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Marching to the beat of nature’s drum PDF Print E-mail
Written by MARK WOLFE   
Thursday, 12 August 2010 14:06

The Slow Movement instigates a recovery of values and the soul

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger is reputed to have at times taken up to five minutes of reflection before answering a direct question from an interlocutor. Five is a small number and the instinct is to think, “That’s a bit odd to be sure, but it’s only five minutes.”    

Photo: Holly Hofmann/Calgary Journal
Really? Try it the next time you’re at the bar or walking down the street and a friend asks, “How’s it going?” Dwell on that silently for roughly the same duration as a TV commercial break, or perhaps the running of movie trailers before the feature begins. I bet you’re no more than 20 or 30 seconds in before one or both of two things happen:  

1) Your companion queries after your malaise; or

2) You forget the actual question in play and wander on to some other line of thought and/or conversation.  

It’s perhaps significant we’ve been complaining in the west about the pace of life for more than a hundred years, but only recently have marshaled some language and action around what some would argue is the soul-destroying temporal vortex known and loved by many as our “consumer culture” – the personal computer and the endless and accelerating parade of derivative gadgets being of no particular help and even a central part of the problem.

With attention spans dropping in inverse proportion to sales of iPads and smart phones, it is little wonder we as a society are overwhelmed by distraction and all the social ills – from ageism to failure at school and work – that come with it.  

But there is pushback that goes under a few names and movements. One is the 100-mile diet that – in addition to reducing the carbon footprint implicated in flying bottles of Pellegrino to North America where it is in turn then trucked to hell and gone where consumers then drive to the store to pick it up and haul it home – is also meant to curb our enthusiasm and expectation of universal and instant gratifications at any (and usually invisible) cost.  

Another is the so-called Slow Movement itself that originated in Italy decades ago, and aligns with that country’s well-known conservatism of local culture. This translates in Italy – and now increasingly elsewhere – as a kind of deliberate and literal application of brakes to things like dining and bodily transportation in order to reduce contemporary society’s myriad hypertensions for sure, but also to recover some core values.   

This should make abundant sense in Canada where, according to John Ralston Saul, our roots to aboriginal culture are more than passing: that through our extensive inter-marriage with Native and Métis in the early going just to survive in this new land, we’ve over the decades forged at the very least proclivities, if not actual instincts, for the same Aboriginal sense of nature in which time is not a linear and open-ended scale of acceleration, but something more of a circle in which time is always what it is only when “it’s time.”

Aboriginal people themselves often joke about this as “Indian time,” which can mean something like: when I get around to it, or when it speaks to me to be done.

Joking aside, however, there is something to or in the Slow Movement that does instigate a recovery of values, if not the soul. To dredge up the spectre of Heidegger again – and risk the irony of juxtaposing the notion of the soul with someone around whom National Socialism remains a discernible odour – this is because we are all beings in a world, where “the world” is much less significantly a physical place as it is a place where people dwell first and foremost with other people and primarily in the domain of language.

This being-in-the-world-with-others carries as a result a primordial and therefore fundamentally moral obligation to respect the co-presence brought about just by being in a world – a being-in with others that’s easily strained if not outright corrupted in the anything-goes domains of online gaming and social networking, as anyone who’s played Call of Duty can attest.

No accident, then, that the Slow Movement is built around re-inventing both physical co-presence – by encouraging foot traffic or conveyance other than solitary automobiles, as the famous city critics Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford long argued throughout the 20th century – as well as the most fundamental of human communing: the breaking of bread.  

So, dining out in parts of Italy might very well instigate a four-to-six-hour event, dwelling respectfully and fully over the food bounty, but more importantly the human bounty known as conversation: because it is in this type of intercourse – verbal exchange – that the recovery of the soul can happen. By listening to others – not just hearing them among the noise – you automatically also listen to Being. Or, in Aboriginal parlance, to The Creator as manifest and represented by the totality of the real (non-digitized) world.

Mark Wolfe holds a PhD in communications from the University of Calgary, where he is a sessional instructor in the Faculty of Communication and Culture. He is also a former editor-in-chief of Alberta Oil Magazine.