Book Review Ecology By Carolyn Merchant

In the first few chapters of Carolyn Merchant text Ecology, explores several ideas in connection to nature. Addressing ideas of Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, while also looking in to the Enlightenment thought. Merchant takes texts from other theorist to explore ideas of nature that were very much influential during their time and has remained with us till present. Causing us to come into our own conclusion on a new environmental ethic with nature. In my paper I will be discussing how I came to understand the readings and forming a process of finding my own view of nature. Furthermore, I will also address the dualistic themes of thought that I found in the reading with regards to nature. That by emphasizing the dualistic view we have on nature, we can understand our reasons for exploiting it. Which I believe Merchant wants us to conclude to.

Merchant begins chapter one by relating the metaphysical mode of thought to the analysis of Nature. “(our) method of investigation has also left as a legacy the habit of observing nature and natural processes in their isolation, detached from the whole vast interconnection of things, and therefore not in their motion, but in their repose; not as essentially changing, but fixed constant; not in their life, but in their death.” 44. Humans have developed this isolated way of thinking, viewing nature as separate from humanity. Not viewing nature as an equal but as a possession. Our views of nature as our possession gives us the ability to justify our abuse of it.

By observing nature as an object we give in to this illusion that it is never changing, that our actions have no consequence. And even if we see the consequences of our actions, we feel that it is necessary for the betterment of humanity. This idea is further emphasized with Marx and Engels discussion of nature. Through their words you are illustrated the dualistic view of nature. Marx and Engels were adapted in this dualistic thought that humans were the superiors to nature. They did not connect the advancement of humanity from harmonizing with nature, but from the conquering and extraction of nature. There is a real sense that nature is our conquest and its main reason is for the betterment of humanity. This dualistic view of nature is still present; we are able to see it through our actions or lack of.

Marx and Engels describe man as a product of nature; however, Engels thinks that control of nature will lead to human freedom. “It is only from this point that men, with full consciousness, will fashion their own history; it is only from this point that the social causes set in motion by men will have, predominantly and in constantly increase measure, the effects willed by men.”50. Engels thinking is based on a dualistic hierarchy of nature being beneath men. Alluding that nature must be controlled and made submissive to the will of men. Giving us the imagery that nature is a resource that in order to gain full excess must be dominated. Moreover, Marx’s also alludes this imagery by describing natural products as “free gifts of Nature” to the capital. By simplifying natural resources as free gifts, he denounces natures significance on human advancements. Producing an anthropocentric view, Marx simplifies the tone and representation of natures significance to industrial advancements. Much like how Anthropocene (geological epoch) is presented in a linear fashion, not connecting or understanding that there is a deeper thought that radically links us to nature.

By seeing in a linear time, humanity obscures and regulates the way we humans view nature and our history with nature. I believe that linear time makes it harder to see the impact of our mistakes. That there is no real sense of what we’ve done in the past will have an impact on our future. Marx somewhat suggests this when he describes that the capitalist modes of production affect the way people think about time. “The capitalist mode of production extends the utilization of the excretions of production and consumption.”58. We as a society cease to see time in production, gaining a sense of demand and produce. The importance of this, is illustrated in the way this form of thinking has effected the way we view nature.

No longer do we see the association of nature in the production of goods, our capitalistic society has created an illusion of no natural time in mass production. This capitalistic induced form of thought about time, has created a rift in our connection with nature and blinded us from seeing our existing relationship. Merchant illustrates this idea further by including Horkheimer and Adorno’s critique of the Enlightenment thought. “Thinking objectifies itself to become an automatic, self-activating process; an impersonation of the machine that it produces itself so that ultimately the machine can replace it…”64. I believe that they are addressing the idea that Enlightened form of thinking has caused us to think in a linear fashion. Leaving us unable to think beyond what we believe we know. Furthermore, leaving us un able to think outside of humanity – to think beyond ourselves.

In chapter four and five, Merchant alludes to the theory that technological rationality is the producer of linear thought. That this form of capitalistic produced view of time is not bound by scientific knowledge or rationality. “In this larger context, technology plays a far different role than science, for it has as much more direct relationship to the realm of human wants and thus to the social conflicts that arise out of them.”72. Concluding that it is through the theory of technological development that humanity seeks to obscure our connection to time and nature. Although in technological rationality establishes that knowledge is equal to power, scientific rationality does not hold the same ethics. Science sees knowledge as a source of pleasure, not a form of domination over nature.

That the domination of nature will lead to the domination of humanity, the greater the power attained over nature through technological development – the weaker the individual. Science seeks to explore nature not conquer or exploit it; however, that statement seems to contradict itself. Although science claims to only want to gain knowledge it will always be for human purposes. I believe that if this dualistic view of nature remains, that humanity will never look beyond its desires. If we truly want to make a lasting change, we have to dismantle dualism in our society and see nature as an equal. 

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