Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Nasty Tradition of Disconnecting Ourselves from Nature

Despite the rhetoric of green living, Americans live in the wake of an industrialization that has cut us off from our roots of experience. It is so much so that the idea that we can be a part of nature, honor it, conserve it but also participate and use it seems to be a great contradiction. Most recently farming has been interpreted as "profoundly unnatural," in the Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage.

"[Farming] has led to widespread deforestation, environmental destruction, the displacement of 'natural' wildlife, and the transplant of plants and animals thousands of miles from the original habitats. It involves the genetic modification of plants and animals to create monstrous mutants that do not exist in nature and often cannot survive without human intervention...Agriculture would surely not be allowed if it were invented today."

Standage's book contains chapters of quick studies one of which is the domestication of corn. Standage makes a strong argument that that human intervention has radically changed this plant from its original roots, making it dependant on humans for its cultivation. The same can be said for the domestication of wheat. How Standage qualifies these alterations puts humans as the Dr. Frankenstein of nature. This may be more of a case with genetically altered foods. But by classifying farming or the process of changing plants to human needs as unnatural, characterizes humankind as a rouge species, alien to its own world.
    Liberty Hyde Bailey knew too well even in the 1900s the devastation of human intervention with their environment. Bailey however also knew the other type of relating, where the exchange between man and earth was sacred, that people needed to be awakened to the idea that we are stewards to a holy creation.  From our current perspective seen in Standage's book, it's like we're reading the map backwards. We don't have to hermetically seal off land from human contact. Nor can we relate to the land as just a resource to exploit. When we subdue the land, and if we want to understand the true meaning of the word from Genesis, we participate in the development of the created order. As the New Interpreters Bible explains, to subdue is the process of "bringing the world along to its fullest possible creational potential...which creaturely activity will prove crucial for the development of the world." Human consciousness and science need not be seen as the process of creating "monstrous mutants that do not exist in nature and often cannot survive without human intervention" as Standage describes.  Since we too are nature, we develop and commune in the process of nature. Our consciousness brings yet another gift to the exchange. The domestication of corn, its dependence on humans and our dependence on it, is an yet another example of the sacred subduing of the land, bringing our consciousness to nature in order to bring it to its fullest possible creational potential. Bailey hoped that we would arrive at this greater understanding and responsibility. It is possible one we embrace one of the most pernicious and ill informed contraditions of our time.

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