Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ants, Novelists, and Lawyers by Mark Madison


A very warm welcome from your co-moderator this week—reluctantly following Kris Hoellen’s great discussion of this section. My name is Mark Madison and I am the historian for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is a real honor to be moderating this book blog. I have great respect for those of you who have taken the time to make insightful comments and my own career has been significantly influenced by Wilson’s work.
The first book I read as an undergraduate in 1986 was E.O. Wilsons On Human Naturea look at the genetic and evolutionary origins of human behavior. Two weeks after completing that book (the first book I read all the way through in college), I changed my major from Political Science to Biology. That is the type of impact someone like E.O. Wilson can have on impressionable minds. Later while a graduate student at Harvard University, I encountered countless students like myself who had come to the University or been attracted to the field by Wilsons exciting ideas. As for the natural environment, speaking now as a professional conservationist, I can say without hesitation Wilson is perhaps the most respected member of our field having done more to explain and protect the nature he loves than any other living scientist. So it is very exciting for me to discuss Wilsons first attempt to explain the natural world through a novel.
Which raises the first question: what fiction writers do you think influenced Wilsons novelistic style? Personally I sense a lot of Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and John Grisham in Wilson's Anthill.
The second question comes from the name of this section--The Armentarium. This was definitely a new term to me (and my computer spell check). It is extremely obscure but seems to refer to medical training/tool kit. Presumably Raff is adding a legal degree to his personal tool kit. This begs another question: is a law degree an essential tool for environmental protection? Or to spin it out more broadly: are environmental laws the best means to protect nature?
I look forward to reading your thoughts on one or both of these quite disparate questions. . .

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think a law degree is essential in environmental protection nowadays, as environmental issues seem to be sent to the courts by one or both parties. My sister is a lawyer, and litigation seems to be ever present in disputes today. I think it is almost impossible to protect nature in any broad sense without legal counsel.

Magdalena said...

I think even if a law degree isn't essential at the very least knowledge of the environmental laws is necessary. Also, environmental laws certainly are a great way to protect nature but there are other ways as well. Sometimes making laws takes so long and can be very frustrating. I think public education outreach programs can teach people why it is possitive to protect the environment whether you legally have to or not.

Ted Schmitt said...

I suspect that Dr. Wilson gave Raff the law profession very purposefully instead of assigning him autobiographically the entomological or academic profession. Is it possible that as he looks back on his life and thinks that a stronger legal spin might have impacted environmental protection in greater way. I would love to hear from him regarding just this question.

Mark said...

Great comments. I share the sentiments. Certainly a great deal of our environmental protection is based on laws (e.g., Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, NEPA, Endangered Species Act) and a great deal of good can come from using these tools (part of our environmental armentarium). But the law has limits. Magdalena noted that laws take a long time and it takes a long time to revise them also. Yet the ecological sciences are moving at a breathtaking rate. Imagine how the sciences have changed since 1973 when the Endangered Species Act was passed! So we need other tools like education, public outreach, and wise management to fill in the gaps and expand beyond only legal remedies. I echo Ted's question also. Wilson was a pioneer in entomology, evolutionary biology, and ecology and yet his largely autobiographical character chooses the law. Is this Wilson considering the "road not taken"?

Anne Post said...

A speck of Twain perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your ideas, Mark. I appreciate you telling us what an Armentarium is! I thought is might be the name of a secret chamber in the bowels of Harvard University. I can't stop wondering why Wilson uses this obscure term, mostly used in medical references. Wildons does like to play with language, which is what makes him an interesting writer.

Anyway, I think that in order to move environmental causes along we need a whole tribe of disciplines working together... the scientists, the lawyers, the leaders/visionaries, the extrovert communicators, the data wonks, etc. As well as this team approach works, I find there is a curious inner dialogue by scientists ("If only I knew the legal angle here") and the lawyers ("I am not a biologist and need to be to argue this"). It takes everyone folks.