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ENVIRONMENT AND ETHICS: The Muir / Pinchot Tussle - ETC...

Posted on 2010.09.04 at 16:35
(Sun Aug 28 NOON): A thought or two: A general distinction between morality and ethics is that "morality" tends to be a personal or group outlook, approach or agenda, based on certain abstract ideals or principles applied to local situations - it therefore tends not to think itself "situationally relative", even though the endlessly amazing thing is that it consequently tends to be chock-full of self-contradiction, i.e., hypocrisy. Religious. Self-centered, even though the self may be thought to be divined by god, or such. On the other hand, "ethics" tends to be a more rational, scientific approach, attempting to calculate the best local solution based on such principles as, "the greatest good for the greatest number," or, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his means," or, "what would be the result if EVERYONE did such and such?" Other-centered, (although in some religions, god may be considered to exist within the other), or self-monitored.

Avoiding "temptation" out of moral principle has this little flaw of tending to INCREASE "temptation", and the secret desire to entertain and fulfill temptation - or else to jealousy persecute OTHERS who are assumed to have some seedy desire for, or association with, or ability to do just fine alongside, this terrible thing, "temptation". With ethics, on the other hand, people may choose to avoid lying or corruption, or cheating on a spouse, based upon their assessment that to do otherwise would be to harm others, if not violate a personal ethical conviction - a compact with one's self, from which much self-respect is derived. The problem is this is that, often, most rules are not absolute, and so people may choose to "get away with" certain violations, if such were an option, and no one were hurt - or, indeed, if such a choice may appear to enhance OTHER dimensions of ethics, other positive alternatives, or the benefit of OTHER people, or of one's SELF, as an "good" agent of ethics. So, while being usefully and rationally plastic, ethical choices can also get a little too situationally-relative - offering a number of dead zones wherein a few degrees of personal freedom are permitted, for better or worse.

Of course, moralities and ethics blend into each other - a great deal of religious morality is based on ethics, like religious taboos against eating certain foods are based on ancient habits evolved to deal with diseases, (not entirely scientific, but it worked, relatively speaking). And much of ethics is based on some moral assumptions, as in the imperative to assist thy neighbour, just as much of our law is based on Judeo-Christian assumptions, while much is based on common law going back to pagan times: chickens and eggs in Chinese boxes or Russian dolls... Morality and ethics often converge in mutually enhancing ways. Yet, they can also converge in destructive ways - as in the example where the morally "good" person chooses to make damaging ethical choices, based on his good ethical intentions overall. But, who are we to judge, hey? You can't figure most gambles until after the results are in. You can't always tell if ends, or means, were good or bad, or rational or not, ahead of time. Religion is supposed to cover such baffling uncertainty, (right, Job?), but sometimes it hypocritically carries us into insane wars, and such, citing rational and ethical excuses, which can change from one day to the next, yo.

And, in fact, "morality" can be used to actually undermine itself, as "ethics" can be used to undermine itself, as well.

A cute little example of morality vs. ethics is the historical contest of a Scot vs. a Frenchie: John Muir vs. Gifford Pinchot, both seeking to establish a philosophy of the nature, or use, of our emerging National Parks. The entire history is a wonderful story - (and when it was first taught to me, I felt, somehow, that I had evolved into a wiser, useful human being, although this has never been proven to be true). Well, first it must be understood that BOTH of these guys, together, were standing against vast opposition or disagreement or confusion or apathy from all the rest of society - they on one side morally, most of society on the other - they on one side of ethics, most of society on the other. Remember, the Buffalo was being driven into extinction simply to starve off the Chippewa, Sheshoni, the Siouxie and the Banshees. People were interested in ranging their cattle, in building railroads, in finding gold, oil, etc., in building farms and cities, in fighting wars, and so on.

But Preservationist John Muir, (like Thoreau), was Puritan when it came to National Parks: He wanted no people, no roads, and such. He was opting for an ideal preservation of the wild, in it's natural state. He believed in "The Sublime", (as Thoreau believed in "The Transcendental"). Conservationist Gifford Pinchot, however, partly because he hated his own stupid name, disagreed with the beautifully-named Muir. Instead, Pinchot believed people could STEWARD the National Parks - site-seeing, milling about, fishing, shooting random black people, and so on. Pinchot was less the moralist, and more the Enlightenment ethicist, trusting in the inalienable goodness and rationality of man, to be in concert with nature.

We now have a spectacular National Parks and Wildlands system, (which should be three times bigger than it is). And the Muir-Pinchot debate continues to this day - in fact, didn't Pinchot once debate Clinton and George Bush the First? He sure had big ears. Wait, no, OK... sorry... That Was Kathy Lee Gifford...

While I sometimes call myself an Existential Transcendentalist, I am not a Puritan, like Muir - although I may be a purist, and an anarchist, at heart. But, I tend to side more with Muir in wanting more true wilderness areas to be defined and preserved, ad infinitum. The Wilderness Society has helped establish many of these wild, road-less areas - and the Republicans have sought to have roads built into them, allow mining rights, and such. The wide-scale damage that simple roads can cause is NOT understood by most people. AND, while the Pinchot idea of STEWARDING national parks has not only won out successfully, in the main, but in fact gone too far in many cases, it has not been the only philosophical approach which has been somewhat damaging to nature. You see, there was this little problem with Muir's moralistic, Preservationist approach, which might be called, "Racial Manifest Destiny."

In order to prep wild areas, like Yosemite, for conversion into parks and/or wilderness areas - in order to restore those areas, "to their natural state," it was thought necessary to empty those lands of the human populations which were trampling them down, exploiting their resources, etc. Makes sense, right? Because, naturally, man is a despoiler, a career rapist, a grain of sand in God's sublime eye. Like Europeans. Except, the people who lived on these lands were Native Americans, who had, on the whole, been wisely stewarding nature for millenia. The Native Americans, ironically, happened to live by a philosophy of respecting and loving nature - a conservancy so pure that it bordered on pure preservationism: no roads, no railroads, no condoms all over the place. It was greatly "BECAUSE" of their presence that wild areas were so sublime. But, no, they had to go. So, they were either forced off the lands gradually, or were simply massacred. Since the Indians were considered non-Christian, (non-moral, ergo non-ethical), warfaring savages. There was a tragic inability of the white man, here, to, perchance, empathise with his victim. Just as we, today, tend to consider the poor to be, a priori, poor in character.

This approach, "The Yosemite" approach, or "Fortress Preservationism", has been exported to, and employed in, much of the world, where indigenous people are forced off their land, to make way for preserves, parks, wilderness areas, etc. Now, I prefer untrammelled nature over on populated by billions on billions of people - people who like cars and cows and so on. But indigenous people are where the greater part of the wisdom of humanity is sweetly sequestered; and we should respect them to participate in land-use and preservation planning. They can be amongst the greatest defenders of wildlife on the planet, as demonstrated in Brazil. Indigenous people in overpopulation, now-dependent on global capitalism or resource-depletion, such as they who feel compelled to deforest, are, nevertheless, a serious problem. Decisions in dealing with them must be based on rational ethics and economics. Neither on a moral rule to extinguish them nor to give them a blank check.

I should add that Muir was not solely to blame - the Pinchot Conservationists partook in the same approach, though their Stewardship model may be revised to include Native Americans. I have often wondered over the weird separation between the Native American RESERVATION system, and National Parks, etc., systems. Witness some things like reintroduction of the wolf in Yellowstone, etc. AND: SOME wilderness areas should be virtually devoid of man, and most certainly of roads.

But, really, the two points I wanted to make, here, are very simple. They are not really argued by the points above, and so they may be explored at length later. For now, they are simply offered for your own mulling...

First, we think of ethics more as rationalist choice, and morality as rules based on certain higher laws or principles. The science of Pinchot's approach, like a lot of mortal science, has fallen short, a bit - and lands continue to be degraded. Muir's naturalist religion applied an super-anthro-centric scheme on lands, and ended up unethically removing PEOPLE. Why could not ethics be a bit more discrete - a little more sublime - and reach down deep into the base of morality or religion, and show itself defending those indigenous people, out of a guiding moral principle? Why could not ethics be more a coherent basis for Christianity, and of Puritan environmentalism? Why this division? Why this hypocrisy? Why must only the Saints prosper, and not the Savages?

And, conversely, why must ethics only apply to, "doing the greatest good for the greatest number OF PEOPLE"? And such. Why only people? Isn't that a hubris of morality - specism, Sapiensism, anthro-centrism? Why not take ENVIRONMENTAL ethics, and take it further. Make it universal, applied to animals, and all life and environments? Well, we'll never be able to step into a higher - or "lower" - form of ethics unless we escape the capitalist NEED to constantly grow, and so constantly abuse. I cannot emphasise enough how desperately we need a completely new form of economics.

And the second point is this: We think of empathy as a general thing - not target-specific, but applicable to any other fellow-human, perhaps animal. It's a very good thing - it's both a fundamental force and a force to strive to refine, to become closer to, to be more aware of. But some people have less of it than others. Some people need help. Some people are idiots. On the other hand, we think of compassion as being more target-specific: We FEEL for certain people or beings in need, and we want to, (hopefully) actually DO, reach out and comfort and/or assist them. It is a developed form of empathy. But, how has it gotten to the state where it often sidesteps empathy, and is more of a moral imperative. Religions seek to teach compassion, but sometimes the lesson is too abstract or demanding. Some people end up "trying" to show compassion in an "AS IF" stance - AS IF they were truly compassion, but were instead following some analogy, some parable, some approximation, or some expectation by authority. And, in this way, it can actually be a function of stupid, unfortunate, naive narcissism. Easilly disappointed narcissism. Easilly provoked. It's not only as if all the empathy has been sucked out, but the empathy is being fully suffocated by this hangover called, "compassion fatigue." Guilt. Spite. Revenge. All these thieves keep in close company.

So, the question is: Why can't this dulled compassion, even true compassion itself - why can't it be made more of empathy? And why can't all of empathy act as if compassion? Why can't it leap from it's Ivory Tower - show some ethical kahones - and do more than sympathise or understand, as if watching a very-virtual TV, but get below the earth, and bleed? To walk a mile in another's shoes, and then buy that person better shoes, and move on to the next. To move less selectively or haphazardly. To feel the devastation of Hait all of one's life. And so to live a life where such victims are automatically assisted. To understand, in your NY apartment, that the beasts you watch on Animal Planet are part of the air you breath, and part of the debt you owe, for your life. Why can't compassion enhance all empathy, and empathy all ethics? How could it be missed that, in seeking to preserve the natural Sublime of God, we rake down the divine amongst us, just as we have hitherto raked down the forests?

It's all relative, I suppose. It's all a learning process. No one is perfect. And imminent death makes beasts of us all. The grand paradox is, it doesn't really matter, either.


Gotta love it.

I haven't been free to make many choices, much beyond rice vs beans. If I were a Native American, I could have some fun with this. I could be Zen about it all. But, problem is, my brain is not free - it is imprisoned with my body. I get times when I can think and run, but it's all a mess. Several years ago, I made the choice to look for a job. In order to get to the building, I had to walk from where the bus dropped me off, over a small stream. Because of the necessary choice to skip through the stream, I would end up in bed for most of the rest of my life. I have been paying for the consequences of that "bad choice" for years, and so have others. The corporation which polluted the stream, of course, made perfectly fine choices. And, I have laid back, watching many people making many bad choices, some affecting my life, but what could I do? Nothing. But, what should I pay for choices not mine? Speaking of being taxed...

Now, I am an endangered species. I am an indigent indigenous, being forced off the land he stewarded. Not easy. I spent almost all of yesterday working on moving, but everything is so interconnected. You need something, but you need a certain kind of box, but you have to empty that box first, but you need to find a new box for THAT stuff, and meanwhile you find all this plastic that needs to be sorted into Recycle #2, #4, or Walmart-bag piles. You sort through things and find things that need to go to other people. You need a 5-gallon bucket, but you need to replace one in the attic which was being used to catch drips. You need to pack food and kitchen stuff, but before that you need to cook, and clean, etc. IT'S AN ENTIRE ECOSYSTEM ! It's simply impossible to do this by backing a dump-truck up to the front of the house - OR by getting a blank check. It's the rhythm of life - it can't be broken - it can't be hurried, especially when you're in bed half the time. Like the land, which deserves respect, this house and it's contents are alive with memory and meaning, and it must only be buried or preserved with respect and wonder, lest all motivation and creativity - and empathy - be lost.

Someone needs to live here right up until about the day the house is sold - and I have extremely sensible reasons why this is so. But, of course, I couldn't possibly know what's best. I only live here. Long ago, I offered a rational strategy for the transition, occurring gradually occurring over the course of a few years, but white man not capable of cooperation. "What are you talking about? We know perfectly well how to kiss-up!"

(Mon Aug 29 10:pm insert): Well, Glenn-the-Christ gave his "My Head Looks Like A Giant Penis" speech yesterday, decked up in bullet-proof vest and preaching before a disoriented crowd of angry old white people. So, we have Fox, Freedom Works, the Koch Brothers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, et al., successfully dividing people first against Hispanic immigrants, then Moslems, and now blacks, via Glenn Beck. "Reclaiming" the civil right to take back America by co-opting MLK. A week ago, MLK was a dangerous, racism-rabbling communist with a Messiah complex, now MLK is our buddy, our boy, a great American to facilitate Glenn Beck's Messiah complex. At the end of the rally, the self-absorbed Beckster-the-Sponge-Bath reportedly parted the White Sea and walked backwards to his bunker, waiting for checks to pour in for his new book. But let's not make the mistake clever Progressives so often make. We must not dismiss this simply because it is bullshit. A LOT of people have been listening to, watching, and believing a lot of crap for 30+ years; and the economy is in terrible shape, and 85,000 people is not a small number. We need to ask ourselves, "What If?" What if this portends worse things for the future? Corporations are now in charge, and there's no turning back, without Constitutional amendments and some very responsible, appropriate legislation - not half-hearted, disingenuous bandaids on an exploding balloon. There may be no turning back.

It's getting too hot upstairs again.

I forgot other ideas I was going to post, but I must begin the day now. I have been down with some CFS though this entire post - but I'm so happy that I could write pretty well today. And now, before I go, 2 poems I found recently. (3:30pm PS - this brain relapse is worse than expected... NEXT DAY: Deep relapse consumed all of yesterday - nothing accomplished. Good news is that I seem to be improving this morning, and so the relapse may have been confined to only one day). Both are copyrighted:


I've heard good things do come to those who wait
Or else: peculiarities of fate
It also seems that tragedies befall
Those Saints who stand and wait against the wall
For Nature seems as mean as she seems kind
And how we'll fare is green within our minds.
Perhaps the key to fair survival is
Um, to chance some thought revivalism
To rise, but know our hearts will stay in place
While we reflect on promises of space
For evolution challenges to act
From virtue - this is all a natural fact.
When you're insulted by another wave
Believe it's trough gives greater chance to save
Time, to gain time, and to get along the way
Towards a stage with more variety
Towards a world with less fatality
Will now, indeed, more virtual a reality
And act for those who can't their strength commit
I heard this in "The Play I Would Have Writ"

Morning Is A Brief Encounter - (partial)

Morning is a brief encounter
When weighed against a life's duration
In a life of pressing plans and losing patience
Morning meets the eye through passing stations
No sooner silenced than it would be heard
Morning speaks to us without a word

But I heard this from a little bird
Having wrought the sky since time's creation
Both up to catch the worm and dreaming of migration
His song might have stirred the founding of a nation
"While in the beginning there was the word
Dawn has always had its space reserved"

Lest I start off sounding high and flighty
The point I'd like to make is primal
As we pass our days upon this worldly final
Examine what it means to take the time or
Take a walk though morning's mighty
Everlasting grace and wonderous piety

I guess mistakes are made in our translation
And our half-baked hearts end up in chowder
Fixed to our ribs like fresh baby powder
Next morning, we awaken with our mother
Dad loads up the car for our next vacation
And life begins its new creation

The morning is a brief encounter
Never lost on the imagination
A life of pressing plans and losing patience
Is no more real than expectations
The time is being, and never caring
This morning cares enough for sharing

Pretty words, but of what intention?
I don't know, but in this I am resolved:
The more we give, the less we are absolved
Mistaken for uncaring, we are dissolved
Into mists of Memory and invention
Speaking of a space we never mention

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