The Other in My Back Yard


I am reading Jerry Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred. The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations. Many points are too loosely argued for my taste – as in, I doubt it would convince my DH, who is a total techno-optimist. As a confirmation for what I believe, it reads pleasurably.

But these lines grabbed me:

With each new generation of technology, and with each stage of technological expansion into pristine environments, human beings have fewer alternatives and become more deeply immersed within technological consciousness. We have a harder time seeing our way out. Living constantly inside an environment of our own invention, reacting solely to things we ourselves have created, we are essentially living inside our own minds. Where evolution was once an interactive process between human beings and a natural, unmediated world, evolution is now an interaction between human beings and our own artifacts. (p. 32)

I have read in many environmental books that we are destroying nature, that great Other. McKibben, in his seminal End to Nature, hangs nearly his entire argument on the despair of there being just us.  I never realized what it meant until I read Mander’s words.

Don’t say that this is not true, that there is no other, that it’s just us. In many parts of our world this is already true:  in mega cities, malls, schools, work places. Look around you: what do you see that will take you out of your own mind? What do you see that is not you? Sorry, the potted palm does not count. Nor does the lawn. The creatures visiting your lawn, yes, but how often do you see them, look for them? And it is getting worse second by second.

Then you may ask: so what?

A few weeks ago I was on my way to fill up the buckets with rain water  when I came upon this creature amongst the weeds.


A garter or garden snake, about as dangerous as a field mouse (to us, not to the field mouse). But it’s a snake, and my biological instinct was: hark! And it felt good, that jolt of surprise and rapt attention, that lurch out of the of the ordinary.

I was, for a few seconds, out of my mind.

If we eliminate what is other, then we are without surprise, without instinct, without perspective, and without the possibility of ever being truly free.

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  1. “What do you see that is not you” AND “What do you see that is not made from oil” – ? Tina Clarke asked that question in her talk at Clark Univ last month and it’s a good one. Yikes. I liked your garter snake pic. We see them often in our yard here in Leicester. We are fortunate to live on 4 acres with woods and gardens. I have bookmarked your book reviews, thanks!

  2. From the long post about diapers, SAP and PE etc to this.

    What a fascinating mother you are :) I believe somewhere you said you were european, might I ask from where in the EU?

    I’ll be back to read more of you, thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    – Chimaobi

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