Saturday, March 3, 2018

Moral Visions of Nature

Nature has many different meanings to people (Bell 1994:8 ). Americans can be categorized into socially constructed groups based on how they view nature from a moral perspective: utilitarian, spiritual, and biocentric (Farrell 2015). I adopt Farrell's framework because his description of the social construction of three moral visions within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are grounded in the history of the area from the time the first Euro-American fur traders arrived in the 1800s, rather than static categories applied universally without regard to social construction or place.

Others have also grouped people by how they view humans' relationship with nature. The concept is referred to as "values" (Ellis 2013), "value orientations" (Hand and Van Liere 1984), "ideologies" (Manfredo et al 2009), or "attitude types" (Kellert 1985). Most refer to humans' orientations to nature, but Kellert's scheme refers specifically to humans' orientation to non-human animals.

Some scholars simply examine dominionism, the orientation in which humans see nature as something to dominate for their own use. Some believe the teachings of Christianity cause dominionism (White 1967; Hand and Van Liere 1984); eco-feminists attribute it to masculinity (Emel 1995). Occasionally, the mastery-over-nature concept is referred to as utilitarianism, evoking a human desire not just to conquer nature but to use its resources. Others see mastery over nature as one side of a spectrum, and the other side is human coexistence with nature. Manfredo et al (2009) does so, naming them "domination" and "mutualism." Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961) propose spectrum from what they call "mastery-over-nature" to "harmony-with-nature" to a third category, "subjection-to-nature."

Ellis (2013) found that cattle ranchers saw their relationships with the land and cattle as mutualistic, even though their relationship with them was actually dominionistic. He called this "an ideological trick that mystifies exploitation and allows us not to engage with the difficult ethical and moral questions that are omnipresent within these relationships" (p 445). He bases his judgment that the ranchers are dominionistic on their use of cattle as meat and their use of land to graze cattle. However, the ranchers view themselves as husbands and stewards who care for the cattle and the land to preserve their ranch for future generations.

Kellert (1985) describes nine different "attitude types" toward animals, and other scholars have adopted his scheme (George et al 2016; Bjerke et al 1998; Nie 2005). Kellert's categories utilitarian, dominionistic, and negativistic correspond to traits of a dominionist or utilitarian according to the schemes described above (Kellert 1985: 170). Kellert's traits naturalistic, humanistic, moralistic, and aesthetic map to mutualism in the schemes above, and to Farrell's concept spiritualistic, described below. Kellert's traits ecologistic and scientistic correspond to mutualism and to Farrell's biocentric, described below.

Manfredo et al (2009) and Farrell (2015) are both concerned with change from a dominionistic or utilitarian moral order to a more harmonious one (mutualistic to Manfredo et al, spiritual and biocentric to Farrell). Manfredo et al, attribute the shift to "modernization" (urbanization, increased wealth, and higher education), explaining that as people move further from relying on wildlife as a food source, they become more free to think of wildlife in different ways from when they directly relied on them for food.

Farrell emphasizes the social construction of three "moral visions:" utilitarian, spiritual, and biocentric. The first white Americans feared nature and faced danger as they moved west and tamed and civilized (in their view) the wilderness. As they worked hard, the work they did (and do) extracting resources from nature became a moral virtue and the workers themselves virtuous (p. 35). To them, the earth was given to humans for their domination and use, and humans are above other species in a natural order. They were utilitarians, who believe the earth is for humans' use. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, utilitarians are characterized by rugged individualism and a belief in manifest destiny, private property rights, and anti-federalism (p. 35). They have a deep connection to the place where they do their labor in nature, and their epistemology is based on practical experience and tradition in that place (Farrell 2015: 38).

John Muir and Henry David Thoreau exemplify the spiritual moral vision. With its roots in 19th century romanticism and transcendentalism, at a time when white Americans were exploiting natural resources without restraint, it is an attempt to "(re)sacralize nature in response to materialist and consumerist pressures of American life" (p. 36). Those with a spiritual moral vision may or may not link their views on nature to religious beliefs, but they all emphasize communion with nature through spending time in it and protecting every creature in nature, even the seemingly insignificant ones (Farrell 2015: 36). Their moral vision may be connected with their religious faith, but it is not necessarily so. Their epistemology is based on senses, emotion, and religious influence (Farrell 2015: 38).

These first two moral visions appear similar to, but not identical to, agrarianism and ruralism (Buttel and Flinn 1977). Thoreau was a ruralist, and ruralism's roots go back to American romanticism, while agrarianism includes utilitarian values. However, there is a class distinction between agrarians and ruralists. The ruralists, who are often upper-middle class, can live "in the country, without being of it" (p. 545). The genteel country gentleman "might take up the hoe for diversion but not for a living" (p. 545). The virtues one gains from and exhibits in nature do not derive from working the land for the ruralist. Ruralists looked down on those who worked the land; agrarians, exemplified by the yeoman farmer, looked down on those who didn't (p. 546). Like Farrell, they describe a conflict when agrarians and ruralists attempt to enact competing visions of the proper relationship between humans and nature.

This analysis of the two competing moral visions that identifies them as belonging to different classes, adds the idea that those in the utilitarian camp can't afford to switch to ruralism - or spiritualism - because they need to make a living from the land: "Most farmers lack the funds and leisure time for arcadian country living and tended to view the land in utilitarian terms. This utilitarian value could make the farmer a soulless plunderer in the eyes of the ruralist, who found elevation - not mere economic sustenance - in the country" (Buttel and Flinn 1977: 546).

National forests are managed according to utilitarian ideals, and national parks were initially managed according to Muir's spiritual ideals (Duncan and Burns 2009). Despite Muir's belief that all animals were God's creatures, national park policy was to eliminate predators in order to promote healthy flocks of prey species like deer and elk. It was the third and final moral vision that led to embracing predators in the parks - and outside of them.

Darwin and Aldo Leopold ushered in the third moral vision, biocentric. Darwin placed humans back among animals instead of separate from and above them. Leopold emphasized the value of intact ecosystems and discovered that predators have a niche in a balanced ecosystem. He saw that areas with Mexican grey wolves also had healthy deer populations and healthy vegetation, but where the wolf was extirpated, the deer overpopulated and overgrazed the vegetation (Leopold 1949). Adolph Murie in particular was instrumental in discovering that the wolves of Denali National Park were not responsible for a decline in the population of Dall sheep as was commonly thought. The decrease in Dall sheep, he found, was actually due to a harsh winter. He published his work in 1944.

The epistemology of the biocentric moral vision is scientific consensus (Farrell 2015: 38). They value intact ecosystems that function in an equilibrium and they see humans as one species among many interconnected species, but not above them (Farrell 2015: 36). Wilson (1997) also uses the term "biocentric" to describe a similar concept.

The spiritual and biocentric viewpoints are compatible enough that the same individual can adopt them both. Both call for leaving nature alone to preserve it, and the same person may idealize intact ecosystems from a scientific perspective and feel spiritually elevated by hiking or hearing the howls of wild wolves. A content analysis of pro-wolf public comment letters submitted in response to the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to delist gray wolves from the endangered species list in Wyoming found that writers commonly invoked values from both moral visions (Farrell 2015: 208). For example, of all of the letters that gave either spiritual or ecological reasons to continue listing wolves as endangered, 26 percent included both (Farrell 2015: 209).

A second way sociologists categorize human views of nature came from philosophy. Both utilitarianism and spiritualism are separatist concepts of nature, viewing nature as that which excludes human activity (Bell 1994:121). The Native American way to properly interact with nature, which involves "establishing a deeply experiential and reciprocal relationship with" plants and animals, and the biocentric one are holistic, including humans as part of nature (Anderson 2005).

Philosophers find faults with both separatist and holistic views (Bell 1994:122). The problems of holism are apparent in the management of Yellowstone itself. If humans are part of nature, then why must we set aside land for a natural park, separate from other human developments? If humans and human activity is natural, then why does preserving nature within Yellowstone require limiting human activity there?

Separatism allows us to sidestep these questions, as the park can be considered natural by a separatist definition because it is (relatively) free of human influence. Of course, it has been heavily managed by people, but less so than, say, Manhattan. And as long as one ignores the roads and hotels, or the human extirpation and reintroduction of wolves, or the fact that Native Americans lived on this land and impacted it for thousands of years before Euro-Americans "discovered" it in a "pristine" state (and the expelled the Native Americans from the park), one can imagine they are in a wilderness untouched by humans.

In the U.S., the two separatist visions, utilitarian and spiritual, "left us with a schizophrenic approach to the natural world: humans either conquer nature and destroy its integrity, or they visit it as an outsider, idealizing its beauty and largely leaving it alone... Both positions treat nature as an abstraction - separate from humans and not understood, not real" (Anderson 2005)

Given the contradictions in both holism and separatism, humans may find a way to creatively combine them in their belief systems (Bell 1994:131-135). Or they may maintain a separatist mindset but solve its problems with pastoralism (Bell 1994:125). Pastoralism creates a gradient in which cities are further from nature and rural life (particularly in the past) is closer to it, drawing a contrast between "habits of living between societies of the natural rural past and the unnatural urban present" (Bell 1994:125). Ruralists (Buttel and Flinn 1977) and spiritualists (Farrell 2015) exhibit pastoralism. People who believe in both spiritual and biocentric moral visions must find a way to reconcile the separatism of the former and the holism of the latter in their concept of nature.

Perhaps Farrell's utilitarians are pastoralists too, as they find moral virtue in working in nature in the rural areas of the Northern Rocky Mountains. However, it is difficult to reconcile their belief that nature is to be used by humans with pastoralism. They idealize their lives as "outdoorsmen" but also believe that the wilderness should be conquered and civilized by humans in the name of progress. After a forest has been clear cut for lumber, how is it still natural to a separatist? And yet, logging forests or mining ore or drilling for gas and oil are the very uses to which utilitarians believe nature should be put.

* Anderson, MK. 2005. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources. University of California Press.
* Bell, M.M. 1994. Childerly: Nature and Morality in a Country Village.
* Bjerke et al. 1998. "Attitudes Toward Wolves in Southeastern Norway." Society and Natural Resources 11(2):169-178.
* Buttel and Flinn. 1977. "Conceptions of Rural Life and Environmental Concern." Rural Sociology, 42, 4,
* Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns. 2009. The National Parks: America's Best Idea. Alfred A. Knopf.
* Ellis, Colter. “The Symbiotic Ideology: Stewardship, Husbandry, and Dominion in Beef Production.” Rural Sociology 78, no. 4 (December 1, 2013): 429–49.
* Emel. 1995. "Are You Man Enough, Big and Bad Enough? Ecofeminism and Wolf Eradication in the USA."
* George et al. 2016. "Changes in Attitudes Toward Animals in the United States from 1978 to 2014."
* Hand and Van Liere. 1984. Religion, Mastery-Over-Nature, and Environmental Concern. Social Forces 63(2):555-570.
* Farrell. 2015. Battle for Yellowstone: Morality and the Sacred Roots of Environmental Conflict. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
* Kellert. 1985. "Public Perception of Predators, Particularly the Wolf and Coyote." Biological Conservation 31(2): 167-169.
* Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck. 1961. "Variations in Value Orientations." Row Peterson.
* Manfredo et al. 2009. "Linking Society and Environment: A Multilevel Model of Shifting Wildlife Value Orientations in the Western United States." Social Science Quarterly 90(2): 407-427.
* Nie. 2003. Beyond wolves: The politics of wolf recovery and management.
* White, L. 1967. "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis." Science 155:1203-07.

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