Reading Response: Nature, Pt. 2

This book completely failed to capture my attention. It got to the point where, to entertain myself, I went back and counted how many times the author used “nature” or “natural” throughout the entire book (~,1,072 times; I probably missed some). However, I think the main gist of the book was that there is simultaneously a rigid dichotomy between “nature” and “human culture”, and an innate interdependence; nature cannot exist without human culture designating and defining it, and human culture cannot exist without the influence of nature. There were a couple of finer points that I found interesting:

  • The conflict between “women were the main consumers of bird products” and “women’s roles as carers within the domestic sphere [springboarded ecofeminists’] activism in conservation and environmentalism” (164). I remember reading an article a while ago about the millinery and fashion industry in the 1900s; I don’t remember that specific article but I found another one here. I found it interesting how women were portrayed both as conservationists and as culprits.
  • Who Coates referenced in relation to nature, and specific details around those referenced persons.
    • Coates mentioned Darwin (a person obviously related to nature and the natural world) but he remarked, “Darwinism is not readily associated with the ideas about nature that flowed into ecological science” (139); Coates also pointed out that “Darwin never used the term ‘ecology'” (142). I felt that Coates was showing that, although Darwin did play a role in shaping humans’ perception of nature, he didn’t necessarily do so in the way modern environmentalists credit him. Coates also references Karl Marx; “Eco-socialists believe that elements of Marxist thought lend themselves to a vigorous green critique of capitalism” (147). Coates, however, argued that Marx focused less on environmental awareness and more on human advancement.
    • Edward Abbey on page 172! Very sneaky of you, Dr. Krygier.
    • Also on 172, the phrase “Western proponents of zero or negative population growth in the developing world through compulsory sterilization”; we actually talked about this in my Cultural Anthropology class. India set up a rewards program for people who took steps to prevent births; men who were sterilized received radios, for example. This led to young boys being forced or bullied into sterilization so other people could obtain the reward.
    • McKibben’s argument about nature’s death and Coates’s explanations: “‘We have deprived nature of its independence, and that is fatal to its meaning. Nature’s independence is its meaning; without it there is nothing but us.’ The death of nature is not to be confused with the end of life on earth or the disappearance of phenomena such as rain, wind, and sun. Plants, animals, and beautiful places will still exist (although [McKibben] insists they have all been hopelessly devalued): ‘When I say “nature”, I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it.’ So what he really means by the end of nature is the destruction of the idea of nature as an untrammelled entity. In short, the demise of the idea of wilderness” (176). I liked this because it differentiates between ‘nature’ and ‘wilderness’, which we often use interchangeably. I do find it interesting that McKibben argues that we have deprived nature of its independence; it highlights the debate about the human-nature dichotomy (or lack thereof). Coates goes on to say, “But if by nature (and wilderness), we mean something unaffected by humans and their history, then not only the idea but also the very substance of nature (and wilderness) have been emphatically dead for a long time” (177). So… either way, nature is dead.
Professor Peter Coates

Professor Peter Coates, the author of this engaging synthesis.

One Response to Reading Response: Nature, Pt. 2

  1. […] 9/16) – Week 5 (9/23): Nature (first half) (pub. 9/22) – Week 6 (9/30): Nature (second half) (pub. 9/29) – Week 7 (10/7): Eating Animals (pub. 10/4) – Week 10 (10/28): […]

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