If not for an eroding back yard and abundant ant hills on the lawn of his Bowie residence, Richard Spiegel may never have written "The Last World: The Taoist and Native American Philosophies as a Way of Living in Harmony With Nature."
The former philosophy professor describes his first book, which stems from his battles with his lawn and was published in June, as a practical guide to philosophical questions as they relate to everyday experiences. Not a gardening guide at all, the book expounds on ethical issues and concerns about modern life, animals, nature and people.
"It's based on true stories of my learning how to take care of my lawn and the problems, and from trying to deal with nature here in my own postage-stamp yard in Bowie, Maryland. It brought up a lot of issues about living in harmony with nature, and with neighbors, which brought in all sorts of philosophical, metaphysical, ethical issues," Spiegel said.
He will discuss the forces within him that led to the book and sign copies at the Borders Books & Music store in Bowie on Wednesday.
Those forces actually began in Hyattsville, where Spiegel, 60, grew up. At age 14, he began reading Aristotle to feed his hunger for understanding standard philosophical problems of reality and decision-making. When, at 17, he wrote a paper about Aristotle, his English teacher at Northwestern High School returned it to him saying she would give him an A, but only because she couldn't prove he had copied the paper. She was suspicious of Spiegel, saying high school students did not read Aristotle -- though now he thinks she would believe him. He received a bachelor of arts and a doctorate in philosophy within the next several years.
After teaching at Midwestern colleges for a decade, Spiegel left academia to apply his philosophical knowledge and skills to everyday matters rather than just teaching theory. He became a full-time fundraiser and moved back to Prince George's County. Philosophy, he says, particularly the basic idea of right vs. wrong, inspired his fundraising motto of "honesty is the best policy." Spiegel is a fundraising consultant whose major project is raising money for the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts.
When he left academia, however, Spiegel wanted to continue learning about philosophy, so he began exploring topics he hadn't covered in his mostly, Euro-centric, classical studies. He studied Eastern philosophy, particularly the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, Zen Buddhism and Native American thought at the time when Europeans colonized the continent.
In "The Last World," he takes these theories and applies them to his own struggles with nature. He hopes readers will use the book as a guide to live harmoniously with nature and make peace with the fact that, as humans, they cannot do everything they wish to do without harming the surrounding environment. For example, he tried to show the larger consequences of even the smallest actions, such as putting pesticides on his grass to kill ant colonies, pesticides that could end up in the Chesapeake Bay and subsequently cause major problems to the ecosystem.
"The bottom line was that it's silly to try to solve the world's problems if you can't figure out the smallest problems in your own back yard. I really wanted to see if I could apply Eastern and Western philosophy to solving tiny but irritating issues," Spiegel said.
Spiegel will discuss and sign "The Last World: The Taoist and Native American Philosophies as a Way of Living in Harmony With Nature" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Borders, 4420 Mitchellville Rd., Bowie. 301-352-5560.