What are some of the invisible forces activating the hearts and minds of staff and interns of Sustainable Economies Law Center? Recently, several staff found simultaneous resonance around the word interdependence, and we planned a month of events to deepen our understanding of interdependence. Below, a few of us share sources of our inspiration: the books that helped us each recognize the truth of our interdependence and live into it more fully.
In some ways, interdependence has always been central to the Law Center’s work. In 2008, before I co-founded the Law Center, I started a law practice and wrote a book focused on creating a more sharing world. But even then, my thoughts about interdependence were narrow: I viewed interdependence as a goal, as a way of living that we could choose.
Now, I can see: Interdependence simply IS. It is the nature of our reality and it’s what created us. Most of our suffering and the harms we’ve inflicted on the world derive from a notion that we are otherwise. We’ve built an economy and legal system around a view of things as separable: Land that can be parceled up and sold, people as atomized beings that live in competition with each other, nuclear families as the ideal unit of human connection and center of wealth accumulation, skin color as a basis for dividing and dominating over human beings.
Then what does it look like to live the truth of our interdependence? I’ve been lucky to live it through working in a cooperative organization and living in cohousing, but I struggle to find words to describe how deeply it has shaped me. I live in deep gratitude for those who have found words and shared them. The more I read by and about indigenous peoples, I find the words. I’ve also found support in the words of biologists and Buddhists. All of this has, in turn, strengthened my intuition for interdependence, and my purpose is to continually deepen it.
As we invite you to live into interdependence with us, our staff and interns share the words that have supported us on this adventure:
Janelle Orsi (Staff Attorney): Hot off the press is Jeremy Lent’s latest book, The Web of Meaning. This book helped me arrive most fully at an understanding of interdependence as the nature of everything, and it has given me courage to look at and question everything through that lens. Jeremy gracefully weaves together insights from biology, neuroscience, physics, indigenous wisdom, and various philosophical traditions. Prior to reading this book, disparate tidbits of each floated around in my mind, and all felt somehow relevant to my understanding of the world. The Web of Meaning helped me draw lines to connect them. I finished the book feeling clarity, excitement, and expecting to read the book again to let it inform how I do my work in coming years. Two other books I return to over and over, and which pair nicely with The Web of Meaning, are Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (for poetic meanderings into living interdependence) and Free, Fair & Alive: The Insurgent Power of the Commons by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich (for practical examples of historic and new institutions that emerge from a worldview of interdependence).
Mohit Mookim (Legal Intern): When I learned about the feminist tradition of the ethics of care in college, it felt like my world turned upside down. I had learned about moral philosophy from the perspective of dead white male imperialists for years and thought it was the only way. But reading just the first chapter of The Ethics of Care by Virginia Held was enough to set me on a new path: Thinking about what is good and right doesn’t have to start with running rigid formulas on perfectly rational “agents” who are wholly independent from each other. We can reconceive ourselves as necessarily interdependent beings whose care for one another is our defining feature. We can even reimagine morality and ethics as fundamentally about promoting caring relations and structures of care. As I return to this framework now, I am wary of its blind spots. As Mekada Graham describes, Black women are crafting an ethics of care framework that responds to their oppression in the labor market performing care work and gendered racist expectations of care in society more broadly. Indeed, the lens of interdependence and an ethics of care can also be found in African-centered perspectives: “Interdependence offers a condition of existence and moral capacity which is held together by relationships and human connections.”
Mwende Hinojosa (Director of Communications): I’ve been part of a book club for women and non-binary folks of color for a few years. We meet once a month at one of the members' homes, talk about the book, and really talk about our lives. Then the pandemic hit. We continued book club on Zoom and decided a crucial pandemic read would be Bay Area based Mia Birdsong’s book How We Show Up. While we were all experiencing this extreme sense of isolation and fear, this book reminded us of our interdependence, where and how we find strength and support in vulnerability, and the challenges and gifts in asking for help. This book had me asking who do I claim as kin and how do we agree to be responsible to each other? Why does the dominant culture prize individualism instead of communalism? A big bonus is that many of her examples of healthy interdependence were people and groups based in the Bay Area, including Law Center client Homefulness!
Jay Cumberland (Staff Attorney): I’ve been skeptical of the future for years. My philosophy thesis in college described the danger of prolepsis -- acting in the present as if the future is already here and we are already different. Prolepsis can be a fast lane to mauling the present in service of the future. In The Ministry for the Future: A Novel, Kim Stanley Robinson has written an entire novel of literary prolepsis. Robinson’s multiperspectival novel weaves together interventions in our financial, legal, political, ecological, and spiritual realms to outline a grim and narrow, but possible path towards decarbonization. I can take a deep breath and travel into the future depicted. As long as I don’t stay there and act from there, I can return to where I am and have hope. Hope requires that I know I can take concrete steps to bring about a better world. As Robinson shows, no one can have hope alone in these times. The only concrete actions that can bring about change are a multitude of interdependent actions. Hope is collective, based on a diversity of tactics in a variety of spheres. Moving in small ways together we might be able to bend the wheel of the future without breaking it.