Man and nature


Nature! We are encircled and enclasped by her — powerless to depart from her, and powerless to find our way more deeply into her being. Without invitation and without warning she involves us in the orbit of her dance, and drives us onward until we are exhausted and fall from her arm.


We live in the midst of her, and yet to her we are alien. She parleys incessantly with us, and to us she does not disclose her secret. We influence her perpetually, and yet we have no power over her.

— Goethe, Ode “To Nature”[1]

With recent events in Japan and images of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami still fresh in our minds, it seems appropriate to revisit the old issue of humanity’s relationship to nature. The proper exposition of the problem requires a great deal of space; therefore, I propose to divide my treatment of the issue into four separate sections, each of which builds on the results of those that precede it.

After all, the problem of man’s relation to nature has been conceived in a number of distinct ways over the ages, many of which survive into the present day, in various mutations. So perhaps it might be useful to begin with an overview, a genealogy of sorts, so that these different conceptions and their relation to one another can be clarified. The presentation will be dialectical, but not out of any obligation to some artificially preconfigured format. It will be dialectical because the subject at hand is itself really dialectical,[2] as the various conceptions of nature interweave and overlap in their progress through history. For man’s orientation to nature has by no means been the same over time; and by that same token there are no later conceptions of nature that do not bear the traces of those that came before it. Continue reading

Environmentalism and the So-Called “Green Scare”: An Ideological Critique

The Idea of the Perpetual Forest, 1923

Will Potter, the self-styled alternative journalist and author of the blog Green is the New Red, has recently taken issue with the presentation of environmental activist criminals alongside neo-Nazis and anti-abortion activists.  The blog, whose content usually amounts to little more than accusations of hypocrisy and appeals to common sense, suggests that the reason for this invidious association is corporate interests “polluting” the spirit of democracy through lobbying groups operating in Washington.

It actually shouldn’t come as so much of a surprise, however, that environmentalists should be listed alongside neo-Nazis as prisoners, in terms of their ideology (that is, if they are not grouped according to the crimes they committed).  After all, Nazism and fascism in general promoted a number of policies and philosophical outlooks that are today considered “progressive” by the soft left and mainstream environmentalism.  They introduced the concept of environmental sustainability and often advocated a sort of vitalistic respect for Nature considered in itself, as some sort of untouched wilderness paradise or Dauerwald.  They saw natural sites like the Black Forest as the Ursprung of the Teutonic spirit, uncorrupted by modern society and its economic form of capitalism, which they associated with cosmopolitanism, decadent urbanism, and Jewry.  Of course, a lot of this Germanic naturalist horseshit has been unwittingly “recycled” and reprocessed by the present-day environmentalist movement, which still fancies itself to be extremely forward-thinking and anti-establishment.

It actually makes much less sense that an anti-abortion terrorist would be mentioned in the same breath as a neo-Nazi, ideologically speaking.  Fascism, especially in its NSDAP strain, supported forced sterilization and mandatory abortion procedures as part of its eugenicist program of racial hygiene.  Anti-abortion extremists may be religious lunatics, but they wouldn’t be caught dead with a neo-Nazi.  “Radical” environmentalism is far more compatible with Nazism than the pro-life fringe.

So it would seem that the only legitimate basis for Will Potter’s objection is that the environmentalists are being associated with murderers, not specifically anti-abortion or anti-semitic murderers.  McGowan and the SHAC 7 have been imprisoned for the destruction of property, not the destruction of life, as with Furrow and Waagner.  But the ideologies involved would seem to be irrelevant, since at an ideological level environmentalists would have far more in common with neo-Nazis than anti-abortion fanatics.  I’m not sure why Potter feels it’s even necessary to mention them.

I suspect the point he is trying to get at is that apparently “left-wing” anti-corporate/anti-capitalist activists are being unfairly equated with right-wing terrorists who are guilty of far worse crimes.  The nature of their crimes notwithstanding, however, this takes for granted the idea that animal rights advocates and environmentalists are actually part of the political Left.  From an historical perspective, on the contrary, it would be seen that environmentalism is politically ambiguous and that a great deal of its ideology has been inherited from romantic nationalist currents in the 19th century and more recently from mass right-wing movements like fascism.  A leftist position that was less politically confused would see the goal of society and humanity in general as the self-conscious global mastery of nature, not the dangerously haphazard and chaotic hyperexploitation of the environment, as things currently stand.  But not the flimsy and shallow anti-corporate rhetoric that’s peddled today by most environmentalists.

To close with a reflection on the site’s premise, a few words might be said.  Potter’s main contention on the site is that the Green environmentalist and animal rights movement is suffering persecution akin to that experienced by Communists during the famous “Red Scares” of the 1920s and 1950s.  Besides the obvious point that the parallels Potter sees are exaggerated and overblown, it strikes me as exceptionally ironic that a website whose mission statement insists that “Together, we can stop they cycle of history repeating itself” can be so oblivious of its own movement’s history.

For now, however, we might even grant Potter that this so-called “Green Scare” does constitute a repetition of sorts.  But for this sort of repetition, no observation is more apt than Marx’s when he recalls in his Eighteenth Brumaire that

Hegel remarks somewherethat all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

The Red Scares of the ’20s and ’50s possess a tragic aspect, particularly the former.  By contrast, the “Green Scare” of recent years appears farcical.  The Animal Liberation Front for the Bolsheviks, Daniel McGowan for Leon Trotskii, the Green for the Red.