Thursday, August 16, 2007

A balm for bean counting

Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing is a subscription journal and you can access only some content from the website, but I recently added it to my recommended links (located in the side bar). I did so because nature writing is increasingly vital territory.

In his terrific essay "The Idols of Environmentalism," included in the March/April 2007 issue of Orion, Curtis White bemoans the fact that, in their attempt to make a case for the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity, environmentalists have adopted "the languages of science and bureaucracy." Similarly, in order to furnish their findings with a veneer of "hard" or incontrovertible science, ecologists and wildlife biologists have embraced statistics as the underpinning of their research. White writes,
"It is only because we have accepted [a] rationalist logos as the only legitimate means of debate that we are willing to think that what we need is a balance between the requirements of human economies and the 'needs' of the natural world....In the end, environmental science criticizes not only corporate destructiveness but more spiritual notions of nature as well."
You might argue a case for the statistical approach - it isn't without value - but it does subtly alienate us from our base psyche and from the natural world, further blurring our understanding of Nature's moral imperative. This is not merely sad; it is dangerous.

I'm forced to conclude that literary science/nature writing is today's only refuge for the marriage of science and spirit. This being the case, journals like Orion and Isotope are not just nice additions to the night stand; such publications are indispensable in sustaining hope and nurturing our connection to the rest of the Everything.


bioephemera said...

Whew, I have a lot to say about this! I just tried to write a comment, but it was way too long. I think I'll have to post a response over at home.

Hungry Hyaena said...

I figured you might. I look reading what you write in response.

For the record, I didn't mean to imply that wildlife biologists or other scientists lack spirit or ignore their base ties to the world around them, just that the contemporary products - journal publications and the like - of the science industry can be subtly, imperceptibly corrosive to an integrated worldview.

When I first read White's article, actually, I recoiled, writing defensive remarks in the margins, attempting to counter his every point. I am, after all, a science lover myself. After ruminating of the ideas, though, I found myself coming ' a startling degree.

I'd wager that a great many scientist-writers would agree with White, notably folks like E.O. Wilson and Jared Diamond, but a great many others as well.

Anyway, I look forward to your response.