“Public space, public spirit, public decision-making — these are hard won triumphs of human evolution. They are indispensable pillars of the human project. Without them, freedom, equality, sustainable living, and convivial community life slip away and perish. I believe we humans, against all seeming odds, will find our way to a thriving public life for all.”
John Rensenbrink grew up in Minnesota and, until the age of 18, worked the fields on his family’s farm. College and university swept him into an anthropocentric (human-centered) culture of politics that favored patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and industrial progress. He calls these “the arbitrary gods of acute separations.”
Separations, John believes, have their ultimate root in the emergence of consciousness. The evolution of human consciousness and intelligence is a magnificent work of nature. But it has its underside. Along with joy, excitement, and creativity there also come insecurity and fear. With the insecurity and fear comes a yawning sense of separation of self from self, self from nature, and self from others. Into these gaps surge powerful temptations. Typical temptations include taking more than your share; blaming others (especially those who are different) when results do not match your expectations; slighting others and being easily slighted; and forming hierarchies of status, money, and power. Prime exhibits of these behaviors and of attitudes that go with them are the “arbitrary gods” of patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and the industrial abuse of nature.
Rensenbrink taught political philosophy to college students at Coe and Williams Colleges, and then at Bowdoin College, where he taught for 30 years before retiring as Professor Emeritus in 1995. He and Carla Washburne married in 1959. They raised a family of three girls, and together found themselves over the next five decades involved in successive movements for education innovation, racial justice, overcoming poverty, freedom from war, women’s rights, and gay and lesbian rights.
In 1984, he teamed with others to create the Maine Green Party and then the Green Party of the United States. A Green Party, he believes, may be the only political way in our time to heal acute seaparations. A Green Party is also imperative to provide the political will that can do two crucial things: first, stave off the worst of the policies of a dominant political class (nuclear war, climate collapse, deep and widespread impoverishment) thus buying time for the growth of green innovations and oases of community life; and secondly to protect and foster these innovations and oases.
Green philosophy, he argues in two of his books and in the Green Horizon Magazine which he started with Steve Welzer in 2003, is rooted in ecological wisdom. Ecological wisdom teaches that the human species is part of nature, not separate from it; that nature is evolutionary and always changing; that everything is connected to everything else; and that a healthy and prosperous society is centered in locally based communities and is multicultural – like nature. Thus, if a genuine public life is to emerge for most people on the planet, community building is urgent for it is there that people can learn and practice cross-cultural dialogue.
Parallel with his Green party work, Resenbrink works on projects that promote hands-on ecological education, that enliven the town meeting form of government, that foster public dialogue across differences, and that promote universal dialogue through the International Society for Universal Dialogue (ISUD), from which he recently stepped down as President.
From his travels in connection with ISUD and his travels in connection with global Green organizations, from research visits to Poland in the 80s and 90s (he wrote a book about the Solidarity movement there), and from three years of work on educational projects in East Africa in the 60s, John is confident that there is a tremendous fund of good will and of energy for peace with nature and for peace with other people in different cultures.
We may perish as a species, he says. But, he believes, if we pursue an economy of peace and cooperation with nature and a multicultural society through all-out dialogue – then we have a chance.
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