Meadowcreek is just a wonderful place to be this time of year. We’re in the midst of our ropes course design weekend. Which means we have a very productive reason to be out in the woods watching the leaves turn color. It’s been really dry in Arkansas since July, so fall colors won’t be so great in most of the state. Here at Meadowcreek we have enough springs and seeps that we still get good color no matter what. So we are enjoying a fabulous weekend, as the city people would say.
On a beautiful weekend, its hard to be goal-oriented. Team-building, for example, is a great goal. Then you try to do it. Once I had the goal along those lines. I hoped to get 8 people who I felt should be working together to have a team-building weekend. Two just didn’t want to participate cause they don’t really like the others. Two participants have an anniversary and can only participate for a few hours. Another’s sister comes to visit and she leaves to stay with her for a couple of days. Another got busy with work and couldn’t spend the weekend after all. So we are left with just three of us and the facilitators. Oh well, ought to be a nice tight team of the three of us anyway.
So we had the goal of a team-building weekend and that didn’t happen as we had planned, but the result was a lot better than anything we could have hoped for. Because we were flexible and adaptive, conservatively innovative.
Lots of folks think its really nice to have goals. “Build a farmer cooperative”,
“Have a trust-building weekend” or, at a larger scale, “Sustainability goals for Africa” are all really warm and fuzzy. Who can be against such? Well, resilient ecological systems, for one.
I’ve had problems with goals since I was about 33. Until then, I had been very goal-driven. Gotta get Phi Beta Kappa and graduate in 3 years. Gotta get fellowship for grad school. Gotta get Masters. Gotta get good teaching job. Gotta get Ph.D. . Gotta get good research job. Gotta get good research job in the same place as my wife. So I got all that done.
Then, reality intervened. I couldn’t ignore the fact any longer that I didn’t like being stuck in a lab all day.
Since then, I have had a careen instead of a career.
An era of rapid change (whether climate change, social change, technological change) means we need to be able to rapidly and flexibly and innovatively interact with the systems inducing change. Ecological resilience theory is one of the major tools helping us do that.
Psychological resilience theory has taken a different path. Psychology and sociology are normative sciences. They seek to change the world, make the world a better place. That’s no different, conceptually, from wanting to get rid of all Kurds or all Muslims or discrimination or Western values or dozens of other causes.
Sustainability has goals, so does profitability, so does anti-discrimination, so does anti-American, anti-muslim and dozens of other causes. Well I am fed up with all these causes. My wife still gives to support a bunch of worthwhile causes. As a result she always has plenty of free calendars, address labels and cheap trinkets to give as presents.
Social psychology, sociology and the other social sciences often focus on what they want the world to be like, not on observable phenomena. The behaviorists tried to pull psychology kicking and screaming into science. Lots of courses on scientific method and statistics. You learn that it’s important to have statistically significant results, preferably at the p< 05 level. What that means in practice is that if you do twenty experiments, on average, by chance, one will come out as you predicted. So, if you have enough grant support or free time, you do the same experiment twenty times and one time you’ll get results which are significant at the .05 level. Then you can publish the results and maybe get more grants to do more such worthless work,
For me, it’s a lot more fun to study real phenomena. It seems obvious that its easier to study, learn about and make progress understand something which really exists, than studying some concept someone made up, like sustainability. But not for some, they question what reality means and they are fools. Let them and their sort die out. They will. They are parasites on society. They drink coffee and pontificate in brewpubs and lecture halls and lead astry the youth.
A social–ecological systems perspective treats social systems as real phenomena to be understood. We don’t bring people and animals and plants into the lab and do experiments on them. Innumerable species and forces interact to create any living system.
So we have to do our research in nature. At a place like Meadowcreek: our living laboratory for ecological resilience research.