus playing with the relationship between William and the woman on the bank who shows him around and -- have you guessed? -- has long been in love with his ecosensual designs. Around midnight, she invites him back to her apartment (which, of course, is in an ecologically correct, straw-bale-wall, co-housing building) for a surprise. More than that I dare not say.

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