That sentence is Leopold at his most drily ironic. He sets us, the readers, up. These things – safety, prosperity, etc. – are, of course, wonderful goals and solid criteria of personal success… until he hits you with that “dullness.” For me, dullness here is a synonym for complacency. The sentence has to be read in connection to the phrase later in the paragraph: that “too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run.” It does so, Leopold implies, in the affairs of both people and ecosystems.I have been thinking about this line in Leopold's essay..."We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness." Can you help me understand what he meant by dullness? Also - what should we strive for in our lives/careers to be able to think more like a "mountain"?
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
On Dullness and Dynamism by Curt Meine
Karene offered this comment on the previous post:
An ever-expanding set of studies (most famously in Yellowstone) have documented the phenomenon that Leopold so lyrically described: prey populations and species, in the absence of their predators, can degrade ecosystem function. They do so not only through the raw increase in their numbers, but through changes in their movement and behavior. One of the lessons from Yellowstone and elsewhere is that ungulate populations, in the absence of predators, become more complacent; they become dull. Instead of moving about the landscape, vigilant in the presence of predators, they remain more stationary. The effects reverberate across the ecological community through a series of “trophic cascades.” Bill Ripple and Tom Beschta at Oregon State have studied these phenomena extensively, and coined the phrase “the ecology of fear” to describe these effects. (You might check out the recent documentary Lords of Nature: Life in a Land of Great Predators, which explores these themes. Will Stoltzenburg, who will take over this blog next week, served as the writer for that film.)So Leopold distilled a lot in his phrase, alluding to the shortcomings of any simplistic measure of success (in conservation and in life); to the need to stay alert, attentive, and alive in the world; and to the utility of fear as a part of our set of inherited evolutionary responses to the world around us.
What should we strive for to be able to think more like a "mountain"? So many answers to that question! We should strive to think large-scale and long-term. We should consider the well-being of the entire system or community, and not just maximizing our short-term, particular interest within it. We should appreciate the limits of simple, linear, cause-and-effect thinking. We should seek to comprehend the dynamic, cascading effects of our choices and decisions on the broader human and natural communities that we exist within.
But above all, there is the point that Leopold was making in the very act of writing the essay: that we should not be afraid to challenge our own premises and evolve in our thinking as we grow though our lives. Leopold did not always strive to think like a mountain. But he challenged his own safe assumptions, warded off potential dullness, and helped to advance conservation in the process!