Week 1 reading notes

August 31, 2011

The trouble with wilderness is that it’s a fabricated reality. The generally accepted (and faulty) idea of wilderness is that “it’s there and we’re here,” separating humanity from what originally sprang us. Not only does this cause simple logical problems (why are we “unnatural” if we came from the same place), it also gives birth to conflict.

Conflict has always been a part of human history, starting back with when we were “more natural,” for the benefit of ourselves and our species. We were always fighting back with other animals for resources to ensure our own survival, as other animals do with others. It’s not the only part of us, or the only thing that ensures what’s best, but it’s an intrinsic part of how life forms survive. Some animals have speed, some are good at hiding and stealth, some have strength and size, some have useful features such as claws or venom, but as it turns out, intelligence and the ability to turn tools and create is the winning factor.

The problem with conflicting ourselves and separating ourselves from nature today is that we are fighting against what we have been and need to be a part of, an irony not lost on everyone. Too often the meaning of “nature” is perverted into different forms: as a means to gain spiritual enlightenment, as  a pristine world which we will destroy (oftentimes, when people comment on the beauty of a waterfall or butterfly, I like to tell them to overturn a rock and find a centipede or caterpillar, or watch a predator devour a rabbit), as something which when left alone will fix itself.

Indeed, it seems that more often than not, what we consider great about nature is what we’re emotionally affected to do, as dictated by evolution. As said in the Cronon piece, it’s unusual how we (at least for a time) only considered the “pretty” landscapes worth designating as protected, and ignored swamps: even to this day, not a single grassland is protected as a national park.

There’s also other issues, such as differing views on what nature is:
– as a place for religious activity
– a national renewal for America to reinvent itself
– something we should strive to be as opposed to ourselves
– a place to escape from responsibilities

Logical extremities depicting humans and nature as “us and them” hark back to the issues of conflict: we should not be thinking this way because it’s not only ironic and impractical, but because it’s also self destructive. We have to take responsibility for both ourselves and those that we affect, meaning nature and wilderness, and the environment which we can’t separate ourselves from. We as people cannot take nature for granted, but we cannot pervert that into meaning that by leaving it alone it will fix itself, or that we must in fact leave it alone or it will be destroyed.

Not only does it hand us these problems, it also completely ignores the fact that loss and destruction and entropy and extinction and “ugliness” is as intrinsic to nature as is birth and gain and construction and “beauty.” (seeing ugliness and beauty as simple terms to describe what our brain tells us is good and bad, something that is a result of our evolution IN nature)

We have intelligence on our side. Let’s use it.

1)      If we are a product of nature, how can we be “unnatural,” regardless of what we do?

2)      Are there any reasons we can’t see what we can do for nature while taking from it, as opposed to trying to distance ourselves completely in order to “not destroy” it?

3)      Who should decide what regulations put into place to determine our relationship with nature, and what safeguards can be put in place to protect against abuse and/or incompetence?

4)      What can be used to give people images of nature that are different from their preconceived notions derived from media and society, and that beauty and ugliness is just a product of what our brain tells us?