we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it

Can HUMANITY ever KNOW ITSELF without first knowing the GREAT GOD PAN? Part-2

Another short selection from the Introduction to Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice.

95
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
Then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be a somebody!
How public, like a frog,
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
 —Emily Dickinson [3]

. . . a note of caution here about my use of Buddhist teachings to score philosophical points. The buddhadharma is designed primarily to be used as ‘skillful means’ to bring about very personal changes in the singular lives of practitioners. It’s not that philosophy is discouraged, but that where it’s coming from is the most important ‘point’. I have tried to make this as clear as possible, but clearness itself is, for everyone, a matter of practice, not argument.

So what points will I be trying to score? If we put aside the many unavoidably convoluted scientific entanglements, and the many poetical extrications, that must, out of fairness to the full humanity of my reader, complement one another throughout this book, then the book’s premise can be made deceptively straight forward: Consider a bow-hunter’s happy conviction that he is “playing fair with Mother Nature”, while in fact he’s contrasting himself against a gauntlet of hunters shouldering high-powered rifles by the side of a man-made road that effectively corrals the instinctive flight of every white-tailed deer for miles around. We all suspect that the bow hunter doesn’t go far enough, don’t we? We might have the same doubts about the “back to nature” farmer on forty acres of black bottom land who contrasts himself with the city folk who settled and paved a great river delta. What I want to say on the problem of Man vs Nature can certainly be whittled down to an inquiry into fairness. However, sentiments are no more convincing as arguments than they are healthy arguments, and a fuller elaboration of what playing fair with Nature might look like, if it’s to have useful and deeply secured cognitive roots, must emerge at a rate not much quicker than a forest will grow a tree of its own.

What does fairness mean? Am I being fair with you if, from an advantage of long study, I start out with a single purely abstract statement of my premise? It might look something like this:

 The tree of life and the tree of knowledge represent two distinct generative systems in which, to begin with, freely evolving structures predetermined functions (thus behaviours), and now, with technology, freely evolving behaviours predetermine structures.

But I’m sure such a lofty accounting as this can be easily countered with your own thrust and parry of ‘reduction to first principles’. And of course you can also just end this encounter, and pick up another book. Nature can’t do this. Even if we were master and student, and you were forced to make sense of this, you can at least adapt your principles at my speed, while Nature’s evolutionary response to a human ‘master’ isn’t nearly so fast. In other words, you can let go of your ideas and replicate them again as fast as I can.

Now, notice here I’ve also implied that, other than this faster turnover of ‘conceptions’, your response isn’t so unlike Nature’s; for instance, neither cognitive nor eco-evolutionary intelligence can evolve without some smart ‘culling’. Part I of this book is taken up with just such deconstructive work. Then, since Man the Inventor, again like ecosystem rather than organism, must re-construct himself, and do this not on first principles but one impulse, one molecule, at a time (also like an ecosystem), we’ll be entertaining a mixed bag of lofty and intimate propositions here. For example:

The evolutionary paradigm holds that natural selection is without purpose or design; but if we acknowledge a practitioner’s insight that reveals ‘intention’ to be, operationally, a subtle bodymind ‘inclination’ reinforced by consistent repetition in association with words, then perhaps we can say Nature is literally in-tending when it establishes or maintains fitness reinforced by consistent reproduction in association with sexual traits.

My own phenomenological investigations, and hopefully yours as well, will become more important with each subsequent section; beginning in earnest with Part III and, by stages, providing the plausibility of a personal dimension to the ecological and evolutionary propositions in Part II and the anthropological speculations in Part IV. The last section, Part V, is the longest, for it’s meant to be a summary and a detailed practical development of these speculations about our human-animal past. It’s a venturesome look at where we stand today, and concludes that we are a techno-genic animal of phylogenic Nature. But we are no longer in it.

So, in conclusion, I hope you’ll forgive me if, in my quest for fairness, I’ve put too little aside; too little, you might fairly say, of this ‘entangled bank’ of philosophy that has inevitably arisen, through advancing age and curiosity, on the side of my own riverine but necessarily confined course of being human in the Natural world. On the other hand, some readers might understandably demur when I say nothing at all about burning issues like climate change. I can only respond that, as you will see, it is not my purpose, in what I hope will become a dispassionate Man and Nature conversation, to distract our minds with reflexive fears of inconveniencing human self-interest; but it is my hope rather to broaden our focus, both positively and deliberately, so it might accommodate deeper causes and higher consequences. For is it possible even, to respond as we must, ‘as a species’, to climate change, without knowing who, or what, we are? There are many mental tracks that arrive at familiar answers, so we must step into the ‘empty spaces’ if we are to thoroughly question how we stand in relation to the rest of nature: Are we the masters? Are we dependents? Can we ever become wise stewards or even respectful partners? We’re surely animals, but we are animals with gadgets. Perhaps we stand alongside Nature as two self-governing intelligences? Clearly we can’t know beforehand where we’ll end up once we’ve left the beaten path; but then, just so we don’t lose track altogether of where we’ve been, perhaps we should start out by asking, like the very first human beings: Gaia, Pan, Mother Nature, just ‘who’ are you?

95
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
Then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be a somebody!
How public, like a frog,
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
 —Emily Dickinson [3]

Notes:

3. Dickinson, Emily. 1993 Everyman’s Library edition in selection by Peter Washington, Emily Dickinson, Poems. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 127

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