2011/09/07 – Readings – Desert Solitaire – PRESENTATION (Individual)
2011/09/07 – Readings – Desert Solitaire – PRESENTATION (Individual)
Week 10- 11/2 Breakfast of Biodiversity- John Vandermeer
Lawn People deals with an interesting topic for me: lawns seem such an aesthetically appealing idea, yet past that seem to serve little function. America has over 40 million acres of lawn, and is a 40 billion dollar a year industry, all in an attempt NOT to make the front portion of a house look good, but to KEEP it looking good.
What homeowners deal with when managing the upkeep of their lawns is plentiful: depending on your space and status, it takes time, effort, and money to get this all going. Trim the grass, pluck the weeds, water the grass, fertilize it, spray for bugs: it’s all a lot more work than one would think. But truth be told, it’s not always just vanity or a desire to keep things looking nice, sometimes its simple law. Neighborhoods and areas can have jurisdictions that require the upkeep of the lawn to specific standards, and there are even people assigned to making sure that residents do so in some places.
All this in an effort to make the neighborhood look nice. It’s the problem with two sides: one where the person needs to use time and effort in order to make his lawn acceptable to the people around him, even if it’s his lawn, and one where people don’t want to look at a lawn with brown patches and weeds. Lawns don’t need care per se, but they won’t be perfect otherwise.
The cost goes beyond that, even. The myriad chemicals used in lawn upkeep aren’t the safest around. The chemicals keep the lawn going, but they have side effects on humans, and have a strong link to cancer. Pets and children roll in the grass and bring it in, and the chemicals seep into the ground water. Surprisingly, people who use chemicals are more aware of its harmful effects on the local water quality that those who don’t.
What gets me is the desire for lawns in an area where they won’t naturally grow grass, such as Las Vegas, Nevada and Arizona. The excessive costs of water there make lawns extremely expensive, yet people insist on them anyway.
My own experiences lead to my own front yard back home and in my home-away-from-home in Michigan. My mother and father keep a driveway paved with stone slabs, and a small side lawn perhaps 15 by 4 feet on the side, with a bunch of potted plants on the side. It’s still something, but seems much more manageable. Still, the houses were probably designed with a different culture in mind, and are walled off. The other one to talk about is my aunt and uncles house in Michigan. Whereas most houses in the neighborhood have standard lawns, they keep a stone and gravel driveway, letting the grass grow wherever it does, and the rest is bushes, flowers and trees. They even have a small garden in the back, while refusing to spend on a lawn to maintain the same neighborhood image. Thankfully, most of the neighbors don’t mind, and there aren’t any local laws requiring it.
Overall I’m wondering again about the alternatives, mentioned in the book. Rock or plant gardens would work, which can give the neighborhood a little personality, assuming the community doesn’t have excessive restrictions. I’m particularly into astro turf, which provides the looks without the issues of maintenance and pollution/resource use. Why hasn’t it been adopted more widely? Out of a need for “the natural”?
The book here deals with the issues, ethical and environmental, of eating animals as they are produced today. It delves into the issues of the factory farm and cheap meat, and looks at the costs of producing meat in this manner, be it health, environmental impact, animal cruelty and likewise. It was, in my opinion, a good read and an interesting insight into the world of processing food.
The book states that what we eat, individually, is based on what is considered acceptable in the society around us. What he’s referring to here is, of course, the proliferation of factory farms and the squalid conditions that the animals live in before being sent to the slaughter. This arises from the justifications of eating habits, but we can also consider this from other viewpoints: consider, in typical American society, that no one would consider eating things such as dogs or snails. We wouldn’t eat the former due to a strong association as a pet and a companion animal developed over a long time, and we wouldn’t eat the latter under the idea that it is a disgusting mollusk, but in parts of the world they are considered an adequate food source and even a delicacy. In Asia, it’s estimated that 13 to 16 million dogs are killed and consumed every year, not quite the level of other mainstream stock animals, but still a significant number.
What the author is trying to get at here is that, even if we consider factory farmed meats unacceptable, we continue to eat them because others do, partially due to a lack of interest in where food comes from.
The discussion of the other effects of factory farming goes deep too. The close quarters and lack of space coupled with the produced feces and lack of hygiene levels creates a suitable breeding ground for bacteria and diseases. The overuse of antibiotics also builds up immunity to the drugs, creating more problems in an attempt to gain efficiency of production.
What I did have a slight difficulty believing too, was the “21,000 animals per lifetime” statistic. Given a 75 year life span, this would mean an average person eats about 0.75 animals a day, and unless they’re all chickens and that person eats meat every meal this doesn’t seem likely given three meals. Definitely not when including cows or pigs, but this may be pure assumption on my part.
I did enjoy the stories of him and his grandmother, which brought some interesting bits of amusement to the book, while providing a little insight into his corner of food and society. Overall, I probably won’t be eating more vegetables (although I do have them as a significantly large portion already), but I do consider the ramifications of eating meat, and do tend to avoid it here and there. My main focus, then, is not on vegetarianism or veganism for moral or ethical or personal concerns, but out of environmental and cost issues, meaning I have no trouble eating a “non vegan” product given that most of it is produced from vegetables.
First thing I want to mention about the book, I think, is the format. It’s a very nice, tidy structuring and adds a great deal to the theme of the book, while throwing a nice bit of irony by designing it based around the 24 hour day, suggesting that desperate need to schedule every bit of time possible.
That said, I have mixed feelings for this book. I understand the points he’s trying to get across in the book, one main one being an attempt to convince people to stop feeling guilty whenever they do something other than expected of them by society (this being, naturally, the typical job and career and business to deal with) and taking control of what they want to do. Certainly, the question of who is in control of their life is raised. Is it the hardworking man, dedicated and efficient at doing the work he has, shooting for higher positions in life? Or is it the idler, the one resting and doing what they feel like, caring less than his fellow man about what he gets “done” for society? It’s a way of thinking about time versus money, or even “time is money”: who’s really losing out? It’s a case by case basis of course, but should give thought to what the value of a dollar is.
At the same time, he makes several statements I can’t really see through. It starts off with the suggesting of people being enslaved by modern technologies, organization and the like rather than benefitting from them. It puts for a whole “working towards working less” idea. After understanding that technology doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of simply making life easier (although that is one of the main functions provided), we find that it is in fact true. Look at old methods of farming a plot of land that didn’t necessarily yield a good crop for the winter and that was subject to the whims of the weather and the elements, and one begins to see that in fact life was harder for people in the past. It’s the creation of work for more products, yes, but a lot of these allow us comforts. Transportation, communication, all these things allow us to do things humans never could before.
Another issue I have is with the illnesses section. He makes erroneous claims, suggesting that modern medicine doesn’t work through outright statements, that doctors don’t prescribe rest, and that it’s all there to keep the machine going. It seems to undermine his point of spending more time for yourself, and indeed most of the time just seems an excuse for the preference of someone lazy to get time to do what they want.
I did enjoy the lunch section though. A break during the day is always good for a person, and lunch seems in places to have become for some people a detriment to efficiency in the workplace, an inconvenient fact of biology, rather than a break for people to recuperate before getting back to work. Indeed, perhaps an interesting idea is the power nap during work. Power naps of 20 minutes have been shown to improve certain memory functions, alertness, response time and cognitive skill, and this could easily be achieved during any one hour lunch break, so it could be a good implementation. Coffee could be taken immediately prior to it for a “caffeine nap,” to bolster the subject, giving him/her a rest to improve performance after.
From this book we can gather that, in order to understand the way in which we can deal with the natural world, we must first understand humans and their relationship to it. This stems from the fact that it’s about understanding how to deal with our problems. Literally, it’sthe problems that we create from our activities, whether it be population growth or exploitation of environment; are people up for taking greater risks to solve these problems, or should we find safer paths?
We see the importance of the environment from this book because we realize the need to change our ways given what’s been going on for so long. People are afraid of how the changes in the environment will affect them, but also in how changes to production will affect them. This can be seen in the Price of Cheap Meat, and the economic advantages and disadvantages to farming through factories. There’s a thread of “environmental racism” here as well, where the pollutants and factories are put into areas with more minorities and poor people, in an attempt to get it away from the more affluent in a “not in my back yard” mentality.
Cheap Meat also goes into thinking of animals as capital, seeing the ways in which they serve or can serve humans and trying to maximize production of that. The environmental ethics involved in dealing with this situation hark back to Nature, in which we can see that humans aren’t quite as distinguished as animals as we like to think.
Overall the book does a good job of delving into the big picture as well as several specific topics, dealing with both the overarching themes of right and wrong and the mindsets of peoples as well as carbon, trees, wolves, tuna, water and fries.
The continuing parts of this book bring more inquisitive questioning than anything as to the nature of nature, so to speak. We see the depiction of nature as “where industry is not,” a sign of the importance of industry to some people. The interconnectedness of the aesthetics of nature (how we see and experience it AS HUMANS) and the actual reality behind what’s there is touched upon. It’s nature as landscape to some people, and to some the cause behind peoples moods and behaviors.
It also calls to a responsibility of humans as stewards of nature: it’s where we came from, and we are a part of it, and need not be the bane of it. The discussion of reversing what has been done is brought up to an extent, and we are told to take responsibility individually to any mishaps or misappropriations of nature instead of shrugging it off as a result of the military-industrial complex or the burgeoning economic order run by people up above.
It’s important then, to understand that we are more connected to nature than some might lead one to believe. We’re shown that there are animals can think and feel as we do, and while no one can pretend to understand the goals and driving forces behind everything, this is definitely true of close relatives such as chimps. We see them being molded into understanding and doing things humans can do in laboratories, while learning a surrogate sign language:
“There isn’t a sharp line dividing humans from the rest of the animal kingdom: it’s a very wuzzie line, and it’s getting wuzzier all the time… We find animals doing things that we, in our arrogance, used to think was ‘just human’”
As far as thought processes go, the first thing that comes to most peoples minds when they think of the word “nature” is pretty straightforward: the natural world, the physical environment which life on earth has developed. Most often this comes in the form of greenery: forests, woods, lakes, waterfalls, and such images pop up.
Coates plays with this though, in that we look at what definitions of nature to use. The basic existence of plants and animals without human intervention? Too simple, humans themselves developed out of a particular thread of animals, and it is possible for other species to develop and evolve as well. At any rate, he looks at the attitude that various cultures and societies in history have had towards nature, and how it has developed.
Now while I enjoyed the structuring of the book for its “civilizations” theme, I did feel that it at the same time lacked focus: things seemed disjointed a lot of the time. A lack of flow or organization. He kind of took a lot of what other people said and just expanded on it: indeed the citations page is almost 50 pages long!
The author did bring some interesting thoughts to the table though. Do humans base their values and morals and societies out of their own minds, or do they adjust them according to what the surrounding environment affords them?
What I did enjoy is the section ascribing the role of Christianity in telling people about their dominion over nature, a very clear stance. One that lead directly to the Industrial Revolution in Britain, the use of coal and new technologies to develop economies, and responsible for more after that, including the excess pollution of industrial London, the development of the urban city and work place, the expansion of territory in search of materials and land, conquest and the development of commonwealth nations and their relationships to the mother country, the Marxist counter to this and Lenin’s development of the Soviet Union out of those philosophies.
Overall, a decent read here.
I cannot say I have much agreement with this book. While Edward Abbey makes some good points about some failures on the establishments part to protect the natural wilderness, it seems that his obsession with “leaving everything as it is” in order to preserve nature has driven him to make a number of erroneous assumptions and statements in an attempt to prove his points, which I believe kind of undermines his assertions.
“There may be some among the readers of this book, like the earnest engineer, who believe without question that any and all forms of construction and development are intrinsic goods, in the national parks as well as anywhere else, who virtually identify quantity with quality and therefore assume that the greater the quantity of traffic, the higher the value received. (58)
We can see an example in the above statement, where he makes a generic sweeping image of the “earnest engineer,” and characterizes this nonexistent person to what he feels he would be like in order to prove his point.
While he shows some good points about survival in the wilderness and getting to see nature (having mice for roommates, snakes for neighbors, that section), he’s also very insistent about “the travesty of human intervention” which he strongly holds to be a problem for nature, unable to break down more than simply seeing the beauty in nature preserved. More to that, he’s pretentious about it, often romanticizing nature with poetic forms and words while contrasting that with his hatred of society, using excessive harsh and negative language which seems to be his only weapon:
My God! I am thinking, what incredible shit we put up with most of our lives – the domestic routine (same old wife every night), the stupid and useless degrading jobs, the insufferable arrogance of elected officials, the crafty cheating and the slimy advertising of the business men, the tedious wars in which we kill our buddies instead of our real enemies back in the capital, the foul diseased and hideous cities and towns we live in, the constant petty tyranny of automatic washers and automobiles and TV machines and telephone! (193)
There’s some basic misunderstanding of nature too: not the pretty rainbows and butterflies type of nature, but the actual nature of the physical universe. In this he doesn’t seem to understand the point of tourist parks, and would rather they never have any roads/buildings/conveniences for them so they will never come: a sort of greed to have it all to himself. This is further carried when he states that he thinks the earth is “the only home we shall ever know,” while humans are on the path to settle other worlds.
Overall I think he may have an actual message worth listening to: the assurance of places where nature Is preserved for its own sake, but that this message is damaged by his sensationalist writing in an attempt to force the mind of a reader he doesn’t respect intellectually to see things his way.