Working Wilderness and Other Code Words

George Wuerthner has a good piece how metaphors affect the way we perceive our natural resources.

Working Wilderness and Other Code Words. New West. By George Wuerthner.

In fact my use of the term “natural resources” implies a point of view, namely that elements of the natural world exist just for our use and have no intrinsic value.

I shudder when organizations use the word “human resources,” for it implies that people are like mineral ore, trees bound for the sawmill, animals sent to be slaughtered and fully utilized. It also implies that people are subjects, not things valuable in their own right. The phrase “human resources” is both anti-democratic and anti-individualistic.

Conservationists would do well, as Wuerthner says, not to adopt these words. When you start talking about “working rivers” (meaning dammed and/or dewatered), predator control (killing an animal that somehow offended the owner of livestock), you are adopting a language that says “I accept your cultural and economic dominance.” You should only use these words if you can somehow decenter it — redefine it and get people to use it in a way that implies an alternative view.

I always told my classes that most of the process of politics consists of the manipulation of language.

Note that “livestock” strongly implies a view about the status of an animal, and cattle, sheep, horses have no value other than to us. 

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