Can philosophy matter?

In the last century, it seemed philosophy might disappear from public consciousness. Much of philosophy had become so technical and so removed from the problems of daily life that most people who were not professional philosophers could not even name a living and working philosophers. Philosophers hardly have the recognition of other public figures even now, but they are addressing concerns that are public–medical ethics, corporate ethics, how to live a good life, and so on.

In Stephen Toulmin’s book, Cosmopolis, he describes various aspects of modernism, and concludes that it is no accident that philosophers are beginning to take seriously concerns that Descartes thought had no depth. After centuries of theoretical and technical exploration, philosophers are returning to discussions of how to live and how to make life better for others. Toulmin says it is no accident that “more and more philosophers are now being drawn into debates about environmental policy or medical ethics, judicial practice or nuclear politics.”[1] He says some philosophers may fear being drawn away from the technical questions of academic philosophy, but he argues, “These practical debates are, by now, not ‘applied’ philosophy but philosophy itself.”[2] The problems facing the world now are not new. Wars, pollution, and poverty have been with us for centuries. But these same problems are acute, chronic, and critical. It is easy to despair at our lack of progress, but Martha Nussbaum reminds us that progress has been made. In Frontiers of Justice, she says, “Racial hatred and disgust, and even misogynistic hatred and disgust, have certainly diminished in our public culture, through attention to the upbringing of children and their early education. The careful attention to language and imagery that some pejoratively call ‘political correctness’ has an important public purpose, enabling children to see one another as individuals and not as members of stigmatized groups.”[3] As humanists, we cannot solve the world’s problems, but we can choose to contribute to moral progress and promote a common understanding and care for one another, regardless of how many people join us along the way.

[1] <!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN ZOTERO_ITEM {"citationItems":[{"uri":[""]}]} <![endif]–>Stephen Edelston Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, University of Chicago Press ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 190.<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>

[2] Ibid.

[3] <!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN ZOTERO_ITEM {"citationItems":[{"uri":[""]}]} <![endif]–>Martha Craven Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 2006), 413.<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>

How to have a lawn that won’t kill us all.

I’ve had several things to say about lawns. In the spirit of trying to offer alternatives, I will simply point you to an article from the UK both about the problems of lawns and the possible ways to deal with the problems. It is possible to live with beautiful gardens without pesticides, herbicides, fossil-fuel-burning and polluting lawn equipment, and water waste.

A Striped Lawn
A Striped Lawn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, in the US, homeowner associations call the shots and insist on the destructive practices that the Guardian article is warning against. What is the solution? Fight the HOAs. Demand an end to environmentally destructive deed restrictions. We are not fighting to save the Earth. We are fighting to save ourselves.

More problems with lawns

Lawns continue to cause problems for the survival of animals such as humans. A New York Times article today reports on the problem of water conservation in Florida. In the article, Abby Goodnough notes that Florida residents use up to 75 percent of their water outdoors, mostly on lawns. Drought-resistant ground cover and artificial turf have both failed to catch on in big numbers. Why? Homeowner associations prohibit both. Instead, HOAs insist that homeowners have grass lawns, which require not only enormous amounts of water but also chemicals in the form of pesticides and fertilizers.

In other words, most Floridians (read: US citizens) are required to create environmental hazards around their homes. These hazards are harmful to animals, including humans, and are aesthetically bland at their very best. The fact that spending 75 percent of fresh water to maintain lawns is an unjust distribution of natural and financial resources seems self-evident to this author, but I’ve grown accustomed to being in the minority.

Perhaps HOAs are resistant because attractive alternatives do not exist. Artificial turf may not be the panacea some hope for as many find it less than beautiful. At least, many think they will find it less than beautiful. Perhaps to see it is to love it, but who knows? Some residents have also experimented with gardens made of rocks and hardy, ground-resistant ground cover. This gives a garden the look of a natural setting, which also seems upsetting to HOAs. A Zen garden filled with gravel and a few well-placed boulders might be attractive and encourage mindfulness at the same time, but I doubt HOAs will embrace the idea of Zen gardens soon, either.

What’s to be done? Some ideas: 1. pass laws limiting water consumption. 2. pass laws limiting the use of environmentally harmful chemicals on lawns. 3. eliminate HOAs. 4. encourage creative lawn maintenance. 5. remove all laws or deed restrictions requiring maintenance of grass lawns.

We will have greater property rights, lawns will reflect more diverse forms of beauty, water will be more abundant, and we will have a more just world. Not bad for a days work. Just let property owners do what they want to do, anyway.