Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dependency and Perception

The closer I live to nature the more I recognize my dependence on it. But it stops there. When I hear the chime of a grasshopper land on a spoke of my bike tire inside the tipi, sneak over, cup my hand and scoop him up in one quick swoop, run over to my cook pot and throw him in forcefully, to create enough force to stifle his last effort to jump out of my hand, I'm able to realize had that grasshopper not been in that spot at that moment or had he been a tenth of a second faster to jump I would have had to find something else to eat. It is easy to connect the dots in that way, whereas if you go to McDonald's and order a double cheese you lose the connection. Itis still there, but you do not feel it.

You do not get to see the cow roaming free in an open pasture (oops, I said McDonald's, right? Correction: You do not get to see that sick cow crowded in a coral with all the other sick cows) You are still dependent on nature, but you do not realize how dependent you are. It is a dangerous thing. Modern society has allowed us to turn off our brains to think that hamburgers come from a heat lamp on the back counter of a fast food restaurant, that gas comes from a pump at the quick stop, that water comes from a faucet in your kitchen, and light comes from a switch on your bedroom wall. This disconnect negates the natural world to a leisure activity, a past time, a luxury. The rivers becomes for play when we have free time on a hot summer afternoon, the sun is for tanning, the trees are for shade. it is much easier to justify destroying a wilderness when we recognize it as a place for children to build forts rather than the life sustaining entity it is.

Whether you enjoy a lazy afternoon on the trails or you prefer to sit on your sofa and finish the latest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm on DVD you still need that forest, that open land, that lake. Regardless of your love and direct interaction with nature, your dependency on it is fixed, it's only your perception which is variable.

the Cree Indian prophecy says it all:
Only after the last tree is cut down
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten


  1. Josh are you the kind of person who believes that "natural" world has a value in and of itself or that it has value only in the ways that we humans are able to benefit from it (beauty, hiking, intertwined life-systems, fresh water,etc)? Please expound . . .

  2. John,

    I'm not sure what you mean by "in and of itself" I believe everything is connected and in that sense we should not separate the natural world from the industrial world, or any other terms one can come up with, it's all one. Separation allows us to think we can affect one with no effect on the other, IE we can't expand the city without depleting the forest. I think the natural world has value in the way it contains everything necessary to sustain (and improve) life, human and otherwise. We can live without the city, we can’t live without nature.

  3. I agree with josh. You can't seperate us from nature. We are organisms whose lives depend on nature, no matter how distant it seems from us. Nature of course has value but we can't make a distinction between whether it is valuable or whether it is valuable to us...they are the same thing b/c we are natural beings who depend on our environment to survive just like it depends on us. Like Josh said...everything is connected.

  4. Zoe (and maybe Josh)-- based on what you're saying is there anything that isn't natural? That doesn't depend on nature? That doesn't effect nature? I guess I'm wondering (in your vocabularies) what the difference is between nature and the verb to be.

  5. May I join? Everything humans do to survive impacts nature in one way or another. I'm going to go one further on Zoe- that as David Suzuki says, we are all one organism. We are universally tied. One Energy dispersed among the Earth in different forms. Think of your body as the Earth. When you scrape your knee, it hurts... Just as scraping the Amazon Rainforest hurts our earth. We shed dead cells on a daily basis only to be replaced by new ones... Just as people are. So, if our Earth is dying because of us... it's like a body that is dying because the human is taking drugs or torturing itself.

  6. Melissa,

    I agree that everything humans do impacts nature, but I don't like how that makes humans and nature seem like two separate entities. I think humans can be part of nature just as deer or squirrels are part of nature. Humans aren’t the inherent reason our earth is being depleted. Humans aren't bad for the earth, but humans make bad choices for the earth.

  7. Its sounds more and more like everyone on here sees nature as a synonym for 'the material world'- but with a twist, that it get's to have a consciousness, desire, and a concept of good and evil. But the material world itself can't die and there isn't anything that's inherently bad for the material world- it exists in a clearly pre-moral state.

    Now, we can decide we like certain aspects of our material world (polar bears, rain forests, volcanic eruption, whatever) and we can call that beautiful. I think (that at least here) 'nature' only comes into being when we try to take our concepts of beautiful and say that this is "good" for the material world and that the absence of what we find beautiful is "bad" for the material world. When we marry our concepts with a pre-moral series of atomic particles we decide to give it a name "nature" as if to say "hey this isn't good just because I like it- its good because this eternal semi-spiritual force we call 'nature' says its good". Essentially we make up an authority (nature) so that we can appeal to it when pushing our own agendas.

    Now the problem is that anyone can do this. Earth First does this to advance its agenda, and Jerry Falwell did it to advance his- so have a lot of other people. I think we would be better off if we gave up the hoax and killed the word 'nature'- nietzsche killed god, barthes killed the author, and I'm thinking 'nature' is overdue. I think we'd be better off, and certainly more truthful and authentic in our speech without it.

  8. No commenter should ever post something that long on a blog-- I apologize.

  9. Geez John, just because you didn't feel like going backpacking with us this weekend doesn't mean you have to go and kill nature! I don't think of nature as the verb "to be" or I don't think of nature as a synonym for the material world. When I think of nature I think of natural. Meaning all things that occur do to natural processes are considered nature in my mind: sunlight and rain are natural, a tree uses sunlight and rain to grow, therefore the growth of a tree is a natural occurrence, and can be considered part of nature. This logic may be called into question when I start bringing humans into "my" nature. Why would I be more willing to consider a beaver dam to be part of nature and not a man made dam? Because I have bias, perhaps. but if humans cut down logs with their teeth and stacked them one by one I might be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  10. You're using the word natural (a form of the word nature) to help define nature. You're saying nature is what occurs through the processes of nature ('nature is nature'). This is nice because you never have to say exactly what it is that really something nature or non-nature. But, isn't this just a way of allowing yourself to create whatever aribtrary deliniations you want and then use those arbitrary distinctions as a basis for whatever general theory (probably ethical/moral) you want.

    PS: While you were busy backpacking I was busy enjoying the natural beauty of malfunction junction.

  11. It sounds like you're refusing to accept that words are assigned meanings which no longer make them arbitrary. I'm not trying to weave a web of deceit, interchanging nature and natural into a circle of ambiguity and never ending non-decision. I will assign meanings to may words here:

    Natural= unrefined, uncultivated. Occurring of processes that happen to the earth outside of the realm of consciousness. Processes that are not controlled by the things they create.

    Nature= things that happen naturally.

    I’m not trying to define nature in a way that makes it inherently good or evil. It’s just there. Individual conditioning my give it beauty in many of our eyes, but it is not inherently beautiful, or ugly, or good, or evil, or right, or wrong. But I do believe it exists, and I’d rather not kill it.

  12. Well now that you have defined the word you've given it meaning (though its possible to argue that you would then have to define the words you used for the definition and go through an endless chain of definition that can only end back where it started)

    You have a plausible definition of nature, but I'm not sure how humans can be a part of it -- isn't refining and cultivating through conscious action what we constantly do, even for hunter/gatherers. Making a tipi, a hut, a winter coat, a musical instrument all involve refining and cultivation.

    I'm not sure if you would give animals the status of consciousness, but its worth asking whether many of them are involved of cultivation. Many of them manipulate and change their surroundings.

    Beyond this almost every place on earth has been the subject of conscious human intervention and control. National Parks and Forests are very heavily controlled by modern science and tools.

    Even a place that has never been directly controlled by human cultivation and consciousness is clearly influenced by it. The species we kill of in one area certainly creates chain effects throughout a whole region, global warming effects all eco-systems, etc.

    I guess my concern is that if we define nature in this way, then there isn't any nature left. We can't kill it because its been dead for a couple hundred years, and gone in most places (including most of North America) for longer than that.

  13. I didn't feel the need to define the words that define my definition because Webster beat me to it. I understand your reluctance to recognize "nature" as most of it has been spoiled. But I think it is still possible for nature to exist in a place where non-nature also exists. A forest or National Park can be a natural place, while the roads and structures within its bounds are not natural. Humans can be part of nature because the creation of a human falls within the realm of "Occurring of processes that happen to the earth outside of the realm of consciousness. Processes that are not controlled by the things they create." It's true that a man and a woman must perform certain tasks in order to create a life, but beyond that things happen on their own. And the first humans had to arrive without any help from fellow humans, whether you’re into evolution or creationism. The things humans do to manipulate and refine things aren’t natural, but that doesn’t mean there is no more nature.

    The way I understand your comments anything that happens outside the realm of “natural” destroys everything else around it that is within the realm of “natural.” So what are your parameters? If I take 1,000 acres that have not been effected in anyway by anything that could be deemed “unnatural” and build a tipi in the middle of this land have I destroyed everything “natural” about all 1,000 acres? The sun is still shining, the rain is still falling, the trees are still growing, the leaves are still decomposing.

  14. Haha this is getting great

    Its not so much that I'm reluctant to recognize 'nature' because its been spoiled. Words have meanings for sure, but we choose what meanings will exist in our language- a language doesn't have to include all the meanings that we have in English (this is what makes translation so difficult). Language is first and foremost a way of breaking everything that exists (material or immaterial) down into functional categories and parts that we can use. Where those lines are drawn (what words/meanings exist in our language) are at least somewhat arbitrary.

    Its not so much that nature is spoiled, its that its a useless (possibly harmful) category. Its also a fairly new category. I can't think of a writer who used the word 'nature' to mean what webester currently defines it as until at least the post-enlightenment romantics (maybe not until the 20th century). So its certainly not an absolute necessity that we have this concept.

    There's no doubt that the sun is still shining and that the leaves are still decomposing, and hey, even the general theory of relativity still applies. But the way I experience the sun is clearly effected by industrial waste coming from Chinese factories, and the trees, their leaves, and the decomposition process are effected by that as well. This may not be good for humans, but its no loss of nature, that tract of land was probably influenced by the influx of animals that escaped a man-made forest fire in a nearby tract of land 3,000 years ago.

  15. Ah, so you're taking the stance of former Director of the U.S. Patent Office, Charles Duells, who in 1899 proclaimed "Everything that can be invented, has been invented" (a famous misquote, but amusing nonetheless.)

    So your beef is that you don't believe a division is necessary between what man is creating and what man is destroying? Or maybe you want to call it something else?

  16. I'm not familiar with the context of that quote, but there may be a certain truth to the idea that creativity is not the process of making something out of nothing, its more a re-combining, and a re-combining can only be achieved through a violent rupture (be it in politics, langauge, architecture, or whatever).

    I'm not sure that any divisions humans make are inherently necessary. Divisions (and I'm also prepared to consider that divisions and stereotypes may ultimately turn out to be the same thing) always seem to be incomplete, they always suppress or marganilze something that holds the division together; because admission of that suppressed thing would constitute an impurity. The ways to keep a supression down include circular logic (language seems to be ciruclar), refusing to admit the unproven precepts of an argument, and using key words that remain undefined.

    Unfortunately our brains don't seem capable of handeling a world without divisions (making categories is the one thing we're really good at). So I'm not advocating an end of all divisions, I am advocating an admission that the divisions we use (the knowledge we create) is useful and yet lacking in truth. From here I would consider the possibility of consciously choosing what divisions we make.

    In a world where creation is a form of destruction and destruction is a form of creation, I'm not sure that we need a division between what man creates and what man destroys. Because everything I see seems to fit both categories anyways. We create, we destory what we created, we create again, we destroy, etc, etc, etc.

    But what's harmful here isn't its falsness. Once we've made that division, we seem to have a purpose of protecting what man destroys and not worrying about what man creates (its already impure anyways)- and this I think is where enviornmentalists (Bookchin and the social ecologists being possible exceptions) go wrong. You've hit a point where you're trying to protect certain things, not on the basis that humans want them to remain static but on the basis that their purity (and they're not even pure) deserves to be protected. Sometimes this really gets in the way of human need.

    On the other end, 'the world that man creates' stops needing protection since its already man's world. It gets handed over to an endless cycle of creation and destrcution with no consideration for quality of life.

    I think these binary oppositions nature/culture, developed, undeveloped, and creation/destruction are products of the enlightenment, colonialism, and capitalist conceptions of property-- they're not inherently necessary, and they may not be doing much good from a human perspective. So I think I'm for a new set of divisions.

  17. OK. So this isn't so much an argument for or against the concept of "nature," rather it's a concern you hold for people who might use such a term and the implications of their actions in regards to the satiation of human "need." Specifically, you're worried that if all those environmentalists get their way, there will be far fewer farmers spraying pesticides all over their mono-crop fields producing your favorite corn product.

  18. A summary of my thoughts:
    1. The concept of nature is false, but so are other concepts.
    2. The concept divides the world into two categories, which you have already mentioned.
    3. That false division is particularly problematic for the world.

    I don't think the division is problematic because it inhibits my intake of high fructoce corn syrup. In fact the creation of that division and its insertion into the collective consciouss coincides with the development of capitalism and my ability to consume massive amounts of corn syrup. They go together.

    Nature was invited by urban elites and it is serves urban elites. Its an ideology that encourages us to save certain tracks of land that are, logistically unaccesible to the masses. Sometimes it kicks peasants off these tracks of lands (its happened in many US parks, and now the process is being used in the so-called third world).

    At the same time it discourages us to think about how to use those tracks of land that have already been conquered by capitalism. So we just hand them over to the free market, and we get corn syrup (which I admittedly enjoy).

    If you kill nature you have to take everything much more seriously. Cities, parks, and commericial farmlands all become something that you have to decide what to do with, not based on some outdated ideology, but based on actual human desire.

    I'm slightly intoxicated, so I hope this makes sense . . .

  19. I guess I am just failing to see things from your angle. I don't know why you think nature and capitalism are linked. I don't know who you have in mind as far as the urban elites go. And in my support for nature I don't condone any government kicking natives off of the land. When I think of champions of the natural world I think of people like Edward Abbey, Aldo Leopold, Ansel Adams, John Muir, perhaps even Eustace Conway. I wouldn't consider these urban elites. And I'm confused when you switch your subject from "Human need" to "human desire" two separate things, for sure. And I don't see how destroying a division between things that are natural and things that are man made would make us more aware. The problem with leaving decisions pertaining to the future of land up to public whim is that unlike a president that can be changed every four years, once it's been decided to replace a forest with condos and malls it's not something that can be reversed in our lifetime. The way I see it, if those division are destroyed, if the lines are blurred even more, if capitalism permits individuals to purchase any and ever tract of land they desire and do whatever they want to that land it becomes much easier for people with dollar signs dancing in their pupils to use that land for immediate profit without thinking about the longstanding impact they cause. In no way is that done to satisfy human need.

  20. Capitalism and nature are completely intertwined, they enter human history at appoximately the same time (with nature slightly predating capitalism). One of the primary factors that gave capitalism its start in England (where we would probably agree this economic stystem began) would be the creation of large national forests and the closing of public lands into state controlled parks- which literally forced people into the urban mills. The process continues today most notably in parts of Africa, but in other places as well. Further, I'm concerened by creating that division we've essentially said that we're going to let the free market take over everythign outside of nature's realm - and I think that's what we've done, even when nobody really wanted it.

    The American situation is a little different, but its worth noting that that a prerequisite for establishing a national park is almost always kicking a group of people out (so that's one thing Shennendoah, Yosemite, and Glacier all share). Of course we have the parks now and I'm clearly in favor of maintaining them as enjoyable points of human recreation. Even if its only urban elites (and I'm prepared to consider you, me, and most of our friends under that category) who enjoy them.

    Now I realize that I'm leaving out Eustace Conway, John Muir, and some others- but I think it may be irrelevant. I'll paraphrase Pollan here and note that its too late for us all to follow Thoreau into the woods. Even if we wanted to, even if we could develop the skills to do it. There's just too many of us- that view of nature utterly hopeless and it isn't going to get us anywhere it hasn't already gotten us - right here.

    Now I'm appreciate of some of what capitalism has brought us, both material changes and social/cultural/spiritual chagnes; but I think that dividing the world into what man creates (economy) and what man doesn't create (nature) is now(and has historically been)a way of telling ourselves that our productive activities need not be constrained by our concepts of beauty, spirit, or social cohesion.

  21. Keep the blog updates coming! Very interisted in seeing how you make it thorough the winter.