It has become an unfortunate fact that the mention of environmentalism or the conservation of nature is immediately perceived as being leftist ideology. There are legitimate and credible leftist positions regarding ecology, and I do not intend to belittle that. What I do want to convey is another angle, not the ‘tree hugger’ and ‘PETA’ stereotypes, rather another perspective that can only be defined as of the ideological right. Which personally I find these dichotomies to be tiresome, so for the sake of this entry let us remove these left/right preconceptions.
By using the word nature I mean ecology as a whole; the animal kingdom, insects, reptiles, flora, and so forth. There is a common trend today that attempts to anthropomorphize nature, as if it is a caring Mother Goddess or a sensitive ‘touchy feely’ friend of man. While deification of certain forces of nature is useful, let’s not fool ourselves with emotional fantasies.
Nature is indifferent. Creatures, plants, and so forth have functions and they strive to fulfill this function. As much as we may admire them, they are still driven by function. Homo sapiens being the exception in that we are more than simply fulfilling certain biological functions. One could say we were the lucky (or cursed) species to achieve that kind of sentience. It drives us to ask questions and aspire to more than simply fulfilling biological functions. I say this to further drive the point that nature as a whole is indifferent, often times in the most brutal sense. Werner Herzog has repeated this throughout his film career. No matter how special man feels, how ‘close’ to nature he feels, how masterful he feels himself to be, nature can and often does destroy him in indifference. It would be a childish mistake to project concepts such as ‘fascist’ or ‘might is right’ onto this indifference. Altruism, nurture, protection, and so forth are as much a part of nature as its brutal aspects. Again these qualities are for the sake of fulfilling function, not out of benevolent or malevolent sentiment. The reason I emphasize this is to set up the fact that in nature’s indifference there is nobility or transcendence. It operates without the need for humans. It will continue to thrive long after our species is extinct. It is the eternal silence that persists despite our worldly noise. It is the default. We are the aberration.
Throughout the ages poets, writers, and philosophers have praised the nobility found in nature. Alfred, Lord Tennyson describes the nobility of nature perfectly in his work. It is described with an indifference, presenting only the details, without sentiment, only presence. The following is an excellent example,
Tennyson coined the phrase ‘nature red in tooth and claw’, Darwin presented natural selection, and unfortunately lesser intellects took this concept and argued for ‘social darwinism’ or ‘survival of the fittest’. The satirical work of Ragnar Redbeard is even read as a handbook. Those commonly called ‘tree huggers’ project their utopian emotions onto nature, and likewise are those on the far right who project their simplistic and fascistic emotions onto nature. These are humans things attempting to comprehend nature. Frankly I do not think man can fully comprehend nature nor master it.
How nature is perceived defines how one approaches environmental issues. Since Industrialism and the rise of the Economic Right, or properly called Classical Liberalism, nature has been perceived as purely instrumental. The severe increase of quantification has reduced value to the strictly tangible and monetary. Nature is only measured by its use-value. Rather than a treasured wife, it is now treated as a plundered whore. This is not conservatism. This is crude want and consumption. This is the current modernist perspective.
Contrast to that is deep ecology, this position perceives nature as the ancient entity that it is. The furthest extent is implicitly antihumanist and misanthropic, though it certainly does not have to contain this. Nature, the creatures, the flora, they are not here merely for man’s use. They inherently contain worth that is not contingent on what use they are to man. According to deep ecology, and variations thereof, it is only just to restructure society in such a way to respect the inherent worth of nature and all within it. This positions fully acknowledges the nobility of nature, the transcendent presence it holds, and does not reduce it to mere instrumental utility. This position also acknowledges the indifference of nature, its brutal as well as its nurturing aspects. This perspective is life affirming, seeing the immanence in humanity as part of nature. Suffering is affirmed, not denied.
The lesser position is far left leaning, typically rooted in utilitarian ethics or even worse, pure bleeding heart emotionalism. The antihumanist or misanthropic sentiment is turned inward into self-loathing. Guilt, shame, and resentiment is the norm. Unnecessary suffering is inexcusable, but necessary suffering is a vital detail of existence. Nature is not egalitarian, neither is it fascistic hierarchy, rather it is interdependence, thus the term ecology. The utilitarian approach to environmentalism is life denying in that it denies tragedy, it denies an essential component of nature, that murderous and brutal discourse.
As of late I have developed a sincere interest in falconry. It is a powerful metaphor of the relationship between man and nature. The hawk never becomes completely domesticated, as would a horse or a dog. This is obvious. What occurs is a kind of symbiotic and mutual respect between falconer and falcon. The fierce indifference is always present in the hawk, at the same time it grows accustomed to the falconer. As with any handler of exotic creatures, they must always keep in mind that instinct is dominant in the creature; be it a reptile, a tiger, or a bird of prey. Indeed, one mustn’t forget this and become careless. Werner Herzog’s documentary ‘Grizzly Man’ makes this exact point. In a foolish and naive attempt to ‘bond’ with the local grizzly bear population the ‘eco warrior’ falls prey to a grizzly, a convenient meal no doubt! The falconry metaphor respects the inherent instinct of the hawk, it is a bird of prey, its purpose is to hunt. The hawk represents the noble indifference of nature, the driving instinct, the predatory aspect, and man must neither abuse nor ignore this ancient force.