How We Define Engagement
This class is titled, “Environmental Engagement” without context these words hold endless meanings and definitions. In this course we delve into our own interpretation of engagement: conversation towards action. This course offers the opportunity to explore the importance of engagement and delve into our own experience with interacting in a real world context. Although before diving into real world experience with partnerships, a large part of the course is dedicated to emphasizing the theory of engagement and what it means to engage productively.We began this class with endeavoring to understand what our goal was and what we want engagement to look like. We read Proctor’s piece “When Ideas Differ: Three Options” to solidify what exactly engagement means and how it differs from agree and disagree interactions that we are often familiar with,
“Engage is a mutual search for the profound truths emanating from our differentiated expertise, and an exploration of the creative tensions and possibilities arising from these complementary truths”(Proctor 2019)
We broke down engagement into easily digestible parts; in order to engage in what we refer to as a “post truth” world it is important to understand (a) the problem itself -i.e. the “what” (b) the actors involved in this issue on all sides as well as their perspectives- i.e. the “who” and finally (c) the details of the hopefully coproduced solution- i.e. the “how”. This breakdown of engagement allows for one to hopefully reach the goal of effective action and create a meaningful form of engagement.
The goal of our engagement is to create a form of effective action, in order to understand what it means to engage one must first understand effective action. For us effective action is most clearly articulated by the Effective Altruism project. Effective Altruism (referred hereafter as ‘EA’) is the basis of our engagement and our driving factor.
“ (EA) is a research field which uses high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to help others as much as possible. It is also a community of people taking these answers seriously, by focusing their efforts on the most promising solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.”2016
The emphasis here is the importance of maintaining the enthusiasm to create change but funnel one’s drive towards a realistically solvable and highly important issue. Vox news created a segment that exemplified EA in a way that made it more digestible and understandable to us, “We’re also generally interested in how to reason better, predict better, and make better decisions. Making ourselves better, less biased reasoners is one way to get better at helping others” (2018). The Vox reading provided a meaningful connection between EA and Proctor’s idea of coproduction of knowledge by emphasizing less bias.
Effective action as we know it is built on the idea that we live in a post-truth and heavily polarized world, the idea of co-producing knowledge is to acknowledge the lack of singular truths and understand the value of multiple truths. The dilemma is that we now operate with conflicting realities that exist between polarized groups. We read an Edsall piece that elaborated on the nature of this divergence of reality in American politics and how politics has moved away from an emphasis on the truth but now is centered in playing to the realities of a desired demographic, “Trump defies norms of political correctness by telling his backers what they firmly believe is the truth — their truth — about race, crime and immigration” (Edsall 2020). This phenomenon, that some refer to as misinformation but we refer to as multiple truths, is not U.S. specific either. We explored a Chinchilla piece that explained the relationship between misinformation and the expansive space that is the internet, “Fake news is as old as news, and hate speech is as old as speech. But the digital age has provided a ripe environment for the virulent reproduction and visibility of both” (Chinchilla 2019). This concept of multiple truths complicates our endeavor of engagement and adds complexity to reaching our goal of effective action.
After taking in the concept of multiple truths it can be difficult to pinpoint the “what” which is the issue that one is focusing on. Given the post truth context, any issue can be fluid and highly dependent on which “truth” one is focusing on. What makes our task complicated is that we are endeavoring to take in all possible truths when analyzing the “what” of an issue. The key components of understanding the issue is ensuring that we remain as unbiased as possible and allow different perspectives to speak for themselves in creating a hopefully common understanding of the “what”.
Within the context of “post-truth” we begin to unravel the complexity of a diversely oriented and deeply divided set of actors that exists in any issue one looks at. To explore the polarized who we used the examples of Hidden Tribes and Global Warming’s Six Americas. Hidden Tribes is a project that places individuals into different political tribes through a quiz that exemplifies the level of polarization between tribes. The Six Americas project is a similar quiz that places one of six opinions surrounding climate change. However, polarization is not necessarily nor entirely a negative situation. Heterodox Academy elaborates on the importance of viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement, without acknowledging differences and approaching them effectively and respectively we would exist in a homogeneous field of knowledge that is never expanded. Despite a clear division within our actors we have learned the value of each side’s own truth and how these multiple truths create the coproduction of knowledge that will inform our effective engagement.
How We Have Engaged
The reconnaissance trip was our first experience of what engagement can look like across different organizations and strategies, it provided what I like to call a sampler platter of engagement. The trip was framed within three issues (or ‘whats’)
- Salmon preservation and management on the Columbia river
- Federal Forest Management
- Agriculture in the Willamette Valley
Each of the organizations that we visited were involved in one of these issues and some that were focused on the same issue were on divergent sides, this gave us a very clear example of the divided who and each perspective holds its value. For example CRITFC, or Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, engages in a contemporary world that can be exclusive of Native Americans but still implements indigenous knowledge and practices surrounding salmon management. We also spent time with the Hood River Forest Collaborative also known as the “Stew Crew”. Meeting with members of the Stew Crew showed us a form of direct engagement across differences as each member provided a diverse perspective, during our time there the members even admitted to often disputing over opinion. However, their ability to work through difference is an excellent model of what we are working towards within this course.
After developing a well rounded expectation of engagement we each embarked on our own process of engagement with a chosen partner organization. The organization I chose is the Center for Diversity and the Environment, or CDE. CDE brings together themes of the class as well as personal passions that brought me to the Environmental Studies program at Lewis and Clark. The mission of CDE is to foster an environmental movement that includes a diverse set of voices and perspectives, this directly ties with our understanding of engagement and provides another excellent example of what engagement can look like. As we move forward with our partnerships we expect to foster a project that will hopefully continued in the coming years of ENVS 295. I look forward to creating a relationship with CDE and continuing to embark on my own journey and experience with engagement.
Chinchilla, L. (2019, October 15). Post-Truth Politics Afflicts the Global South, Too. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/15/opinion/politics-global-south.html
Edsall, T. B. (2020, February 12). Trump Is Waiting and He Is Ready. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/12/opinion/trump-campaign-2020.html
Introduction to Effective Altruism. (2016, June 22). Retrieved from https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/introduction-to-effective-altruism/
Matthews, D. (2018, October 15). Future Perfect, explained. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/10/15/17924288/future-perfect-explained
Proctor, James D. “When Our Ideas Differ: Three Options.” EcoTypes: Exploring Environmental Ideas (blog), June 23, 2019.https://jimproctor.us/ecotypes/about-ecotypes/when-our-ideas-differ-three-options/.