Reading Aldo Leopold blew my mind a few decades ago – the grace and cadence of his words, the context and logic of his arguments, his recognition of respectful harvest as part of who we are and must be, and his deep and personal connection between people, and between land and community.
His own ‘seeing’ of the world shifted from seeing it as an object, and favouring utility – the deer over the wolf – to ‘seeing’ it as a system where every part has its place in the whole. “The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts.”
And his take on ethics was more than the dryish study of Aristotle, Kant and Bentham. He summed it up in other ways – the limitation of freedom of action, distinguishing between social and anti-social conduct – and ethics as interdependent things evolving modes of cooperation.
Isn’t that so very different from treating everything as disconnect, as apart from oneself, as competition, as valuing a thing through a narrow measure of utility (in dollars), as us and them, as either-or, as “sensible balance”, as “progress”, as self over others, as the rationalisation of degradation and mining of slow-churning and finite systems – soils, forests, fisheries, waters, climate – because my discounted cash flow says that is the ‘profitable’ thing to do.
Which highlights two things. How you see the world – as mechanical device with people and land as measured cogs, or as a system of mutual interrelationships and necessary cooperation – is one.
The other is that ethics – as Leopold saw them (social conduct and rules of cooperation) – really, really matters.
Candidate for Hastings District Council
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