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THE NEW MYTHOLOGY OF "MAN IN NATURE' DANIEL McKINLEY* Empty words, like blimps in the wind, tear our feet from the Earth. The Web ofNature is held up approvingly for us to admire, but rarely without a phrase on some uniqueness in man that puts him outside that net. Ecology becomes a magic symbol aimed at the awesome task ofpicturing the interrelations of nature; but its knowledge is manipulated as freely by professional fox killers, exterminators ofcrabgrass, and paid promoters of chemical pesticides as by earnest naturalists. The person who finds man uniquely human to that extent negates any attempt to present man as one miracle among many others; there is always the implication that man is more different from nonhuman nature than African elephants are different from non-elephant nature. To put man in nature, while insisting sanctimoniously that we ought to avoid desiring wildernesses where we can escape a little from too many people, is not to allow much. To say that man is "natural" may prevent us from seeing his danger to himself. To claim that the ecology ofsuburban lawns and cityjunk-piles is a valid whole in ecology will surely lead to trouble. One never gets far from intimations ofman's exemption from ecological rules and his superiority over beasts. In this there are no claimants more strident than the admirers of corporate human activities who insist that people must not be interfered with, since "man is a part ofnature" and, therefore, what he does is natural. This essentially leaves man the role of Destroying Angel as the only one worthy ofhim. Our most fearful destructiveness today is a result of collusion among great numbers, so that one is denied a clear taste even ofhis own powers ofdevastation. Yet, the human individual is the vessel which sifts beauty and morality from events; to relegate responsibility to a corporation is as deadening as to allow that corporation to tell you what is beautiful or to let it mutter such * Address: Lake Erie College, Painesville, Ohio. 93 magic words as "ecology" while thrusting a piece of crabgrass into your questioning fist. I do not imply that lawns and city lots do not have plenty ofmysteries left. The honest student of crabgrass has a great story to tell. He might, for example, shame the practices that make weeds inevitable, as Aldo Leopold once did in a classic composition of unpopular truths on how "Cheat Takes Over." He might pioneer and teach us that enriching our landscape with native plants is a surer way to a gardener's dream than chemical crabgrass killers. A true account cannot fail to honor mankind, but one wants no shallow anthropocentrisms masquerading as ecology. I have no quarrel with research into the ecology of city lots; but I do not wish it to become another counting of sheep in order that we can sleep more soundly while carefully marshaled forces oftechnology impoverish the world still further. No doubt our plant and animal weeds have much to teach us. They have been at this business ofcivilization as long as we have, and the lusty weeds that clung to muddy lanes ofa Stone Age village in Europe were probably the ones that you commonly see in the barnyard and city lot of much ofthe Westernized world today. But should we study house sparrows , we shall have a report merely upon house sparrows. They are barnyard cockneys, too similar to the rest ofus to teach us all we want to know. We need the uncivilized aloofness ofmudwasps and Canada geese and whooping cranes and sea-anemones and rhinoceroses and whitefooted mice to tell us how man's points are oriented within Creation's compass box. And there are passenger pigeons, dodos, and Carolina parakeets from which we shall not now learn. More importantly, the "flower in the crannied wall"—any one species of plant or animal—can tell no more than its own tale; it is the whole story that we desire: from the hum of the sea in a spiralled shell to an account of the arrangement of the conch-shell's molecules of calcium carbonate. Ecological Sophistries It is time for men to commit themselves...


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pp. 93-105
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