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Aldo Leopold on Bush

Aldo Leopold on Bush's JudeoRoman Metaphysic
Dr. Gerry Lower, Keystone, South Dakota

America has recently fallen under the right wing JudeoRoman dominion of the Bush administration. The result of that administration's self-righteousness and belligerence in the world, according to Walter Cronkite (Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 13, 2003), has been an across-the-board loss of America's "national prestige" in the eyes of the world. The Bush administration has led the people into an unjustified and unsustainable war in the Middle East, it has done its level best to destroy the Bill of Rights at home, and it has all but dismissed multilateralism (which threatens capitalistic dominion) and environmentalism (which threatens capitalistic dominion).

It is simply true that Bush's "compassionate" conservatism (one would think conservatives would be into conservation) are actually quite afraid of intellectual concepts like "the people" and "the land," because these loaded terms always get in the way of capitalistic "freedom" (i.e., license). It is instructive, therefore, to consider the world views of those people who have made America shine when it comes to caring for the people and the land. One such person is Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), considered the Father of Wildlife Ecology, a gifted teacher and philosopher at the University of Wisconsin, whose views reside beneath virtually every conservation movement in America and the educated world.

Aldo was born near Burlington, Iowa on the magnificent bluffs of the Mississippi River, where he developed a deep appreciation for the natural world, which seemed so capable of managing itself without human intervention, the result of a vast interconnectedness which Leopold ultimately became adept at identifying. As a result, he dedicated his life to defining the natural world and it's unity in diversity. Aldo was a man in love with the work of God, knowing that the better we comprehend the natural world, the better we know our God.

His most famous book, "A Sand Country Almanac" (Oxford University Press, NY, 1949), was in draft form when Aldo Leopold died in 1948, helping fight a fire. His son, Luna, saw this deeply thoughtful book through to publication in 1949. The book even touches on cultural influences, and its most insightful chapter is entitled, "The Land Ethic." In this chapter, Leopold sets forth a scientific ethics based on his empirical/logical grasp of the Land as an interconnected whole, as a dynamic, living entity on its own.

He begins by defining an ethic as "a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence." In this very definition, we find the reason why Leopold's ethics are ignored by those having made capitalism's grasp of freedom into an American religion. Defining "freedom" as doing pretty much as one pleases, capitalism honors a definition that has no empirical basis in reality. One does not have to live in the upper Mississippi Valley for very long to witness how the real world works, to witness the majestic bald eagle, symbol of American pride, literally chased out of a coulee by a snaggle of tiny sparrows, quite pissed off at the eagle's presence in their aerial turf. Even eagles have to have some respect for others, or they are simply "out of here."

In the mind of a man like Thomas Jefferson, of course, freedom has more to do with being afforded an opportunity to learn of God's work, the world and how it works, to think for oneself and to make one's own decisions in the interest of the whole. It has nothing whatsoever to do with license, which is (if you think about it) a remarkably adolescent notion of freedom, a definition which has no place in it for obligation and duty.

Dennis Callahan at the Hasting's Institute has long ago referred to this as "minimalist ethics," essentially an ethics which says you can do anything you want as long as you don't hurt anybody. The Bush administration, of course, has already broken the rules of even that inadequate ethic. Furthermore, as Callahan pointed out, this shallow ethos is only good as long "as the money is coming in." As soon as we get into fiscal trouble and need help, that ethic is "out the window."

Leopold goes on. "In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow members and also respect for the community as such." Here again we have an approach to ethics which is trampled every day by the Bush administration, in terms of it's relationships to the people and the land.

Leopold's deepest insights, and most ignored insights, however, dealt with cultural involvement in causing the loss and destruction of human life support systems, the fact that the western JudeoRoman mindset has traditionally had difficulty finding a land of "milk and honey" with which it was satisfied and content to call home.

"In human history, we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is eventually self-defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror knows, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick, and just what and who is valuable, and what and who is worthless, in community life. It always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat themselves." Sage advice, not so, for a Bush administration that has attempted to make covetness and the unprovoked conquest of other people and their land into a national way of life, in perpetuity?

"In the biotic community, a parallel situation exists. Abraham knew exactly what the land was for: it was to drip milk and honey into Abraham's mouth. At the present moment, the assurance with which we regard this assumption is inverse to the degree of our education."

In other words, the less education one has, the more likely one is to abide if not support the JudeoRoman coveting, conquering mindset that has driven imperialism, colonialism and capitalism, the mindset which literally characterizes the Bush administration. Leopold, of course, was speaking of a "higher" education, the type that ought come from universities and the type that can, if one thinks for oneself, come from actual experience in the natural world.

Leopold obtained a degree in forestry at Yale University and, like his Wisconsin predecessor, John Muir, Leopold graduated into "the University of the wilderness," in maintaining the "Wisconsin tradition" in scientific ethics. That tradition was continued in 1970 with Van Potter's extension of Leopold's ethics into the medical realm as "Bioethics" (Bioethics - Bridge to the Future, Prentice-Hall, 1970).

George Bush, our environmental president, obtained degrees at both Yale and Harvard Universities, so one would think that America would be in especially safe and knowledgeable hands. Unfortunately, George was from a ruling, dynastic family of privilege, and he never found reason to apply himself to his university studies, knowing that he would graduate as privilege demands. George left Yale University for the wilderness of capitalism, ultimately to find, with Billy Graham's guidance, the traditional JudeoRoman approach to self-justification. After all, isn't a lot of money, privilege and power ample indication of God's favor? In return, Bush finds his purpose in life by doing his God's work, not caring if "the people" failed to elect him, because he was elected by divine intervention. As a result, he has little trepidation about making God's decisions.

It is rather amazing that this man, who strolled the halls of Yale and Harvard, could be so desperately shallow in historical and cultural knowledge, so as to take an entire nation back into the dark ages of self-righteous conquest. It would seem, by Leopold's standards, almost requisite to shut Yale and Harvard Universities down until they can figure out what is meant by a "higher" education.

Here we are witnessing, as always, a conflict of metaphysics, those unchallenged assumptions we inherit from our parents and prevailing cultural interpretations, those assumptions beneath the surface by which we define ourselves, at least until we learn to think for ourselves in the interest of growing up and making our own decisions. Bush and his JudeoRoman supporters see "the people" and "the land," not as the core components of life, but as inexhaustible and complacent resources, placed on this earth for the religious right wing elite to exploit as necessary in order to keep "the money coming in."

Leopold saw the people and the land as having intimate and necessary relationships that must be maintained in the interest of human survival. With metaphysics juxtaposed in this manner and, of course, fervently thinking for ourselves, a metaphysical choice is not particularly difficult, now is it? Its more like part of being human.

Dr. Gerry Lower lives in Keystone, South Dakota. His primary concern is the development of a rigorously-definable global philosophy and ethics suitable for a global democracy. His new book, "Jefferson's Eyes - Deist Views of Bush World," can be explored at and he can be reached at This article is copyright by Dr. Gerry Lower and  originally published by but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this entire credit paragraph is attached


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