self-termination

We’ve created a culture of self-termination, says Daniel Wildcat in Red Alert! at the beginning of chapter three, because we don’t value bio-diversity. We don’t understand the extent of our dependence on non-human species. “Who the hell cares about the snail darter?” Or even, come to that, about polar bears, orangutans, sea turtles, woodpeckers? Maybe we can keep a few in zoos, for our amusement, but we don’t need them. We don’t need to be overly concerned with endangered hotspots? Do we?


There’s lots more on E.O. Wilson and biodiversity at TED, including a wonderful talk from the late Douglas Adams. Thanks for all the fish, indeed.

We think we need our gadgets and the networks they navigate, but Oscar Kawagley (who prayed to “the spiritual person of the universe” at book’s beginning) says he’s a “technological dunce and proud of it. ” Should we emulate him? Surely not.

But are our computer models doing anything to help us roll back the ominous projections of melting ice caps and rising seas? Seems like maybe they are, actually.

Red Alert! is a consistent repudiation of attempts to dominate, control, subdue, or otherwise manage nature. I understand the sentiment, just as I understand the impulse to regard it all as sacred. But I’m still not convinced that this entails so stern a “hands off.” What’s the point of evolving a capacity for intelligence if you’re unwilling to use it?

Thinking “like a mountain,” slowly and with an eye on what Stewart Brand and his friends call the Long Now: will that help us think concretely and constructively about the future of life?

“Changes in our everyday mundane life activities”– with light bulbs, modes of transport, patterns of consumption generally– sound to some like too little, too late. But what else can it mean to “become the change” to which you aspire?

Making technology more attentive “to the life around us” sounds so smart and obvious, until you try to give the idea specific content. Are we really talking about technology at all? Isn’t it people who must be more attentive? The technology’s fine, in fact. We just have to learn how and when to lay it down and go out for a walk.

Aldo Leopold‘s “biotic community” included land, air, water, and all the forms of life attached thereto.  His “land ethic” is clear and hard to improve on:

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community…

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.

This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter downriver. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. Sand County Almanac [more from Leopold]


Our form of life now includes Internet cafes, shopping malls, and gambling casinos. Is there not a way for them all to co-exist?

“Ecological pluralism”acknowledges the reality of religious diversity. Does it do more? Does it block religious disagreement? All are related, mitakua oyasin, but some relations are easier to be with than others.

Another of Wildcat’s impressive but vague phrases: “life-enhancing nature-culture nexus.” I’m all for it, I’m sure. But what is it?

Once again: native wisdom on paper looks pragmatic to the core, all experimental and open-ended and respectful of nature. But does this tradition really challenge its own ancestral legacy? That’s what a self-critical, self-correcting, fallibilistic method of inquiry is supposed to do.

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2 Responses to “self-termination”

  1. Laura Says:

    DQ: On . 56 of Red Alert, the author points out that a speaker at an Indigenous Peoples symposium on climate change opened his report with a plea to the Spiritual Person of the universe. The author goes on to say that this is required for many indigenous thinkers. Could we also ground our thoughts and discussion with a sense of respect for the sacredness in the world around us?

  2. osopher Says:

    The point of contention for some is that their sense of the sacred stops short of affirming an elevated Spiritual Person, if that’s understood to imply a God or gods whose will or plan is embodied by the creation. If you address the SP in prayer, are you implicitly denigrating your own spiritual status? But then, as Wildcat points out, it is a tenet of native wisdom not to quarrel about God.

    Still, it seems to me useful to wonder about non-theistic spirituality. Maybe even secular spirituality. The sacred is not just for the godly, right?

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