February 17, 2012 | By:

#39 Around the Campfire; 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.

blankThese 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

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12 years ago

What a great post. Dale Benham and I (Nebraska Wesleyan University) just finished teaching a course on Aldo Leopold focusing on the film “GREEN FIRE” and his Land Ethic. We read A Sand County Almanac and Curt Meine’s biography of Aldo as well. He also came to speak and have a meal or two with the students. (We still think of you often and what an awesome experience it was to have you on campus interacting with students, your fabulous talk, come back again!). So reading this post today was particularly delightful.
Keep up the good work! I just told the minister of canada that they should read your book (they’re eradicating wolves because caribou herd grounds are diminishing thanks to the destruction of Mother Earth due to the Tar Sands).
Have a fabulous day, hope to see you soon. I’ll be in Albuquerque/Santa Fe for the Historical Society of New Mexico Conference. I’d love to have lunch with you if at all possible.

12 years ago

Uncle Dave,

Thanks for this one. It inspired me to dig deeper into Vest’s work, where i discovered a long work (Will-of-the-land : a philosophy of wilderness praxis and environmental ethics) that is apparently a print-on-demand book of his dissertation. With his criticism of Roderick Nash and its emphasis on European and Native American views of ‘wilderness’, it’s a worthwhile, if somewhat eccentric, read for those inclined toward such studies.
A small quibble from this side of the fire – i believe Heiddeger said let Being be (not beings). Now pass the bottle over here …

… th

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