Reply To: Oct 20: Kenneth Worthy Seminar

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Sarah Rodrigue-Allouche # Posted on October 22, 2014 at 15:25

Reflection on Kenneth Worthy’s seminar and book, October 21, 2014
First of all, I would like to say how glad I am that my fellow colleagues read Worthy’s book, since this great professor played a very important role in my life. I would have probably not applied to this master program if it wasn’t for his course “Intro to World Environmental History” back in 2012 at UC Santa Cruz. At that time, the idea that dissociation from Nature was the reason for our current ecological crisis was very new to me. After reading Merchant, Midgley and Plumwood, Ken’s book does not seem very innovative anymore, but rather repetitive just like my colleagues Ellen and Nisa have expressed.
Still, I think there is something special about “Invisible Nature” thanks to the psychological analysis Worthy makes of our disconnection from nature and its harmful effects. Basing his argument on the famous Milgram’s experiments of the early 1960s, Ken astutely points out that when Nature is not part of our lives anymore, we’re so much more prone to harm it, forgetting that it even exists. I can totally relate to this. On days of disconnection, when I spend hours reading books and typing on a computer keyboard, I tend to be careless of what I eat and of how I spend energy. Spending our lives with human artifacts makes us less attentive towards our bodies and consequently towards Nature in general. That’s why I agree that spending more time outdoors, hiking in the woods, camping in the mountains, really helps us caring. (I am not blaming urban life though, which presents a lot of nice features, and I don’t believe we should drastically oppose culture to nature). In his relevant psychological analysis, Worthy draws on the research of Dr. Israel Orbach who presented an interesting explanation for suicides -namely that an individual is more prone to hurt himself if he has been disconnected from his own body. Besides, it’s interesting that Ken suggests some practical ways to reconnect with Nature in chapter 8, just as Nick underlines, although most of his ideas are not new either, they are practical and easy to adopt, even though our individual choices might not change the global issue as Nisa argues.
Despite Worthy’s relevant psychological analysis of our ecological crisis, I admire Nisa’s honesty since I too start to feel “fed up” about the oversimplification many scholars make about Western mentality being the culprit of our self-destructive society. I totally agree with Nisa when she writes that it appears too simple to accuse Plato and Descartes and all the other “rationalist” philosophers. Like Nisa says, most of us might get out of the master program labeling them as the bad guys. I’m pretty sure that their thinking was more complex that what scholars like Merchant assume in the case of Francis Bacon for example. Actually, in the setting of my thesis research I am currently reading a book about the birth of the organic farming movement in California, “There is a Garden in the Mind” by philosopher Paul A. Lee, in which Lee discusses the divide between two opposite worldviews: the vitalist and the physicalist. Interestingly, Lee points out that Isaac Newton, often labeled as a physicalist, surprisingly wrote many alchemical papers: “all of Newton’s alchemical writings were deemed unscientific by the members of the syndicate responsible for editing his papers when they were given to the University of Cambridge by Newton’s family who held onto them until the 19th century. The alchemical and theological papers of Newton, what could be called his covert vitalist side, were returned to the family as of no value and were offered at auction in 1936” (Lee, 2013:72). I believe this example is extremely illustrative of the not-so-satisfying theory of Western thinking as the ultimate culprit of our self-destructiveness because of a sharp mind-matter divide. I join Ellen when she wonders: “did 19th century Swedish peasants really consider Nature as a machine?”. If the rationalist mind is possibly at the source of many abuses, we should be careful not to oversimplify the writings of deceased scholars neither the worldviews of previous generations in order to strengthen one’s theory. This is one thing we took from Benjamin Martin’s course. If I somewhat agree that dissociative thinking is at the root of our problem, I certainly embrace the idea that we should put life back into matter. Paul Lee in this sense is very helpful when he writes about the importance of spirituality – and of the faith in the fact that the soil is a living organism and that plants are conscious beings influenced by higher forces than human domestication – within the organic movement. Believing in Nature’s inner sacred life fosters a healthier relationship towards the food we grow.
To conclude, what I would deem to be at the core of the problem is the fact that our minds, constantly absorbed in thoughts, prevent us from simply being here now in Oneness with the rest of the universe. Because we lost this original ability shared by the plant and animal kingdoms of simply existing, we tend to picture our selves secluded from the rest of the world, as Worthy suggests. Our reality becomes solely based on thoughts. When the mind eventually stops his frenetic dance, then we can start being Nature again, instead of discussing it. Cogito Ergo Sum definitely needs to be questioned, whatever his author really meant by it.