Animals and Nature: Cultural Myths, Cultural Realities

Animals and Nature: Cultural Myths, Cultural Realities

Animals and Nature: Cultural Myths, Cultural Realities

Animals and Nature: Cultural Myths, Cultural Realities

Synopsis

In this provocative book, Rod Preece takes issue with the popular view that the Western cultural tradition, in contrast to Eastern and Native American traditions, has encouraged attitudes of domination and exploitation towards nature, particularly animals. He argues that the much maligned Western tradition has more to commend it than is customarily recognized, and that the Native and Oriental orientations to animals and nature have often been described in a misleadingly rosy hue.

The result of six years' intensive research into comparative religion, literature, philosophy, anthropology, mythology, ethology, and animal welfare science, Animals and Nature is a welcome contribution to the debate about our place in the natural world.

Excerpt

When we are making comparisons among different types of society — which is the very purpose of this book — the categories employed must be meaningful and commonly understood. This requirement is especially important when the comparisons will be read as evaluations, both where intended and where not.

We all possess more or less vague conceptions of the Occident or the West, the Orient or the East, and the Aboriginal world in our minds, but when we try to be precise we find them as slippery as Lewis Carroll's "slithy toves" from "Jabberwocky" which "gyre and gimble in the wabe." Carroll also says, via Humpty Dumpty in "The Walrus and the Carpenter," "When I use a word ... it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less." In reality, however, convenient as a Humpty-Dumpty world would be, we are not free to stipulate meanings outside the range of customary usage.

If we are to communicate successfully, we must be sure that the listener hears what the speaker intends. And what the speaker intends must conform more or less to what the listener already understands by the concepts employed. Unfortunately, conventional usage is often confusing and inconsistent. Indeed, conventional usage is often shifting. As late as the 1950s, Turkey was thought an integral part of the Orient. From 1883 until the Second World War — and thereafter intermittently — the exotic Orient Express ran from Paris to Islamic Istanbul, which was not only "the gateway to the Orient" but was deemed an essential part of the "mysterious" Orient itself. When such luminaries as Voltaire, Gustave Flaubert, Walter Scott, Edward FitzGerald, and Thomas Mann referred to the East or the Orient, they customarily meant Arabia.

While words like Oriental or Eastern and Occidental or Western may appear initially to indicate geographical location, we can recognize on closer inspection that they have not only geographical but also historical, ideological, economic, and cultural components — sometimes with emotive overtones, as in the ever "enigmatic" and "inscrutable" Orient. Thus . . .

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