Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Charlottesville (3/30/2015) ... or about man's dominion over nature.

Monday included another afternoon road trip, this time to Charlottesville for a class I'll be teaching tomorrow.   It was a strange day that started out with a migraine and I was dragging.   Waiting for ever thing to settle down and the pain killer to work, I picked up a book that I've been working through on environmental justice (see the tab on my blog about books I've been reading for the title).  I am reading this book because of an interest I have in how to sell conservation in particular to people who are more cavalier about environmental protection.   I am very passionate when I teach and hopefully I can convert one or two persons and make them respect and protect the natural environment, but I am still frustrated that some people still don't get it.

Reading the book I hit the point on the so called idea that man has been given dominance over the natural environment by our Christian god (Genesis 1:26).  Being a Pantheist, I believe in the Devine in everything and in humans being part of it and not in charge of it.  But, I have often wondered how this thing about human dominion all got started, in particular since that attitude could be so destructive to the environment.  The authors of the chapter I was reading credits John Locke (1623-1704) for this notion, but reading a biography of Locke, it seems that he built on the philosophy of Francis Bacon, who interpreted the bible in such a way.  Granted this was all thought up in the 17th century and we did not know about photosynthesis,  evolution and other great scientific discoveries.

Locke had some other  interesting ideas.  He believed that "Land that is left wholly to Nature, that hath no improvement of Pasturage, Tillage, or Planting is called, as indeed it is, waste, and we shall find the benefit of it amount to little more than nothing"  (Locke 1694, Second Treatise, Sec. 42-43).  In other words, nature itself was worthless and had no function.  Not the brightest idea, but on the other hand, Locke did have some great ideas on religion (tolerance) and private property, and some of his ideas were championed in the Americas.   It seems that Thomas Jefferson was a reader of Locke; and wow, here I find myself in Charlottesville the home of Jefferson.

Locke calculated that improved land derives 99 to 99.9 percent of its value from cultivation rather than from the land itself.  This philosophy still permeates part of our economic system and explains our relationship with nature and public land.

With this notion we are ignoring that:
  1. Nature's inherent value apart from human utility,
  2. Nature has a psycho-spiritual value,
  3. Nature's ability to create (wildlife, natural resources but also oxygen, clean water),  
  4. Humans are part of nature.
One of Locke's ideas was about waste.  He be lived that no one should enmass more property than he needed.  Man should not waste land and what he grows from the land; otherwise he had to share is excesses.  So Locke was a property guy who had somewhat socialistic tendencies before socialism was invented.  The biographer tells us that this notion was easily abandoned by Locke's followers with the invention of money.  Now the excess crops, milk or meat could be sold and would not go to waste (the birth of capitalism).

The photo below was taken at Monticello.   I got there 45 minutes before closing and the ticket police would not allow me to go for a short walk in the woods without paying.   Like I would be able to make it all the way up to the mansion in that time and take the free tour.  Oh well.  At least I got to look at the green roof above the gift store.  It is amazing how at least part of our society is finally understanding that Locke was just a reflection of the level of science at time he lived, and that nature has a function and value.  I think it would have been something Thomas Jefferson would have embraced; however, he would probably have grown crops on the roof.

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