Jenna Witzleben

MFA Thesis Blog

This blog contains experiments, project and reading reflections, unanswered questions, and more relating to my year-long thesis as part of my Master's design program. From Sept. 2016 to May 2017, I explored rewilding human beings and the environments we inhabit at multiple scales including investigation around individual fears of nature, regional food production systems, and global overpopulation. The final works of this thesis can be found in my portfolio.

Systems Thinking for a Better World

For one of our first assignments in my course on sustainability and resilience, we were asked to watch this lecture by Peter Senge, to hear his thoughts on systems thinking. I was thrilled to discover that he discussed systems through our disconnect with natural systems. 

Peter starts with powerful juxtaposed imagery of his childhood surrounded by orange and lemon groves in California and being surrounded by air pollution, shopping malls, buildings, roads, and cars just 10 years later in the same area. He also discusses the history of our disconnect with nature starting with the agricultural revolution. But the even more fascinating point that he makes here is around the relationship of nature and religion. This general relationship came up in a recent interview with Jana Richman. Peter furthered understanding and interest by connecting it to the agricultural revolution as well in saying that many of our modern religions began around the time of or after the agricultural revolution - so their focus and language does not integrate nature centrally - nature is separate from human in many of these theologies due to their historical origins. 

In this talk Peter also discusses our systems ignorance. We believe that we are so complex and advanced but really we just burn nature to make things work. I am brought back to my reflections on the Jungle Book movie from this summer, where I encountered the theory of invention and machines as being unique to humans. In this too there was this notion that human invention and design can be intellectual and ignorant. We cannot take it as inherently one way or the other but we need to be intellectual in our decision to apply it and in the systemic impacts the application will have.

Peter later touches on biological niches and poses the question of what is the human niche? What role do we play and where? Through my reading it has become clear than many non-human animals have unique roles that they play in their ecosystems. We've learned this frequently through making ignorant changes in environments and then witnessing or experiencing the detrimental effects on the other species in the region. We have taken on the role of global managers, as I've mentioned in a previous post. But clearly we're not very good at it. Does nature actually need a manager or a leader? Can we let other species lead us? Can we step down and take a role that is less organizational and more integrated? Can we learn from studies on government models, education models, workplace models, etc. to inform our transition out of the hierarchical system that we've created where humans are at the top?

Jenna Witzleben