From chapter "Conquest"
We see hatred of nature everywhere in this culture. And I mean everywhere. Tonight I saw an op/ed in Forbes Magazine entitled, “In the Battle of Man vs. Nature, Give Me Man.” The article begins, “Welcoming the new year contemplating the sunset comfortably ensconced on a cliffside balcony high above the manicured banks of the Miami River, it’s hard not to marvel at the hand of man. Behold as lights defeat the growing darkness, lending sparkle to a condo canyon that was once a malarial swamp. Yes, the pristine wilderness is a wonderful place to visit, but most rational people would rebel if forced to live there.”
There are, of course, many things wrong with this, not the least of which is that the “battle,” or rather war, or rather massacre, being waged by “Man” against the rest of the world—a.k.a. “Nature”—is killing the planet. Next, of course, is the insanity of the belief that you can win a war against the planet that provides the basis for your own life; or more accurately, the insanity of the belief that winning a war against the planet that provides the basis for your own life can end in anything other than your own demise as well as the planet’s; where does he think the raw materials come from to build these condo canyons, and where does he believe the energy comes from to power those lights? More importantly, where does he think food and water and oxygen come from? Of course what “winning” this war would look like to him and people like him is not the murder of the planet—you can’t perceive yourself as murdering something you perceive as already inanimate—but rather its complete bending to his will. Its “reorganization.” Next, his preference for the artificial over the natural, in this case city lights to night (and moonlight, starlight, or darkness) and condominiums to wetlands; and his near-Biblical and certainly narcissistic reverence for “the hand of man,” are not only measures of this culture’s sickness, but more basically are pretty straightforward statements of common beliefs that are this culture: that the enslavement of the world is a good thing, and that this enslavement is possible without murdering the planet.
I was also bothered by this statement: “Yes, the pristine wilderness is a wonderful place to visit, but most rational people would rebel if forced to live there.” First, until only a few thousand years ago (and on the Miami River, until only a few hundred years ago), what he calls “pristine wilderness” was not called “pristine wilderness,” and it wasn’t a place for people to visit. It was called “home,” and it was where people lived, people who fought against the conquest and enslavement of their homes, people who did prefer wetlands and starlight to condominiums and city lights. Also, saying that “most rational people would rebel if forced to live there,” implies that those who gladly lived there were not as rational as those who destroyed these “wildernesses” and the humans (and nonhumans) who called these places home. It implies they were not as rational as those who live in condo canyons. This is fully in line with the disturbingly common belief among members of the dominant culture that Indigenous peoples—a.k.a. people who live in “pristine wilderness,” a.k.a. “primitives”—are too often not perceived as fully rational.
I’ll tell you what is not rational, or reasonable: harming the capacity of the earth, our only home, to support life. Nothing could be more unreasonable or irrational or stupid or evil than that.
I want to mention one more passage, from near the end of this Forbes essay: “Will we give a clear mandate to leaders who celebrate man’s exceptionalism, understanding that the incidental problems created as we harness technology to bend nature to our will can be solved using more technology? Or will we cede power over every aspect of our lives to an elite [sic] that claims to speak for the inanimate [sic] environment and seeks to command us to live with less, redistribute our property, and empower politically appointed central planners to scale down and reshape civilization to appease Mother Nature’s wrath?”
Here we go again, with human exceptionalists, which is really just another name for human supremacists—and the same is true for white exceptionalism (or supremacism), male exceptionalism (or supremacism), US or capitalist or civilized exceptionalism (or supremacism)— dismissing the harmful effects of their exceptionalism and supremacism. As always, this dismissal happens because the harmful effects are suffered by the victims of the supremacists, and not generally the supremacists themselves, who are then—what a surprise—generally the beneficiaries of the exploitation that follows from this exceptionalism or supremacism. Two hundred species went extinct today. Ninety-eight percent of old growth forests are gone. Ninety-nine percent of prairies. Ninety-nine percent of wetlands. Ninety percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone. Shellfish in the Pacific Northwest are undergoing reproductive failure because of industrially-induced acidification of the oceans. And these are what he calls “incidental problems,” that is, when he doesn’t claim they’re positive goods. And remember, he is not the point; the point is that he’s articulating a destructive and narcissistic attitude that is the dominant culture—that the extirpation of nonhumans is at most an incidental problem, but more likely either progress (converting nasty swamps to glorious condo canyons), production (developing natural resources), or something completely inconsequential. Because it’s happening to someone who—or, in the human supremacist formulation, something that—is not fully alive, not fully “rational,” not fully aware, and certainly not worthy of moral consideration.
Sometimes the extirpation of nonhumans is perceived as “saving the earth,” as in an article in today’s Los Angeles Times headlined, “Sacrificing the Desert to Save the Earth.”The article is about how state and federal governments, a big corporation, and big “environmental” organizations/corporations are murdering great swaths of the Mojave Desert to put in immense solar panels. The desert is being sacrificed not, as the article states, to save the earth, but to generate electricity, primarily for industry. The earth doesn’t need this electricity: industry does. But then again, from this narcissistic perspective, industry is the earth. There is and can be nothing except for the supremacists themselves.
Here are a few of the other problems with this Forbes text, problems which are nearly universal in this culture’s way of being in the world. First, there is the immorality (and, in this culture, the ubiquity) of wanting to “bend nature to our will.” Or we could talk about this writer for Forbes waxing enthusiastic about bending the entire planet to (his perspective of ) “our will,” and then immediately afterwards accusing someone else of being part of some elite. Uh, wouldn’t wanting to bend the world to your will make you by self-definition part of an elite? Or we could talk about the cognitive dissonance that inevitably follows when we propagate lies like human exceptionalism, in this case the dissonance manifesting as calling nonhuman nature inanimate, but then immediately speaking of “Nature’s Wrath.” Which is it: is “Nature” inanimate or is it wrathful? You can’t have it both ways. And of course his language reveals that on some level even this human supremacist recognizes that the real world has reason to be wrathful.
I find it extraordinary—and of course, entirely expected—that so many human supremacists speak blithely of bending the entire world to “our” will, and attempt to force all of us to live with less of the planet (and to force all those exterminated to not live at all), but then they freak out at the possibility of anyone in any way constraining any of their own freedoms, at the possibility of someone “commanding” them to live with fewer luxuries (luxuries that are gained by forcing others to bend to their will), and freak out as well at the possibility of reshaping this culture to be in line with the needs of the planet, the source of all life.