Born into a family of educators, I was wise enough to choose my parents and country of birth in a way that resulted in a life of relative luxury. When I was a child, my parents looked forward to their combined annual income reaching $6,000. At that point, they knew they’d have it made.
I was born at the latter end of the era of expansion. Of course I didn’t know it then, but summers spent fishing and autumns spent hunting with his parents and siblings helped prepare me for my later life as a homesteader.
I am a teacher, first and foremost. At the age of six, after attending first grade for a few days, I was teaching my younger sister to read. Frustrated when she called the dog a dog, I sputtered, “It’s Sp … Sp … Sp, Spot!” Rinse and repeat for Puff, whom she ridiculously called a cat. She was four years and a few months old.
There’s a difference between teaching and learning. A few years in the ivory tower, surrounded by poor teachers who cared little about facilitating learning, illustrated the point to me.
I witnessed the last of the great log drives down the Clearwater River, a sure sign of manifest destiny run amok. The Nez Perce tribe and their abundant salmon fed Lewis and Clark along this river, thereby allowing the starving Corps of Discovery to finish the trip to the Pacific Ocean. Later in my youth, at the height of the cold war, I saw U.S. battleships on the Clearwater River until completion of another sign of manifest destiny, the Dworshak Dam. I graduated from high school on the Nez Perce Reservation, a small patch of consolation from the destroyers to the conquered.
One of the disadvantages associated with my life of privilege was my naivete. For far too long, cultural programming convinced me that planetary destruction represented human progress, and that human progress required the “collateral damage” of human suffering and death.
As attentive readers know, I developed a homestead and wrote about the task, which nearly overwhelmed me. I then wrote and spoke about the homestead as an anchor for my life as a post-academic social critic. I came to agree with my critics in viewing the homestead as a failure, for several reasons I’ll not mention here. Nonetheless, the homestead conveyed credibility I otherwise lacked, and it allows me to speak widely about the horrors I see. Unshackled from the corporate university that previously paid my bills, I could describe evidence without harm to my long-lost, much-beloved career. Along the way, I’ve been able to interact with wonderful people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.
In the midst of creating the homestead, my body suffered from the mistakes I made. As I’ve been known to say: “I’ve heard you learn from your mistakes. I make all of mine repeatedly, just to make sure I absorb the knowledge.” I was a young, vibrant man when I started the homestead. I was old beyond my years only a few years later, my body and mind racked with pain.
Although I view my efforts at homesteading as a failure, I take heart from the words of Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
The higher its type, the more rarely a thing succeeds. You higher men here, have you not all failed?
Be of good cheer, what does it matter? How much is still possible! Learn to laugh at yourselves as one must laugh!
Is it any wonder that you failed and only half succeeded, being half broken? Is not something thronging and pushing in you — man’s future? Man’s greatest distance and depth and what in him is lofty to the stars, his tremendous strength — are not all these frothing against each other in your pot? Is it any wonder that many a pot breaks? Learn to laugh at yourselves as one must laugh! You higher men, how much is still possible!
And verily, how much has already succeeded! How rich is the earth in little good perfect things, in what has turned out well!
Place little good perfect things around you, O higher men! Their golden ripeness heals the heart. What is perfect teaches hope.
Now, of course, I’m hope-free. As a result, Nietzsche’s final line does not appeal to me.
I’ve pasted the initial essay for this blog below, verbatim. With it, I re-welcome readers into this space, and briefly explain my perspective. The latter has changed, as you can see.
Welcome to the show. My initial foray into the blogosphere lets you know where I’ll be going, and invites you along for the ride.
Why another blog? Why me?
A quick search on Google Blog indicates I’ve been the subject of a few postings, primarily based on my recent entry into the world of social criticism. But this blog represents my initial attempt at posting a blog of my own. I would like to expand my efforts in social criticism, and I’d like to have a forum in which my errors can be revealed to me. Ergo, this blog. As the name suggests, I will explore the fertile ground at the largely unplowed intersection of conservation biology and philosophy. I’ll also spend some time in the realms of art, literature, C.P. Snow’s eponymous Two Cultures, and academia. I’d like to think that, like Walt Whitman, I am large; I contain multitudes. But I’ll let you be the judge.
I call myself a conservation biologist, yet I did not discover the enterprise of conservation biology, much less become a conservation biologist, until long after my formal education was complete. My undergraduate curriculum in forestry and my graduate programs in range science were tilted heavily toward extraction of natural resources. This focus on extraction was not the only obstacle between me and the pursuit of conservation biology. The greater challenge was that the field of conservation biology, as exemplified by publication of the first issue of Conservation Biology, emerged the same year I was granted a Ph.D. Thus, there were no formal university courses in conservation biology until my days on the student side of the classroom were behind me. My own laser-like focus on applied ecology prevented me noticing the field for a full decade after it appeared on the American scene, although I now call myself a conservation biologist. You can read all about those credentials at my website.
In contrast to my claim to be a conservation biologist, I make no claim to being a philosopher. Through high school and nine years of higher education culminating in a doctoral degree, I did not complete a single course in philosophy. I was exposed briefly, superficially, and vicariously to a dab of Karl Popper and perhaps another philosopher or two who subsequently escaped my long-term memory. And yet I earned a Doctor of Philosophy in that least philosophical of majors, range science (in my days as a graduate student the field centered largely on production of red meat; apparently it continues to do so, without admitting as much). I discovered Socrates relatively late in an unexamined life. In my defense, I have been working hard in recent years to fill the philosophical void (not to mention the existential one).
Future posts will address various topics, including philosophy from ancient Greece to the present, conservation of natural resources, the end of American Empire (it’s probably closer than you think), the extinction of humanity (ditto), sustainability, economics, and just about anything else that grabs my attention. Much of my recent work falls into the category of social criticism, and I’ll continue that work here. Fair warning: I’m an equal-opportunity offender. And, since I’m airing the laundry: I’ll be borrowing numerous ideas from other writings, occasionally losing track of the source. If it’s you, and I fail to acknowledge you, please let me know so I can fix it.
I look forward to comments from rational human beings. I especially welcome solutions to the planetary crises we face.
Upon request for Nature Bats Last on the Progressive Radio Network, I provided an explanation for those looking to introduce abrupt climate change. It’s below.
We are in the midst of abrupt climate change, which will soon obliterate habitat on this planet for our species. This event has precedence in Earth’s history, and it’s irreversible at time frames that matter for humans. Civilization is a heat engine, and the planet is about to overheat. Our species, like all others, will go extinct. It’s later than you think. I’m not suggesting we “give up” in the face of certain death. I am, however, indicating that birth is a sexually transmitted disease that is lethal in every case. We all die. What matters now is how we choose to live. That’s always been the case, although we often lose track of the urgency.