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Traditional Rejection of Environmentalism

Page history last edited by Don Pogreba 4 years, 7 months ago

The Ancient World


  • Judeo Western Christian Tradition places man in a place of preeminence over nature
  • From the Bible: The God said, "Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds." And so it happened: God made all things of wild animals, all kinds of cattle, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. God saw how good it was. Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground." 
  • Aristotle believed that all living things could be rank ordered from the least to the highest (humans). This established the notion of hierarchy, the superiority of certain life form over others.
  • At the core, the nature of a being's soul defined its place in the Chain.
  • The Great Chain of Being proposed that all "species" of animals were linked in a logical progression
  • This metaphor extended into all other areas (cosmology, politics, society, ect.) 


The Enlightenment & A Bit Earlier


  • Francis Bacon's Scientific Empiricism
  • Separates science from religion and mysticism
  • In doing so, he separated nature from the world of human reason
  • In her book Wild Politics, Susan Hawthorne explains this distinction: 

Max Oelschlaeger, in his massive work The Idea of Wilderness, traces some key steps in the development of the concept. He makes it clear that there is no need for such an idea among those who live in relationship with the land. The Paleolithic peoples, for instance, made no such distinction: "home was where they were and where they had always been. They could not become lost in the wilderness, since it did not exist" (1991:14). But even more important in the development of the idea of wilderness was the western scientific alienation of its knowledge systems from everyday life: Francis Bacon (1561–1626), René Descartes (1596–1650) and Isaac Newton (1642–1727) are key figures in this cultural shift.9 Deforestation on a huge scale was a precursor to the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe (Schama 1996:45–53) just as in earlier centuries, deforestation accompanied the development of agricultural peoples across Western Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa and the Mediterranean (Diamond 1991).  

  • Creates Duality, one that extends man/woman
  • Rene Descartes placed the rational plane above the "irrational" plane of the natural world. (Ignored the stewardship component of dominion.) John Jermiah Sullivan best described the Descartian view:
    • "The modern conversation on animal consciousness proceeds, with the rest of the Enlightenment, from the mind of René Descartes, whose take on animals was vividly (and approvingly) paraphrased by the French philosopher Nicolas Malebranche: they “eat without pleasure, cry without pain, grow without knowing it; they desire nothing, fear nothing, know nothing.” Descartes’ term for them was automata—windup toys, like the Renaissance protorobots he’d seen as a boy in the gardens at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, “hydraulic statues” that moved and made music and even appeared to speak as they sprinkled the plants. This is how it was with animals, Descartes held. We look at them—they seem so full of depth, so like us, but it’s an illusion. Everything they do can be attached by causal chain to some process, some natural event. Picture two kittens next to each other, watching a cat toy fly around, their heads making precisely the same movements at precisely the same time, as if choreographed, two little fleshy machines made of nerves and electricity, obeying their mechanical mandate."
  • Thomas Aquinas (humans are distinct from animals because of the existence of souls)
  • Big Picture: Rationality over Spirituality/Emotion
  • Humans are associated with Reason, Nature is associated with the irrational
  • Enlightenment Attitude = Control/Quantify/Commodify the Environment 


The 1800s

  • The Industrial Revolution supercharges the values of the ancient world and Enlightenment.
  • What was once minor damage contained to relatively small local areas could now have national, and even international, impact.
  • The Industrial Revolution was accompanied by a dramatic expansion of capitalism, which in its early stages, showed little regard for the natural world.
  • These dramatic changes caused intense environmental damage, but also laid the seed for an environmental revolution
    • Romanticism: a literary movement that argued for a personal, mystical connection to the natural world.
    • Transcendentalism: An American movement focused on personal political liberation and connection to the natural world. Its early (and most famous) adherents were people like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau


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