Wednesday, September 7, 2011

quarante-quatre: Defeat By Conquest

Supersampler & Fisheye 2
Agfa CT Precisa
Blackfoot Reservoir, Idaho & Salt Lake City, Utah
Summer 2010

"All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. 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. 

In short, a land ethic changes the role of Home sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

In human history, we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is eventually self-defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror knows, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick, and just what and who is valuable, and what and who is worthless, in community life. It always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat themselves."

     - Aldo Leopold, The Land Ethic from A Sand County Almanac

Loving him right now. My response:

In his most recent book about impending environmental and economic collapse, World on the Edge, author Lester Brown describes a riddle used to teach French students the concept of exponential growth. The riddle goes like this: A lily pond has one leaf in it on the first day of the month. On the second day there are two leaves, on the third day there are four, on the fourth day there are eight and so on. If the pond fills on the thirtieth day, when was it half full? The twenty-ninth day.

This concept, in terms of pure mathematics, is not a difficult one for even schoolchildren to grasp. The part that we do find difficult however, as a society living in an often short-sided fantasy, is the part that probably matters most – the fact that exponential growth wreaks havoc on a finite environment like the one we are a member of. This handicap – that we struggle to see human-inflicted damage until the effects are immediately visible and have come back to injure and complicate our own survival and comfort – is, along with our failure to see value in terms that are not monetary or quantifiable, a foundational factor in our continued inability to understand the importance of developing an ecological land ethic.

When Aldo Leopold wrote A Sand County Almanac in the late 1940’s, he understood. He understood that this planet is a fragile structure in which change is essential to life and always occurring, but at a pace that is normal in terms of the biological clock of the earth, and he understood that the rapid change taking place even then was too much for such a delicate structure to handle. He also understood that although human beings have assigned ourselves the role of “conqueror” of the natural world, deeming ourselves not only separate from but above it as well, that man is, in reality, only a part of the very complex biotic community that makes life on Earth possible. 

Lastly, he understood that each individual piece of this mechanism, from bacteria to birds, not only has a distinct purpose of its own, but is also intricately interconnected with every other individual piece and its distinct purpose as well. Leopold’s idea of a land ethic, in very simple terms at least, seems to be that we are all in this together. Our species has an inarguable amount of power in the world that we live in, but if we cannot come to terms with the fact that the monetarily economic parts of the biotic clock will not function without the monetarily uneconomic parts, our power will not hold a candle to the power of the environmental backlash to come.

visit me here too.

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