Saturday, June 2, 2012

“Land Ethic” and surrendering the role of the conqueror



“In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.”

                                         -Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic”


The image of the conqueror brings to mind a number of examples. If you can’t think of any, ask Google. Historical figures and empires are provided that span human existence:  Attila the Hun, William the Conqueror, Adolf Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, Rome, Great Britain, and yes, the United States. All have been conquerors. All have claimed dominion in some capacity or another. However, it is important to note that each of these is a person or is an entity comprised of persons. We are conquerors. And thus far we have successfully excluded from conscious thought or concern what we deem to be an inanimate subject of policies and actions—the land itself.

Take a moment to think about this. The soil from which we grow our food, the streams and rivers and aquifers that irrigate the soil, the water that flows in these sources comprise the veins, arteries, and body of that which sustains us. The land is powerful. To exclude or deny natural necessities as independent to our welfare is troubling and, in the end, dangerous.

The prevailing economic thought of the day is largely a one-way street. It gives power to the persons that purchase, inherit, or steal and with that power they are to reap monetary gain. The person is the conqueror and can subject their will as they see fit; to extract and produce, to plant and to plunder in a manner that yields the greatest short-term production and profit.

It is imperative, however, that we take a second and third look at this paradigm. While humans are conquerors, when talking about land and resources it is the conquered that silently holds us captive. For the land sustains us. It nourishes us. And if it ceases to do so, then it conquers us.

Simply, it is crucial to think critically on the method by which we evaluate a healthy and successful economy. To look solely through the lens of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly gains and losses of the stock market is irresponsible. It lacks perspective. And, ultimately, it completely neglects what is arguably the most essential part of the equation—that which sustains us.

Hence, our philosophy regarding economic gain and success must evolve. It must take into account all aspects of economy and not just net production and profit. It must see the soil and resources—upon which our existence is dependent—as a part of our community, not as inanimate elements at our disposal.

And, dare I say, we must humble ourselves.  We must transcend the notion that we are the sole possessors of power.  Instead, we must acknowledge our existence as citizens of what the late Midwestern author and environmentalist, Aldo Leopold, identifies as the “land-community”; a paradigm in which we live in cooperation with the earth upon which we tread.  And in the end, we must surrender the illusion of the conqueror and assume our roles as members in that community. 

Nick Stirrett