Paths and Choices: Choosing Our Relationship with Nature 8.1.4B
“We grieve only for what we know” [Aldo Leopold, “July,” A Sand County Almanac]. We know – do we grieve? Do we feel anything? Can we use both our heads and our hearts?
One direction this leads is the question of duty. Once we have facts and understand their meaning, how should we apply them? What do the facts and interpretations mean to us? What does it mean to be dependent on the processes of life? Do we have a duty to stop doing harm to ourselves? More important perhaps, do we have a duty to stop sending the “intergenerational remote tyranny” of our harmful choices out into the future?
This then leads us to the principle of love and what E.O. Wilson calls biophilia, the love of life. We do usually love ourselves and our group, our children and our grandchildren. We do sometimes love other humans, both neighbors and strangers. But do we love life? The processes of life are complex and diverse, often chaotic, even uncontrollable. Can we find it in ourselves to love life?
Our natural tendency is to prefer stability and control so much that we are willing to use any amount of power, any mechanism or force, any violence to defend ourselves against nature’s constant motion. Historically, this is for good reason because over millennia humans have struggled to survive and thrive. “Nature” has sometimes seemed to be not only our greatest benefactor, our Mother Earth, but also our worst enemy. The chaos of living needed to be conquered, defeated, controlled, or smothered for the sake of the future. But now in the modern world our powers of death are so great that we are straining at the circles of life itself. It appears that we would rather die in the collapse than have peace. Loving life is hard for us on many levels.
We need to decide what we believe about this. If we do finally break down the circles of life and interdependency, what will our future become? Believing that we have the freedom and responsibility to choose moral Growth rather than moral Decay puts a heavy burden on us. It is easier to be passive, awaiting the fate that someone else will construct for us. It is also tempting to fall back on our passion for power and self-will.
Creating the future by choice using our reason, duty, love, and belief is possible. We have minds for reason, for knowing, and for interpreting. We have hearts to apply our duty and love. We have spirits and energy for belief. Do we have the courage to choose life and its processes?
Without Words We Cannot Think
“We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in. . . . The evolution of a land ethic is an intellectual as well as emotional process. . . . The mechanism of operation is the same for any ethic: social approbation for right actions: social disapproval for wrong actions. By and large, our present problem is one of attitudes and implements. We are remodeling the Alhambra with a steam-shovel, and we are proud of our yardage.” Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), “The Land Ethic,” A Sand County Almanac with Essays on Conservation from Round River (1949)