Mendo Island Journal — Timely. Useful. Sometimes Cranky.

Side With the Living – Derrick Jensen

In Around the web on September 8, 2009 at 7:34 pm

From Derrick Jensen
Orion Magazine

A note to those who would demonize nature

The other night I saw a commercial for a PBS program that breathlessly described how orcas “dominate” the oceans. And the nature program I had the misfortune to see before that talked of different species of bears “conquering” each other’s territories. The program repeatedly emphasized the powerful bite of one particular type of bear—making sure we got the point by always playing scary music when these bears were depicted—and only late in the program did viewers learn that these bears were exclusively scavengers, with powerful jaws not so they could “conquer” and “dominate,” but so they could break the bones of those already dead. This projection onto the natural world of this culture’s urge to dominate is so ubiquitous as to be at this point almost invisible to us, like air. And obviously, how we perceive the natural world affects how we behave toward it: if we perceive it as full of domination, we are more likely to attempt to dominate it.

Not infrequently, people will use the mass extinctions of the past to rationalize their efforts to dominate (read: destroy) the world at hand. For example, I recently read an essay by the influential scientific philosopher Sam Harris titled “Mother Nature Is Not Our Friend.” It begins, “Like many people, I once trusted in the wisdom of Nature. . . . I now believe that this romantic view of Nature is a stultifying and dangerous mythology. Every 100 million years or so, an asteroid or comet the size of a mountain smashes into the earth, killing nearly everything that lives. If ever we needed proof of Nature’s indifference to the welfare of complex organisms such as ourselves, there it is.” Never mind that only one of the major mass extinctions was probably caused by an asteroid. But the real point is that the moral I derive from mass extinctions is precisely the opposite of the moral Harris projects onto them.

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