Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Natural Aesthetics of Timothy Treadwell
Timothy Treadwell himself implicitly believed in the Aesthetics of Engagement Model - that he could, in fact, erase the distinction between Subject and Object. He appeared to believe he could communicate with and understand grizzly bears, that he was one of them. Yet, while Timothy Treadwell knew scientific knowledge about grizzlies, he anthropomorphized them incessantly. Sometimes, I feel as though he must have had some psychological problems. He called them names like "Rowdy" and "Grinch"; he spoke to them conversationally using English as if in dialogue with their actions. He routinely invades their space, their territory - touching them.
In this, Treadwell is not scientific. Instead of erasing the distinction between him and nature, he seemed to - in reality - project humanity into these animals.
Real scientists understand the nature is ultimately amoral, wild - operating with or without humans. Nature must be respected. We cannot degrade nature into - pardon my blunt words - cheap sentimentality. Environmentalism is plagued by this tendency. Environmentalists always walk a fine line when granting nature rights or special privileges. We must understand that "Mother Nature" does not care about us. The lion pride does not care they exterminate an entire population of gazelle. Darwin described the natural world as "red in tooth and claw."
Is nature beautiful? What about positive aesthetics? Beauty is not always friendly. Nature can be beautiful for its ecological order, its symmetry, its ecological system, its raw power. Indeed, advocates of positive aesthetics would say nature's beauty is diminished when the world is brought under our control. Yet, nature must be respected as ultimately alien, as absolutely Other than us. Sometimes, I am shocked that the Abrahamic religions can say that God is rational and desires our good while simultaneously affirming the world as good. Gnostic dualism would be so much easier.
Timothy Treadwell did not understand this. I remember when Steve Irwin died, that he had been stung by a sting ray. Now, Irwin was a naturalist in a truer sense. He gave creatures their "wildness." I tend to believe - despite what I have heard some say - that Irwin's death was an accident which he did not cause. Treadwell had it coming. He had no respect - only all too human love and admiration - for the natural world. Therefore, despite what he would say, he could not even be said to be truly "engaged" with nature.
Now, I must feel badly - and I do - that Treadwell died in this manner. Conservation is an admirable goal, but he went the wrong way about it.
I must side with Carlson and Werner Herzog here.
Note: I found a counter-argument by a friend of Treadwell's named Charlie Russell. I know it's on Wikipedia, but I can't get the link to work. I'll post it here:
"Herzog is a skillful filmmaker so a large percentage of those who watch the movie Grizzly Man, overlook Timothy's amazing way with animals even though to me this stands out very strongly. The fact that Timothy spent an incredible 35,000 hours, spanning 13 years, living with the bears in Katmai National Park, without any previous mishap, escapes people completely. Even with his city-kid background, I found myself mesmerized by what he could do with animals. Most people now see him only the way Herzog skillfully wanted his audience to see him; as an idiot who continually "crossed nature's line," what ever that means. Perhaps, in his mind, nature’s line is something behind which bears and other nasty things reside who will inevitably kill you if you go there without a gun. He takes everything Timothy stood for and turned it 180°, the result which he then weaves into his own unsophisticated agenda."
I respectfully must disagree with this. Treadwell cannot be called a responsible scientist since a scientist would understand the distinction between Subject and Object. He would understand and respect the alien nature of the bears. He does not do this. He routinely projects human characteristics onto another species which is not human.