Jack London’s Credo, and Bioregionalism


May 27, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

Jack London’s Credo:

I would rather be ashes than dust!

I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.

I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.

The function of man is to live, not to exist.

I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.

I shall use my time.

~~Poster in rest room, Patrona Restaurant, Ukiah


From Kirkpatrick Sale
Dwellers in the Land (1991)

The issue is not one of morality but of scale. There is no very successful way to teach, or force, the moral view, or to insure correct ethical responses to anything at all. The only way people will apply “right behavior” and behave in a responsible way is if they have been persuaded to see the problem concretely and to understand their own connections to it directly—and this can be done only at a limited scale.

It can be done where the forces of government and society are still recognizable and comprehensible, where relations with other people are still intimate, and where the effects of individual actions are visible; where abstractions and intangibles give way to the here and now, the seen and felt, the real and known.

Then people will do the environmentally “correct” thing not because it is thought to be the moral, but rather the practical, thing to do. That cannot be done on a global scale, nor a continental, nor even a national one, because the human animal, being small and limited, has only a small veiw of the world and a limited comprehension of how to act within it.

Scale, in other words, solves many of the abstract and theoretical problems the philosophers dither themselves into knots over. It specifically solves the problem of “responses to environmental threats” so that this is no longer a rarefied academic issue. For if there is any scale at which ecological consciousness can be developed, at which citizens can see themselves as being the cause for the environmental effect, it is a the regional level; there all ecological questions are taken out of the realm of the philosophical and the moral and are dealt with as immediate and personal.

People do not, other things being equal, pollute and damage those natural systems on which they depend for life and livelihood if they see directly what is happening; nor voluntarily use up a resource under their feet and before their eyes if the perceive that it is precious, needed, vital; nor kill off species they can see are important for the smooth functioning of the ecosystem…

Scale is, at bottom, the single critical and decisive determinant of all human constructs, be they buildings, systems, or societies. No work of human ingenuity, however perfect otherwise, can possibly be successful if it is too small or, more to the usual point, too big, just as a door fails if it is too small to get through, a door-knob if it is too large to grasp; just as an economy fails if it is too small to provide shelter as well as food, a government if it is too large to let all its citizens know about and regularly influence its actions.

At the right scale human potential is unleashed, human comprehension magnified, human accomplishment multiplied. I would argue that the optimum scale is the bioregional, not so small as to be powerless and impoverished, not so large as to be ponderous and impervious, a scale at which at last human potential can match ecological reality.

Klamath Bioregion