Wilderness Dualism and Handling Controversy

When it comes to the Chesapeake Bay, controversy is unavoidable. Many people and groups in the region are passionate about the issues at hand, and their opinions often seem to be at odds with one another. Some controversial subjects that we have directly explored in the semester so far include regulations for watermen, colonization of the Chesapeake, and climate change. The intersections we use to guide our research encourage delving into some of the biggest tensions/obstacles we face as a society in accomplishing our goals and resolve controversies. Ultimately we hope to find common ground, collaborate, and compromise. This week in Dr. Meehan’s class we talked about what makes a good argument. The discussion emphasized the importance of establishing a sustainable middle ground, and avoiding the unsustainable nature of extremism. We looked specifically at Cronan’s essay, “The Trouble with Wilderness,” in which he argues that our understanding of “wilderness” is problematic at best. The meaning and societal view of wilderness has shifted throughout time, and not always for the best. One point that Cronon made stood out to me because of its relevance to our discussions of Native Americans and modern day portrayals of their history. He writes, “The removal of Indians to create an “uninhabited wilderness”—uninhabited as never before in the human history of the place—reminds us just how constructed, the American wilderness really is” (Cronon 15-16). What we tend to forget is that just because people don’t live in what we consider the “wilderness” today, doesn’t mean that people never inhabited these areas. And those most dedicated to preserving wilderness today tend to belong to a class that does not work land for a living.

Cronon’s view of wilderness is incredibly controversial. He refers to the conflict as “wilderness dualism,” which is essentially a “humans versus nature” approach to wilderness. There are whole environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, dedicated to the preservation of the wilderness and limiting human impact on it. To embrace the idea that wilderness is not inherently better than the developed world, and/or that they are indistinguishable from one another in some respects, would be to forsake their mission. Or would it? The sustainable middle ground that Cronon advocates for strikes a balance between “use” and “non-use.” One does not have to abandon the view that what Americans consider “wilderness” is inherently valuable, but the idea that our goal should be complete preservation of all remaining forests is not healthy. Gaining an understanding of how to use and develop land responsibly is important, and takes into consideration the working class people who work the land to make a living.

For our final project, we are supposed to pick a controversy that relates to our topic and argue one side. Though we will be developing and arguing a single perspective, it will be important to keep in mind that the truth tends to fall in the middle ground.

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