On Morals and Mortality: A Commentary From the Publisher

We begin soon an active collection of perspectives that come from Greater Minnesota communities. Smaller towns than what I experience in Minneapolis — and before that in New York City — are a great microcosm of the human experiment: How do people gather, connect, and see each other? How do they recognize and resolve issues of trauma, addiction, justice, racism, and economy and ecosystems? What happens when they do not resolve? How do you co-exist when different viewpoints and solutions are alongside each other in a smaller community?

Last week I watched “R.M.N.,” a dark Romanian film that depicted with gut-wrenching relatability the actions of toxic masculinity, culminating in bigotry (not limited to gender) at an unrelenting 17-minute depiction of a town hall meeting. Louder voices objected to the ‘germs’ of three refugees who came for low-paying bakery jobs that townspeople would not take. As a growing subset of people refuse to buy bread that had been touched by these workers, and threaten violence, the owner and sponsors are forced to move the refugees out of town. Though it is a fictional movie, it is painfully real [now showing in independent film theaters around the country].

Film shot of R.M.N. — the title refers to a form of medical imaging used to determine the chemical structure of matter.

It is easy to dismiss parochial, xenophobic viewpoints as uneducated, frustrating limited perspectives of a certain segment of the population. But as more of us have been aware since the 2016 Presidential election, when society consists of so many people — living everywhere — with starkly different mindsets, the question becomes: How do we evolve together? Because we will not evolve apart.

R.M.N. refers to the imaging scan of an ailing farmer whose brain layers are dramatically split apart. Early in the movie, the farmer’s grandson sees the result of that type of disease and is so frightened that he stops speaking. His father tries to teach him survival skills — because “those who feel pity die first” — and scolds his mother for allowing the young boy to be afraid.

A few nights later, I watched “Once You Know,” a French documentary, which depicts another form of evolving apart. The documentarian chronicled his isolating despair about climate change, moving to a small village to live off the grid and reduce his carbon footprint. Eventually he sought out the insights of scientists who have been warning us for decades about the limitations we are plummeting toward. One French philosopher-scientist is blunt about the realities we are facing and said our choice is to either exist like marauding, individualistic, rifle-carrying American takers, or work in ‘right direction’ within our village.

He said our safety net is to work in a system of production within community.

A still shot from “Once You Know,’ which asks,”How will we decide … which values to uphold and defend?”

Vignettes from a Paris Climate Accord activist in Bangladesh showed how that town had raised itself on stilts to deal with climate change, committed to moving further up the mountains, and to change from unsustainable rice farming to fishing in a way to adapt to the inevitable rise of waters. [It occurs to me that it is a modern-day, real life example of Noah’s Ark — the U.S. opted to get off that ark in 2017, but rejoined under new leadership in 2021.]

The filmmaker eventually shows himself emerging from self-imposed exile to witness a sponsorship ritual in his town where climate refugees were being welcomed to create their new life. One of the refugees said they did not want to be there, and would prefer to remain in their own country, but had no choice but to relocate.

The juxtaposition of the Romanian film and the French documentary — highlighting different answers to the question of ‘Is there an other? Do boundaries really matter?’ — led me to an odd sense of calm. The choice to me is clear.

We are all dying, individually and collectively. How we choose to live our values is, really, the ongoing question we face.

The emotions we take with us on that journey include simultaneous despair at who and what we cannot control, and intention to do everything we can to bridge that gap.

Closer to Home

Two weeks ago, I saw “Greener Pastures,” by Samuel-Ali Mirpoorian, a Midwest documentarian who was trusted with years’ worth of conversations with four struggling farmers. The film depicts the severe mental health issues of an existence blighted by climate change and corporate farms, leading to more than 100,000 family farmers literally leaving the field from 2011 to 2018.

As was glimpsed during the pandemic, when access to global transportation networks of supply chains fail, what are communities left with? Where does the food come from when the larger production chains collapse?

Our safety net is to work in a system of production within community.

One of the farmers in the film, Chris Petersen, an advocate from Iowa, spoke in the post-screening discussion of “Greener Pastures.” He said that local farmers are in the dirt and caring for their animals, in contrast to the industrial model of agriculture that has animals in cages “and they call it farming.” He said if the 1985 Tom Harkins Farm Bill had passed — it lost by one vote — it would be a very different world today for family farms. [The current farm legislation bill.]

“It is up to consumers now,” Peterson said. Who do we support with our dollars?

Source: National Farmer’s Union

The Global Brain

A third connecting point for me this week was a monthly conversation circle I am involved with in a friend’s living room. We gravitated toward the thoughts of Pierre Teilhard du Chardin, who I had written about in 2016, just prior to buying Minnesota Women’s Press, before taking on the day-to-day challenges of keeping a print-based business alive.

Teilhard was a French Jesuit priest in the early 1900s, whose writing and livelihood was suppressed by the Catholic church until after his death in New York City in 1955. As his biographer, Ursula King, wrote, his focus had become: “Where are we going, what are we doing with the potential we have, with the imagination, the creativity, the consciousness, the complexification of people thinking together and acting together.”

He largely anticipated the global brain — the noosphere — that would come as we developed greater communication tools, well before the Internet and personal phones and computers had landed. His writings about “The Human Phenomenon” included: What are humans doing to expand, not destroy, our global intelligence? Will we meet our potential?

In a foreward to a new edition of Teilhard’s book, evolutionary cosmology teacher Brian Swimme, of the California Institute of Integral Studies, suggested this:

What is needed now … is not a new galaxy or a new star. What is needed now is a new form of human being.

The next afternoon, I listened as concepts derived from Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize-winning theories of economics were lifted up [a topic we had covered in our August 2022 issue on The Commons]. She largely debunked an earlier economic theory that humans are incapable of organizing around finite resources without top-down regulation and private ownership. She listed several core principles that enable people to agree on how to

work in a system of production within community.

This all points me toward the next step in the evolution of Minnesota Women’s Press, building Changemakers Alliance to offer a co-created future supported by “Media That Makes a Difference.”  

The Hometown Values & Vision tour in several small cities around the state will begin later this month. Dozens of people who have been part of our superpower thus far — getting people with great insights into the same space — are helping us build these conversations.

I look forward to learning, listening, and sharing what we hear from changemakers around the state as we connect the brains and voices around interconnected topics.