Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Sunflower Forest: Ecological restoration and the new communion with nature

The Sunflower Forest: Ecological restoration and the new communion with nature
by William Jordan III

“Discussions about the environment and environmental problems often rely on ethical formulations and invoke virtues such as restraint, humility, respect, foresight, simplicity, thrift, and so forth in our dealings with other species and with the rest of nature generally…. What I propose is not so much an ethic as a way to an ethic, a process by which we might create the values on which any system of ethics is based while giving those values a hold on the consciences of individuals or groups of people—a way, as anthropologist Victor Turner said, of making the obligatory desirable.” (4)

our relationship with nature
1) colonial: “it’s there for resources” “utilitarian conservationists”
2) sacred place: “God’s most perfect sanctuary,” John Muir, “hands-off preservationism
3) community: “we are members,” Aldo Leopold

“Here we come to the root of all so-called environmental problems and also to the reason for the inability of environmentalism to deal with them effectively…. This is the idea, traceable to the biblical account of creation, in which shame, trouble, and badness are introduced into the creation peculiarly late and as a result of a human failing, the idea that nature itself is innocent and therefore morally discontinuous from human beings, whose lapse introduced shame, trouble, and evil into creation…. Beginning with Ralf Waldo Emerson, environmental thinkers have consistently rejected the old idea of Original Sin but have retained the peculiar biblical idea, figured in the Garden, of a creation prior to trouble and shame, and this has made it impossible for them to account for or to come to terms with the human experience of alienation. Insisting, as good evolutionists, that creation is ongoing, they have overlooked the message of mythology, which characteristically represents creation and origin, not necessarily as evil, but always as troubled, destructive, and shameful.” (40)

“for more than a century, environmentalism has shifted uneasily, unproductively, and often even destructively between the poles of an alienated preservationism and a resource-oriented conservationism, and has proved incapable of inhabiting the middle ground where community is achieved as selves confront each other, first to acknowledge and then somehow to transcend the irreconcilable differences between them.” (46)

his premises: (p 196)
“first, that what we call “nature” is creation, a process figured in the act of giving birth, as the metaphor of birth in the word “nature” itself suggests
second, that creation is not orderly but chaotic and violent, involving the radical violation of rules represented by genetic mutation
third, that, though chaotic, creation tends generally toward an increase in self-awareness
fourth, that because, like birth, creation generates difference and therefore limits, it is an occasion for the experience of shame, shame being the emotion that arises from a reflexive awareness of limits
fifth, that the human experience of shame does not represent a discontinuity with nature, or a peculiarly fallen condition, but is rather a natural response, at the level of reflexivity, to nature’s own shameful limitation and makeshift, trial-and-error amateurishness
sixth, that the experience of transcendent values such as community and value depends on a reflexive awareness of shame, which we deal with productively only in the realm of the imagination supported by the psychological and spiritual technologies of symbol, myth, and ritual
seventh, that he effectiveness of environmentalism has been limited by its skepticism regarding these technologies of the imagination which it shares with modernism generally, and by the limited repertory of stories, myths, and rituals it has provided for dealing with the shame inherent in the relationship between humans and the rest of nature
eighth, that restoration is important not only because it provides a way of interacting with the natural landscape in a positive way, but also because it provides a context for confronting the shame and for the invention of rituals for dealing with it productively.”


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