Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Hey guys,

Check out this critique of Cronon's "The Trouble with Wilderness," written by "Guy Tal" on the Essential Landscape Web Journal:


Anyone able to give a critique of his critique???

" Why William Cronon doesn't understand wilderness:

Someone recently sent me a link to a belabored diatribe titled "The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature" by Professor William Cronon of the University of Wisconsin. It was an enlightening read.Other than starting the article by failing to note or articulate the difference between Wilderness and Wildness (and thus completely missing the essence of the famous quote from Henry David Thoreau), Cronon's idea of Wilderness somehow manages to be out of touch with every single formal definition of the term, whether legal or common. His bombastic title and lengthy analysis all seem to revolve around the unfounded perception that wilderness advocates promote a notion that "the human is entirely outside the natural." This premise is patently false. No definition of the term excludes human presence or experience from the natural world. If anything, wilderness is defined by its relation to humans, and by excluding certain human constructs and activities, but never humans presence. The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as an area "untrammeled by man", rather than an area where man has no presence or stake or experience.

To claim that wilderness excludes all human experience is like claiming that virginity excludes any romantic interlude between lovers, rather than very specific physical acts. It's like claiming that criminal laws excludes all freedoms, rather than specific deeds deemed to be harmful to society. It is, in essence, a gross mischaracterization, and false representation of what the term means to most of those who espouse it.

For such a contentious title, one would think a conclusion will be pretty self-evident, and yet you would have to look pretty hard to find out exactly what Cronon thinks "the trouble" actually is: "a flight from history" (really?), "an escape from responsibility" (huh?). In a way it seems he is trying to construct a fictitious point only to triumphantly tear it down and claim it is false. Wilderness activists are not trying to escape from responsibility - if anything they are trying to assert responsibility. They are pointing out all the spiritual and ecological values of restraining industrialization and sprawl so that the historic account of human-induced devastation serves as a lesson rather than something to ignore or escape. How easy it is to twist words and meanings to "prove" a point.

While searching through the article for "the trouble with wilderness" you may actually discover some trouble with religious beliefs, politics, racism, and a number of other far more blatantly flawed human perceptions than the modern idea of wilderness.

Would one not expect an educated analysis to begin with a clear and commonly-accepted definition and understanding of a concept before attempting to show "trouble" with it?

The Wilderness Society, founded by Aldo Leopold defines its mission in a single line:

"Deliver to future generations an unspoiled legacy of wild places, with all the precious values they hold: Biological diversity; clean air and water; towering forests, rushing rivers, and sage-sweet, silent deserts."

Read it again: deliver to future generations... they do mean generations of humans! Where exactly does Cronon get such warped perceptions as "a crude conflict between the “human” and the “nonhuman”"?

In my mind it was Edward Abbey that framed the real trouble with wilderness:

"The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders." "

LM Note:

“Untrammeled. A key descriptor of wilderness in the Wilderness Act, untrammeled refers to the freedom of a landscape from the human attempt to intervene, alter, control, or manipulate natural conditions or processes to provide particular benefits.” — FWS Draft Wilderness Stewardship Policy, 2001

1 comment:

david thurman said...

Bill is aspergers and really really Catholic about it. I read his piece and he is completely out of touch with his source the bible even. For him Domestication and self Domestication are our objective. A bit like saying we are lions but our collective desire and Goal are to be very very literate hairless house cats...He means well though and isn't a bad guy at all but my word he makes Emerson seem like a wild frontiersman that lived on the back of a horse and occasionally came to the city.