Social Ecologist Profile: Samantha Gorelick of New York City, USA

Please introduce yourself (What kind of work you do, Where you live,  etc.)

My name is Samantha Gorelick and I live and work in New York City. Aside from my day job, these days I’m learning about radical healthcare and how we can empower ourselves by putting our own health into our own hands – and out of the hands of corporate consumer culture. I’m also busy at the moment planning my vegetable garden for the upcoming season (helps me to get through the coldest month of the year).

How did you become introduced to the ideas of social ecology? How do you define social ecology when asked about it?

I was first introduced to the ideas of social ecology when I was an undergrad environmental ethics student, my professor had us read the debate between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman. At the time most of my peers and myself were fairly charmed by the ideas of deep ecology, I must admit it was a few years before I was finally won over by the ideas of social ecology (I’ve also minimized my use of the word ‘anthropocentric’ by about 100%).

When folks ask me about social ecology, I usually explain it as a constantly evolving set of ideas for a society free of domination and hierarchy, that views the ecological crisis as stemming from our social and political structure rather than as something to be spearheaded at the individual level. I have to be honest though, sometimes it’s easier to just tell folks to type “social ecology” into a Wikipedia search…

How does social ecology and/or your experience with the Institute for Social Ecology influence your current work?

First and foremost, the ISE has helped to shape and inform my critique of the social and political sphere. My radicalization began years before I became a student of social ecology, but what I learned while studying Bookchin’s works, as well as what I’ve learned through my experiences with other members of the ISE community, have really helped me to better understand and build my own radical analysis. In general and on a personal level, social ecology has taught me to better question and break-down the information that I receive.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities and greatest challenges for achieving a sustainable relationship between humanity and the wider world?

This is a big question, and it requires a much bigger answer than I can give.

The greatest opportunity for achieving a sustainable relationship between humanity and the wider world lies in the fact that mainstream society is finally catching on to the fact that the way we live currently is not sustainable ecologically, however it seems as though the mainstream still fails to recognize that the way we live is not sustainable socially either. One of the greatest challenges seems not to be convincing folks about the ecological crisis so much as convincing them that the ecological crisis cannot be fixed without first fixing the crisis of our degrading social relations. Our relationships are disintegrating individually, organizationally, and systemically, and as long as we remain a profit-driven culture of consumption, this has little chance of changing. Even radical organizations on the left have trouble navigating the interpersonal issues that inevitably arise. Getting through this will be remarkably challenging, but if we as a society can begin to talk to one another again, and respect and acknowledge each other as human beings – each coming from a different life experience, opportunities for positive change will begin to bloom!

Any great stories about being around the ISE?

These days, the ISE attracts a multi-generational mix of people for its colloquia and intensives. One thing that I can say about most of the folks in the ISE community is that everyone comes to the table with strong opinions, and a strong ability to back-up those opinions. It is so much fun to see how the drama will unfold as opinions clash and folks begin to speak their mind! Okay, maybe not a great story, but if we didn’t work so hard “discussing” things all day – rewards like swimming at #10, dancing the night away, midnight runs to the pool in the rain, and waiting for that hot-tub to get fired-up – would not be half as rewarding! I love the community around the ISE, and I’m pleased to see it continue to develop and grow year after year.

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