- Jun 2022
I can see why there's so much backlash on this piece.
It could and should easily have been written without any reference at all to E. O. Wilson and been broadly interesting and true. However given the editorial headline "The Complicated Legacy of E. O. Wilson", the recency of his death, and the photo at the top, it becomes clickbait for something wholly other.
There is only passing reference to Wilson and any of his work and no citations whatsoever about who he was or why his work was supposedly controversial. Instead the author leans in on the the idea of the biology being the problem instead of the application of biology to early anthropology which dramatically mis-read the biology and misapplied it for the past century and a half to bolster racist ideas and policies.
The author indicates that we should be better with "citational practices when using or reporting on problematic work", but wholly forgets to apply it to her own writing in this very piece.
I'm aware that the magazine editors are most likely the ones that chose the headline and the accompanying photo, but there's a failure here in both editorial and writing for this piece to have appeared in Scientific American in a way as to make it more of a hit piece on Wilson just days after his death. Worse, the backlash of the broadly unsupported criticism of Wilson totally washed out the attention that should have been placed on the meat of the actual argument in the final paragraphs.
Editorial failed massively on all fronts here.
This article seems to be a clear example of the following:
Any time one uses the word "problematic" to describe cultural issues, it can't stand alone without some significant context building and clear arguments about exactly what was problematic and precisely why. Otherwise the exercise is a lot of handwaving and puffery that does neither side of an argument or its intended audiences any good.
Scientific American apparently published an unsupported hit piece on E. O. Wilson just following his death.
Desperately sad to hear as I've read many of his works and don't recall anything highly questionable either there or in his personal life, even by current political standards.
SA does seem to have slipped from my perspective and I'm more often reading Quanta instead.
- Oct 2020
Vicariously Through Impressio
In addition to this passage from The Geography of Plants, Humboldt, in his book, Cosmos, references impressionist art, i.e., European landscape painting, poetry, and plant cultivation. He writes, "I regard it as one of the fairest fruits of general European civilization that it is now almost everywhere possible for men to obtain-by the cultivation of exotic plants, by the charm of landscape painting, and by the power of the inspiration of language,- some part, at least, of that enjoyment of nature, which, when pursued by long and dangerous journeys through the interior of continents, is afforded by her immediate contemplation" (Humboldt, 100).
Humboldt, Alexander V. Cosmos, 7th ed. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1849.
Both passages embody centralized globalization. Humboldt writes of cultural globalization specifically by describing exploration and translation of experience to an art form for the common man to experience. What is written of less is the concurrent economic and political globalization occurring as explorers (botanists included) extract people, plants, and animals from places of origin either literally or symbolically (in art) and colonizing or dominating the plant species Humboldt so lovingly mentions. Praise of impression of natural ephemeral qualities is especially interesting to read about in the current time of a pandemic when our only access to lands unbeknownst to us is through the image- rather written or seen, we are quite literally the man isolated in this passage.
Jane Hutton refers to Humboldt's exploitation of the guano for the intention of scientific analysis in France in the early 1800s- like we have spoken of Francis Bacon's dissection/ research approach to the ecological phenomenon, Humboldt's "analysis" turning into globalized trade is another example of the evolution of human detachment and compartmentalization of the earth.
Hutton, Jane. Reciprocal Landscapes: Stories of Material Movements. London: Routledge, 2019.
E. O. Wilson was quoted in an interview with PBS, saying, "Children who learn about nature solely from television and computers are not developing fully', Wilson argues. 'They need to experience wildlife firsthand, like this child holding a snail." Wilson focuses on children's upbringing in the time of technology, suburbia, and "soccer moms." He compares children absorbed in technology to cattle in a feedlot. However, both species are content in their spaces; they are not fully the species that they have the potential to be. They are not in their most natural environment. He claims that this comparison is quite extreme. Wilson claims that children are perfectly content experiencing African wildlife or even dinosaurs from a computer screen where they cannot fully develop the sense of discovery and physiological euphoria experienced in the wild on their own. I see this thought translating not only to children but to all people, post-Globalization. One can go to an art museum or botanical garden and experience what they might imagine the actual wilderness may feel. We live now, more than ever, in an imaginative world that debilitates us from actually experiencing the earth.
"A Conversation With E.O. Wilson." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Last modified April 1, 2008. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/conversation-eo-wilson/.