Ecology, a doomed science

by MT

These paragraphs presume the knowledge of Worster’s Arcadian and imperialist views of nature on the side of reader. Perhaps I should explain them first before puking up the following rants. Maybe later. Please bear with me for now.

Ecological Revolutions, Chap. 1: Ecology and History, Caroline Merchant (1989)

Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas, Chap. 1 Science in Arcadia and Chap 2. The Empire of Reason, Donald Worster (1979/1985/1994)

Merchant sees capitalism as the divergent point for the ecological and mechanistic views of nature. While she claims to avoid the economic determinism in Marx and Engels’ model (e.g. changes in the infrastructure of production and market-exchange result in changes of ideas), her accusation of the mechanistic view of nature still seems simplified and lack the subtlety of Worster’s analysis, in which the Arcadian and imperialist views of nature are in fact intertwined and difficult to separate from each other. Rather than two sides of a coin, it is more like a Janus-faced monster with one body. Worster speaks of the “double binding” (from Spivak’s lecture) in reason as a prerequisite of science. As Worster pointed out at the closing end of second chapter, there is still unabashed utilitarianism even in the organic philosophy of John Ray and Henry More. Ecology in this light is a doomed science from its inception. The most exemplary instance is the similar position of taxonomy in Gilbert White [p.8] and Linnaeus [p.32]. Copy from my note:

For White, taxonomy should be devoted to the more important end of investigating wildlife and vegetation where they may promise to be productive of many of the greatest comforts and elegances of life. Here, the study of taxonomy has already contains the systematic sensitivity that later becomes ecological science. But, due to the anthropocentric Christian view, the utilitarian purpose is still there.

In Linnaeus, the taxonomy is implemented through its emphasis on the visibility of a simple coherent system. This visibility echoes Merchants point that for European colonists in New England, vision became dominant in their objectifying scrutiny of fur trader, lumber merchant, and banker who viewed nature as resource and commodity, which is very close to W.T.J. Mitchell’s assertion that “landscape is evil.” All in all, it is very difficult for ecology to get away from this triad of reason (science), Christianity (religion), and the bourgeois interest (class).

Interestingly Worster distinguishes the Linnaeus and those evangelic-driven proponent from the Baconian utilitarianism, and, with the help of Mircea Eliade, saying that there is still hope in religious people. Perhaps.


Rants: Nowadays there is this strange (or perhaps normal) liaison between the support of “moral value” in Christianity, the Hobessian, “preemptive strike” of Iraq, and the defiance of environmental value in current American politics. This whole package of (neo?) imperialism also explains that fact that the English name of the college my wife went to is Providence University, and that (in addition to my own effort) my English language education was benefited from the broadcast program Studio Classroom, which was evangelical in its founding purpose, which enables my sitting here typing in a language that is not my native tongue.