Reconciliation Here on Earth: Shared Responsibilities With Dr. James Tully
Dalhousie University, Halifax Nova Scotia
At the conference Reconciliation Here on Earth, Canadian philosopher James Tully explored what it means and what kind of practices are required for a sustainable future. He argued that our shared responsibilities among communities and symbiotic ecosystems require a commitment in two informal interconnected processes or types of reconciliations: first, a reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous persons, that is the reconciliation between native traditions and those of settlers; and secondly a reconciliation between human beings and what he terms the living earth, that is the sustainability and the recognition of the symbiotic interrelationships between human beings and ecosystems that sustains all life forms and habitats.
Tully argues that our current crisis ridden modes expressed in our inability to gain any meaningful reconciliation with indigenous peoples is actually entangled with and rooted in our unsustainable relationship with the living earth. Tully proposes that this actual disjunction in the former reconciliation between native/settler and the latter reconciliation between humans/earth may not only miss out on workable indigenous models and sustainable practices of relating to the living earth, but also in itself make the former inherently crisis ridden and unsustainable as the earth on which conciliatory treaties are entered is itself not taken into consideration.
In part, what indigenous treaty traditions actually teach us is that the model of living sustainably, the virtuous relationship, between human to living earth is actually a model not only for thinking conciliatorily with non-indigenous and indigenous relationships but an appropriation of the life model — the way the living earth’s symbiotic ecosystems sustain life forms. Tully argues the earth’s symbiotic ecosystems are actually our primary teacher in maintaining sustainable relationships, how “non-human forms of life [ought to] live together symbiotically”; indeed how its symbiotic networks models the importance of gift-gratitude-reciprocity as our primary mode of ethical relationship — the informal or primary ethical mode for all citizens and life forms in the commonwealth of life.
These symbiotic ecological networks teach us that breaking our shared responsibilities in reciprocating life destroys the cyclical networks sustaining life itself. Our current practices of assimilation and colonialization have in fact estranged us from not only indigenous traditions but also from the living earth. When we fail in our primary mode of ethical relationship, the cycle becomes unsustainable and crisis-ridden wherein we perpetuate vicious cycle. Processes of conciliation degenerate into crisis ridden relationships and then call forth the need for re-conciliation — the return to conciliatory processes. Reconciliation comes as a response to a crisis situation wherein relationships have become unsustainable. In these “crisis ridden relationships”, people have become distrustful, alienated and aggressive, and responses “amplify” rather than “attenuate” the crisis situations, and if their inherent practices continue, they risk self-destruction of their own life and that of others. Within the vicious cycle of unsustainability, relations seem exclusive, exhausted and irreconcilable.
There is then a meta-life cycle wherein change-complexity-symbiogenesis can lead to a crisis and destruction of the basic conciliatory way of life which calls forth as a response for extraordinary practices to re-conciliate or re-connecting the partners. In order to appropriately respond to unsustainable relationships, we must work and exercise our primary ethical responsibilities, work our way out of our current problems and attitudes. We need to free ourselves from the vicious cycle and its unsustainable practices, then adopt reflective conciliatory and sustainable ones. Our sustainable practices need to transform our crisis unsustainable world from its vicious cycle into its virtuous cycle. We need to become the change that we seek. The remainder of the presentation reviews very briefly an appropriation of the work of Karl Polanyi for understanding the symbiogenesis interconnection of living beings that include the earth as the living earth and a short question period over the sustainable practices in modern universities.