Monday, September 23, 2013

Escalante, UT (photos)

In all areas of academia there is a tendency to pursue one's own narrow questions without regard to other perspectives. Linguists ignore engineers, engineers ignore sociologists, and sociologists ignore physical science altogether.

Occasionally, however, a researcher faces a problem so vexing that she cannot solve it on her own. She inevitably comes to realize that the world, in its beautiful complexity, has a way of bringing to light the limitations of specializations. 

I know of a team of engineers, for example, that gave specialized cooking tools to people in isolated villages in South America. The tools were carefully designed to meet the specific demands of the villagers and could handle the realities of the harsh environment. Rationally speaking, the tools were perfect. Truthfully, however, there was a major flaw: the villagers did not use them. In spite of their brilliance and ingenuity, the engineers had no resources for understanding the social dimensions of adopting new technology. They called the sociologists for help. 

I don't think there is anything embarrassing in this. Though we live in a nation that enshrines self-sufficiency and extols the virtue of independent living, I believe there is strength in the ability to recognize our own interdependence. 

I thought I knew Escalante fairly well. After all, I had spent hundreds of hours studying interview transcripts and relevant literature. I read everything from local histories to government financial reports. I knew about their festivals and their origins, their heroes and their villains, their conflicts and their tragedies. And yet, when I finally went there, I realized that I knew very little. There was a life in the town that could never be captured through any kind of methodological reduction. I put my books away and walked around.

As I walked around the town and the surrounding areas, it finally struck me why there is conflict here between new lives and old lives. Intellectually I always understood the conflict and its reasons, but seeing the beauty of the place and its history, in person, opened my mind in a new way. 

It's like your favorite song. You love that song, and because you love it, you protect it from harm. When other people listen to the song you fear that they are unworthy, or that they might not appreciate its beauty, or that they might even defile it. It's more than a song to you. It's something sacred. 

These rural towns are no less than temples. They are holy lands, no less than old Jerusalem. And like Jerusalem, they attract pilgrims and spark controversy. For whenever there is a holy place, there is always the question of power: at the end of the day, who will have control of it?

Sacred space is not easily shared. Indeed, in many cases, sharing is expressly forbidden. How then are we to live, when so much of life is sacred?

We could secularize the world and bring everything under the reign of rational thought and equanimity. But who would want to live in such a world?

At the end of the day, perhaps we need fewer solutions and more understanding. I'm not so naive as to believe that if we just talk about our feelings then everything will be okay, but I do believe that it is much more difficult to murder your neighbor when you know him as a co-existing human being. Maybe then, when we start building relations instead of rhetoric, we will start to have the insight necessary to meet the challenges that seem utterly impossible on our own.

here's to that hope.

(all pictures taken with a canon rebel t3 on 6/1/13 - 6/2/13)


Erin Mumford said...

Beautifully expressed.

Michael Wood said...

Hey thanks!

Michael Wood said...

edited the last paragraph.

Captain Danger said...

Great post, Mike! I love Escalante, but probably for different reasons. I love the pictures.

Michael Wood said...

Thanks! I would love to go into the canyons there sometime, but it wasn't on the agenda this time. I love seeing all your cool pictures from Korea!