Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Post 6: This Is Not Quite the Celebratory "I've Finished Transcribing!" Post... Yet!

So I've caught up on all my transcribing! Yay! Finally! However, I have one more interview scheduled with an awesome scientist tomorrow morning, and so can't quite celebrate yet, but it feels awesome to have caught up. Now, I'm spending the afternoon sending out transcripts to all the wonderful people who took the time to sit with me and share their thoughts and perspectives.

Before I hand Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac" back to the library, I want to revisit one particularly relevant theme for today.

Undoubtedly the powerhouse essay of this collection is "The Land Ethic", where Leopold establishes what he sees as the best way to respect nature, and criticizes relationships with the land that could best be described as parasitic an unethical. He writes in 1948:
            "There is as yet no ethic dealing with man's relation to land and to the animals and plants
            which grow upon it. Land, like Odysseus's slave-girls, is still property. The land-relation
            is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations" (218).

He goes on to describe the kind of ethic he sees will counter the economic-only relation with the land, calling it the 'community concept':
            "All ethics so far evolved rest up on a single premise: that the individual is a member of
            a community of interdependent part. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in
            that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there
            may be a place to compete for).
                The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters,
            plants, and animals, or collectively, the land" (219).

While it may at first glance seem like an awesome ides to extend our system of ethics to nature and the land as a blanket case, I think it may be difficult to convince some people that soils deserve to be intrinsically valued. It's hard to drum up sympathy for a hoe slicing through the earth, when the organisms and networks of relationships between fungi, bacteria, and other practically invisible things being disturbed are intangible.

Now, this isn't quite the space to dive into the problems of charismatic animals getting all the conservation energy, but for my own research, it's hard for even me to consider the mountain pine beetle as an animal. It's an insect. I will need to pursue further how insects relate to other animals in the great chain of life.

                                      A lovely trillium found on a hike last fall. Gorgeous!

I think what rings most true to me in what he wrote was the recognition that valuing primarily economic relations to the land, as opposed to social, ecological, environmental, (or indeed, even ethical) relationships to nature, is very important, and very much relevant to today. We see global capitalism/neoliberalism monetizing essentially all relationships, and determining their value based on the revenue or worth they have. It's silly, it's damaging, it leads to oppression, and an erosion of our ecological capital for money. For green dolla dolla bills. It's sad.

When he later writes that: "We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in" (230) that at the same time resonates with me, but also worries me: every individual cannot and will not develop relationships with nature to the point where they can understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in many of the components of nature we have. It seems like indeed, that's one of the main failings of a society today that becomes increasingly urbanized and detached from the natural resources and nature that underpins much of what we are able to do. In other words, when handling a laptop or sitting in a chair, it's difficult to attach the materials mined and extracted and needed to produce those tools that really make our lives more comfortable and wonderful.

So, while I'm not sure that he hits the ball out of the park with his idea of extending ethical relationships to include the land and it's components, the intent is certainly a good one, and the criticism behind that idea is also on par.

Next, I'll write a post about class room technology and knowing how to use it, followed by one about methodology!

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