Northern Arizona University/Environmental Ethics/Journals/Tucker H's Journal

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Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #1 Aug. 30, 2009

During the course of his life, Aldo Leopold developed the notion that the human race needed to make a transition. He believed that a change was needed in our relationship to the rest of nature. We can make this transition if we start to see ourselves as citizens and members of a larger biotic community who treat the land as more than just property. There is no denying the need for a land ethic now more than ever. During my lifetime I have witnessed the destruction of earth’s natural resources at an enormous scale in the absence of any real land ethic. My greatest fear is that my generation will have nothing truly natural left to pass on to our children.

I grew up in a rural part of Maryland where my brother, sister, and I spent almost every day of our childhood exploring and discovering the natural world. It was my parents who encouraged me to join the Boy Scouts of America where I first learned how to respect and protect the land. I see the children of today becoming alarmingly disconnected from nature at a very young age. Playing capture the flag with the neighborhood kids and family camping trips are being replaced by video games, the internet, and resort vacations. Perhaps the best solution to this problem can be found in education. Respect for the environment and the need to become citizens of a larger biotic community is something children should be taught from the minute they begin their education. It wasn’t until my first year of community college that I took a course involving the environment.

For children, the development of ethics and morals begins at a very young age. Why not then expose our future generations to the idea of a land ethic when they first start their educational careers. We need to take our children away from the television and expose them to the natural world as much as possible. I happened to be fortunate enough to have parents who understood how important it was for me to have a connection to nature. We know that communities are built on individuals connecting and cooperating with other individuals. Educating future generations about the land ethic and respect for the natural world will help us to build stronger communities where humans not only look out for the needs of each other, but those of the land as well.

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #2 Sept. 8, 2009

While camping this weekend with some friends I had an opportunity to really think about some ideas that we have been discussing throughout the semester. Aldo Leopold believed that by viewing ethics from an ecological perspective, we can see that evolution is based on cooperation between species. The last couple days before we headed out into the woods, I spent a good amount of time watching different episodes of Planet Earth. The series is one of my all time favorites because it so vividly illustrates the delicate relationships that every species on earth share. While Darwin’s theory of evolution makes all nature seem violent, destructive, and based on predation, Leopold focused more on the cooperation between species. As I sat on our hillside campsite and looked out towards endless miles of Ponderosa pine stretching all the way to to the horizon, I couldn’t help but think of how important every tree was to the entire biotic community. For each individual tree I imagined a unique ecosystem consisting of plants, insects, squirrels, elk, and various other animals of the forest. Without the trees, what would sustain all of those living creatures?

Living in Flagstaff over the past year has come to be a real blessing for me. I came here to not only receive a degree in environmental studies, but to also surround myself in natural beauty. Back home in Maryland I felt as if I was starting to disconnect from nature, something I had known very well my entire childhood. The busier my schedule became, the less time I found for treks to the forest. Friends began moving away and with them went our camping trips to the Appalachian Mountains. I started feeling that in order to really grasp a degree in environmental studies; I had to reconnect myself with nature. Sitting on that hillside, watching the pines sway back and forth in the wind like the waves of the ocean, I knew I had finally found home.

Leopold spoke at length about the importance of communities. Perhaps someone has to feel that they belong to a community before they can fulfill their obligations to it. It’s taken almost a year and a half, but Flagstaff is now a community that I feel a part of. This doesn’t mean that I have been any less of a good citizen in that time. I recycle, I work, I volunteer, and I’ve put a lot of effort into my education. After this weekend, I consider protecting and respecting the land around me as larger part of my moral obligation to this community. This leads me to believe that a land ethic can be found if we can see just how important a role we all can play in the biotic community.

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #3 Sept. 12, 2009

I have found myself struggling with some of the arguments pertaining to the Romantic Movement in regards to the biotic community. I personally do not believe that beauty has to be a real aspect of the natural world. Why must we see something as beautiful before we begin to respect its worth? I don’t like to think of beauty as some sort of biotic evaluation that in turn gives some organism’s greater worth. Perhaps human society has become so wrapped up in our own perceptions of what is beautiful that we have blurred our perceptions of what is also valuable. An organism in the biotic community should never be seen as more valuable than another simply because it appeals more to our senses.

Many of our current economic and environmental problems stem from our culture’s obsessions with material wealth. Our current capitalist market is fueled by marketing forces that lead us to believe that the products we currently own are no longer in style. In order to keep up with the so-called status quo, we are driven to the mall or department store to purchase the latest fashions. The result of this wasteful cycle is a natural resource stock hold that is being depleted at an alarmingly fast rate. I’ve heard many times that American citizens alone are responsible for consuming one-third of the earth’s natural resources. I believe that we have managed to somehow carry these materialistic tendencies over to the biotic community. If something in the natural world is perceived to be ugly in some way, we often find ourselves ignoring it.

Qualities like taste, texture, and odor are not found only in our perception. They are in every living organism and as such, they account for every organism having its own inherent worth. It is unfortunate that we must see something as beautiful before it evokes an emotional response in us. An emotional response to an organism is likely to lead to concern for the well-being of that organism. Only by respecting and loving every organism will we ever be able to achieve a true balance within the biotic community. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in this case, the beholder can too often be naïve.

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #5 Sept. 27, 2009

For anyone who has ever made the trip, it isn’t hard to see why John Muir fell in love with Yosemite. When our class was asked who had been to Yosemite, it didn’t surprise me that half of the class raised their hands. My first visit to Yosemite last summer was an incredible experience. Although I was only able to spend one day in the valley, the place left a lasting impression on me. Being in Yosemite National Park, you get the feeling that you are in a special place that has been blessed by God. It is no wonder that this is the place where John Muir developed his concept of nature as the “sublime.”

I understand the sublime in nature as something sacred and beautiful. It is something awe-inspiring and humbling at the same time. In class we described the sublime as an overwhelming awe that makes us feel insignificant because nature is so powerful. We feel so insignificant because our lives seem so finite in comparison to nature. Nature has a sense of continuity to it that doesn’t compare to human lives. In Yosemite, John Muir was able to see that the world we live in was not put together with just us in mind. I think this is such an important idea because we have seen the mistakes that have resulted from our attempts to dominate the land to our benefit.

John Muir is known to many as one of the most influential preservationists and environmentalists of his time. He was one of the first at the time to stress the idea that nature and wilderness were good for their own sake and should therefore be protected. This goes back to Leopold’s ideas of the land having inherent worth. What separates Muir and Leopold are the separate platforms they used to express their ideas. Aldo Leopold used the principles of ecology to get his message across while John Muir focused more on the aesthetic qualities of nature, the beautiful and the sublime. Being slightly more arts oriented, I find it easier to connect with John Muirs descriptions of nature. Having visited his beloved Yosemite, I see why the man chose to dedicate his life to protecting the one thing he loved the most, the natural world and every living creature within it.

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #6 Oct. 4, 2009

I have an older brother named Jay that reminds me a little of Henry David Thoreau. A few years ago, Jay decided he wanted to drop out of college and live on an organic farm in Vermont. The first section of Walden, titled Economy, reminds me of the type of questions my brother was asking when he left society for the peace and quiet of the woods. Why do men toil and slave their lives away in order to buy a bunch of things that they don’t really need? I like how Thoreau states that “the civilized man is a more experienced and wiser savage.” I think it would be safe to say that men like my brother are becoming a rarer breed of individual. He once told me he didn’t need to go into debt trying to pay for a college education because all the knowledge he needed he could get from reading a book. Thoreau points out that, “Those things for which the most money is demanded are never the things which the student most wants.” Jay would most certainly agree because he gets his education from reading, writing, personal reflection, and conversing with his peers.

Jay has never had a cell phone, he drove a car for only a couple years of his adult life, and he makes the effort to sew his own clothing and grow his own food. Thoreau wanted to know what makes men need all these seemingly meaningless material goods. When he speaks of rich men and all their material possessions, Thoreau remarks, “the more you have of such things the poorer you are.” There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not a little envious of the life my brother is living. I go through my days feeling stressed out and constantly rushed. Wouldn’t it be easier just to walk away from it all? I feel that I could live a simple life and still be happy. I think that is one of Thoreau’s main points in Economy, the more you burden yourself with, the less time you have for personal reflection and leisure, the very things that bring about happiness.

In my case, I think I want to stick it out and finish my college education. The daily temptation to walk away from it all will never leave me, but I happen to find my major very interesting and therefore worth pursuing. In the end, I think all humans must find out what things in their life are worth pursuing. For my brother, the path he chose for himself has brought forth a lot of personal growth and satisfaction. Society can be a dangerous hindrance to living a simpler life. It dictates to us what we should be doing with our lives when the real answers are found within ourselves.

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #7 Oct. 11, 2009

An idea we discussed in lecture on Friday reminded me of one of my favorite movies, There Will Be Blood. In Walden, Thoreau is exploring the notion that humans have more than just physical desires. What he finds is that most of us fail to restrain our physical desires. We always want more, even the men and women who have already made it to the top. The main character in the movie is a classic example of one of these men. Throughout the film, he manipulates his peers in order to gain a competitive advantage in America’s oil production. In the end, after he has made himself into one of the richest men in America, he finds himself living an unsatisfied life without any friends or family.

In searching for the origin of virtue, Thoreau is accepting the fact that spirituality is necessary for the health of the soul, not just physical desires. Today we have global environmental problems, originating from individuals and nations concerned only with their physical wants and needs. Thoreau sees nature as a refuge for the human soul. It can provide for us a type of spirituality that cannot be found in material possessions.

I sometimes find it hard to stay motivated in college because I’m not so sure about the direction it seems to be leading my life in. Getting a degree and then joining the workforce seems to be the most logical path to satisfying my physical desires. But where then do I go to find my spirituality? Rather than sit in class, should I not be out in nature searching for spirituality? If I understand Thoreau correctly, I should be able to live a virtuous life without all the physical possessions that generally accompany some type of successful life. Thoreau warns us that there are no limits to our desires, but perhaps in nature, we can find a way to balance our physical needs with our spiritual needs.

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #8 Oct. 20, 2009

In Higher Laws, Thoreau again ponders the question, what is the chief end of man? Thoreau believes that the pursuit of virtue in all endeavors of life should be one’s ultimate goal. In this particular reflection, Thoreau focuses on the virtue of purity and its place in the human spirit. Without purity, man will never be able to live a noble and virtuous life because he will be constantly tempted by sensuality and ignorance. At the same time, Thoreau is also a little skeptical about human beings ever really achieving the type of purity found in nature. He admits that there is never an instant’s truth between virtue and vice in our lives.

Nature has an inherent worth in and of itself that doesn’t require the approval of human beings. Thoreau states that we have much to learn about ourselves from nature. If this is true, why then does he remark, “Nature is hard to be overcome, but she must be overcome.” From what I have learned in other classes, this is the exact type of thinking that first set us down the path of environmental destruction at the hands of humans. We now know how irrational this type of thinking can be. Society and Christianity set out hand in hand conquering the American wilderness inspired by an idea I never expected to hear come from Thoreau. We cannot look at nature as something to be conquered because as we have seen, we are successfully conquering nature at an alarming rate.

Thoreau does save himself from some criticism regarding that earlier statement because he goes back to the idea that we can improve our lives in relation to nature if we treat our bodies like temples that reflect our personal styles. If we live impure and ignorant, our body will reflect this, and if we chose a virtuous and pure life, we shall be rewarded in our souls. I’m personally going to take some of Thoreau’s words to heart and start treating myself with ever increasing respect.

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #9 Oct. 25, 2009

After reading Douglas Crase’s introduction to his essays, I have to say I am excited to be reading Emerson for the first time. Having just finished reading Thoreau, I look forward to now learning the philosophy of his mentor. Emerson seems as if he went about his life questioning every social norm and fact that the rest of society took to be truth. At a time in the history of America where everything in society was based around the religious notions of a divine being, Emerson preached of a harmony with nature. A problem that I see with modern society is that we have too many conformist and not enough leaders. We need leaders who aren’t afraid to question the status quo when they believe in something different.

Emerson was controversial and it is that exact quality which attracts so many people to his writings. In his time, who else had the courage to stand up in front of his congregation to tell them that they were too inconsiderable to be noticed among the millions of burning suns? In modern times, statements such as the above are commonly accepted by some. Did Emerson knowingly set the stage for the types of arguments beginning to emerge today in the environmental discussion?

Perhaps Emerson’s best quality is the optimism he shows for the human race. Just as Thoreau encouraged us to reexamine the true purpose for our lives, Emerson will encourage us to question why the world around us isn’t the way we hoped it would be. Just like the last line of the introduction states, the happiness of the universe depends on us. We now have the words of Emerson and Thoreau to guide us, there can’t be any more excuses.

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #10 November 1, 2009

So what is it that makes it so hard for humans to be self reliant? Just like Emerson, I believe conformity is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of self reliance. Capitalism breeds materialism, and materialism leads to conformity. It is hard for someone like me to move outside of those forces when I have been raised in a capitalist society. We are taught to believe that we need more than we already have when in reality we really don’t. Emerson urges us to insist on ourselves and never imitate, but how could he have accounted for the effect Hollywood has had on society. American society has become so obsessed with celebrities that we find ourselves obsessively following their lives on Twitter. How are we to become self reliant individuals under the immense pressure of conformity?

Personally, I have decided to take Emerson’s advice to heart. I might actually have a shot at becoming more self reliant because I was lucky enough to have an older brother that went against conformity for the majority of his adult life. He showed me the importance of questioning everything that I see and hear in life against what I believe to be true. Needless to say, I have found that there is a whole lot of bull crap flying around out there. Sometimes I think people so easily conform to the rest of society because they lack the courage to be themselves. This isn’t necessarily the individual’s fault because like I stated earlier; capitalism has done a great job training us to be conformists.

From what I have read of his work so far, Emerson seemed to be very intuitive when it came to foreseeing the trajectory of human society. We have now come to the point now where as a society; we tend to look down at the nonconformists because they have separated themselves from the rest of us. This viewpoint is the exact opposite of what Emerson urges us to embrace. The individual represents freedom, and without any individuals, we can only watch in desperation as human society slowly deteriorates.

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #11 November 8, 2009

I love the approach Emerson takes regarding friendship. Too often our view of friendship is shallow and superficial. Emerson encourages us to look within ourselves to find a more noble type of friendship. We cannot claim to know someone else if we haven’t taken the time to get to know ourselves. As Emerson himself so clearly puts it, “We must be our own before we can be another’s.” Too many people I feel rely on friendships as a way of filling a hole in their own souls, instead of the other way around.

I would like to think that I am a great friend. I have a great group of friends that I am still connected to back in Maryland, along with an ever-expanding group that I have meet since I moved to Arizona. Yet at times I find myself wishing that I had more solitude. I go to my friends for encouragement and advice when I should be looking within myself. Instead of placing my personal fate in the hands of someone else, I should begin trusting my own thoughts and opinions. As Emerson remarks, “the condition which high friendship demands is ability to do without it.” In this light, maybe I am not the great friend I previously considered myself to be.

In regard to this realization, I must challenge myself to bring more truth and tenderness to my friendships. I often find that selfishness pervades even my strongest friendships. The greatest friends that I have ever had were the ones who went out of their way to help me with something when I needed it. Friendship must be reciprocal or it is nothing. As important as my family is to me, I know that most of my spiritual growth in life is attributed to the friendships that I have grown up with. My ultimate goal in life is to make every friendship a great one.

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #12 Nov. 15, 2009

The idea that Emerson explores in “The Over-Soul” reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Alchemist. Emerson defines the over-soul as a collective soul that governs over all of humanity, helping us to see truth and virtue in the world. Likewise, The Alchemist develops the theme of a universal soul that is carried through history on the wind. In order to benefit from this universal soul, the main character in The Alchemist must attune himself to it. Throughout the book, the main character has many revelations regarding love, friendship, and courage. Emerson refers to revelations as an influx of the divine mind into our mind. This is essentially the same idea that is present in The Alchemist.

The Alchemist is one of my favorite books because it inspired me the first time I read it. Before picking it up, I was content to go through most of my daily life accepting everything I heard and saw to be truth. I wasn’t attuned to the over-soul because I had no idea such a concept even existed. As Emerson himself states, “Persons are supplementary to the primary teaching of the soul.” We often think that we hold all the answers to life’s questions when in fact we really don’t. The soul can contain all the truth and wisdom in the world should we choose to acknowledge it.

The Alchemist concludes with the main character finding the hidden treasure he had combed the desert looking for. He was successful because he listened to the wind that carried the universal soul with an open heart and mind. Modern man has gotten himself into such a big predicament with the environment because he is no longer attuned to the universal soul. Should we decide to seek it out, the path to a better life is written in the pages of The Alchemist and “The Over-Soul.”

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #13 Dec. 2, 2009

While I was back in Maryland with my family over Thanksgiving break I had some very interesting discussions with my mother and sister. When she graduates from ASU this spring, my sister has proposed heading out into the wilderness for a few months to do some backpacking. The reason that we all got into such a heated discussion over this proposal is that my sister wants to make this trip all alone. My sister wants to make this trip because she plans on becoming an environmental journalist.

After having read Walden this semester, I was in a good position to give some constructive criticism to my sister. I explained to her that I understood why she wanted to do this alone, mostly because she would have freedom and uninterrupted time to write and reflect while she was hiking. However, my mother’s biggest concern was that while Henry David Thoreau went to Walden in a relatively safe period in American history, the United States today has become a very dangerous place for a 22 year old woman to be hiking all by herself. My mother’s main concern was that my sister would get attacked or kidnapped and never be heard from again. I had to admit that this was a very valid concern because I have read numerous stories about this exact type of thing happening on the Appalachian Trail.

With all of the safety concerns aside, I still found myself encouraging my sister to make the trip. However, I proposed that she do something similar to what John Muir did when he first came to Yosemite. I suggested she go to a National Park, try to find some type of work in the park, and then spend her free time hiking around by herself. It would be a much safer alternative while still giving her a chance to do what she wants. Ultimately, I hope she takes my advice and does it. When I graduate from NAU next fall, I plan on doing the same type of thing. My sister was absolutely right, I cannot expect to make a difference in the world if I don’t give myself a chance to go out and experience it.

Tucker Herbert Phil 331 Journal Entry #14 Dec. 9, 2009

As the fall semester here at NAU comes to an end, it provides everyone with an opportunity to look back on what they learned over the course of the last 3 months. Personally, I believe college shouldn’t be just about learning new information and taking tests. For most undergraduates, college is an opportunity to mature and learn more about yourself and what your goals in life will be. As an environmental studies major, I took a lot from this environmental ethics course.

Thus far, my biggest realization is that most of my fellow students tend to have a very narrow point of view when it comes to the environment. For having this point of view, the students aren’t always the ones to blame. The American public school system, and in some ways Christianity, is to blame. Throughout their education, most students learn that nature is here to be used and exploited for human means. Now, most teachers don’t come out and say this exact thing, but often the idea is emphasized in what they teach. If we want future generations of Americans to grow up respecting the environment, we must implement more environmental courses in school curriculum.

Environmental ethics is the type of course students should be exposed to by the time they have reached middle school. Not every child was fortunate as me to have parents that instilled in them an ethic of respecting nature. If a student makes it all the way to college without ever having any type of environmental ethic class, their chances of developing a respect for nature diminish significantly.

As we now know, the future of the planet is in serious jeopardy. Greed and irresponsibility have forced the earth to the verge of its capacity to sustain human life. If we don’t start educating our children now on what it means to respect the environment, this discouraging trend will continue until the planet can no longer sustain human life. Ultimately this is a very discouraging scenario, but with the right direction, we can change the outcome of the human race. Please education, wake up and take note, its time to start incorporating the environment into the curriculum, our future, and the future of the planet depends on it.