Around the Campfire with Uncle Dave – A Root of the Land Ethic: Good-in-Itself

Life is good.

Many-fold, tangled life is better.

Many-fold, tangled life not hobbled by Man’s will is best.

What do I mean?

By “life is good,” I am not writing a television commercial about sitting with your buddies in front of a widescreen TV for a Superbowl party with Budweiser while wives and girlfriends in tight, low-cut tops bring in nachos and other goodies. No, I am laying down bedrock that the coming out of life or living things—chemical molecules that could replicate and do things—was good. As is its further evolution. Both life—this way of being—and living things—the lone packages into which life fleetingly puts itself—are good.

The first step in ethics is to ask what is good. The Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on “Ethics” says, “By ‘the good’ here is meant what is intrinsically good (or good-in-itself), not what is good only as a means to something else.” This is what I mean by “life is good.” It is good-in-itself. If there is good-in-itself at all, I would think “life is good” would be self-evident or unmistakable.

Whether the knowing creation of an Almighty or the outcome of a wandering, blind, goalless bubbling-over of chemistry and electricity in the right setting by happenstance, life and living things are good. Life comes together as neighborhoods (or communities as ecologists call them) in which we as dwellers or as wayfarers need to behave as good neighbors to the neighborhood and to each neighbor. Aldo Leopold wrote that the Land Ethic made one a “plain member and citizen” of the land community.I would restate that as being a good neighbor in wild neighborhoods. Being a good neighbor is being good to life, which is good-in-itself. The sign at the National Forest trailhead a quarter-mile from my front door welcomes hikers but warns that we are coming into the home of many kinds of wildlife and that we are “guests in their home.” (Italics on the sign.) When you are a guest in someone’s home, you need to be well-behaved. You do not rule the roost when you are a guest.

By “many-fold” (manifold) and “tangled” life, I mean biological diversity or biodiversity. This is the Tree of Life: many, many kinds of life living in a wealth of jumbled, messy, always-shifting neighborhoods.

By “not hobbled by Man’s will,” I mean wild—wild things, which are Earthlings that are as yet self-willed and not thralls to Man.

These other Earthlings are good because they are and because they are free by being wild. Wild things are good-in-themselves.

“Wild” is a many-fold and tangled word and thought. To understand such a word, we need to go back to its beginning in language—at least as far as we can. It means going back to the Anglo-Saxons coming into Britain as Roman civilization was withering and leaving.  Early Gothonic or Deutsch speakers—warlords (“kings” and “lords” in their high and mighty gall), churls, and bards such as those who wrote down Beowulf and other sagas and poems—struggled with will.  They lived next to wilderness—land not yet settled or plowed—and knew wildlife such as bear, wolf, lynx, wolverine, moose, wisent, eagle owl, snowy owl, golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, and other mighty beings that were untamable.

Please click on the attachment below to read the entire “Campfire.”

All photos © 2012 by Dave Foreman


  1. 39 A Root of the Land Ethic (271.5 KiB)

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