vegan muse

Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic

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Aldo Leopold (1887 – 1948), life-long fisherman and hunter, was employed by the U.S. Forest Service before becoming the first professor of Wildlife Management at the University of Wisconsin. He died from acute myocardial infarction at the age of 61.

Leopold’s Community Concept

“…the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community, but his ethics prompt him also to cooperate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).”

Leopold argues that humans ought to enlarge their current communal boundaries to include many other forms of life. He writes, “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” Leopold goes on to say that the land, as a collective entity, has a right to life and, albeit in an indirect manner, that humans ought to respect and accommodate this right to life: “… but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.”

Leopold’s communal concept has been met with immense resistance in spite of continued efforts towards the education of society with respect to a mentality of holistic interdependence. “… a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.” As a theory, this is quite attractive, wouldn’t you say? In present day twenty-first century, I continue to observe the mass attempting to incorporate Leopold’s land ethic, in part at least, into their lives, whether they are aware of such ethical theories or not. As a whole, we understand lasting change only occurs once governmental bodies adopt an ecological mindset and, as a function, begin to shape policies towards a harmonious existence with Leopold’s land definition. Of course, we understand that in reality, this is not a simple task; nobody has ever said it would be. Perhaps what we are facing then is something along the lines of a cumulative theory including, but not limited to, Leopold’s Ecocentric Land Ethic; Singer’s Utilitarian Defense of Animal Rights; Regan’s Egalitarian Animal Rights Theory; Devall and Sessions’ Deep Ecology; Bookchin’s Social Ecology, etc., along with the philosophical teachings of Rumi and Krishnamurti, to name but a few.

Leopold’s Land Ethic Maxim

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that I’m certain that Leopold’s maxim doesn’t sit well with many people since Leopold has basically placed humans at the bottom of the totem pole as we are the greatest wrong-doers (destroyers) to the biotic community. Although these are indeed strong sentiments, is not Leopold correct in his indirect assertion? Have we not been and continue to be the greatest threat to nature? Certainly we have and are but surely a gifted tongue would better present such a case. Nevertheless, Leopold’s message is clear: Humans are a member of, not master of, the land community.

Leopold on Synthetic Materials

Leopold stands in opposition to the notion of synthetics. That humans would choose to engineer a desired material as opposed to using what nature provides in animals is beyond him. He writes, “Synthetic substitutes for wood, leather, wool, and other natural land products suit him better than the originals.” I suppose if one were to follow Leopold’s land ethic to its logical end, one would be opposed to such ‘unnatural’ products. But times have changed. More specifically, our environment (circumstance) has changed drastically in the past fifty years or so.

Whether Leopold fails to realize that synthetics include, but are not limited to, blends of natural materials such as hemp, soy, corn, etc., is inconsequential as he vehemently stands in opposition to any and all material cultivation that leads to undue stresses (destruction) on the biotic community. I suppose when Leopold wrote Sand County Almanac (1947), of which this material is cited, life was essentially different, but not unrecognizably so.


Written by Ethan Handur

January 25, 2008 at 8:41

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