A century after Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” Wendell Berry, the Kentucky poet and farmer, added a corollary that probably would have made no sense to Thoreau: “In human culture is the preservation of wildness.”
Thoreau, and his many descendants among contemporary naturalists and radical environmentalists, assume that human culture is the problem, not the solution. So they urge us to shed our anthropocentrism and learn to live among other species as equals. This sounds like a nice, ecological idea, until you realize that the earth would be even worse off than it is if we started behaving any more like animals than we already do. The survival strategy of most species is to extend their dominion as far and as brutally as they can, until they run up against some equally brutal natural limit that checks their progress. Isn’t this precisely the course we’ve been on?
What sets us apart from other species is culture, and what is culture but forbearance? Conscience, ethical choice, discrimination: surely it is these very human, and decidedly unecological, principles that offer the planet its last best hope. It is true that, historically, we’ve concentrated on exercising these faculties in the human rather than the natural estate, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be exercised there.
A great, meandering article that initially starts out as a reflection on weeds and gardens, and weeds *in* gardens, and turns into a much broader contemplation of ecology and human culture.