Harmonizing with Humanitarians Vol. 3: Tyson Yunkaporta

Photos sourced from https://mwf.com.au/artist/tyson-yunkaporta/ and Aaron Burden on Unsplash

If you haven’t heard of Tyson Yunkaporta and his essential book, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World, check him out and pick it up. Sand Talk is as close to a conversation as I’ve ever had with someone through their writing, and has influenced my thinking in ways I can only hint at here. But before focusing on the quote above, please note that this essay only offers an interpretation of a glimpse into aboriginal culture. In many ways, it’s the opposite of what the book is about. I encourage you to explore its wonderful, unconventional perspective directly.

Some would say, observing the state of the world, that it’s in chaos. Ecological destruction, racism, disease, war — a cornucopia of catastrophe. But it’s not the world that’s in chaos. It’s us. Humans out of sync — with seasons, with time, with other beings and with our environment. Here’s how:

  • No matter the realm — microcosm to macrocosm — all entities follow similar patterns. The movement of electrons around a nucleus is like the orbit of planets in a solar system. The spiral of a sunflower seed head follows the same golden ratio as the Milky Way galaxy. There’s often more order than we can comprehend at the human mesocosm level.
  • Any one thing in existence may appear random in a given context, but all have a valuable role to play in our interconnected reality. When a pattern like pollination is disrupted by widespread colony collapse disorder, we stand to lose key produce and seeds from our diet.
  • Our discoveries have taught us a few things about how nature’s processes work. One is that what we see today is the result of millions of years of change. It takes a long time for a glacier to carve out a valley or for volcanoes to form an island. Lasting change takes time, yet the speed of our business is breakneck. It’s causing rapid environmental depletion, toxic waste and unreasonable growth expectations. No other being on earth moves at our speed or causes as much destruction.
  • Forget the news and social media. Forget your biases — we’ve all got them. Now do some firsthand research, right where you are. Look outside and see the falling leaves, for instance. Do they look messy to you? Well, they’re not. You wouldn’t say that in a forest. Leaves may be clogging gutters and littering roads, but that’s because human habitation and commerce has interrupted their role as nutrient recyclers and soil insulators. Which, along with industrial agriculture practices and other factors, has degraded much of the earth’s topsoil.
  • Much as people in industrialized nations enjoy tablets and smartphones, these devices are built for planned obsolescence and profit. Many of them contain rare minerals that we extract, mold into a device, then discard after a brief span of time. Unfortunately, we lack viable solutions to replace these minerals that have taken millennia to form. Oh, the irony of writing this on a laptop!
  • Whether or not you believe that humans have severely impacted the climate, it’s clear that our environmental budget is way overdrawn. Our resources are dwindling because we keep taking and not giving back enough. We may be accustomed to our ways of behaving, but that doesn’t mean that they’re sustainable or in step with our surroundings.
  • It’s hubris to think we can outsmart nature. We are nature, and everything we create arises from what already exists. Even synthetics are spinoffs compiled from existing elements (and new elements created in a lab don’t last long enough to merit a tangential debate). As part of nature, it behooves us to do a better job of considering how our actions affect living systems.
  • Our definitions of order and chaos are out of whack. What we call chaos is often something complex we don’t understand that may follow a pattern we can’t see. It’s not necessary or possible to understand everything, which is why people have various abilities that contribute to collective intelligence. Speaking of intelligence, we still have a lot to learn — and instead of claiming superiority, we might consider learning it from indigenous cultures have lived harmoniously with the land long before the Industrial Revolution.

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