Monday, April 4, 2011

This Guy is an Idiot

Did you all read the native v. non native article in the New York Times, "Mother Nature's Melting Pot?" Hugh Raffles makes me want to girdle him with some roots. I can't belive he wrote Insectopedia, the 2011 Orion Book Award winner. Maybe he was on drugs when he wrote some of the things below:

"The anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the country, from draconian laws in Arizona to armed militias along the Mexican border, has taken many Americans by surprise. It shouldn’t — nativism runs deep in the United States. Just ask our non-native animals and plants: they too are commonly labeled as aliens, even though they also provide significant benefits to their new home."

"While the vanguard of the anti-immigrant crusade is found among the likes of the Minutemen and the Tea Party, the native species movement is led by environmentalists, conservationists and gardeners. Despite cultural and political differences, both are motivated — in Margaret Thatcher’s infamous phrase — by the fear of being swamped by aliens."

You know what I'm afraid of? Morons like you. I'm not afraid of things I don't understand or differing values or cultures. Well, I am afraid of you. People are gonna read your column and think they can plant any old damn thing anywhere. We'll get to why that's bad in a second, since you clearly have no idea what you're talking about (to start, go read a book everyone else has read called Bringing Nature Home).

"But just as America is a nation built by waves of immigrants, our natural landscape is a shifting mosaic of plant and animal life. Like humans, plants and animals travel, often in ways beyond our knowledge and control. They arrive unannounced, encounter unfamiliar conditions and proceed to remake each other and their surroundings."

They arrived because we brought them here, stupidly, arrogantly, and with no foresight (Asian carp?). That's how we destroy ecosystems and, Mr. Anthropologist, how we've murdered millions of our own kind. How we treat the planet is how we treat ourselves.

"Designating some as native and others as alien denies this ecological and genetic dynamism. It draws an arbitrary historical line based as much on aesthetics, morality and politics as on science, a line that creates a mythic time of purity before places were polluted by interlopers."

Arbitrary? Are you on crack? Ok, sure, there was no "purity" (was Mary a virgin?). Or was there purity, compared to now? Not only have we diluted ecosystems, we've simplified them, made them and all the species that hold them up vulnerable to extinction. Ecosystems, as well as people, thrive on diversity, yes. But ecological diversity is a delicate balance, easily destroyed after 100,000 years of slow cooperation and balance. What we've done to the planet is not balanced, just as what we do to ourselves is a mark of insanity. We fear our own human diversity, try to create order or a system which creates a "democratic" status quo, but find that order is in direct conflict with the evolutionary chaos of native organisms. You can't tell me Russian olive trees are a good thing. Or kudzu. Or corn (especially for ethanol).

"And in any case, efforts to restore ecosystems to an imagined pristine state almost always fail: once a species begins to thrive in a new environment, there’s little we can do to stop it. Indeed, these efforts are often expensive and can increase rather than relieve environmental harm."

"An alternative is to embrace the impurity of our cosmopolitan natural world and, as some biologists are now arguing, to consider the many ways that non-native plants and animals — not just the natives — benefit their environments and our lives."

Yes, once humans began to thrive in, say, the Great Plains, there's little you can due to reverse the flora and fauna genocide. Because, hey, that's natural, us rampaging across the planet like a supernova. Whatever. No responsibility. Glorious suicide. Go gentle into that good slaughter.

Yes, let us embrace the non native plants. They surely don't wreak havoc, even if they don't spread like wildfire. The issue, Hugh, is not about embracing what is, so much as it is realizing that what we've done is terrible, and in trying to stop further genocide attempt to prevent new genocide--because what we've done to the earth is no less a genocide than if we all lined up people of another race or religion and mowed them down with machine guns. We DID mow down a few dozen million bison with rifles, and so helped mow down Native Americans by starving them out, and destroying a key component to their culture and world view. What is the culture of a native prairie ecosystem? What does it really depend on (I bet it ain't non native plants, which do exist my friend)? Research this, and then get back to me making careful comparisons to America as "melting pot" (an idea which is a mythic joke itself).

If we can't respect the planet, what's here, what we've done, we have no hope at all of respecting ourselves or each other--of truly valuing the diversity you champion. The minute you burn that rain forest or yank that milkweed from the earth, you condemn dozens of other organisms. You condemn humanity in ways you can't possibly imagine.


Diana Studer said...

efforts to restore ecosystems to an imagined pristine state almost always fail - something about that pair 'imagined pristine' is indeed doomed to failure. The science behind landscape rehabilitation has nothing to do with pristine, or superficial imagination.

There will be letters to the newspaper in reply?

Susan in the Pink Hat said...

I'll leave the rants to others on this guy. I tend to ignore contrarians.

frank@nycg said...

I hadn't the patience to take on his comments one by one, so tip my hat to you!

It really does seem to be irresponsible to throw out any sense of , uh, responsibility. Like Susan said, yeah - a contrarian, almost seemed like we were April Fooled by that one, a low moment for the times.

Nice garden by the way.

themanicgardener said...

Well, you gave him an earful. Let's hope he's listening.

My biggest objection to Raffles is that he equates human immigration with the importing of non-native plant species. Last I heard, we humans were all the same species.

I have one nit to pick. I did a bunch of reading a couple of years ago, and apparently Native Americans contributed to the near-extinction of the bison--largely because, after the collapse (destruction?) of their own populations and economy, they were struggling to survive, and resorted to providing furs for the Eastern market.


Benjamin Vogt said...

D--right on the money. I wish we could comment on the website directly, too.
S--Oh, come on, join in....
F--My patience was fueld by irrate storming and screaming. I do have a nice garden, don't I? :)
K--NA tribes were forced to hunt a lot, in excess, in order to trade for French guns. It all started with the French. More guns = more inter tribal conflict = more excessive killing. The white man started it all.

our friend Ben said...

The white man started it all, all right, by bringing alien diseases over here and wiping out the well-established, populous native peoples. The first time, they didn't know they were doing it, though God knows, the Conquistadores certainly knew what THEY were doing. The second time---smallpox deliberately inoculated onto Indian trading blankets, then distributed to the Native tribes? Oh, shame on us. Between that and white hunters butchering millions of bison for their tongues (shipped back East as a delicacy) and leaving the rest of the carcasses to rot, we have plenty to think about and, God willing, learn from.

garden girl said...

Hey Benjamin! Excellent post.

Equating human immigration with the importing of non-native plant species is a ridiculously flawed argument. I found that entire article maddeningly ignorant, especially considering it came from someone who theoretically should know better. Seems to me the whole point of the article was to stir the pot regardless of the facts.

Personally I feel there's a place for cultivars and imported species in the garden as long as they play nice together. The hummingbirds love the fuchsias almost as much as the cardinal flowers here.

There are plenty of invasive native species, or at least, they can be invasive in a garden environment, which isn't the same as a wilderness. I do my best, native, imported, or cultivar to keep the invasives out of the garden, and I'm sure not going to let the likes of Hugh Raffles invade my peace.

Benjamin Vogt said...

OFB--I just watched a PBD doc about this guy on Pine Ridge Rez who, at over 300lbs, began a diet of bison and then exercise. He dropped weight fast, in part due to the bison meat, while his family all kept eating processed Wal Mart food. Hmmm.
Linda--Oh that article enraged me so much I just had to say something, even if it was a bit red hot. It's a poorly argued point, isn't it? It'd never hold water even for a second if you showed that to any English teacher.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear! So glad you let fly, Benjamin!