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Sierra Club: The Garden, Reconsidered

Photo By Casarsaguru/Istock.

The garden is no exemplar of how to create a right relationship with life on Earth

By Jason Mark
Sierra Club
Oct 21 2017


Make no mistake: The garden is an unethical place. Even the virtuous garden—which is to say, a garden tended with an eye toward striking some balance with other plants and animals—ultimately disregards other species in favor of human hungers.

Take Alemany Farm. When we find a gopher eating our potatoes, we set a trap to kill the offender. We target slugs and snails, and set out baited snares to capture and kill coddling moths. When we spot a weed that may be competing with our crops, we rip it out by the roots, then unceremoniously toss it in the compost pile. It’s all organic, sure; every bit of it is a calculated killing.

Death is a daily part of the business of growing food. As far as I can see, there’s no way around that brutal fact. (Vegans take note: some unlucky field mouse or vole died to get that broccoli to your plate.) But to celebrate routine murder as a paragon of human-nature relations seems a cramped and narrow morality. Extend Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative to other species, and the gardener immediately founders. Would you want to get killed for simply trying to feed yourself? No. OK, then, no more gopher traps or moth baits, no more shooting of the wolves and bobcats that prey upon the herd and the flock.

Without a doubt, it’s a tall moral order to expect that we should extend our ethics to other species. Most people have an impossible time stretching empathy that far, which explains why so few are able to follow philosopher Peter Singer’s airtight logic for animal liberation. At the very least, though, to entertain the idea that other animals (and plants and insects as well) might have interests equal to our own demolishes the idea that the garden is any kind of moral exemplar.

Read the complete article here.