Readers' Forum

Readers' Forum is a place for your feedback and ideas. We welcome you to use this space to share your thoughts, inspire us with your personal stories, and challenge our thinking and that of our readers.
Activists' dilemma


I can't say how much I appreciate Joanna Macy's approach to activism, comprising three elements: “No” to exploitation, “Yes” to positive development, “YES” to deep spirit. All as complementary. It underlies much discussion that has occurred at our bioregional discussion/action group in western Massachusetts.


There are continually incidental and systemic injustices that our group felt impelled to act on. Many felt that to accept any of those was unconscionable. Others noted that to only oppose injustices would not solve any problems systemically. We would spend all of our time opposing injustices, we would burn out, and we would change little.


At the same time, many in our group recognized that opposing injustice was morally easy in many ways, a laziness. It is far easier to identify and self-righteously object to wrongs than to propose solutions. There is a relatively high proportion of accurate diagnoses of problems compared to the proportion of proposed solutions that are effective, economically viable, and politically palatable.


What I want to suggest is to plan for the courage to propose solutions that apply in a significant practical way, towards a qualitative, benign, and dynamic society. In that light, I loved Joanna's comments. I sensed a very strong personal clarity and confidence that applies on a variety of social and time scales (my test of authenticity), that is suggestive and infectious.



An activist is born
As a faithful reader of your journal, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of Paul Hawken's ingenious article exploring the riots in Seattle, the WTO, and globalization. Being 14 years old, I was unable to convince my parents to let me go to Seattle, and before your publication I felt like I could never get a truthful story about what actually happened there.

Thanks to your article I have been awakened to the greed of globalization. The WTO's goals of privatizing natural resources and of aborting a country's right to boycott a product based on its means of production are ludicrous.The WTO's ambitions would only lead us closer to environmental catastrophe and put more wealth into the hands of those who are already disproportionately affluent.

San Mateo, California

Down with negativity!
Overall, I am absolutely delighted with your publication. After reading each issue (which I borrow from the library) I feel inspired and uplifted!

The article on WTO in Seattle in your Winter 2000 issue was disappointing to me, however. The media already showed the negative side, problems, etc. I would have loved to hear more about some of the speeches and connections between the “protestors.”

Bellingham, Washington

No! to cyber-spirituality
Dr. Jean Houston (“Cyber Consciousness,” YES! Spring 2000) feels that the Internet is “our most promising road to transcendence,” and that from our expanded inner space will come a “renaissance of growth in science, art, music, literature …, and above all, vision.”

From my work in poetry, I disagree. Our most promising road to transcendence lies, as it always has, in the nature and quality of the human heart. Depth and integrity of emotion, disciplined and sustained effort in creation, reflective and carefully articulated expression in communication lead to a civilized people. I don't see the Internet fostering any of these.

Falmouth, Massachusetts

Reducing reductionism
Having just returned to the US after 30 years overseas, I am ignorant of the debate on reductionism versus holism in describing how things work. Thus I am puzzled by Mae-Wan Ho's vehemence on the subject (YES! Spring 2000).

Certainly Dr. Ho and most YES! readers have flown on a plane before. Is it not the understanding of
how air molecules flow over metal in different circumstances that is the basis for safe air travel today? If we reject the reductionist explanation of these interactions, then how can we confidently board a plane and trust that it will fly?

The same would apply to evolutionary biology and the attempt to understand what independent effect genes have on our physical development, emotions, and behavior. This understanding doesn't ultimately lead to a “nightmarish conclusion” any more than knowledge of aerodynamics led to the Luftwaffe.

T. Bennett

A little too easy?

I love your magazine, but I must admit to being confused by a certain contradiction in its articles.
A burning question for me is “Just what kind of way of life is sustainable?” My understanding of our predicament, including your articles on climate change, leads me to believe that a drastic change is required in the way we obtain our livelihood from nature.

On the other hand, the subtle message of some articles on steps people are making towards sustainability is that these people have arrived at sustainability.

For example, in “A Zero- emissions Family” (YES! Winter 1999/2000), all that seems necessary to arrive at zero carbon dioxide emissions is to buy more efficient appliances, buy a solar hot water system, switch electric utilities, and so forth. “It's not that hard,” says the dad. “Zero carbon emissions is something anybody can achieve by making a few simple choices.”

I fear that this approach trivializes the problems that we face. Shouldn't those of us who are taking small, conscious steps towards sustainability have our vision honed by that effort? When we climb one small hill, shouldn't we be able to better see the massive mountain range in front of us?

As I understand the mission of YES!, it is to nurture our sense of hope by balancing the often gloomy reports of our predicament with stories celebrating people taking action. I hope that this does not result in mistaking efforts to head in the right direction for arrival at our goal. And I hope that while showing how painless some steps toward sustainability might be, we don't succumb to trivializing the task in order to win widespread support.

Santa Cruz, California

In defense of No!

Yes, what a pleasure to be receiving your magazine, or dare I say, our magazine. And yet I must raise an objection to the beautiful card I just received, welcoming me as a new subscriber.

To readers who have not seen this, it is a picture of the word Yes in pale blue, surrounded by vibrant yellow, seemingly trouncing on and obliterating the word No, which is written in black on a fiery red background. Atop are the words “YES Triumphs Over The Heartless NO.”

I want to say a few words in support of retaining “No” as a part of our vocabulary. When I walk into a mainstream supermarket and feel my consciousness subliminally altered by the sound system in a way that I do not understand, when I hear how the clothes I wear are made by slave labor, when I am shown pictures of the swollen udders of cows injected with bovine growth hormone, there is a word that wants to come forth – a word lying dormant within the depth of each of us, and a word used by victims of rape – for which there is no substitute, and the word is … No! No! No! No!

And not a heartless No, it is a No that protects the heart. Of course all the No's in the world have no lasting power unless they are backed up by a resounding Yes. No may protect the heart, but it is Yes that inspires it.


Mags for the Millennium
English 100 this morning. Critical Thinking. I feel guilty about my lack of enthusiasm and try to psyche myself up with a hot and cold shower. The argumentative essay … deductive and inductive reasoning … syllogisms ... doesn't really get me going. And it won't get them going either – I know that. Ten students and me, a 61 year-old English-born English teacher in a small community college in northern California.

So there I am with my early morning coffee, resolutely postponing my lesson plan session and reading my new issue of YES! magazine and I suddenly think Ah! Got it! That's what I'll do!

And I'm scurrying round the house scooping up magazines, all my back copies of YES! … Utne Reader … two of those … two Resurgences, let me see … plenty there. So … go in, small groups, quick introduction about the limitations of critical thinking, and how here at the end of the millennium we have run into some quite serious problems because of our blinkered mindsets and our consumerist lifestyle and its effects on the planet…and how it's easy to feel overwhelmed or hopeless or confused when you think about the problems ... but then if you find out about other people who are also thinking about these problems and are working together to do something about them … then you feel encouraged, you feel there's hope, you begin to see what you can do …


So this morning I'm giving you some publications written by and about people who are working towards a better future for the planet and all its inhabitants, including us … and I want you to look through them in your groups and find an article that interests you, read it over and discuss it and be ready to present a short
report on it to the rest of the class in about half an hour. …

Will it work, will it work?

I finish my coffee and drive to the campus. “Don't think too much about it! Just do it!”


I hand out the mags and do my keynote speech. I sit back in my teacher's chair and watch. And I see interested faces. I hear animated voices. “Hey Mr. W. check out this article about this school in the outback …” They're discussing barter systems, electric cars and bikes, the WTO, solar-powered ferry boats – “Dude … wouldn't that be cool going across San Francisco Bay?”

During the presentations the atmosphere is electric … everyone wants to speak at once … “How come we never get to hear about this stuff on telly?” “They just concentrate on the problems, man …” “I wanna go to Australia, work with these people!” “How can I order this magazine?” “Reading about these new ideas, these things that people are doing …” says Mandy “… it's like a new world. I never knew about it.” The room is silent. “It's like I can almost allow myself to start hoping again.” She looks up at me with her wry smile. “Almost.”

Tomorrow we'll read and think and talk and write some more about these ideas, Mandy. Ditch the text book. Carpe diem and all that. Maybe we'll look at our lives, at our beliefs, at our different ways of understanding how it all works, at our dreams …

We'll leave the shabby classroom and go outside, find a place to sit in the wintery sun if there is any, and talk about the future. Maybe you'll think about the kids you may have one day, and what kind of world you want for them, and how you can help prepare that world so that it's ready for them when they're ready to arrive. We'll get some passion going. And then we'll write. We'll write as though what we have to say matters. Because it does.

Emmanuel Williams
Pacifica, California

Natural capitalism

In his review of Natural Capitalism, by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins (YES! #13), André Carouthers wrote a fine summary of helpful changes in engineering that are described in the book, but he criticized the authors for being too optimistic. Actually, the authors do recognize that the necessary changes will involve a revolution at all levels – individuals, businesses, societies, and governments.

Carouthers described the authors as leaders in “Industrial Ecology” and suggested that they should have
just stuck to their engineering suggestions. By that approach he missed the guts of the book, which is about natural capitalism and learning from and imitating the wisdom of nature.

When I read his review, I thought that Mr. Carouthers had somehow managed to skip reading Chapter 10, though he did a great review of anecdotes in other parts of the book.

Evanston, Illinois

Encouraging words

We can't resist sharing this excerpt from a reader's letter to the host of a program on Wisconsin Public Radio.

YES! is a truly wonderful magazine – intelligent, and daring to probe deeply into serious and difficult
issues while always focusing on the opportunities and solutions, and giving real-life examples of what we can do. Many of their articles are written not by journalists, but by people living their philosophy, and often among the most prominent in their fields.

I cannot overstate how important I think this magazine is in these cynical days, with a mass media
consistently ignoring and trivializing the truly important issues. I think you will find this magazine personally enjoyable, inspiring, and enlightening, and also a source of program ideas. You may also find excellent interviewees among the YES! editors and board members.

Let me also say that, no, I am NOT paid by the YES! magazine, nor have I any financial or other connections with them. I am just one of their many devoted subscribers, passionate about their work and mission.

Per Kielland-Lund
Mount Horeb, Wisconsin