...natural evolution has indeed produced beings -- human
beings -- who can act rationally in the world, guided far less
by instinct than by a rich intellectuality rooted in
conceptual thought and complex forms of symbolic
communication. These beings are of the biotic world as
organisms, mammals, and primates, yet they are also apart from it
as creatures that produce the vast array of cultural artifacts and
associations that we call second nature. (xxix)
The interplay of first and second nature is one vital concern of Bookchin's "social ecology." He believes that environmental crises are related to the inability of humans to live peacefully, that altering the nature of our interactions with one another will change our relationship with the wild. Far Bookchin, more humane social arrangements mean less violation of nature.
Bookchin asserts that extreme damage is being done to the biosphere in the name of economic progress (liv), and that certain social arrangements of our culture must be changed if first and second nature are to survive and endure. He believes, for instance, that we must "rid ourselves of the idea of dominating nature" if we are to "fulfill our promise for acting as a moral, rational, and creative force in natural as well as social evolution" (lv).
What Murray Bookchin calls for is an "epistemology of liberation" and elimination of "dominance" and"control" by the "power elite." He wants interplay between first and second nature to be ethical and humane so that the nonhuman and human realms of nature nurture one another in a manner that is sustainable and evolutionary. He argues, I believe, for ways of living on this Earth that take into account the multiplicity of creation so that freedom and dignity characterize human experience and our interactions with the wild.
These remarks about Murray Bookchin bring us to the purpose of this essay. Its theme is the concept of interplay -- the interlinking and interdependence of the human and nonhuman worlds. In Bookchin's terms, the present discussion concerns the transactional quality of first and second nature, and the contexts of obedience and control that often impact their co-existence. Consider this:
La venadita. The small fawn. They had to kill their pet, the
fawn. The game warden was on the way with his hounds.
The penalty for being caught in possession of a deer was
$250 or jail. The game warden would put su papi en la carcel.
How could they get rid of the fawn? Hide it? No, la guardia's
hounds would sniff Venadita out. Let Venadita loose in the
monte? They had tried that before. The fawn would leap away
and seconds later return. Should they kill Venadita? The mother
and Prieta looked toward las carabinas propped against the wall
behind the kitchen door -- the shiny barrel of the .22, the heavy
metal steel of the 40-40. No, if they could hear his pickup a mile
and a half down the road, he would hear the shot.
Quick, they had to do something. Cut Venadita's throat? Club
her to death? The mother couldn't do it. She, Prieta, would have
to be the one. The game warden and his perros were a mile
down the road. Prieta loved her papi.
In the shed behind the corral, where they'd hidden the fawn,
Prieta found the hammer. She had to grasp it with both hands.
She swung it up. The weight folded her body backwards. A thud
reverberated on Venadita's skull, a wave undulated down her
back. Again, a blow behind the ear. Though Venadita's long
lashes quivered, her eyes never left Prieta's face. Another thud,
another tremor. La guardia and his hounds were driving up the
front yard. The venadita looked up at her, the hammer rose and
fell. Neither made a sound. The tawny, spotted fur was the most
beautiful thing Prieta had ever seen. She remembered when they
had found the fawn. She had been a few hours old. A hunter had
shot her mother. The fawn had been shaking so hard, her long
thin legs were on the edge of buckling. Prieta and her sister and
brothers had bottle-fed Venadita, with a damp cloth had wiped
her skin, had watched her tiny, perfectly formed hooves harden
Prieta dug a hole in the shed, a makeshift hole. She could hear
the warden talking to her mother. Her mother's English had
suddenly gotten bad -- she was trying to stall la guardia. Prieta
rolled the fawn into the hole, threw in the empty bottle. With her
fingers raked in the dirt. Dust caked on her arms and face where
tears had fallen. She patted the ground flat with her hands and
swept it with a dead branch. The game warden was strutting
toward her. His hounds
sniffing, sniffing, sniffing the ground in the shed. The hounds
pawing, pawing the ground. The game warden, straining on
the leashes, les dio un tiron, saco los perros. He inspected the
corrals, the edge of the woods, then drove away in his
This account by Gloria Anzaldua (1987) vividly illustrates the interface of nonhuman and human gone wrong. A fawn is bludgeoned to death so a person doesn't go to jail. A fawn is made motherless by a hunter and then killed because of a law. A gesture of love is turned bloody by the rules of obedience and control. What begins with kindness and affection ends with betrayal and deception -- A makeshift hole. / The game warden strutting toward the shed. / Bottle feeding and perfectly formed hooves. / The hounds straining on their leashes and sniffing out ahead.
Anzaldua's account of the fawn killing seems emblematic of Bookchin's assertion that humans must reharmonize their interactions with one another by reforming cultural practices. He wants "the reconciliation of nature and human society in a new ecological sensibility and a new ecological society -- a reharmonization of nature and humanity through a reharmonization of human with human" (11). In Anzaldua's account, the laws of the dominant white culture subvert the possibility of intercultural understanding and reproduce practices of oppression. Prieta must bloody her hands because the possession of a deer is illegal, especially by a people perpetually marginalized and essentially outlawed themselves. The reconciliation of nature and human society that Bookchin's social ecology is intended to achieve is far from being realized as long as racism and sexism and class distinctions continue to frame personal experience and the social constructions of identity and privilege.
Anzaldua writes, "Though Venadita's long lashes quivered, her eyes never left Prieta's face." What a heart rending event this tragedy of willfully killing a fawn with beautiful spotted fur in a savage setting of privilege and obedience -- Prieta bent backwards by the hammer and knocked off balance by an absurd and necessary killing out of love. Prieta and Venadita both subdued to helplessness and awkwardness by men with guns and hounds -- Venadita shaking almost to the point of collapse on long thin legs after a hunter had killed her mother. Is Prieta killing Venadita fundamentally different from Sethe, in Toni Morrison's (1987) Beloved, killing her daughter rather than giving themselves over to slavery? In both cases, it is women who do the dirty work of an unJust social system. In both cases, it is women with blood on their hands. And in both cases, it is women who must bear the consequences of terrible acts against them.
Though her long lashes quiver, Venadita's eyes never leave Prieta's face. Nature doesn't falter. Commitments are kept. Venadita seems to realize it is necessary for her to die, necessary to be killed by Prieta who had saved and nurtured her. Caught in a system of repression, Prieta and Verradita do what appears inevitable when human relations make the connection with nature go wrong.
Despite the insanity of their situation and the corruption of human with human, when Prieta and her sister and brothers bottle-feed Venadita and wipe her skin with a damp cloth, they are talking wild. They are momentarily overcoming the inequities of their lives in an oppressive society in order to nurture and be nurtured by a fawn. They are extending themselves beyond the physical and social poverty of their experience to enlarge what happens in their lives with deeds of kindness. These gestures of tenderness symbolize an act of defiance, a refusal to put aside human compassion in an atmosphere of dominance and submission. What they do is subversive even though they are hounded and punished.
Talking wild occurs at the interface of first and second nature. It represents a dimension of the interplay between the human and nonhuman worlds. To talk wild is to connect with a nonhuman other in a way that expands normal conceptions of discourse and deepens the personal experience of co-existing with the wild. Talking wild is embedded as a counter-voice in Bookchin's larger formulation that "the very notion of the domination of nature by man [sic] stems from the very real domination of human by human" (1). Talking wild is one way of evolving beyond the "cleavages that [separate] humanity from nature" (42). Talking wild is wild talking. Consider this:
Early morning and you are returning from a walk on the mountain.
The trail seemed especially alive and vivid to your senses. Now,
you are descending a long, steep set of wood stairs to the lodge
and a shower before breakfast.
The stairs are covered to shield them from snow. They are
well-worn from the thousands of people, especially skiers, who
have trekked them up and down. High up there are narrow
windows where, later in the day, sunlight will slant through.
An unusual sound gets louder as you go down the stairs.
Finally, you are able to see a bird crashing itself against one of the
high windows, trying to escape the cavernous cage. In a stunned
frenzy it is hurling itself again and again against the glass.
You sit on a stair close to where the bird is desperately trying
to escape. You watch and you wait until the bird is slumped on
the window sill after an especially vicious crash against the glass.
She knows you are there. She watches you. For a long time the
two of you look at one another.
You begin to speak You start talking with the bird. You tell her
you will help her escape. The words are less important than the
feeling you hope they hold for the bird as she watches you and
seems to listen to what you say. The two of you become quiet
together. The words you are saying and the urgency of her escape
seem to merge so that the quiet completely contains your
awareness. She no longer crashes herself against the glass. You
no longer experience yourself as different from her. She tilts her
head and watches you intently while you speak She seems to be
talking too. The two of you are talking, talking wild.
You say, "If you'll let me pick you up, I'll carry you down the
stairs and you'll be free." You say, "I'll take you out of
here into an open space so you can fly again." You repeat these
words until it seems clear to you that the bird understands, until
she seems to welcome you in the stillness of the morning. And
then you say, "Okay. I'm going to come to where you are, pick
you up, and carry you down the stairs." You say it again, "I'm
going to come to where you are, pick you up, and carry you
down the stairs." Silence. For a long time the two of you are there
in the silence of your encounter, so perfectly present for one
another. Eventually, you say, "Here I come. I'm gain" to pick you
up and carry you down the stairs."
You get up from where you are sitting and slowly approach the
bird. She watches you come toward her, completely motionless
except for the shift of focus in her eyes. In a mindful way, you
reach toward her and carefully take her into your hands. You
hold her. You caress her. What an exquisite expression of life.
How miraculously marked. She doesn't move. Although it seems
that her heart is wildly fluttering, she doesn't move. Her head is
turned and her eye is a deep, dark circle fixed upon your own.
You walk down the stairs and out into the open of mountain
air. You open your hands and the bird flies free. You open your
hands and somehow you fly with her, more liberated, perhaps,
than she -- quickly away and vanished.
A fawn is found and a bird flies free. In both cases, the interplay of first and second nature seems honorable and ethical.
There appears nothing contrived in the gestures of kindness and mutual affection that seem to occur with the bird and the fawn. Dominance, obedience, and control are essentially absent from the talking wild that takes place. Then oppression intrudes, and the fawn is killed. But when the bird flies free, living seems affirmed. So perhaps the "epistemology of liberation" Murray Bookchin hopes for -- a liberation that replaces privilege and submission -- may rest, in part, on each instance of wild talking, on every expression of talking wild.
Anzaldua, Gloria. (1987). "Cervicide," from Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books. [Excerpt reprinted with permission.]
Bookchin, Murray. (1991). The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. Montreal, Quebec: Black Rose Books.
Morrison, Toni. (1987). Beloved. New York: Knopf.
Lyall Crawford is Associate Professor of Communication at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.
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|Title Annotation:||relationship between humans and nature|
|Publication:||ETC.: A Review of General Semantics|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1995|
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