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Towards Day 12 (Mon, Oct. 22): Pausing to evaluate "where" we are

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Welcome back!
weather prediction: 58 degrees, 8 mph winds,
clear,  0 percent chance of precipitation

froggie315 chose for us to be outside (and will
write about this); hira's in charge for wednesday--
let us know ahead of time, please, what your plan is

mturer: name test?

any eco-stories from break?

invitation to e-forum 8 p.m. tomorrow night

your last set of site sits probably feel long ago....
of note: graham saw a fox,
froggies315 wrote a poem,
hira noticed that "this weekly observation exercise is similar to ones I had to do for an acting class I took. I was told by my professor to observe and take notes on people…in theater…every single person should be affected by the other…Expanding this awareness to the …setting …is now pertinent …Concentrating on more than people…";
ekthorp (w/ some help from sara) mused that maybe the point was to keep returning to our spots until we run out of ways to describe it, and have to innovate a new way;
& nan wondered "if it helps or hinders when we name things. Does it categorize and limit, erode and attempt to define the undefinable? Or does it help identify, draw attention, and potentially garner support to the green canopy and all its beings?"

today we move from "ecolinguistics" into "ecofeminism"
(second big question/focus of the course: what difference language makes?
what role might gender difference play in environmental studies?)
for Wednesday,
we'll read Charlene Spretnak's summary of the field;
so if you'd wondering what that term means, you're about to find out!

II. today's agenda:
discuss our trip to Harriton House
our mid-semester assessments, and
the first two chapters of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring

Harriton (smacholdt only one to mention this specifically in mid-semester evals,
though mturer wants more off-campus field trips....)
what'd you learn? was it 'worth' it?
* "the dried flower arrangement"
* the slaves in "my" graveyard
* the question of sustainability (from work-site to tourist-site)
* the next day's improvements (did it backwards!)

next Monday I will lead you on a geological ramble around campus, and on Wednesday our 3 bio majors are going to take us on a walk to learn some more about the plants around us (let's meet to discuss/plan?); I've pushed back your second paper til Nov. 2 so you can take advantage of these activities in writing 6 pp., expanding your Thoreauvian ramble = your story of Bryn Mawr in space and time beyond what you can see in the present; you might well want to do some more historical, botanical or geological research to write this....

III. mid-semester assessments--> did you read one another's?
really appreciated time time/ thoughtfulness you took w/ these self-reflections
several of you mentioned your pleasure in/looking forward to more of our shared journey/
in this class 'circle' (no longer just a class"room")

there was much celebration of being outside, much urging us to continue to nudge ourselves to do this
(important to be uncomfortable/raise ecological awareness; less “walls” and more movement
= more comfortable interactions between everyone, "critical friendships")
celebration of our honesty in working w/ one another's differences,
building community, learning from one another, in conversation and on-line;
doing site sits, value access to unfamiliar topic through familiar (English-y) lens

generally, you expressed much pleasure in our experimentation, exploration,
change, movement, ongoing evaluative/reflectiveness

you have particularly enjoyed experimenting with different forms of expression
(our own and authors' more fluid, exploratory writing: more complex, rounded representations)

really liked a number of answers to the question of how we are being ecological-->
smacholdt:  contextualizing ourselves in the larger environment
graham: like monitoring individual adaptation to weather, etc;
the class functions in an ecological manner by not letting one particular force dominate it--generating variation

a couple of you were worried that, because you had very little to criticize,
you were not being reflective enough (cf. Peter Elbow on the believing game;
also froggies315's idea of "trying to see the good in what we don't like")
so I wanted to start w/ all we have to celebrate/don't want to lose....before turning to

"what we might work on":

eetong: "re-commit to the values of the class –
what our expectations are as individuals, what we will challenge ourselves to do"
an open question: what those values are/how to accomodate their diversity

(so struck in the discussion of Berry's Dream of the Earth: no single story is adequate;
education needs to be more experiential, diverse; you need to be personally responsible)

some individual promises: eetong more time on her writing; graham needs to have more presence on-line
smacholdt: frustrated by our harping on the possibility of a "non-anthropocentric perspective"-->
let's make peace w/ its impossibility!

some concrete suggestions:
rachel: wants more class time discussing texts, less on our experiences of/fear of nature
cf. srucara: wants to focus less on readings, more on experiential basis of thought (supplemented w/ readings)
graham: would like to move from focusing on the language we use to
talking about contemporary environmental issues

mturer: include more field trips; we get stuck discussing the ecosystem we are familiar with
eetong: what about some ecological action? (weeding? nature art?)
smacholdt: would like to explore environmental activism

some more general/philosophical musings:
mturer: I have been writing like the world contains an exclusive club of "nature" that I am trying to gain entry to but keep failing to meet the requirements; a lot of our readings and conversation make the natural world sound like it is a foreign or ancient culture that we have to study from afar...I think we need to spend more time discussing our place in our environment rather than portraying us as occasional visitors that must conform to its standards

hira: more discussion on how dependent we are on our ecological environments would be useful...
Rather than viewing the "environment" as something we have to "save", what if we examined and discussed, perhaps through class readings, how the environment is something that saves us?….so we should return the favor?


IV. Silent Spring
A. reviewer of Carson's biography:
"among the gloomiest books ever written," w/ a "depressingly timeless" message,
by a "biophiliac" and "superstar of narrative nonfiction," who "artfully linked radioactive fallout
with the indiscriminate use of pesticides" and whose book transformed the gentle movement of
"conservation" into the "bitter idea known as environmentalism" (which pits nature and science
against government and industry)-->I'm wondering if it struck us this way?

recent re-edition w/ introduction by Al Gore
, calls it humbling for an elected official;
compares the reaction to the this to that which Darwin provoked w/ Origin of the Species, and
compares its influence on the environmental movement to that of Uncle Tom's Cabin on abolition

B. look over your notes--pull out a passage you would like to read aloud....
let's have a "read-around"....what did you hear? what is your response....?

B. notes from Joni Seager’s Plenary @ FAHE this past June:
“Rachel is Still Right…50 yrs later”
bio: 1907-1964, died of breast cancer
Chatham College/Johns Hopkins/Woods Hole
taught @ UMaryland; bulk of career @ Fish & Wildlife Services (Bureau of Fisheries), 1936-1952—>
then left because writing brought financial security, but network there was important;
outsider in many ways--woman writing-science--yet insider re: F&WServices
Under the Sea Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1950), The Edge of the Sea (1955)
Silent Spring: serialized in New Yorker June 16, 23, 30, 1962
never married; romantic (?) relationship w/ Dorothy Freeman
(“spinsterhood” made an issue later)
Silent Spring among the best known unknown works: iconic status but unread
what it did: drew from her science background to synthesize vast amounts of science data;
no original data, but translated for the public

apocalyptic title: dystopic opening chapter w/out birds
main thrust to raise alarm about indiscriminate use of pesticides
contentious: not anti-pesticide, but only anti-indiscriminate use
credited/blamed for banning of DDT  a decade later, by Nixon),
catalyzed modern environmental movement
tried to position herself a-politically
not esp radical, but just-beneath-the-surface trenchant social analysis
before her, very little ‘social structure’ analysis in environmental domain:
prior wilderness appreciation movements (Muir, etc.) or
“conservation” (for human use—Teddy Roosevelt preserve animals to kill them)
nuclear programs promoted more critical inquiry, but otherwise
not much focus on humans as agents of environmental destruction

Silent Spring
changed the terms of discussion in 3 domains
1) agency of humans: consequences of structures of control
2) raised question of role of military/militarism in development of pesticides
3) misogyny in response

challenges to
pesticide industry (w/out naming names)
unsustainable American agrarian structures
collective consciousness & ethics
anticipated today’s critical debates about power and ecology
(agrobusines/secretive industries/big money/
'ends justify means’ ecological approach)
paved the way for Merchant and McPhee on control of nature,
for Lappe on food business and food maldistribution,
for ecosystem analysis, for env’l ethics
called into question the paradigm of scientific ‘progress’ of post-WW2 use--
not just challenging pesticide, and her critics knew it

from Silent Spring:
“who would want to live in a world that is just not quite fatal?
and yet pressed on us…those who exercise ruthless power…
we are fed little tranquilizing pills of half-truths
truths are hidden from us intentionally…
also hidden by specialized division of knowledge
insecticides presented as “homey” and “cheerful”
government regulatory agencies understaffed…
systems of ‘tolerance’ setting flawed and unsound

cf. EPA website on pesticides—system she decried is the same system in place today

“ A system of deliberately poisoning our food and then policing the results”  is reminiscent of Louis Carroll

naïve/core idea: an optimist,
believing that ethical behavior would follow knowledge;
"future generations unlikely to condone…”
we must take the “other road”…natural controls to pests

single greatest problem: hubris of controlling nature
“as man proceeds towards his announced goal of the conquest of nature”…”the habit of killing”
“who has made the decision that sets in motion these chains of poisonings”
(decision of authoritarian entrusted w/ power…in a moment of [our] inattention)
“control of nature”: a phrase conceived in arrogance and born of the Stone Age

military origins of pesticide development: as matter of historical record
among the first to raise critique of militarized responsibility for environmental destruction
German weapons program (nerve agents)
Rocky Flats
Importance of DDT in WW2 Pacific
transitioned quickly to civilian uses: first synthetic pesticide
taken firmly to task by her critics

military ethos of pesticide use remains strong (Vietnam, Iraq syndromes….)
embedded in pesticide use are
manly, vanquishing names such as ambush/ammo/arsenal/avenge/barrage/barricade/bravo/volley warrior
military effect on the environment in the Middle East
bigger picture of militarism and environment:
military single-largest environmental agent—global wilding/wars
ordinary business toxic materials
skew of priorities/protection racket
National Security trope closed circle: keeps out queries
images of military-caused environmental devastaton
globally, every weapons production/storage site is also an environmental disaster site

forging the template for response
response to Silent Spring modeled subsequent industry attacks:
question the author’s credentials/find dissident scientists/sow seeds of doubt/distort what author says /launch media campaign/launch think-tank/enlist sympathetic political leaders

Threat because her challenge was carefully crafted, well-documented--and by a woman
misogyny first/last resort for undermining women in environmental area
called amateur/scientific journalist/unpatriotic/communist
“We can live w/out birds and animals, but we cannot live w/out business"
additional charges: spinster/hysterical/emotional-laden

hid her breast cancer (to deflect attacks that she had a
personal, vested interest in attacking pesticides as carcinogenic)
spinsterness also a mark of dubiousness

template for attacks on women who challenge science
RNC 2012: “war on women is as fictitious as a war on caterpillars”
efforts to control women’s reproduction/silencing of women legislators
attacks on Carson revived today: “Rachel is Wrong” website,
blaming her for millions of malaria deaths

 great accomplishments and disappointments of her work:
we have not become “the future generation unlikely to condone…
the lack of prudent concern for the integrity of the natural world that supports all life”

Cape Code tunnel = another planet to retreat to?

Her enduring challenge:
“I think we are challenged as mankind has never been challenged before,
to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves” (1963 CBS “Reports”)

why we still have this problem
meatless Monday regimes (w/ hysterical reactions) @ various schools
env’l concern seen as feminine, “anxious”—treated as soft/not serious issue
on teaching @ MIT/belly of the beast
Carson a model for how to tell an inconvenient truth
she knew they were going to take her down…
passion w/out disabling fury—writing/re-writing that prose
we live in a different culture--
which causes problems in our ability to change the world
according to most polls, the majority of Ams believe that
climate change is real/should be addressed;
yet most oppose intrusive gov’t regulation:
how to approach these enormous inconsistencies?
what discourse recognizes living in the world?
challenge to us in our bubbles: how to bridge the divide?
what might change your mind?
Canadian phrase to describe gap between French and Anglican: “the two solitudes”
need to bring complicated scientific analysis to popular domain

effective teaching technique used by field biologist:
monitor 3 yards of grass: come to know it/write down what’s going on…
you will see much more than the grass…look @ all that’s going on…dynamic!
small experimental station can be powerful approach…

how to teach env’l studies w/out leading to despair?
what sustainable practice, for concerns that are so pressing?
short term/long term thinking…