Critical Analysis Of Jack Turner
’s The Abstract Wi Essay, Research Paper
Jack Turner s The Abstract Wild is a complex argument that discusses many issues andultimately defends the wild in all of its forms. He opens the novel with a narrative story about atime when he explored the Maze in Utah and stumbled across ancient pictographs. Turner tellsthis story to describe what a truly wild and unmediated experience is. The ideas of the aura,magic, and wildness that places contain is introduced in this story. Turner had a spiritualconnection with the pictographs because of the power, beauty, and awe that they created withinhim upon their first mysterious contact. Turner ruined this unmediated experience by takingphotographs of the pictographs and talking about them to several people. His second visit to thepictographs was extremely different- he had removed the wild connection with the ancient muraland himself by publicizing and talking about them. This is Turner s main point within the firstchapter. He believes that when we take a wild place and photograph it, talk about it, advertise it,make maps of it, and place it in a national park that we ruin the magic, the aura, and the wildnessof that place. Nature magazines, photographs, and films all contribute to the removal of our wildexperience with nature. It is the difference between visiting the Grand Canyon after you haveseen it on TV and read about it in magazines, or never having heard of the place and stumblingacross it on your own during a hike. Unfortunately, almost every wild experience betweennature and the public has been ruined by the media. Through Turner s story he begins to explainthe idea of the wild and its importance and necessity of human interaction with the wild. The second chapter contains two major ideas. The first is Turner s defense andexplanation of the appropriateness of anger. Turner thinks that society wrongly taught thepeople to repress and fear their emotions. Turner finds primal emotions to be necessary to oursurvival, as well as the survival of the wild. He explains that anger occurs when we defendsomething we love or something we feel is sacred. He reminds us to cherish our anger and use itto fuel rebellion. Turner criticizes the cowardice of modern environmentalists in the followingpassage: The courage and resistance shown by the Navajos at Big Mountain, by Polish workers,by blacks in South Africa, and, most extraordinarily, by Chinese students in Tiananmen Squaremakes much of the environmental protest in America seem shallow and ineffective incomparison(21). Maybe if we knew and loved wild nature we could properly defend andpreserve it. Maybe if we felt an intimate connection with wild nature we would react to thedamming of a river or the rape of an ancient forest as we would to someone raping our children. The second major idea is Turner s argument of how modern man is far removed from wildnature. He describes how different nature is today compared with the mid-nineteenth centurynature of Thoreau and Muir. Government laws and organizations have severely degraded thewild nature. They seek to preserve and remove problems within the wilderness; however, theyonly remove the wild from nature. Zoos and national parks are poor substitutes for authenticwild nature. Government laws and organizations, such as national parks and the Forest Service,use anthropocentric ideas to manage the wilderness. They use surveillance and control everyaspect of ecosystems, and thus removing the process of wild nature from these ecosystems bymaking them dependent on human maintenance. National Forests were created for humans forrecreation and resource utilization. They are literally a business, and only seek to preservenature based on anthropocentric needs rather than geocentric needs. Turner claims that true wildnature does not exist within national forests because they are constantly being tampered with andaltered by humans. Wild nature, however, still exists in more remote wilderness areas. The third chapter Turner returns to more narrative writing and explains his respect andlove for mountain lions. He expresses a relationship with mountain lions similar to that of DougPeacock and his experience with Grizzly Bears. In chapter four, Economic Nature, Turner explains how John Locke and Adam Smithshaped the ideas of our economy and how that has affected society s perception of nature. Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, and Adams decided the early fate of the American wildernessthrough Christian and Enlightenment ethics. They divided the land into a grid and sold it tomen. The land became the private property of men, who farmed and extracted resources as theypleased. Turner comments on how language has added to ecological ignorance. The Americanlanguage is based on ideas of economy, and as ecological problems arise people use economicterms to describe nature. Thus, ecological problems are not properly dealt with or evenunderstood because they are viewed and discussed in terms of economy. The economy viewsnature anthropocentrically. The resources of the land are to be used for the purpose ofimproving technology and economy. This problem of language is the reason why biologicalscientists and shallow ecologists fail to see the answer to ecological problems. Turner raises thequestion that if ecological problems are technology-based, then how could technology solveecological problems? According to Turner, this is a problem of language and perception, andeventually transforms into a problem of morals and values. Another problem with viewingthings economically is that everything must be commensurate. Economically, everything has avalue in money. There is a major problem with viewing a forest as millions of dollars. Whenyou look at a forest as money you are completely blind to its true importance as an ecosystem. The wild and the sacred of the forest is lost. The degradation of wild nature is a direct result ofour language and economic perceptions of the world. Of course, the first step toward findingsolutions to ecological problems would be changing our language. Turner offers the solutionthat if we refuse these three moves- the abstraction of things into resources, theircommensurability in translatable units, and the choice of money as the value of the units- andeconomic theory is useless(64). The preservation of the wild nature requires a deepergeocentric view of the world. Chapter five delves into the Turner s knowledge and experience of the white pelican. Little is known about these ancient birds because they avoid human contact. Turner is intriguedby their behavior. He observes the white pelicans as enjoying their risky high dive flights. Hemakes the connection between the peculiar behavior of the white pelican and the nature of wildanimals. He questions their love for soaring as a logical choice for enjoyment. Within thischapter Turner also raises another big issue. He discusses the influence humans have on wildanimals when they try to study them, and he explains some of the detrimental effects that occurupon human interference and control of wild animals and their habitats. Turner seeks a higher,more idealistic, approach to learning about wild animals. He believes that if we sit quietly intheir habitat they will come to us(71). Turner displays an wild connection, understanding, andrespect for the white pelican. He thinks that the behavior of the white pelican is another insightinto the idea of the wild. The main idea of chapter six is that one of the main roots of the modern environmentalcrisis is the mistake of wilderness for wildness. It was Henry David Thoreau who was firstmistaken. Thoreau was an American pioneer of the wild. His most famous quote is InWildness is the preservation of the World. Unfortunately, that quote is now severelymisconceived; for we have replaced Wildness with wilderness. The word Wildness has negativeconnotations in today s society. Thoreau was describing Wildness as a good virtue connectedwith freedom. Thoreau looked pass the problems of wilderness and ecosystems. He wasn tconcerned with deforestation or biodiversity. Thoreau went deeper and found the root of theproblem was in Wildness. That was where the fight was. Thoreau s main struggle was thepreservation of wild and to reincarnate that virtue into humanity. Turner claims that ourwilderness is not very wild, and he gives four reasons for this. His first reason is that wildernessareas are too small. He believes that for a person to really experience the wild they need tospend a couple of weeks living out in nature. Unfortunately, most of our wilderness areas aretoo small. His second reason is that wilderness areas lack wild predators. Visitors to thesewilderness areas are never threatened or even in the presence of predators, and Turner thinks thatthe removal of predators from these areas is a bad idea. The predators add a special andnecessary dimension to the experience of the wild. When man is in the presence of predators herealizes that he has become part of the web of life. Man experiences the wild when he realizesthat he is a meal to a mountain lion or bear. Being a part of the food chain, or at least thepossibility is an important part of experiencing the wild. Turner s third reason is that thegovernment has tamed the wild for recreational purposes. This is done by placing signs, buildingtrails, and making maps. All of these create a mediated experience for the adventurer and stealsthe wildness from there experience with nature. Returning to Turner s experience with thepictographs in chapter one, all of these signs and maps combine to remove the factor of surprisefrom a wilderness area. An adventurer will never experience the wild of discovering a waterfallor any surprise that nature has to offer because signs and maps ruin the experience. His fourthreason that our wilderness is not wild is that we made laws that allow our wilderness to beartificially controlled and managed. This is very unfortunate. Ecosystems are constantly beingaltered, predators moved, and wildfires suppressed. Wild nature is autonomous and fixes its ownproblems. Man s interference is slowly making wilderness dependent of artificial influence.
Turner argues that tourism is destructive. Society wrongly views wilderness as a fun place forhuman recreation. We have become wilderness fun hogs. Humans take an anthropocentric viewtoward wilderness and only see it in terms of how much fun can I get out of this park; all thewhile, completely ignoring the human need for wild experience and intimate connection withnature. The result of our present perception is our emotional loss with wild nature. We havelost the understanding of how to connect with the wild within wilderness. Turner claims thatmost ecologists and conservationists turn to technology to help preserve the wilderness. Realistically, the solution lies in our past, our roots, not in the future of technology. The solutionlies within the knowledge of wild people, such as the native Americans whose cultures havebeen wiped out by American imperialism and western expansion. Turner does not find hope inthe solutions that deep ecologists have to offer either. He claims that there ideas are based onabstract philosophies of Spinoza and Whitehead that are too difficult for the public to understandand grasp. The solution must be more simple and natural than understanding complexphilosophies. Turner also doesn t believe that the effort of deep ecologists to change the idea ofthe world from a mechanical model to an organic model will convince the public. Turner writesthat reason will not make us respect and care for wild nature…Philosophical arguments,moralizing, aesthetics, political legislation, and abstract philosophies are notoriously incapableof compelling human behavior(88). Turner returns to his idea in the chapter two that we onlyexpress anger to violently defend something we love or feel is sacred. Ecological preservation isonly possible through a loving and intimate relationship between humans and wild nature. Ourlove of nature is supported by the art, literature, poetry, myth and lore of wild nature. It is thesethings that develop the language that our society so greatly lacks. Turner finds his solutionsmore from the ideas of Thoreau and Muir. He finds the preservation of the wild we mustestablish residency in the wilderness and gain knowledge of the wild. Only then might wedevelop the love of the wild that is necessary for its defense and preservation. In chapter seven, Turner discusses the importance of Doug Peacock. Turner commentson how unique Peacock s message about wildness is and how different it is from most natureliterature. Through Peacock s Grizzly Years and Faulkner s Big Two Hearted-River, Turnerdescribes the wild as a place of healing. He also explain some of the rituals, traditions, andexperiences that help restore the wild within humanity. Chapter eight offers more ideas on wildness and further discusses the defense of nature. Turner agrees with Thoreau and Gary Snyder that wildness is a quality, and it is closely linkedwith sacredness and autonomy. He continues to point out that modern civilization has recreatednature to meet the needs of the economy and society. We have created a wilderness hyperreality. Our wilderness areas are becoming more like theme parks. Turner explains that acreated environment is a neutered wild, and a wild to which we no longer live in vitalrelationship. Artificial influence on the wilderness is creating laboratories out of habitats. Hebelieves that conservationist and biodiversity theories are wrong in their principle. Again hefeels that the land should be left to fix and manage itself without human interference and control. Turner argues that the reason we impose human order on nonhuman orders is to gain prediction,control, and efficiency. Although Turner agrees that we cannot preserve wild habitats if theirinhabitants are not free, he does not believe that human existence within an ecosystem willdestroy its wildness. It is in essence human control that will destroy the wildness within anecosystem. Turner does not believe that the ideas of biodiversity or conservation biology willprovide solutions to the viability of wild nature and ecological problems because theirprescription calls for more control with ideas of resource management. In fact, he call theautonomy of the natural systems the skeleton in the closet of our conservation ethic(119). Turner finds that even radical environmentalists have faltered and are now beginning to agreewith biologists on solutions to ecological problems. He wisely notes that true change comesfrom alteration of structure, not the treatment of symptoms(115). According to Turner,scientific solutions only offer the latter type of treatment. Turner offers the leave it alone andlet nature sort it out method to achieve ecological preservation. He closes by offering hope thatWildness is still out there, and he encourages us to explore the Wild within ourselves. Although I agree with many of Turner s ideas in The Abstract Wild, I do believe thatsome of his ideas are in need of a logical critique. In chapter two and later in chapter six, Turnerbuilds up to the argument that maybe if we loved wild nature and lived intimately with it wemight be able to properly defend or preserve it. This is a full-proof argument. The key word inthat idea is love. Most people might think, Oh yeah, I love nature. In fact, I went mountainbiking in the Sierra last week. Unfortunately, this is not a statement that defends a powerfulemotion, such as love. Turner is correct in his argument that most people haven t experiencedand don t know wild nature. Nature is a place for humans to escape the confinements of thecity-life and indulge in recreational activities. It is not home. Humans don t feel a personal orloving connection with nature because they view it selfishly from an anthropocentric perception. Besides the selfish view of the recreational nature, most people carry with them Christian valuesand the ideas of Hamilton, Jefferson, Locke, and Smith that nature is property of man and aresource measured in economical terms. Thus, we may like nature, but we don t love nature. We don t treat nature like we treat our family and home, which brings us back to Turner s ideathat if we loved nature we could defend it with true passionate anger. Without thisunderstanding and personal connection with wild nature, humans will not be able to properlypreserve nature. I agree with his argument, but I don t think his solutions are realistic. Turner s solutionis for man to establish residency in wild nature, and gain knowledge and understanding of theland, the flora, and the fauna. Modern man should return to a primitive society and adopt theNative American way of life. Furthermore, it is the art, beauty, and myth of wild nature that willlead us back to wildness and our place in nature. His solution seems logical, but it is tooidealistic. Modern Western Civilization just simply will not succumb to these solutions underthe present control of the many facets of megatechnology. The vast majority of human mindsare controlled by corporations on a global scale that for economic purposes (or the love ofmoney) would prevent Turner s solution from becoming reality. Unfortunately, it seems thatonly a few enlightened individuals have the courage to commit to this way of life and understandthe wild. Logically, humans will only commit to major change once they are scared intosubmission, but only after the collapse of the environment. Turner is accurate in his claim that the solution of preserving the wild begins withlanguage. Language is the basis of how we express our ideas, morals, and values. Unfortunately, this is another area in which megatechnology has great control over. In yearspast, it was the courageous activity of counter-cultures, such as the Beats and the Hippies, thatstrayed from corporate and government control. These groups began to create their ownlanguage, form of communication, and perceptions of the world. Bound by similar goals andideas, these counter-cultures refused to conform to what was considered normality. They ignitedthe Civil Rights Movement and changed society. Although some were concerned withenvironmental issues, most of their battles were fought within the anthropocentric realm. Maybeour best fight to preserve wild nature lies in the hands of our youth. The environmental crisis isin need of a modern counter-culture. It needs a generation that could regain power throughautonomy, non-conformity, and a new language. Starting from where their predecessors ended,this new counter-culture would adopt a geocentric view and become the future of theenvironmental movement. Another major issue that Turner discusses is the effectiveness of different methods ofsolving ecological problems. I agree with Turner that conservation biology, biodiversity, andpreservation seem like short term answers to long term problems. These are science s quickremedies. At the root of this issue is the philosophical idea that if human technology and controlis ruining the environment then more human technology and control will not fix it. Trying tosolve ecological problems by artificial means will only add to the problem. No matter how youjustify it or disguise it, human technology and control of ecosystems disrupts the natural order inwhich the system operates. The environment was fine before we altered it with our pollutantsand behavior, so it will only begin to repair itself in the absence of human influence. This is alogical idea that MIT scientists can t seem to comprehend because they would rather indulge intheir playing God with nature. Turner believes that we should let nature sort it out. If we juststop conservation biology and the experiments in wilderness labs maybe nature can find its ownnatural way of returning to homeostasis. Whether or not I accept either solution boils down to the idea of the wild. The letnature sort it out solution is decaying fast. Philosopher and deep ecologist George Sessions,gave the environment twenty years before its collapse. The let nature sort it out solution isrunning out of time. At the same time, Turner can t predict the future of science and ecologicalresearch through the writings of Thoreau and Muir. There is always the undeniable, and yet,unpredictable possibility that science might produce an ecological cure based on chemicalcompounds. However, implementing chemical compounds into ecosystems and organismswon t preserve the wildness of an ecosystem. The possibility of a viable techno-wilderness isimaginable, but the wildness of the land, the flora, and the fauna will be lost forever and, I don tthink science can cure that.