Thursday, April 27, 2017

Informed and uninformed opinions

Before I get started, let me just say thanks for all the support shown for my little cousin Elisa. The readers of this blog matched my sponsorship goal in just a couple of hours. I'll never be able to explain adequately how much your fiscal and moral support mean to me. You'll all be in my thoughts on June 3.

And now, on with the show!

As a human being, are you part of nature or not?

I was talking to a university scientist last spring and the fellow had a lot of astonishing things to say.

Now he was a plant scientist with a solid education and years of experience in his field. A very conscientious fellow, and very interested in nature.

Or rather, interested in a particular ideological conception of nature.

For he was convinced that humans are destroying the planet with global warming and acid rain. That modern farming and ranching is one of the biggest threats to the survival of the planet. That he and his like-minded colleagues were pretty much the only ones who were keeping the planet alive, that they were vastly underappreciated (and underpaid) and represented the thin green line fighting a losing battle against the ravages of evil humans.

It was a magnificent speech, and clearly one that he practiced on a daily basis.

Most astonishingly, he was convinced that neither he, nor any other human, was a part of nature. That humans have evolved beyond nature to the point that we have the ability to dictate terms and control every aspect of the ecology of the planet.

The solution to fixing the planet, he avowed, was dead simple. Stop farming and ranching, put everyone to work in community gardens, and go to electric cars.

That’s your tax dollars at work, my friends.

As it turns out, his concept of nature exists only in the minds of people who believe with all their heart that they stand apart from nature. They have a Disneyesque conception of nature as an eden-like sylvan glade, a place where it’s always warm and green and sunny and nice. When they leave their offices and travel away from the campus and the city and they behold the reality of nature, it appears to be flawed, and all the non-green, non-warm, non-sunny and non-nice things are assessed to be the ravages of mankind.

This fellow I’m describing is admittedly an extreme example. I don’t think he really believes everything he says. I think he’s far more interested in dictating what people do and how they live than in studying and understanding nature, which is his actual job description.

Nevertheless, he and his like-minded fellows are influential experts, and their message resonates with a lot of people -- mostly those urban and suburban types who don’t get outside very often. In other words, with most modern first-world people.

This man-apart-from-nature notion is pretty commonly held, at least at a subconscious level. Most of us live in houses or apartments and get around in automobiles. We get our warmth and light and ability to move about by operating clever switches. We forage for food and clothing and other supplies in brightly lit buildings, bustling with other humans. Nature seems far away. The sylvan glade can only be visited at great expense, or viewed by turning on the television or visiting a social media site on the internet.

Most people are smart enough to know better, and can see how false the apart-from-nature notion is. But the narrative is pervasive, and in an ironic way feeds into the natural anxiety people have about the precariousness of their existence. I don’t think modern, first-world humans think about it often, but most of us do realize that if the clever switches ever stop working we will be in for a world of woes.

I think that most modern, first-world humans realize that they depend on a massive infrastructure which, in turn, depends on nature. Most folks have little understanding and less experience of either. So there’s a lot of anxiety there, just beneath the surface of conscious and objective thought.

“What if the doomsayers are right? Someone should do something. I can’t because I’m not an expert. Please, somebody fix it so I can live my life without anxiety!”

Well, something to think about.

New baby calf this morning.

Rainy morning, too. Which is nice.

And now Mom and I are off to the ophthalmologist for her final-final pre-pre-op visit. Knife drops Monday.


  1. My general perception of rain is it is just Nature sharing Liquid Sunshine with us- as long as it is not part of a hurricane or tropical storm. I'm not so sure that most first-worlders understand how fragile their lives are in depending upon the critical infrastructure support system. One of the best books I've read that conveyed how quickly and deeply our lives would be affected by the loss of that infrastructure was William Forstchen's "One Second After".

    Sometimes there is talk about the disconnect between civilians and the military- which I think is valid. The disconnect between the roughly 2% of Americans that are farmers/ranchers and those that are not is probably even more profound. Not many movies or TV series about farming or ranching, perhaps Tom Hanks or Ken Burns could do something about that! :)

    1. There is a profound disconnect. On the one hand that proves how well the fragile system is functioning, on the other hand people get a lot of strange ideas! :)

    2. Spot on Shaun! It is profound and getting profounder...

    3. Yes it is. The crazy march for pseudoscience... SMH...

  2. Brilliant Shaun.

    I am quite happy with my warm (and dry) house and all the magic switches in my life, wouldn't want it any other way. But if push came to shove, I think I could manage, out there, in the wild. It would be tough and at my age probably fatal. But that's the way Nature is, she don't play favorites.

    Any disruption to the way things are now would result in a lot of deaths, billions probably. Will it happen in our life time? Only if God wills it. It's just the way it is.

    We are no more apart from Nature than any other creature which has evolved complex societies (ants, dolphins, chimps, whales, many bird species) and modifies its surroundings. We build houses, ants and birds build nests. Life is far more complex than even your professor understands.

    Anyhoo, that's how I see it.

    Great post.

    1. Thanks Sarge.

      Working with nature is the only way to keep the fragile system going. Dictating terms to nature is the quickest way to break the system. Who knows how it'll shake out.

  3. Happy to read that the goal was met. About the other, I have read several books/series about civilization suddenly stopping/ending. As with Chris (OAFS), think I could make it ( except for my age/health issues ).
    Really hope that we don't find out whether or not we can survive such an event.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. What I lack in youth and energy I make up for in wisdom and high capacity magazines...


  4. I am the Grandson of Creamery farmers, indeed Grandpa Lind was one of the founders of the Stockholm Creamery in Stockholm, MN. I was a road deputy here in Wisconsin for 14 years. I am blessed to live in a part of the woods awash in agriculture. But you are right about the disconnect. When my nephew Seth, who just turned 27 last week, was 5, I bought him a pedal tractor at Mauston Implement. The next summer, my sister brought her mother in law out for a visit, so Mrs. LeBeaux could see what the Upper Midwest is like. When I met them at the Madison Airport, Martha, ( my sister ), said that I was the one who bought Seth the tractor. Mrs. LeBeaux asked where I got it, and said, " At the John Deere dealer." Mrs. LeBeaux asked, " What does John Deere make?" I was rather taken aback, I would have thought she would have seen John Deere on a loader or some other piece of urban machinery. I could see a city person never having heard of Gehl, or New Holland, or even Case, but John Deere? As you said, a complete disconnect.
    769 is a very nice calf. A Handsome Steer, or a Pretty Little Heifer?

    1. He's a stout little steer. As it's snowing this morning he may be wondering why mama didn't hold off for another week or so...

      It's interesting indeed what our system of civilization hath wrought.

  5. last night, i sat at my desk, and watched the rain bounce off my Peterbilt pickup. A cold front came through along about 0730, and after work, I went to the laundromat, washed clothes, and watched the snow fall.

  6. Shaun, thanks for your service- to our nation, and our nation's food supply. You're the only farmer/rancher I know so thank your peers for me when you get a chance.