A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two

By Paul W. Hirt | Go to book overview
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I Two Views of the Forest:
Some Philosophical Considerations

In 1959, at the height of the revolution in atomic science and the coincidental flourishing of a literary counterculture movement, British physicist and writer C. P. Snow gave a widely publicized lecture titled "The Two Cultures," in which he argued that "a gulf of mutual incomprehension" separated literary intellectuals from scientists.1 Snow's often cited essay was provocative not so much for its accuracy as for its symbolic power. By setting up an opposition between two contending ideologies, he simplified a complex social phenomenon just enough to stimulate vigorous debate. Such pedagogical ploys are both instructive and dangerous. Even Snow cautioned, "Attempts to divide anything into two ought to be regarded with much suspicion." While positing this dichotomy between literary intellectuals and scientific intellectuals, Snow recognized that neither "side" was unified. In fact, he admitted, some members of each group "vigorously refuse to be corralled in a cultural box with people they wouldn't be seen dead with."2 Nevertheless, lumping them proved to be a useful means for identifying an ideological cleavage in society and for proposing a means to bridge it.

In the same spirit of pedagogy, I am cautiously offering another dualism here for discussion purposes: the ecological versus the agronomic views of the forest. There are ample precedents for this distinction. Aldo Leopold in 1949 identified a similar dichotomy, which he called the "A-B cleavage."3 Environmental historianDonald Worster has referred to the "arcadian" versus the "imperialist" tradition in science.4 Forest historians have identified a split between "stewards" and "traditionalists."5 Professional foresters

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