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War against Terra


There is an unrecognized logic to America's "War against Terror". A problem of pronunciation signals a problem of comprehension. This was recently drawn to my attention by the title of the UN Environment Programmes's INFOTERRA information system. In most English and American dialects there is no distinction in the pronunciation between "Terror" and "Terra". The unconscious implications of this are explored below.

Dominating nature

"The industrial model is constructed on the presumption that nature functions like a machine and that humanity's role is to force nature's gears. It uses the metaphor of the Model T Ford Factory that makes mass produced commodities. Competition is the primary economic and scientific process in the industrial model: species compete in an ecology and nations compete through their corporations in the global market. For many, it is difficult to see how we might clothe, feed and shelter ourselves without dominating nature. And for farmers and others who produce our food, it does seem as if the only way to feed the world is to conquer and subdue nature for the benefit of an increasing population of humans - to mass-produce a homogeneous commodity. This kind of production ethic is in fact an ethic: it is a definition of what is good....By some measurements, the industrial model has had incredible successes. It has provided an array of technologies and large financial returns for medicine, agriculture, and information. But it has also caused unexpected and widespread damage to the environmental and public health. We are all aware of the litany of environmental problems that include radioactive waste, holes in the ozone layer, endocrine disruption and global warming. " (Carolyn Raffensperger and Peter deFur, A Paradigm Shift: Rethinking Environmental Decision Making and Risk Assessment, 1997)

Many have remarked on the consistency of American actions against the environment over the past decades -- disproportionate use of non-renewable resources, denial of global warming, and culminating in refusal to be associated with the Kyoto process. As has been clearly said by George Bush, "the American Way of Life is non-negotiable".

This attitude might be said to derive largely from the historically recent pioneering tradition so important to American culture. The continent had to be conquered. Nature from the early days was a harsh enemy. A place for colonists had to be carved out. Any opposition by "unreasonable", especially "uncivilized", indigenous peoples had to be dealt with by conquest and their restriction to reservations. Dangerous wild animals (bears, wolves, etc) had to be killed off. Others had to be exploited (bison, etc). The challenge was to tame and domesticate the continent. Any opposition to this process was inherently inimical.

The American culture is built on a war against Nature that it has only recently been able to assume has been won -- although floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and winter freezing, suggest that this is not yet wholly the case.

ods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and winter freezing, suggest that this is not yet wholly the case.


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