In the second half of Peter Coates’s Nature, he discusses a few theological perspectives based on historical ages, and what nature has become to the people of the present, as well as what it will mean for the people in the future. He represents us with the Romantic view of nature in chapter 6.
The Romantic view of the concept can be summed up in one quotation: “The sound of wind in the trees was sweeter to them than any symphony.” The Romantic saw, heard and felt everything in nature as a truly spiritual enlightening experience. It could be in essence, the most natural way of looking at nature. Romantics aren’t concerned about what it is or what it could be used for. They are only concerned with the emotions that things in nature produce. But, the more I think about it, the more Romantic views seem to be detached from the Truth with a capital “t.” Everything ends up being relative to an individual, so what about the grand scheme of things I spoke about in my previous post? That one spider on the wall means something personal to me, but what does it really MEAN? It just seems like Romantics like to beat around the bush about the definition of nature.
Coates brought up the connection between ecology, environmentalism and its connection with Nazism and Marxist thought. Marx conveyed great interest in the preservation of natural places, blaming capitalism as the enormous entity that is destroying them, but his ideas were contradicted by his likeness to technology and the expansion of industry, and his stance on using natural resources for the good of the large population. It was not as though supporters of capitalists did not recognize nature’s power. Friedrich Engels said:
“Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst.”
Edward Carpenter took this a step further, combating mechanization and technology, saying we should get in touch with our savage side. It leaves me wondering if being savage is being natural. Is it not natural that human beings developed the ability to do what we do? Are savaged better at being human because they are without advanced technology?
It reminds me of this quote: “Civilize the mind but make savage the body.” – Chairman Mao
This reminds me of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, in which he relates a story that aboriginal tribesmen were able to navigate a large city with a map better than someone who has lived in the city all their life. The tribesman was able to do this because his skills in visual mapping and orienteering were more developed than the city dweller. Diamond explains that having to hunt and memorize all of the routes in the wilderness, someone with low levels of technology have better skills in certain things that a modernized human has.
Coates talks later in chapter 8 about the need for working class persons to experience the wilderness, to escape the confines of city life.
“The craving for camaraderie, clean air and exercise as an antidote to cramped and grimy existences and demeaning jobs…many wanted more than to simply stretch their legs.”
What do we get out of spending time in the wilderness? We’ve discussed this at length in our previous classes, but it just seems so relative to the individual. Then length of time I spent and where will mean something completely different to another person. I like the mountains where other people like the beach. I often feel the urge to just get in my car and drive to a place where I can spend a long time out in the open, just exploring I guess. Hiking is great, but it’s a man made activity. There are trails for us to walk on and designated areas for us to go. Maybe I just want to go anywhere…but are there places like that left?