1.30.2008

Book Meme, Webpage, and A Year Without A Dog

I.
See K8s and her friend's blogs. I've been tagged with the book meme, so here it goes:

1. Name one book that changed your life.
A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari.

2. Name one book you have read more than once.
Lord of the Rings Trilogy

3. One book you would want on a desert island.
American Indian Myths & Legends, Erdoes & Ortiz.

4. Two books that made you laugh.
Even Gowgirls Get the Blues, Tom Robbins
The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

5. One book that made you cry.
Truth & Bright Water, Thomas King

6. One book you wish you'd written.
Writing Without Teachers, Peter Elbow

7. One book you wish had never been written.
"The Song of Hiawatha" by H. W. Longfellow

8. Two books you are currently reading.
Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods: Saving our kids from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Allison Wallace's A Keeper of Bees

So, who to pass this on to? Maybe Scot and Sarah.

II.
Oh, and I have my very own webpage. Some links are still forthcoming.

III.
Plus, it has been a year now that we have lived without our dog, Page. We miss her still.

12 comments:

k8 said...

I really like your web page! The home page picture is pretty. :-) The courses link and the research link aren't working for me, though, but there could just be some stray code getting in the way.

And, I've reread numbers 2, 3, and 6. (See, compulsive re-reader) I'll have to check out the Thomas King book - I like what I've read of his writing.

Mike Vandeman said...

Last Child in the Woods ––
Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
by Richard Louv
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
November 16, 2006

In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building "forts", farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what's to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though ("conveniently") never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!", at http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3.

It should also be obvious (but apparently isn't) that how we interact with nature determines how we think about it and how we learn to treat it. Remember, children don't learn so much what we tell them, but they learn very well what they see us do. Fishing, building "forts", mountain biking, and even berry-picking teach us that nature exists for us to exploit. Luckily, my fort-building career was cut short by a bee-sting! As I was about to cut down a tree to lay a third layer of logs on my little log cabin in the woods, I took one swing at the trunk with my axe, and immediately got a painful sting (there must have been a bee-hive in the tree) and ran away as fast as I could.

On page 144 Louv quotes Rasheed Salahuddin: "Nature has been taken over by thugs who care absolutely nothing about it. We need to take nature back." Then he titles his next chapter "Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?" Where indeed? While fishing may bring one into contact with natural beauty, that message can be eclipsed by the more salient one that the fish exist to pleasure and feed humans (even if we release them after we catch them). (My fishing career was also short-lived, perhaps because I spent most of the time either waiting for fish that never came, or untangling fishing line.) Mountain bikers claim that they are "nature-lovers" and are "just hikers on wheels". But if you watch one of their helmet-camera videos, it is easy to see that 99.44% of their attention must be devoted to controlling their bike, or they will crash. Children initiated into mountain biking may learn to identify a plant or two, but by far the strongest message they will receive is that the rough treatment of nature is acceptable. It's not!

On page 184 Louv recommends that kids carry cell phones. First of all, cell phones transmit on essentially the same frequency as a microwave oven, and are therefore hazardous to one's health –- especially for children, whose skulls are still relatively thin. Second, there is nothing that will spoil one's experience of nature faster than something that reminds one of the city and the "civilized" world. The last thing one wants while enjoying nature is to be reminded of the world outside. Nothing will ruin a hike or a picnic faster than hearing a radio or the ring of a cell phone, or seeing a headset, cell phone, or mountain bike. I've been enjoying nature for over 60 years, and can't remember a single time when I felt a need for any of these items.

It's clear that we humans need to reduce our impacts on wildlife, if they, and hence we, are to survive. But it is repugnant and arguably inhumane to restrict human access to nature. Therefore, we need to practice minimal-impact recreation (i.e., hiking only), and leave our technology (if we need it at all!) at home. In other words, we need to decrease the quantity of contact with nature, and increase the quality.

References:

Ehrlich, Paul R. and Ehrlich, Anne H., Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearances of Species. New York: Random House, 1981.

Errington, Paul L., A Question of Values. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1987.

Flannery, Tim, The Eternal Frontier -- An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples. New York: Grove Press, 2001.

Foreman, Dave, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.

Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, 1995.

Louv, Richard, Last Child in the Woods -- Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005.

Noss, Reed F. and Allen Y. Cooperrider, Saving Nature's Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Covelo, California, 1994.

Stone, Christopher D., Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1973.

Vandeman, Michael J., http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande, especially http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/ecocity3, http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3, http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/sc8, and http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/goodall.

Ward, Peter Douglas, The End of Evolution: On Mass Extinctions and the Preservation of Biodiversity. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.

"The Wildlands Project", Wild Earth. Richmond, Vermont: The Cenozoic Society, 1994.

Wilson, Edward O., The Future of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Unknown said...

Mike,

I appreciate what you say about the quality of contact with nature. While I wouldn't presume to post an entire review on anyone's post, I leave yours up in the spirit of open communication and limit myself to only a brief reply.

Like Louv's thesis, your own has problems. This exchange, occurring through a cybernetic medium is itself part of the problem as you define it. Our use of machines filled with lead, cadmium, and flame retardants is hardly indicative of a "good quality" interaction with nature. Make no mistake -- it *is* an interaction with nature even though we often forget the processes upon which our use of computers depends. In short, we forget the ecological insights that "everything is connected" and that "someone lives downstream" (see my post on sustainable post-humanity).

And while I think you are 100% right to focus on the quality of the interactions, I also think that the concept of a socially-exempt "wilderness" is simply untenable. William Cronon made such an observation in 1995 and this has been followed up by a host of research that calls attention to the fact that what we often value as "wilderness" has been inhabited and even shaped by pre-colonial populations. Besides, excluding people from a zone does not work the other way. The species in the exclusion zone will (not just maybe - definitely) move beyond its territories. Not only can't we ask them to please stay on their side of the nature-culture divide, but we can't even ask them if the spot we choose is a good one or not. Even if we do agree that spot "X" is to be lassiez-faire, we have enforcement and monitoring issues so we stay true to our word as well as keep an eye on the balances we have already so badly upset that they don't come back to haunt us (like CWD or some other pestilence - nature's way of dealing with overpopulation).

Put in the simplest way, I don't think biocentricity is possible. We can never really know what nature wants because nature cannot speak on her own behalf. This doesn't mean adopting anthropocentrism, nor does it mean we don't hear things from nature (Katrina certainly spoke loud enough). The problem, as I see it and as you even admit, is that we often get different or conflicting messages.

As Louv argues, it is organizations like Pheasants Forever or Duck Unlimited that have played crucial roles in protecting habitat.

Anonymous said...

Okay. I usually don't do the meme thing, but I'll do this one, although it's goin' get repetitive (my list, that is: DUNE, bks 1-4, for #1-3,6; #4: Yep, HHG ... and everything David Sedaris; #5: cry?; #7: George Lucas' Star Wars, bad, just bad; #8: Gee's Discourse Analysis and ... well, just one at a time).

And nice webpage! I like the colors. My only advice: go narrower or move the image. My monitor is 1280 wide, so I'm guessing your page is around 1024 pixels wide. While most screens are at least that these days, the image and info in the bottom right could get lost. If there's a way to get the image to move up and left, so it aligns top with the Welcome! and allows the paragraph text to wrap to its left and bottom, you can have them all within 800-900 pixels. If you're editing the template like I do the comp-rhet page, it would look similar to the program homepage pic/text. I don't know about the newer DW templates, though. I was using 2004's MX.

Have fun!

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Not always theoretical... not even always academic.. but always written..