>Internal rudders don't appear to be very reliable. IMO, the answer is
>immersion in nature, including science, and a healthy distrust of authority.
>I don't see a lot of evidence that going deeper and deeper into one's mind
>to get in touch with "deep feelings" is very productive. [major snip]
>So, what does this analogy have to do with environmentalism? Do people
>exploit nature because of long term culture (some would say instinct), or
>because they are being actively tricked and subverted by an evil system? I
>get the feeling that most (left-leaning) activists think that people are
>intrinsically good, but are deceived and ensnared by an evil system. On the
>other hand, "deep ecologists" feel that more intrinsic ethical values are
Christianity (and to some extent Judaism) take this a step further,
holding that people are inherently sinful, and it is only through grace
that we are able to work around this sin-nature. I'm not going to get
into the discussion again, but this is an excellent example of how
one's faith (be it in Secular Humanism or whatever else) *profoundly*
affects one's understanding of the world and its troubles. Periodic
faith-focused discussions are relevant to sustainable agriculture every
bit as much as periodic discussions of bedrock geology are relevant to
discussions about managing high-magnesium soils.
I would add to Dale's comments that"getting in touch with our feelings"
can be helpful, but only if the purpose of the exercise is to make sure
that our actions are not ruled by those feelings.
As to the question of expoliting nature as a long-term cultural
phenomenon, two things come to mind. I suspect that a large part of the
problem is that EFFECT is usually removed in both time and space from
CAUSE. People don't realise that they are doing grave damage because
the results are not immediate.
Orchardists did not make the connection between their sprays of DDT to
control codling moth and the fact that spider mites were becoming an
ever-more-serious problem in their orchards ten years later. Certain
entomologists (AD Pickett and others) not only had understood what
would happen, but forecast it in print --- including some government
orchard spray manuals --- as early as 1950.
When International Nickel (INCO) raised their Sudbury smelter stack to
800-odd feet (because American astronauts had used the Sudbury area to
simulate the moon...) they moved their sulphur problems from local to
far downwind. My neighbours did not understand that their soild acidity
problems and higher lime bills were related to something that happened
700 miles to the west, 15 years earlier.
The second problem is that of the INCENTIVE TRAP --- a situation in
which it is to the short term advantage of an individual to do
something that is harmful to him/her over ther longer term, or is
harmful to society in general. Government subsidies to agriculture fit
into that category. So do the guys here in Kansas this year who
destroyed native tallgrass prairie in order to plant Roundup-Ready
soybeans. It is only the LDP subsidies that make such action even a
remotely paying proposition, and I suspect that not a few of these
folks will use the cash from those beans (provided they can sell 'em
...) to pay off a bank loan, while leaving the suppliers hanging out to
Historically, about the only two things capable of overcoming a
powerful incentive trap are totalitarian government and/or strong
religious taboos. Pigs are tropical animals and use up / mess up a lot
of water. The Middle East has very little water. Pigs in that
environment would be a mojor problem in competing for human water.
Pigs are also very tasty. Ooops -- incentive trap. Voila, religious
taboo. In southeast Asia, on the other hand, water is abundant, and
the story turned out very differently, the consumption of pigs being a
component of many religious ceremonies.
Functionally, it would seem that the combination of incentive traps and
the distance between cause and effect can explain a great deal of the
problems we see in conventional agriculture. Education and ethics can
probably address the cause-effect distance problem, but I suspect that
dealing with the many existing incentive traps in agriculture will be a
much more complicated and long-term proposition.
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