Tuesday, 16 August 2011

People, nature: no dualisms, please

I’m thinking about the relationship between ‘people’ (human-people, that is) and ‘nature’, the western dualism that informs so much of spiritual as well as temporal thought and being. In Britain, our landscapes are shaped by us - none are untouched by humanity: but not by us alone. The glory of snow in the Cairngorms is still a reminder that there are processes beyond or outside ‘us’, be they the immediate flows of weather or the very long term processes of geology, but even there the white landscape is crossed by roads, power lines, and the scene is a tourist landscape. But we can see this the other way round.

We, human-people, are not separate from ‘nature’, no matter how much we have tried, in fear, in pride, or in perceived ‘domination’ or even ‘stewardship’, to divest ourselves, and our societies, of the ‘natural’. Everything that we do is predicated on a relationship to other beings of the world. We eat, don’t we? We rely on products of other-than-human people’s work, growth, movement, and we live in symbiosis with bees, bovines, and mini-beasts that live in our eyelashes, symbioses which have their difficulties especially when some of our affiliations threaten others. Every action has its impact on ‘environment’ and on human movements and resources. I live currently in the Peaks, in a landscape shaped by geological movements and glaciation, by the erosions of streams and rivers, by the grazing of sheep and the clearing of forests to enable grouse moors, by the building of villages, towns, the city, by the draining of moorland. My everyday living, what I do, how I shape my day, has impact on my environment but is also in part determined by that environment and by the choices that other people have made.

(For instance, a reliable bus service to Totley that actually allowed me to connect with my place of work would be good for me, and help avoid car journeys by others too, but these choices are not made by me: and the bus routes in Sheffield, following roads, are linked to the lie of the land and the river valleys in a city of hills, though also linked to planners’ sense that there is a ‘centre’ that people will want to go to.)

Several years ago, the power of ‘nature’ was evident in Sheffield, through rain. The impact of that power, though, was in part created by human action – the draining of moorland which would have soaked up rainwater, releasing it more gradually, the channelling or culverting of rivers into too-narrow spaces, and the building of many houses on the flood plain. This year, areas of Scotland are working on flood defence. We live together with ‘nature’, because we are of this planet and have our being here, on earth, embodied beings who cannot be separate from the sources of our life and strength.

Let’s find ways to discuss our relationships with the rest of the natural world which do not depend on a dualist distancing of ourselves from that vibrancy, diversity and dynamism which is our Earth.


[This post was inspired in part by the short preview of Emma Restall Orr's chapter in the forthcoming book, The Wanton Green. I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of Emma's chapter, and the preview is at http://wantongreen.blogspot.com. I'll doubtless make more reference to this volume in later posts.]

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