Located where successive waves of Earth crust fragments collided with North America and where a terrane is still hitting and sliding under the continent’s edge, where massive quantities of energy and material flow between ocean and upland, nexus of migration routes, where mountains and salmon co-evolve, the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains are one of the best places to see and feel the dynamic creativity of the world. I am developing that vision through college curriculum and a book on the natural history of the place. This project reflects my decades of living and teaching in this wilderness and the human community within it.
My colleague Roger Conner and I frequently see conflict escalate destructively and unproductively in policy disputes. But we have also watched some people successfully demonstrate power to bend the direction of events without triggering unnecessary or wasteful conflict, and with maximum efficiency in getting results. How do they do it? Learning this skill is typically picked up intuitively through long apprenticeships and experience. Through educational curriculum and a book project, Roger and I are working on training for activists that lays out explicit frameworks, methods and procedures for being strategically effective, able to affect policy and influence the direction of agencies and organizations. An underlying hypothesis, worth more inquiry, is that the skill set we propose has ethical implications.
I am looking for additional teaching opportunities to use Aikido training as a way to physically enact social and political relationships in conflict situations. This Japanese martial art addresses overcoming stasis, influencing the direction of action, and the paradox of increasing power by non-attachment to result. Emphasis in Aikido is on effectively blending with an attack, gaining control in ways that deescalate conflict and create safety for all parties. In my experience, it is metaphorically useful in contentious situations, including policy disputes and human relationships generally. My level of training in Aikido is at the point where I am beginning to feel principles of movement as I practice that are analogs for those I find in both biophysical evolution and political process. I included Aikido sessions in a program on policy advocacy I co-taught a few years ago at The Evergreen State College with Ted Whitesell. Students found those helpful.
Personal circumstances lead me to involvement in issues of pain & addiction and of chronic & incurable disease. Both of these inquiries are in collaboration with Dr. Kimber Rotchford, who is trained in both Western and Chinese medicine and specializes in pain, addiction and related brain function treatment.
Pain & Addiction: In his medical practice, Dr. Rotchford implemented a clinical method for treating chronic, non-cancerous pain which he believes improved quality of care, lowered costs, and reduced risk of misuse and diversion of the addictive drugs often used by these patients, who frequently have complex, comorbid illnesses combined with social and financial difficulties. He intended to create a replicable model useful in responding to a priority public health problem. Conflict ensued with state and federal authorities, including civil penalties for allegedly improper billing and threat of felony criminal indictment. Since relinquishing his DEA registration to prescribe controlled drugs, he has been unable to treat most of his patients. Roger Conner and I have worked to generate public support for Dr. Rotchford and assisted his attorneys with research useful for his legal defense. Issues involved in his case include society’s ability to effectively engage complex problems that trigger polarizing ethical and religious beliefs.
Chronic & Incurable Disease: My dear wife Marci Thurston was diagnosed with early-onset frontotemporal dementia in September, 2008. This is an incurable, fatal disease for which there is no acknowledged treatment. The parts of the brain involved in emotion, communication and organized thinking gradually deteriorate, eventually leading to death. While we have not been able to alter the direction of the disease, by trying treatments suggested by bringing Chinese medical models together with Western experimental results, Dr. Rotchford and I have made significant difference in Marci’s function and our quality of life. Our methods of working with risk, uncertainty and a combination of conceptual frameworks have been quite successful. The personal challenge of living with this overwhelming loss is fundamental.