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- Published on Amazon.com
If you’ve been feeling despondent about how we seem to be lurching unstoppably towards a 21st century planetary crisis of climate chaos, toxic pollution, and oceanic collapse, and wondering what could possibly inspire a shift in attitudes and action, then you will want to read this book.
Recent massive oil spills, in the Gulf of Mexico (2010) and in Santa Barbara (2015), which have forced us to confront the reality of toxic pollution up-close, have spurred much hand-wringing and heartache across the country. More commonly, toxic outcomes of the modern production system are hidden from us, and sent to distant places—where powerless, poor people, whom we never encounter, handle them.
Dissociation from the destructive consequences of our lives and actions on nature; hence, ‘Invisible Nature,’ is the brilliant crux of this book.
I found a fresh, unique, voice in ‘Invisible Nature’ which focuses, as surprisingly few other books on the environment do, on human beings as the key players in a destructive enterprise of planet-domination. Human ingenuity has created and positioned us squarely within gargantuan systems of technology and economic organization that have reshaped not only the planet, but also, ourselves.
Kenneth Worthy puts a mirror on the modern soul, torn as it were between (1) a historical context as one of many species which have evolved together on the planet, intertwined in nature, and (2) a contemporary existence removed from nature and situated amidst bureaucratic, technological, urban, and economic systems through which societies are run. We surely can’t return to a pure, unadulterated Eden, but does our technologically-driven planetary domination have to be so devastating?
Kenneth Worthy feels that we can strike a better balance, if we, individually and societally, are more sensitized to our inherence in nature. If we were (symbolically) to look nature in the eye every time we were to trash it beyond countless warning signals and tipping points—as we do in the production of modern life—he posits that we would at least moderate our destructive actions.
Uniformly, indigenous and frontier societies, both in modernity and in history that live and work close to nature, are conscious of its limits. They also acknowledge nature’s power, infinite complexity, and mystery as a force in its own right. What obstructs us 21st century people from behaving similarly with regard for limits and humble respect for the realm of nature? Worthy's diagnoses of dissociation—physical, spiritual and psychic remove from nature—is onpoint.
With great insight, Worthy gives us tools to help pierce through this dissociation. What paths have we taken in our thinking, culture, and language that have led to these modern conditions of planetary-scale destabilization? Worthy slices through the silos of traditional academic disciplines using unusually accessible narrative, yet rich intellectual rigor to craft a story—about human cultural evolution, philosophical traditions, and psychology—that you will likely not have encountered before.
The story draws from the Greek philosophical underpinnings of modern western culture and science, linguistics, and written text. It draws from the study of human psychology (with incisive and novel application of Stanley Milgram’s experiments on cruelty and torture to the human-environment relationship). The story covers the modern concept of phenomenology which critiques the privilege given in the western tradition to ‘intellect’ divorced from the sensuous context of lived experience, as if 'conceptual knowledge' is more valuable than 'place-based, empirical knowledge'. The story covers behavior, design, and language games that influence how we construct a reality about ourselves and the world around us.
Going along on Kenneth Worthy’s journey with a critical lens on our intellectual and cultural history is incredibly rewarding. Having viewed the modern human enterprise in relief, it becomes easier to visualize alternative paths and imagine the human business on the planet with fresh eyes. The latter part of the book does exactly that.
Personally, the book has helped me connect the dots between disparate concepts in human psychology, culture, and language which delineate-- and limit-- modern humans’ relationship with nature. It opened my eyes to the possibilities for a re-envisioning of our connection to nature.
Kenneth Worthy is incredibly gifted in distilling arcane and difficult concepts into very palatable, digestible form. I read this book with a co-worker who self-identifies as an engineer--not even remotely philosophically inclined. We discussed concepts in the book on our lunchtime walks. We both constantly felt like we were learning hidden meanings and concepts in traditional treatments of concepts in history, linguistics, philosophy, and culture. Reading the book was incredibly intellectually stimulating and the writing style offered clarity and elegance.
The book’s takeaway for me was a sense of empowerment, in that it offers better tools with which to explain people’s apathy, dissociation and indifference to the environment in the modern context. I’ve also tapped into a deeper personal transformation of my own connection to nature. I find myself better able to access the richness of all my intuitive, sensual, spiritual and intellectual faculties in how I see myself and my place in the world. I now sense the possibilities for a re-enchantment and respect for nature more profoundly.
If we can't force people to do the right thing by the environment (we can't!), then hope lies in individual personal transformation, so that we can become more sensitized to our impact on nature and shift our actions. Reading this book is a great first step.