Summer Research Seminar 2020

The 2020 QIF Summer Research Seminar was the first to be held entirely online, August 3 – 7, and it was a real success. In the mornings, Friends shared their research out of silent worship, on the topics of peace in times of conflict, regenerative agriculture, how the climate crisis affects the Gambia, ecological law and monocultures, monetary reform, artificial intelligence and challenges of equality, followed by worshipful sharing and reflection among all SRS participants..

Erica Adams – Peace in Times of Conflict: Quarantine, Riots & Monuments
This presentation and discussion reflects on our recent landscape—a quarantine followed by demonstrations, riots and destruction of our monuments. How do we live Quaker values of peace, inclusiveness and coexistence? Connect communities? What is the future of public monuments? Who is represented? What future do we want after this pandemic? This presentation builds on discussions and projects connecting communities—Quaker, Wampanoag and Maya—through Quaker values, the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery and Indigenous speaking truth to power. Legacy Grants (2019 & 2017) supported talks and an exhibition by Maya women that Adams curated — “Respeto/Respect” about Maya religious diversity and coexistence after decades of strife in Chiapas Mexico.

Betsy Keokosky – Regenerative Agriculture
What is it? Why is regenerative agriculture different from other types of alternative farming? What are the links of soil health to human, community, and global health? What is the historical and economic context? This is a preliminary presentation on a book that is being put together along with some examples from Kenya and Latin America and the United States. We hope to have some feedback from the audience on their ideas of how to limit the book since all related pieces cast a wide net. Members of the Circle of Discernment on this topic are Carol Barta, Betsy Keokosky, Judy Lumb, and David Zarembka.

Larry Jordan – A Glimpse at Ecological Vulnerability in The Gambia
The Gambia is a tiny country carved out of West Africa along the shores of the Gambia River by English colonialists. In recent years, increasing heights of ocean tides have crept farther and farther inland, flooding and salinizing some of the best farmland. Traditionally, family cooking has utilized charcoal produced in anaerobic kilns from forest timber. Rising population has
accelerated the demand for charcoal, which threatens widening deforestation. Among other challenges (e.g., political instability), the impending global warming crisis threatens to make The Gambia uninhabitable in the near future. What policy alternatives remain?

John Howell – The role of the monetary systems in addressing the pandemic, climate change and other crises
A fundamental economic problem today, perhaps the fundamental economic problem, is the concentration of wealth and the failure to address poverty. Many things in our economic system contribute to the concentration of wealth. The most central is how money is created. It is created as credit (=debt) as banks make loans. This means that banks decide where new money goes and it means that the private sector, or that part of the private sector with good credit rating, has first use of new money. Much of it is currently wasted. The resulting concentration of wealth is simply incompatible with democracy. Concentration of wealth concentrates political power. Political power supports the concentration of wealth. Political steps are needed to interrupt this feedback loop – such things as ending corporate personhood and the buying of elections. Changing the money system is also critical to interrupting this feedback loop, but less widely recognized. Proposals for reform will be explained. Some widely relevant questions, particularly in light of the pandemic, include: Is significantly reducing non-essential economic activity necessary into the future to address climate changes and the problem of living within the planetary limits? Most people seem willing to accept these limitations given the threat of the virus. How present does the threat of environmental disaster have to be before it would lead people to be willing to accept these limitations? And what of the enormous psychological burden imposed by such limitations?

Dale Bordelon – Are we created equally?
Most people believe that the environment in which they develop has something to do with what choices we make in life but everyone has examples of those who were born into grave adversity and were still able to make contributions far beyond others from very similar circumstances. The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and household challenges and later-life health and well-being. The original ACE Study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997 with two waves of data collection. The results of this study has flipped the health care world on its head not only in America but around the world. The research that has followed up this study has produced evidence that supports a notion that we are not all created equally as our environment plays a major role in who we will become and what choices are available to us and many of the influences that further affect our abilities to make those choices. A short video related to this topic is available here:

Geoff Garver – Ecological law and monocultures
Ecological law is not just about transforming environmental law, but all of contemporary law. This is because ecological limits have primary important in ecological law, rather than perpetual economic growth and infinite wealth creation. Among other things, contemporary law supports problematic monocultures in many different domains. The most obvious is agriculture, which typically is oriented around producing single crops. But, homogenous monocultures exist also with industrial processes (e.g., industrial hog farming is centered producing consistent meat quality using one breed), education (reflected in “silos” of distinct disciplines), language (reflected in the ongoing extinction of languages and the prevalence of English, Spanish and Mandarin), social culture (e.g., the spread of McDonalds and global brands), knowledge (e.g., the dominance of Western Science), entertainment (e.g., Disney World and globalization of blockbuster movies), value (the prevalence of monetization) and even spirituality (e.g., monotheistic religions). Monocultures and homogeneity typically undermine desirable ecological resilience, and so one goal of ecological law is arguably to limit monocultures and expand the space for diversity, plurality and heterogeneity in law. How should we think about the connection between monocultures and legal systems? How can Quaker principles inform this work?

Gray Cox – Holding Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Light: Towards a Quaker Testimony on the Threats and Opportunities Artificial Intelligence Presents in our Search for a Wiser, More Ethical, Spirit-Led Earth
How can we work to insure that ethics and ecological wisdom are built in to AI systems that increasingly manage our corporations, schools, farms and national defense? How might the kinds of intelligence embodied in individual humans, natural organisms, communities, and machines be similar and/or different – and in what ways might the life of the spirit animate them and their relations? What can we, as Quakers, do to nurture the prospering of the divine and of Truth in all the diverse forms of intelligence that inform the natural, social and technological aspects of our planet? We will try to more clearly frame questions at stake and directions for future research and action through the exploration of framing ideas, concrete
examples and tentative leadings based on efforts at spirit-led discernment. Members of the Circle of Discernment on this topic are Gray Cox, Larry Jordan and Judy Lumb.

The evenings were a time for spirit-led reflection and discussion on daily themes, which included how to create communities of security, Black Lives Matter, imaging a post-Covid future and seeking truth amid falsity. Although participants missed the intimacy and spontaneous conversations of in-person SRSs, several people were able to attend who otherwise would not have.

Our positive SRS experience this year gives QIF a range of options for 2021 and beyond, including the possibility of alternative in-person and virtual SRSs, as well as mini research seminars and focused workshops building on our approach using Zoom this year. QIF welcomes your suggestions on themes for the SRS or for mini SRSs and virtual workshops.

The SRS also inspired us to create a QIF YouTube channel. You can watch Erica Adams’s inspiring presentation on peace in times of conflict at this YouTube link:

Quaker Institute for the Future