By  travis







          Human detachment from nature permitted Judeo-Christian religion and science to colonize the globe.  As a symbol of Christ's detachment from God to save the world, human detachment empowered European expansionists to dispossess indigenous peoples from their ecological environments; thus European cultural and scientific imperialism led to a system of technological dispossession of nature.  Although detachment and dispossession refer to separation, the subtle distinctions between human alienation (detachment), and human ejection (dispossession) describe clearly-defined world views.  According to the Historian Lynn White, Jr. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons and Tertulian may have envisioned humanity's separation from non-human nature as early as the 2nd-century.(1)  Certainly, Christianity liberated enough of its flock from pagan animism by the 7th-century, foreshadowing ten centuries of European imperialism. 


          A quantum technological leap jolted Christian naturalists when 17th-century Baconian scientists introduced the process of deep mining from European caves to transform nature's bosom into artificial (made by human technology or forced) products and economies.(2)  The isolated nature of 18th-century science demoralized Europe's arcadian naturalists such as Gilbert White, who espoused an interconnected dependency between the parts of nature's ecology.  The Judeo-Christian Bible, however, contradicted Mr. White.  In the Bible, Genesis projected a world of chaos out of which a detached Creator imposed order through continuous life, death and destruction.  For science, therefore, nature represented a savage and hostile economy awaiting domination. 


          From the 18th-century onwards, European-American imperialism dominated global economies by ravaging every ecological system European-American industrialists encountered.  Nevertheless, European-America's greatest paradox rested in the American economy's ability to dominate global economies, and the global natural environment through dispossession and death.  Eighteenth-century European-American immigrants exploited what they thought were unlimited natural resources.  Science and religion joined forces to tame the wild nature of the New World for the greater power and glory of God.  As the European-Americans expanded, European value systems caused the invasion, deprivation and death of America's indigenous plant, animal and human life. 


          Cultural dispossession foreshadows cultural death.  The American world view highlights two centuries of industrial omnipotence.  Today, as laissez-faire capitalism dispossesses America's air, earth and water, industrial corporations integrate science with economics to artificially replenish over-harvested landscapes and waterways following deprivation of their natural biota.  Nevertheless, America's economy rewards over-harvesting.  Keeping in mind that death equates rebirth, this paper considers the expansionist actions of dispossession and death not as negative ecologies, but as prerequisites to an ecology of regeneration.


          This essay focuses primarily upon America's 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century economic, technological and environmental factors in dynamic reaction to imposed strategies from another time and place.  The 20th-century American environment suggested that the real "tragedy of the commons" lay in the glorification of the need to kill in order to prosper in modern American culture.  Technological America looks to death by war, famine, disease and similar catastrophes for economic diversification.  In America's "commons," death provides social institutions with a paradoxical creation of God through technological mastery over God's creations.  My thesis expects to prove that the failure of nature to provide limitless abundance drove American capitalism inevitably to an ecology of death (defined as a conscious reflection of the values of the culture) wherein artificial economies, technologies and environments ultimately dispossessed humanity from any sense of connectedness to nature. 


          This paper falls into three parts.  Part I concerns the impact of Judeo-Christianity upon global economic and technological environments leading up to, then through, the 18th-century exploitation of America's natural resources.  It takes into account the eruption between European Judeo-Christian value systems and Native American (Indian) animism.  Ironically, European-Americans developed a war-time economy to rob and kill the Native American land that fed them.  Linnaean industrial theorists shook off arcadian theorists and set the stage for America's industrial society to eclipse Old World naturalism. 


          Part II of this paper begins with 19th-century America at the very zenith of New World science and technology.  Modern in every way, American science created entirely artificial cities, fisheries and ecosystems.  Mechanistic environments proved that the God of Genesis was rational, predictable, and lived in Chicago's artificial "White City."  Although science and technology easily interfaced with the ancient imperialist goals of religion and economics, modern artificial environments increasingly dulled any consciousness of human relatedness to nature.  By the end of the 19th-century, Chicago's Depression-ravaged skyline defined America's urban future.


          Part III, finally, deals with America's creation of an ecology of death.  Twentieth-century productivity increases, necessary to the Gross National Product, destroys America's natural environment.  Although technology poisons the atmosphere with human life-threatening chemicals, American free market forces fail to measure the depletion and death of natural resources.  After 1945, the ecology of death defines the global natural environment as a conscious reflection of a body dispossessed of the ability to cleanse itself.  Today, Americans understand that their technology-driven economy is intrinsically bound up with the global environment, and that fact endures for good and for ill. 


          Whereas limitless natural abundance turned on human dominion over nature, Judeo-Christians destroyed animistic religions and exploited nature in the name of perpetual progress.  Although Moses went so far as to order Jews to cut down and burn the gentiles' sacred groves,(3) Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) neatly separated generator from generated.  Twelfth- and 13th-century European clans, prompted by religious philosophers, seized communal farmlands, forests and fens from unarmed naturalists.  Because early-15th-century forays into the Canary Islands had proved successful, revolutionary navigation techniques propelled late-15th-century European biota into the fecund black belly of the New World.  European science and technology flourished, and 18th-century Christians slaughtered and dispossessed animistic religions, forever altering vital ecologies. 


          Nature's economy empowers both animism and Christianity.  Christianity forgot her roots and alienated native societies from nature, from God and from other human beings.  But because Christian science and technology failed for so long to colonize Africa, European technology vigorously overtook American Indians and America's natural resources.  With mechanical sciences to prod God's will on earth, 17th-century Europeans set sail for Massachusetts.  Speedily and efficiently, 18th-century European-Americans dug into America's virgin landscape which, by Christian standards, offered only wild and savage nature waiting to be taken. 


          Although Christianity inherited animistic spirits and demons from Judaism, Christian economy required a dynamic technology to propel the notion of linear time and the myth of creation.  Christian laws, invisible and laughable in the asylum of the forest, represented Christ's mechanical garden dispossessed of nature.  By contrast, as Africa's lush ecosystem infected European invaders with terminal diseases, 18th-century American colonization proceeded apace:  Neo-European settlements prospered from America's abundance, and American Indians learned to trade sheltering forests for cholera-infected European blankets.  Meanwhile, European-Americans and Native Americans grew restless.  Before the end of the 18th-century, European-Americans forced Indians to accept either the Judeo-Christian view of perpetual progress or death.


          As Indian animism clashed with European imperialist ideas about property ownership and perpetual progress, European settlers killed or dispossessed the Native Americans.  Indian value systems stemmed from agrarian animism:  They believed that all organic life shares a common soul and that all natural entities possess a spirit separable from the body.  Judeo-Christians called the Indians infidels and savages, and God's Law imposed order over wild nature.  Although economic necessity drove Europeans to America, economic and technological greed caused many Europeans to die in the name of perpetual progress. 




          The concept of progress governed the economic actions as well as the technological actions of 18th-century Judeo-Christianity.  A relatively new concept, progress became a workable idea during the 17th-century Scientific Revolution when Europeans accepted mechanical nature, and Christianity gave up its angels and demons inherited from Judaism.  Many Christian scholars objected to Native American animism because Vitalism inflamed unsettled dichotomies such as humanity versus nature and forest spirits versus Christian saints.  Before clearing a forest, or building a dwelling, for instance, animists placated a host of nature spirits for protection, spiritual or intellectual insight or harmony.  By destroying animism globally, Christianity and science mechanized both religion and economics and established European dominion everywhere except Black Africa and parts of Asia. 


          Africa's rich ecosystem provided African indigenes with immunity to legions of tropical diseases fatal to European plants, animals and human life, and slowed European colonization of Black Africa between 1500-1800.  In the interim, Europeans committed science and technology to the redemption and salvation of Black Africa's natural resources.  Although European ecological imperialism created neo-European cultures around the globe between 1500-1800, disease, including parasites, prevented Europeans from colonizing Black Africa.  Europeans brought Old World plants, animals and microlife organisms in a biota necessary to European survival and reproduction.  Unlike the cool, moist climates they preferred, European colonists found the hot, wet African tropics too wild to tame. 


          Like their human counterpart, European horses, cattle and plants dropped dead in Africa.  Attempts at agriculture in Black Africa failed during the 16th-19th-centuries because European farm animals and weeds succumbed to African parasitic disease.  Africa's fertility outcompeted opportunistic European weeds necessary to feed farm animals.  Horses and cattle, which shaped neo-European societies, thrived in America and Brazil, but on the same latitude they died of parasites and trypanosomiasis in Africa.  Unlike American Indian pathogens, African pathogens attacked the European immune system and forced Europeans to retreat or die. 


          Technology burned the forests.  Everywhere Europeans went, death followed.  Back in America, Europeans killed Indians with diseases and technology.  Carl von Linne (also known as Linnaeus (1707-1778)) and the Linnaean scientists proposed religiously emulating the Creator by multiplying useful species and killing undesirable species.(4)  As European-Americans prepared a war to defend God's Law, a Linnaean cleric named John Bruckner wrote A Philosophical Survey of the Animal Creation, (1768)(5) reconciling violence and war.  The Linnaean technological assault connected God, warfare and Christianity's death-dependent economy. 


          Detached from nature, God's stewards conquered nature by making sense of nature.  Indians did not qualify for stewardship because Indians believed that they descended from nature.  Meanwhile, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716) and Isaac Newton (1642-1727) established a mechanical character for God.  Newtonian physicists reasoned that matter lacked God consciousness, but God's power and glory infused machines.  And although Leibniz and Newton disagreed on the role of God in matter, they both agreed that machines would cultivate the entire globe:  Even God could not inspire stronger ontological framing than a mechanical world in which nature entered into competition with the power of God. 


          In the end, Christianity destroyed or dispossessed animistic religions and European technology expanded the globe.  European technology rallied science, religion and economics to a singular goal:  Unlimited progress in an artificial garden.  African colonization lingered for want of new technologies, even though thousands of Black African slaves arrived daily in tropical South American sea ports.  The new sense of orderly, explainable nature spurred scientists to rethink the nature of matter.  America's abundant natural environment represented the last manifestation of wild nature as defined by Judeo-Christian civilization.  Prodded by Christian beliefs about perpetual progress and limitless abundance, 18th-century scientists set the stage for artificial forests.



          Eighteenth-century European religious and scientific ideas about humanity's detachment from nature led to 19th-century human dispossession from nature.  Because of the pervasive social interconnectedness between religious, economic and scientific forces, most Western people "naturally" accepted the Judeo-Christian notion that savages had nothing to teach them.  Although Judeo-Christian beliefs about perpetual progress prefigured America's triumph over nature, a vocal minority opposed paying the price of extinction of wilderness spaces.  But the problem of the death of nature loomed as 19th-century industrialists ravaged irreplaceable frontiers, and artificial technologies destroyed or endangered entire ecological environments.  America's economy and technology proved so pervasive, artificial environments necessarily dispossessed many of America's natural environments.


          Nineteenth-century American technology joined forces with European technology and triumphed over diseases, environments and nature itself.  But death and dispossession of entire species of plant and animal life prefigured a world view that rejuvenated naturalist convictions about humanity's relationship to nature.  Nevertheless, nature's bounty continued to reveal itself, and the focus of Western technology shifted from London, Paris and Rome to New York City, Chicago and the burgeoning American frontier.  As America's frontier expanded into California's open-sea fisheries, artificial propagation created an environment of oceanic imperialism.  From 19th-century commercial perspectives, technology not only kills, technology also redeems.


          But John Muir believed that only life redeemed a tree.  As civilization encroached upon America's parkland and the ecosystems within them, John Muir worked to set legal limits upon the commercialization of wild nature he learned to love in his native Scotland.  John Muir believed that all human beings love wild nature, so he established the national park system as an educational experience, and The Sierra Club as a conservation society.  Muir foresaw the proliferation of capitalism in America's parkland, but like many naturalists he failed to connect parkland with population expansion both in the human and non-human population.  Muir's greatest success lay in gauging the value of dead species to living human beings.


          A symbol of social alienation and detachment in 19th-century America, John Muir distanced himself from American technology although he invented clocks and clever scientific measuring devices.  True to the Judeo-Christian politics of his time, however, Muir acknowledged Native American Indians as nature's expendable caretakers, and he dehumanized Indians as savage factions upon the American landscape.  Likewise, Muir's fear of Black Americans prevented him from interacting with yet another group forced into a special relationship with nature, in the new world as well as the old.  American Indians and African-Americans practiced and taught conservation, medicine, natural religion and spirituality.  Thus, the character of American society alienated John Muir from Blacks and Indians, and he presented both groups as temporary forces upon the republican frontier. 


          Meanwhile, technology fearlessly assaulted the midwestern frontier where Chicago Boosters built the ultimate symbol of modern American technological progress.  As 19th-century theorists began to distinguish inanimate human invention, second nature, from pre-human first nature, the boosters merged science and industry with geographical imperialism and produced a metropolis designed specifically to generate capital.  Along the way, railroads depleted forests, fisheries and herds of bison and buffalo, but railroads also forced Chicago and the nearby countryside into a rural-urban environmental interdependency.  Darwinian replacement theories justified scientific "improvements" upon Chicago's indigenous nature, and facilitated creation of a man-made ecosystem.  Although the Boosters predicted an American Athens, London or Rome, the midwestern American consciousness of time, place and way of life truly created Chicago; not once, but twice. 


          Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893, called the "White City," commemorated the apex of European-American imperialism and intensified dichotomies between humanity and nature.  "White City" visitors encountered an invented environment designed by land speculators to proclaim human mastery over nature.  Although Chicago's racist cityscape suffered from squalid hopelessness and contradicted the Exposition's European pretensions, both Chicago and the White City attempted to fulfill an idealized destiny.  Like the White City, Chicago killed and dispossessed nature in order to build its ecosystem.  Both Chicago and the White City represented human artificiality.


          California's 19th-century fisheries devastated native fish populations by pursuing an industry-wide laissez-faire ideology.  The autonomous behavior of California's early frontier fishers stemmed from the capitalist belief that the oceans could provide inexhaustible stockpiles of God-given capital.  Greedy fishers neglected fish economy and fought off East Coast and local commissions studying fisheries and industrial pollution, which victories resulted in overfishing and degradation of fish habitats.  America's ocean harvesters sought to maximize the yield of California's open-sea fisheries and regarded state regulation of their yield as antidemocratic.  By 1870, opportunistic fisheries had decimated West Coast native fish populations, forcing artificial propagation to replenish California's depleted rivers with imported species of fish and ushering in a period of oceanic imperialism.


          As the 19th-century closed, the union of technology and economy produced a powerful modern matrix within which Christian ideas about perpetual progress empowered an artificial materiality.  Similarly, European philosophical theories supplanted America's few remaining native value systems resulting in a rootless, mostly disconnected society.  Unnatural metropolises like Chicago and much of California fused Darwinian, Linnaean, Hegelian, Marxist and other European philosophical assumptions about human nature with 19th-century technology within a scientifically predictable context.  As industrial ideas about humanity's "second nature" disputed the nature of God in humanity, technology provided control over modern reality. 


          The power of 19th-century Western industrial technology thrust American economic value systems into a position of leadership throughout the world, resulting in artificial imperialism.  With human detachment from nature firmly established, Chicago's waterways, California's fisheries and many dead or dying wilderness environments pointed to industrialists dispossessing nature of her bounty.  For all their economic expertise, however, America's early-20th-century industrialists resisted environmentalism.  In turn, industrial opposition to nature's economy led to global climatic adjustments and the stubborn realization that all living organisms, in dynamic interdependence, compose a world body.  In the 20th-century, progress shrunk the globe. 




          Although optimism characterized the opening of the 20th-century, industrial overproduction quickly weakened nature's immunity to increasing amounts of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and chlorofluorocarbons.  Twentieth-century capitalist values compelled overexploitation of artificial technologies and threatened human life with death.  In 1942, nuclear physicists began testing atomic power and altered the course of human civilization.  Since then, with hazardous toxins above, below and on the surface of the earth, Western culture, to this day, confronts the problem of human annihilation in the spirit of competition:  The study of the death of species produces consciousness of the importance of living species.  In bringing together technology, economy and ecology, Western cultures reproduce death with the expectation of resurrection, salvation and capitalism. 


          The terms overproduction and over-consumption define the point where greed (excess of need) introduced chronic predator/prey relationships between producer/consumer (and vice-versa), each feeding off the other.  From the empty ships arriving in the New World to the over-harvesting of California fisheries, perpetual progress demands new material each year.  Far worse, Western capitalism equates values with abundance; increasing productivity requires more consumption.  Over-consumption and over-production mean erosion, yes, but also consider that Arcadia National Park, the Grand Canyon and California's two national parks suffer from smog and visitors; in several national parks, animal overpopulation requires predatorial attacks by wolves and shooting by park officials.  Smog means jobs to Detroit, smog also means global warming for 20th century offspring. 


          On December 5, 1942, atomic gestation began, and on July 16, 1945, nuclear fission was born, culminating 2 million years of human progress.  In small New Mexico towns 50 miles away from Alamogordo, the test site, blind persons witnessed light for the first time and, in an instant, the force of the blast changed the pigmentation in animal fur.  But in light of the money generated by nuclear power, nuclear proliferation seems to represent the 20th-century version of the repeating rifle.  It was the simultaneous discovery of the repeating rifle and quinine that allowed 19th-century America and Europe to kill and enslave tens of millions of Black Africans.  However, because the atomic bomb promoted more, not fewer, threats of war, nuclear energy set in motion a dialogue about acceptable scenarios of death.  We dismissed the fact that less than one generation before the atomic age began, the chemical age began and it now produces deadly hazardous waste to the tune of over one ton per American citizen per year.(6) 


          But representative politicians, who did not fear for their lives, feared, instead, for their careers when they asked industrialists about management of the 80,000-plus chemicals in current use.  Highly toxic, solid waste excited politicians and economists because landfills degrade somebody's backyard.  Only the urban poor benefit from economic, environmental and political ignorance, but by the late-1980s, even politicians who represented the poor demanded accountability for the "garbage imperialism" out back.  But, as eruptions occur among all living bodies; technology provides abundant narcotics.  Like H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, the resurgence of cholera and tuberculosis, our post-1942 technological environment revealed a body no longer able to cleanse itself.  


          The essential elements of capitalism, over-production and over-consumption, produce hazardous pollutants which slowly bleed the people and molest the earth from the air, the oceans and from underground.  Progress answers the question:  Why nuclear fission? with the question:  Why 2 million years?  Logos, or meaning, separates humanity from knowledge; things, including nature, always mean something other than present experience.  Virtually artificial, nature's environmental economy devours technology's toxins and mirrors any prime mover. 




          In conclusion, the economical, environmental and technological demands which American capitalism placed upon nature caused the failure of nature to provide limitless abundance, and threatens to dispossess humanity from any sense of connectedness to nature.  The success of pre-18th-century Judeo-Christian ideas about perpetual progress rendered the exploitation of America inevitable.  As America's 19th-century economy and technology flourished, artificial environments dispossessed many of America's natural environments.  But because America's 20th-century technology generated the ability to exterminate human civilization, and because America's economy depends upon overproduction and over-consumption, progress compels an ecology of death.  In less than 200 years, American capitalism succeeded in generating a value system in which death provides a means of fulfillment. 


          Today, the threat of death dispossesses all cultures.  Amidst the proliferation of Western-made rifles, the African nation of Somalia recently recorded the highest death rate in history from famine.  By contrast, Americans dispose of 15% of all American food purchases.(7)  Whereas over-productive technology continues to dispossess humanity, interaction between such diverse social institutions as law, religion and production forced 20th century Americans to become aware of global mortality.  At the turn of the 21st century, interdependency of all things includes, inevitably, the ecology of death. 


(1)White, Lynn Jr.  "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis."  Science 10 March 1967, Volume 155, Number 3767.  Page 1205.

(2)Merchant, Carolyn.  The Death of Nature:  Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution.  Harper & Row, 1990.  Page 171.

(3)Harrison, Robert Pogue.  Forests:  The Shadow of Civilization.  The University of Chicago Press, 1992.  Page 62.

(4)Worster, Donald.  Nature's Economy:  A History of Ecological Ideas.  Cambridge University Press, 1977.  Page 36.

(5)Id., at p. 47.

(6)Gore, Al (Senator).  Earth in the Balance:  Ecology and the Human Spirit.  Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, 1992.  Page 146.

(7)Id., at p. 152.