Fresh Exploration: The Metaphysics of Wildness, Order, and Chaos

To clear up the notion of the change described previously, the focus for my explorations throughout the rest of this semester has shifted to a different group: wildness.  The essence of this topic, would be that wild places are sources of many necessities for life.  They allow us to contemplate mystery, meaning, and other such broad truths.  As a result, the questions to be asked here are: what is a wild place, where do they exist and why, and what state of affairs are they in. This project has previously grappled, to an extent, with this last question about wildness state of affairs.  Specifically, what has previously been considered, would be the question of whether order or chaos is inherent to wildness, and should we impose one or the other artificially depending on its prevalence?  Therefore, in order to launch into this project, an effort will be made here to explore an opinion on this, derived from our discussions and readings this week.

Whether one directs attention to Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic, ideas from our Natural Science component of the semester having to do with catastrophic shifts in ecosystems, or the essays of Tom Horton, the same argument can be made.  Neither order nor chaos is more inherent to wildness than the other.  In fact, nature changes itself just as much- if not more so- than humans change or adapt to it.  As a result, the criteria for the constitution of a wild place need to be constantly amended, and we should not try to impose order or chaos on wildness more than is absolutely necessary.

In “The Land Ethic”, Leopold explains the concept of extending an ethical perspective to the land, its history from nonexistence to tangibility,  and the extent to which it is a necessity ecologically and culturally.   However, where he gets into this argument is in the contemplation of the land pyramid.  He acknowledges the idea that balance of nature is something that gets tossed around quite a bit.  While there is a lot of balance to nature,  there is also a lot of interrelation and complexity.  Each member of an ecological community has its own separate role, but also has an intermediate role that applies to the members which surround it.  Yet, it is also the case that “Most other civilized regions, and some as yet barely touched by civilization, display various stages of disorganization, varying from initial symptoms to advanced wastage” (Leopold, 16).  Events such as climatic changes, or disease can influence this and often lead to our efforts to institute a reclamation project.  However, Leopold suggests that these projects prove that “it is only evident that the prospective longevity of reclamation projects is often short.  In our own West, the best of them may not last a century” (Leopold, 16).

When approached in this light, these ideas seem to blend right into the notion of catastrophic shifts in ecosystems that we discussed in our Natural Science lecture on Eutrophication.  This involves the idea that all ecosystems are exposed to abrupt changes to their sense of order or chaos, and are assumed to respond smoothly to such events.  While that is sometimes the case, if a change is sudden and drastic enough it will interrupt the smooth response and switch the ecosystem to an alternate state, usually because of a loss of resilience in the ecosystem.  Many different types of wild places are studied in the review article that we read, ranging from lakes to woodlands. All of them are responding to events such as disease, fire, or stochastic events such as weather, which are all external to their natural order.  In a similar way, the initial reaction is to try to instill a reclamation project instead of enriching the resilience of a particular ecosystem.  In other words, the initial reaction is to control the changes, when it may be better to focus on allowing the order and the chaos of these wild places to happen as they will as much as possible.

In an effort to bring things to a close before they get too long winded, One of our best sources for contemplating the metaphysics of wildness, order, and chaos, would be Tom Horton.  In his essay “What is Natural What is Right”, which comes from his compilation of essays entitled Bay Country, he gives us some absolutes about the essence of wildness and nature.

“What is natural? What is right? Here are some absolutes.  Curves are natural.  We grow up hearing so often that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points that we end up thinking it is also the best way to get there…Changelessness, or at least the diligent pursuit of it, is a good.  Precisely because it is so hard to know what is natural, we should, in any decision affecting the environment, consider first how not to change the existing order” (Horton, 4-5).

Therefore, even Mr. Horton is commenting on the complexity of order and chaos in ecosystems, nature, and wild places.  What I hope is evident here, is that all of these scholarly perspectives strengthen the argument that neither order nor chaos is particularly inherent to nature.  They both occur under a variety of conditions and for a variety of reasons.  What is important is not that we try to impose order or chaos on particular natural areas, wild places, or ecosystems.  Letting the inherent order and chaos occur as they will while monitoring them to an extent is what will keep things in a positive state of well being.

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