Tag Archives: Language and Ecology

Patricia reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part Two

Part One here.

This is a GREEN LANGUAGE post.

Adam's Tongue cover1

New kid on the block niche construction course-corrects the previous scientific proposition that evolution is a one-way road: “Adaptation is always asymmetrical; organisms adapt to their environment, never vice versa” (Bickerton quoting George Williams, p. 92).  The niche construction light switched on for Bickerton when he attended a conference where niche construction theory co-founder John Odling-Smee spoke on the idea. An avowed skeptic of “new theories,”  Bickerton became a quick convert, snapping up niche construction and building it into his developing theories of language evolution. Here, in Bickerton’s words, is the gist of niche construction theory:

…animals themselves modify the environments they live in, and … these modified environments, in turn, select for further genetic variation in the animal. So a feedback process begins, a two-way street in which the animal is developing the niche and the niche is developing the animal, until you get the lock-and-key fit between animal and niche … (99) Continue reading Patricia reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part Two

Questions of Wilderness

We’ll take advantage of a short hiatus of sorts (don’t worry: we’ve seen the WebMD, and have been assured it’s not serious–we’ve decades left in us!) to draw attention to some other things going on that will, no doubt, be of interest to the sensible (and sensitive) readers of and contributers to the WIZ Community.

First up: George Handley waxes on and off, and wisely, about wilderness as a backdrop to and a factor in the way we humans relate and communicate. His work here is subtle: more subtle than usual. Perhaps that’s because, generous of spirit and passionate of cause, George isn’t interested in winning friends or enemies, but rather in giving pause and a space for consideration.

I’m particularly taken with what George does because I live in a place that as yet has not developed a culture of conservation, though steps are being taken: we’ve grown soft, and the a/c pumps all day long, cars are left idling in parking lots for extended runs, the windows are shuttered, the complaints are thick with indolent anger and slick with sweat. During Ramadan, it’s even worse. The environment impacts mood and manners essentially and almost necessarily: we are few who love the heat and worship the sun even when it aims to kill us. And we few, (we happy few), are inclined to each other and to others in ways (a nod, a quick tap on the shoulder, a smile, and many other muted signs) that redeem the heat, that sacralize our over-arching desire to conserve not just a resource or a land, but human ecology, too: that thing we call community.

George reminds us that we are stewards, not masters, and will be judged by the conditions of stewardship. If we cannot cultivate a place or a community, cannot leave it better than we found it, then at very least we ought to leave it no worse for our being there by taking pains to mitigate our tracks and traces, collect our own rubbish, dispose of it responsibly–not leave it to moulder or poison, not bury our inheritance in waste and wanton pursuits.

In his second post, George asks us to disagree, and boldly, but without rancor and without guile. We ought, it seems, “to speak the truth in love,” both to each other and to this ramshackle place we’re squatters in. If we need, we ask and receive, as gently as we can, and plant something where we’ve left a void: a seed, a conversation, a compliment, plain thanks. We ought, it seems, to stay small.

Elder Marlin K. Jensen, speaking at the Days of ’47 Sunrise Service said the following about the question of community, culture, and wilderness in Utah’s own history (read the full account in the Desert News):

“Regardless of how one views the equities of Indian-Mormon relations in those times, the end result was that the land and cultural birthright Indians once possessed in the Great Basin were taken from them,” he said. “As tragic as that is, history cannot be unlived. What we can do, the least we can do from a distance of 160 years, is to acknowledge and appreciate the monumental loss this represents on the part of Utah’s Indians. That loss and its 160-year aftermath are the rest of the story.

“We can also work until the rest of the story becomes an integral part of the story; until Wakara, Wanship, Washakie and Black Hawk have their appropriate place in Utah’s history books as well as Brigham, Heber and Parley; until Utah’s history includes Indian history and July 24th commemorates everyone’s contribution to our state’s unique past.”

Indeed. And the same can be said of place after place, civilization after civilization, right down to Dylan Thomas’ bright and spinning place, that first garden, which was and is, of course, God’s, given to us with a charge to care for it, and for each other.

To finish up (if you’ll forgive the indulgence), this:

This is a rather wretched place,
All things considered:
More paradox than paradise;

A poky little patch of dust and scrub
Now parched, now drowned,
Shaken and, as often, stirred;

A heaven gone to ground,
Ground gone to seed,
Thorn- and thistle-crowned

And for the very birds—
The dove, the hardy thrush,
The brown chat with his melancholy word.

It’s an abated wish,
This dense and dropping orb,
A momentary, dark, full-throated hush;

A nascent sun, an infant star,
This crib of Adam-Christ:
Worth falling and worth rising for.

Look for George’s next post soon.