(Waterhouse, J.W. 1903. Echo and Narcissus. Barrypomeroy.com, 2013)

Nature as Classist/Racist

Section
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
Page
6.4

The old saying of: ‘To a hammer, everything looks like a nail’, informs much of this response to the natural world. If your framework of the world is race and class, and your modus operandi is uncovering racism and classism and repression, then all things must be arranged to fit, and Nature is no exception. Whereas portrayals of Nature as dangerous and the enemy can come from all directions, but most usually from those entities which are Right-leaning, the presentation of Nature as racist and classist is usually the territory of the Left-leaning media. As mentioned in Section 3.2 ‘Sustainability’, this group comprises: “a diverse group of neo-Marxists, eco-feminists, sociologists and political scientists” and they attack equally aggressively the more economic definitions of sustainability, and the more ecological. They feel that an overly ecocentric stance lacks a theory of society and has no sense of historical processes and that such ‘blinkered’, and ‘reductionist’, approaches are “ultimately self-defeating”1. For this group, only radical structural reform of the economic system and attention to international factors, such as trade, debt and poverty, will get to the true ‘texture’ of living well and living sustainably.

I would argue in return that while structural reform of the economy and close attention to trade, debt, poverty and equality are indeed, vital, that an overly humano-centric stance is ‘blinkered’ and reductionist’ and “ultimately self-defeating” if it doesn’t recognise intrinsic Nature and the processes, limits, and wonders of the natural world. Such a narrow stance can lead to blindness, self-absorption and alienation from our relationship with Nature which will, ultimately, be as harmful and soul-destroying for humans as it is, and will be, for the natural world. Materialistic, narcissistic retreat is not the way forward.

The origins of this unhelpful, isolating and oppositional position are hard to pin down, particularly its persistence into current times. Probably Marxism’s extremely limited acknowledgement of the natural world is at least in part to blame, and oddly, in parts of Europe, I wonder if ancient land-ownership practices and grievances have been – completely incorrectly – extrapolated to the present. Feudal systems often had tracts of land set aside for nobles for hunting and commoners were excluded (see painting by Cranach in 1540 of hunting on the Lord’s lands in Section 1, ‘Introduction’). These ‘game reserves’ were indeed unjust, as was the entire feudal system and society, but to project this on to present-day nature reserves and the protection of the ever-threatened natural world, is nothing short of absurd.

I wonder, too, if there is an irritant of jealousy and arrogance driving this position, particularly from the UK, where Nature as a whole functions as units (species) within a multi-layered, largely man-made system thousands of years old. British readers of the land are told they must see the world this way – e.g. ‘Landscape and Memory’, by Sharma2, but not all the world is like this by any means and they have not experienced the stilled exhilaration of walking out into truly wild country and felt the power of Nature in command that many Australians, North Americans, Africans, Russians, and South Americans have. For this lack, I feel deeply sorry for them, as I do for the world denied them by their inability to progress beyond Narcissus’ Pool.

Despite the objective reality of the joy and harbour that Nature brings to human beings, there are still those determined to parlay medieval repression and Marxist-inspired class injustices onto Nature and her protection. A typical piece of this genre I have mentioned already in 6.1 ‘Introduction’, and I will, reluctantly, return to it here (as mentioned, as we are not dealing with content in detail in this section, I will not present the full article or my response here, but will do so in Section 7, ‘Habitat’ – see 7.7).

(Vidal, J. 2002. The Age/Guardian)

Sadly, it is all here in its tired, poisonous predictability. Wilderness, Nature and national parks are: ‘elitist’, ‘privileged’, ‘rich’, ‘white’, ‘European/American’, funded by the ‘World bank’, an ‘industry’ and a ‘push’ that is taking over the world and ‘running this planet’, based on a ‘white lie’, spring from Puritanism and fundamentalist religions, are ‘morally repugnant’; ‘most national parks and wilderness areas have a history of genocide’; there is ‘no such thing as wilderness’, or indeed, ‘nature’ (see ‘Killing Nature in the Mind’, Section 1.1.10); and the real enemy is ‘traditional, science-based, Western conservationists’ – even people like Iain Douglas-Hamilton who has spent his life fighting to save the last remaining elephants in Africa and whom I highlight in Section 1.3.9, ‘Books’.

How can one respond to such an extraordinary torrent of invective, blatant untruths, contortionist conflations, and acrimony? As a letter writer in ‘The Age’3 put it in response to one of the claims, to equate the lifestyle of current native people supposedly excluded from wilderness parks with that of their ancestors is ludicrous, and modern-day people armed with modern technology and ready markets for meat, medicines and trophies, can cause enormous damage: “If such slaughter is allowed to continue, the answer to Vidal’s question of who runs this planet will be obvious: immoral, cynical, uncaring, rapacious, white capitalists, gaining profits from selling guns and other environment-damaging European products to the natives. People who, when the wilderness is destroyed, will walk away with their money and leave the natives with desolation”. Does Vidal honestly think that people, particularly indigenous people, and Nature, would be better off without the creation of national parks and the protection of the few remnants of the natural world, and prior indigenous world, remaining?

Throughout the piece I am reminded of D.H. Lawrence’s wonderful poem ‘Snake’ (see Section 1.9.1, ‘Poems’), where Lawrence meets a snake at the water trough he is visiting on a burning-hot day in Sicily. Initially, Lawrence’s response is angry and petulant, just like ‘Wild Lies’:

“Someone was before me at my water-trough,

And I, like a second-comer, waiting”; and

“If you were a man

You would take a stick and break him now”.

Lawrence struggles with his ego and arrogance, the seeming challenge to his hegemony (Vidal’s ‘Who runs this planet?’), but at the same time is drawn to the majesty and splendid, separate being, the snake, before breaking, and throwing a log at it to try to kill it.

“And immediately I regretted it.

I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!

I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education”.

The poem finishes with:

“And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords

Of life.

And I have something to expiate:

A pettiness.”

I cannot put it better than this: “a pettiness”. And presented as morally superior, modern, and oh-so aware. And this not from some New-Right confrontationist enlisted by The Guardian and The Age to generate cheap argument and controversy, but by their Environment Editor, no less! This is as ridiculous as employing a Science Editor who doesn’t believe in the scientific method, a theatre critic that hates live performance, and a Travel Editor who doesn’t believe there is anything to be seen or experienced beyond the loungeroom.

As I mentioned in 6.1 ‘Introduction’: “For these outlets, ‘environment’ has greatly narrowed to become ‘climate change’ and ‘indigenous rights’, and, of course, there is overlap and complementarity here, but the environment, and these two issues, are so much more, are not one and the same, no matter how worthy a cause these issues may be. Support for ‘the environment’ seems to persist only as long as it is seen to align with these two issues, and is abandoned or opposed as soon as it is seen to be at a distance from these topics, or in real or imagined opposition.” Bizarrely, Vidal and much now that comes out of the New Left media that dominates 21st century environmentalism, carry these hallmarks, and if Nature can’t be made into a platform for their real interests, then it can serve equally well as a straw man for their grievances.

To paraphrase the old saying: “with environment ‘friends’ like The Guardian, who needs enemies”.

(Waterhouse, J.W. 1903. Echo and Narcissus. Barrypomeroy.com, 2013)

 

1 Redclift, M. 1992. The Meaning of Sustainable Development. Geoforum 23/3, Elsevier, UK.

2 Sharma, S. 1995. Landscape and Memory. Vintage, Rochester, UK.

3 Hunter, G. 2002. Letters to the Editor: Paradise Lost, Never to be Regained. The Age, 12th January, Melb., Aust.

Explore Other Media Environmental Context

6.1 Introduction

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond to Nature. Those who doubt the power of the me...

6.2 Media Structures and Filters

Well-known linguist and public intellectual, Naom Chomsky, has suggested that the mass media needs to be understood through its operations, or ‘filters’, of which he thinks there are five. A short video (< 5 mins) introducing the filters can be...

6.3 Five Environment Stories: Nature as Dangerous/The Enemy

The understandable and primal fear of being out of our element, vulnerable, and exposed to danger, is fertile ground for the media. It seems that it doesn’t take much to turn caution into downright terror, and the famous film, ‘Jaws’, was a classi...

6.4 Nature as Classist/Racist

The old saying of: ‘To a hammer, everything looks like a nail’, informs much of this response to the natural world. If your framework of the world is race and class, and your modus operandi is uncovering racism and classism and repression, then al...

6.5 Nature as Cute and the Optimism Imperative

Thankfully, this page offers some relief from the truly depressing depictions of Nature and those who care for her in 6.3 and 6.4. This said, the ‘Nature is cute’ formula isn’t without its problems, particularly as to depth and context, but at lea...

6.6 Nature as a Stage

While listening to evening radio on the public broadcaster a few years ago, the presenter, who was new to radio, said how much he’d learnt from experienced radio people, such as the oft-lauded morning presenter, whom I have spoken of previously (s...

6.7 Nature as Important in its Own Right

Thankfully, after this sometimes profoundly depressing journey through the media’s use and abuse of Nature, there is a group of stories and a section of the media that takes Nature seriously, engages with it deeply, and nourishes our appreciation ...

6.8 Better Outcomes

There are many books, websites and training courses on ‘dealing with the media’, and a good, straightforward and commonsense structure is that adopted by CP Communications - 5 great media training tips (publicrelationssydney.com.au) – and I will b...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...