“Modernity’s Destructive lure”

The article “Sustainability” does not offer much in the way of offering a way forward but rather attempts to widen the reader’s perspective. This is done through an unusual route: language. It is clear and at least agreed upon within the audience seeing this post that something needs to be done to curb human damage to the planet. Often the answer to that problem is ‘sustainability’. As the first sentence of the article states: sustainability is an English word. To understand the significance of this we have to examine what language is a little closer.

When you begin to learn a new language at the basic level, the first thing you need to do is build a vocabulary. What are the simple objects and actions that I need to describe called? Usually it is easy to get these. If you want to know the word for food in another language there is usually a direct translation. As you start to learn more words you may discover that there are words in English that don’t translate, have many translations, or the translation is simply a modified version of the word in another language. Sometimes the languages just don’t line up, but often there is a bigger reason.

There isn’t a word for sustainability in Mam because the concept itself is foreign to Doña Marta and other Mam speakers. This feels paradoxical in a sense because the simple farming lifestyle of Marta is much closer to the way that humans went about living for many thousands of years without wreaking havoc on the environment. The definition of sustainability is loosely the quality of being able to be sustained, but it’s connotations are much more nuanced. Sustainability exists as a solution to the symptoms of the ‘modern world’s’ lust for progress without addressing the root. Modernity’s destructive lure is thinking that the way we are moving is the way things should be. The worst part is that this mentality is contagious. The isolated pockets that are protected from it shrink as generations turn over.

what is the definition of sustainability?

“Sustainability” as a word itself holds many definitions and meanings depending on the user. In the essay “Sustainability” written by Maria Garcia Maldonado, Rosario Garcia Meza, and Emily Yates-Doerr, the authors discuss how the word “sustainability” can be interpreted in separate ways. 

Sustainability Energy Tree – Pixabay

One way the word can be interpreted is through environmental change. In the perspective of the World Health Organization, sustainability is more associated with “sustainable development goals”, this includes global influences such as climate change and its impact on our health. Therefore, sustainability – in this case – is defined as the prevention of world depletion.

In another perspective, the authors analyzed “sustainability” in the eyes of a working individual from Guatemala. In spanish, sustainability translated to sostenible or sustentable. In this case, this translated word now meant “a capacity to be maintained overtime”. Therefore in this case, the word “sustainability” did not hold many motives to a native speaker. In this language, the word lacked an additional “progress to an oriented future” aspect. The authors then went on to try to use native words to produce a common understanding of the subject, yet still the explanations were too broad. But what they did find in common, was the idea that there was always worry of what the future holds.

With such a broad shift in translation, the authors discovered that “amid the stratified reproductions of global development, the reproductions of our translations are stratified too”. It is important to note that the aim of the translation is not to define a “one term fits all” policy but rather, to provide a neutral understanding so change can be made. Many “not-so-global” languages hold definitions to words that are not coherently translated back to english. So if we are looking for communal sustainability then we must start with communal understanding. Once find a common ground on our sustainable perspectives, then we can start making progress.