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Towards Day 21 (Wed, Nov. 21): The Land Ethic

Anne Dalke's picture

weather prediction:
48 degrees, 10 mph winds, 10% chance of precipitation, partly cloudy

sara.gladwin is positioning us outside

what have you to say about today's weather/your relation to it....?

Sarah Shaw is selecting our location for Monday

I. coursekeeping

* No site sit due this week....

* 8 p.m. Sun. evening: your third web event --9 pp. exploring your current understanding of "ecocultural complexity," or how ecological concerns seem to you to be inflected racially, culturally, or economically, or a warm-up for your final project....

* J.M. Coetzee's philosophical novel
The Lives of Animals will be our text for all of next week--
for Monday, read pp. 15-69: "The Philosophers and the Animals" and "The Poets and the Animals"

* my visit to the restoration site along the creek in Ashbridge Park

(What kinds of observations are your class hoping to make?
Will you take any measurements or do any analysis?)
how about some poetry instead....?

Agus Fletcher, A New Theory for American Poetry: Democracy,
the Environment, and the Future of Imagination (Harvard, 2004)--
w/ a focus on John Ashbery's work...

II. from our course forum
eetong's "weather-conscious Monday":
on the financially and/or ecologically irresponsibility of re-building coastal towns-->
duplicating vulnerability, rather than questioning what it no longer makes sense to rebuild;
even doing that would still be reactionary, dealing w/ symptoms,
not directly addressing global changes, rising ocean levels,
increasing extreme weather events/intense rainfall...

sara.gladwin/froggies315: I wonder if what made our ramble restorative was that it was surprising....while we were planning for it, it was a pain....I'm wondering if a teacher can assign a project that is restorative.  The words assign and restore seem largely incompatible to me.  Can you order someone to restore?

[cf. Williams' "Eulogy for Edward Abbey," on "the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened sense of the wonderful" (pp. 76-77).

after-thoughts about An Unspoken Hunger:
it seems both obvious and good that the nouns I love the most will be the ones I know the best.  As I said today in class, this is problematic.  Especially when I think about land.  I don't see a way around bounded love.  It seems like these authors and some of you do.  Would you explain more?   

(SarahC: Can't it be a continuum?...It doesn't seem to me either reasonable or realistic to expect "unbounded" love to be completely undiscriminating!)

other "unspoken" thoughts/hungers....?
portions of Williams' text/passages in it you'd like to discuss--
or just hold up....?

III. Aldo Leopold's classic essay on "The Land Ethic"
"Unpack" this essay using an "oral inquiry strategy" known as
 "text rendering," a strategy for reading closely to see what's going on.

Take a few minutes to look through the essay.
Underline a sentence, a phrase and a word.

Now we'll do a "read around," three times,
reading on the first round just the sentences you've highlighted
(including all repetitions--so listen for these);
then, on the second round, your phrases,
and on the third, your words.

We're sort of making a poem, distilling what's diffuse,
so here are the rules of this:
short pauses between each offering, and no comments.
Also: LISTEN FOR THE THEMES you are hearing,
and jot them down (this of course will give us
material for the next step in our conversation!).

What did you hear? Where were the repetitions?
What were the patterns and main themes?

Digging into this/our relation to it:
write out a quote that (for whatever reason)
you found striking, and pass it to me....

[Barometer:] Please stand in a single line.
I will read a sentences you've selected from Leopold's essay.
If you agree w/ the statement, please move towards Gulph Road;
if you disagree, please move towards the woods.
Please explain yourself.
If hearing these explanations affects your position,
please re-locate your body accordingly.

IV. Reading Notes
process of ethical evolution, increasing limitation on freedom
original free-for-all competition replaced by co-operative mechanisms
community instinct in-the-making--but no ethics yet extended to land:
still treated as property, in a strictly economic relation

all ethics assume interdependent parts of community:

land ethic enlarges boundaries of community to include the land
what do we love?
use of resources doesn't affirm their right to continued existence
changes roles of Homo sapiens to citizen, respecting the community
assurance that land serves us is in inverse relation to degree of our education
scientist knows biotic mechanism too complex to be fully understood

many historical events were biotic interactions: plant succession steered the course of history
(cf. importance of plant succession in settling the Mississippi Valley,
w/ erosion and deterioration of soils, plants, animal life in Southwest,
and "carrying the grass to the cow" in Indian regions devoid of sod-forming grass)

Is history taught in this spirit?
something lacking in content of conservation education:
urges only enlightened self-interest (i.e. profitable remidiation only)
obligations exist over and above self-interest: extend social conscience to the land
need for internal change in loyalties, affections, convictions

basic weakness in conservation system:
most members of land community (birds, wildflowers) lack economic value
should continue as matter of biotic right, regardless of economic advantage to us
parallel situation for predators, trees and entire  biotic communities
(marshes, bogs, dunes, deserts): no right to be exterminated

what is ultimate magnitude of government management?
land ethic should assign more obligation to private landowner
only alternative: voluntary conservation (forethought, open-mindedness, time)
system of conservation based on economic self-interest
ignores/eliminates elements essential to healthy functioning

we can be ethical only in relation to something we see/feel/understand/love or have faith in
"balance of nature" in accurate; truer image is biotic pyramid,
w/ each successive layer dependent on what's below for food, services,
furnishing the same to those above
each successive layer is less numerous

lines of dependency: food chains
pyramid a tangle of complex chains in highly organized structure
trend of evolution: elaborate and diversity the biota
land a fountain of energy; food chains conduct energy upwards
in sustained circuit, slowly augmented revolving fund of life

change in one part of circuit requires (often unpredicted
and untraceable) readjustments  in many other parts

some arenas (W Europe, Japan) have resistant biota;
others w/ higher degrees of disorganization, reduced carrrying capacity
violence varies w/ human population density
no density relationship holds for indefinitely wide limits,
all subject to diminishing returns

unsuspected dependencies in up-circuit
unsuspected essential roles in down-circuit
land ethic reflects ecological conscience/individual responsibility
health: capacity of land for self-renewal
conservation: effort to preserve this capacity

cf. groups that see commodity-production, vs. biota
poundage/tonage no measure of food-value of crops
discontent that labels itself "organic farming" is biotic in direction
technical advancements are improvements in the pump, rather than the well
"Mark what you leave"

educational/economic system heads away from land-consciousness
ture modern separate from the land (the space between cities where crops grow):
bored stiff; land is something he has outgrown
attitude of farmer equally serious obstacle to land ethic
higher ed deliberately avoids ecological concepts

quit thinking about land-use as economic problem:
Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right,
as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends
to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.

of course economic feasibility limits the tether of what can be done,
but most land relations are determined by tastes, predilections rather than by purse,
by investments of time, forethought, skill and taste rather than cash
ethic never written, always evolving

mechanism of operation: social approbation
present problem of attitudes, implements
"We are remodeling the Alhambra with a steam shovel, and we are proud of our yardage."
we are in need of gentler, more objective criteria for successful use