April 07, 2021

3 Nature Writers Lost in 2020: Pentti Linkola

Of the three writers I am discussing (Barry Lopez was the first), the deep ecologist Penti Linkola (1932–2020) is the least cuddly. In fact, he was pretty crusty. One Finnish academic described his writing as "a very Finnish and dark version of 'an inconvenient truth'" (from the title of Al Gore's environmental book).

Linkola wrote in Finnish, and the only work translated into English that I have seen is a collection of essays, Can Life Prevail? published by Arktos Media and available as a printed book, ebook, or audiobook.

In American terms, you might find in him Henry David Thoreau's skepticism about "progress," Ed Abbey's distrust of authority and "the experts," and  Wendell Berry's valuing of small-scale sustainable farming and traditional life style — plus a healthy dose of your favorite author of After the Big Collapse distopian novels.

And with Rachel Carson's eye for scientific observation and making connections.

Linkola made his living as an inshore fisherman from 1959 to 1995 — it is hard to imagine him taking orders from any boss. His father and his grandfather were both university administrators; he studied biology and worked as a research ornithologist for a time. He started a preservation organization that functions something like The Nature Conservancy. 

So, for example, his observations about the decline of bird populations in his lifetime — favoring those birds such as crows and jays that thrive in human-altered landscapes versus those that do not — or about the damage of invasive species or industrial logging are based in science and on personal observation.

In his preface, he condemns his fellow Finns' version of progress: "Finland is switching to the most horrid forms of market economy, to an uncritical worship of technology, to automation and media vapidity; with information technology pervading all human exchanges" (20). 

He refers to present-day circumstances as "Suicidal Society."

He jumps from how bureaucratic hygiene regulations damaged small fisherman like himself, who could not afford and did not want big seagoing boats with million-euro ice machines on board, and likewise damage small grocers, butchers, etc. to arguing that an ultra-clean home environment produces people with poor immune systems (in which he is far from alone).

I myself tend to dismiss all nutritional controversies — surrounding meat, vegetables, salt, butter, sugar — with one simple statement: if you don't eat, you die, and if you eat, you survive. It is enough to clarify that objects that harm teeth and internal organs, such as iron nails and glass fragments, should be avoided (25–26).
But there is one thing about Linkola that spooks mainstream environmentalists  — his politics.

He spent his life in Finland's parliamentary democracy, a center-left Scandinavian welfare state. He rejected it. 

Democracy, to Linkola, was a "suicidal" form of government, because people will always vote for the leader who promises more free stuff, "bread and circuses, regardless of the cost and consequences" (154). He adhered to principles of deep ecology:

There is nothing above the requirements of the continuity of life: all other interests fall below it. As the deep ecologist emphasises those factors beneficial to the preservation and continuation of life, his arguments will always be above all others. . . . What the deep ecologist loves is the whole. Therein lies the greatest beauty, wealth, and love. The deep ecologist does not understand the Christian-Humanist love of man, which even at its best only extends to a nation or mankind: this he sees as a form of inbreeding, egotism, masturbation (165).

Linkola was not the Unabomber. He admits that he has never dared to do more than speak, write, and peacefully demonstate. Yet he wrote, "The crippling human cover spread over the living layer of the Earth must forcibly be made lighter: breathing holes must be punctured in this blanket and the ecological footprint of man brushed away" (170, emphasis added). 

I have heard such sentiments expressed by North American enviros, when the whiskey is being passed around the campfire. But they don't put them in their grant applications, their legal filings, or their conference papers.

At times, he yearned for a something like Plato's Republic: a small-scale society led by a class of Guardians who are well-educated (and trained in the martial arts to balance mind and body), yet who live materially simply. Somehow, if the perfect Green dictator could arise, that person could supervise a "world made by hand," to borrow a post-Collapse book title.

At other times he echoes the ancient Chinese book of the Tao, the Tao Te Ching (Legge translation) — which is at base a political manual, not a self-help text:

In a little state with a small population, I would so order it, that, though there were individuals with the abilities of ten or a hundred men, there should be no employment of them . . . .

Though they had boats and carriages, they should have no occasion to ride in them; though they had buff coats and sharp weapons, they should have no occasion to don or use them. . . .

They should think their (coarse) food sweet; their (plain) clothes beautiful; their (poor) dwellings places of rest; and their common (simple) ways sources of enjoyment.

There should be a neighbouring state within sight, and the voices of the fowls and dogs should be heard all the way from it to us, but I would make the people to old age, even to death, not have any intercourse with it (Chapter 80).

That sounds like Linkola. Yet he also was quoted as saying, "If there were a button I could press, I would sacrifice myself without hesitating, if it meant millions of people would die."

It is not surprising that a resident of a Scandinavian welfare state who says that his own society is not only ecologically destructive but destructive of human health and well-being as well is not the sort who is invited to speak to the United Nations or the graduating classes at universities. At least in the abstract, he has advocated dictatorship:

Any dictatorship would be better than modern democracy. There cannot be so incompetent dictator, that he would show more stupidity than a majority of the people. Best dictatorship would be one where lots of heads would roll and government would prevent any economical growth.

I am reminded of the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot (1925–1998) and his war on cities in the 1970s. Not a model to follow.

Yet I can understand Linkola's call for Something Different as born from a deep love of the natural world and deep pain at its destruction. 

As with Plato 2,500 years ago, sometimes we wish for the Philosopher King who would set things right. But do we ever get one? Plato once thought that he had found such a man, but everything went sideways, and the famous Athenian philosopher had to flee for his life.

 It is not a bad thing, however, to keep his book on the shelf and to look at aspects of your life and ask, "What would Pentti think?"

April 06, 2021

Look, Ma, a Titmouse!

Juniper titmouse (Baeolophus ridgwayi) Cornell Univ.
The Juniper Titmouse is sort of the ultimate Little Gray Bird (LGB), although I suppose that Dark-Eyed Juncos would contest that ranking. (And here I go capitalizing bird names like some kind of birding writer, which I am not.)

M. and I have been loyal citizen-scientists for Cornell University's Project Feeder Watch since shortly after we moved up here, first sending in paper forms and now doing it online.

The computer generates a group of likely southern Colorado birds, and of course you can add something that is not on the list.

They don't really migrate. We live in the pale purple area—
"scarce," whereas the dark area is simply "year-round."

Every year, grouped with the Mountain Chickadee and the Black-Capped Chickadee is the Juniper Titmouse. What's that?

Until on March 12 when I looked by the lower sunflower-seed feeder, at the edge of a patch of Gambel oak, juniper, and piñon pine, and there was this triangle-headed LGB. A titmouse, clearly! And it has shown up occasionally since then.

A titmouse "cool fact": 

Like many other members of the chickadee family Juniper Titmice don’t migrate and instead stick out harsh winters on their breeding grounds. One of the ways they survive the cold, virtually insect-free season is by storing seeds in crevices of trees or other places to eat later.

But the name! While "mouse," the small rodent, comes from the Proto-Indo-European *mus," meaning mouse, the small rodent, the "mouse" in titmouse has another ancient root, from "Proto-Germanic *maison (source also of Dutch mees, German meise), from adj. *maisa- "little, tiny."

 As for "tit," the Online Etymological Dictionary says this:

1540s, a word used for any small animal or object (as in compound forms such as titmouse, tomtit, etc.); also used of small horses. Similar words in related senses are found in Scandinavian (Icelandic tittr, Norwegian tita "a little bird"), but the connection and origin are obscure; perhaps, as OED suggests, the word is merely suggestive of something small. Used figuratively of persons after 1734, but earlier for "a girl or young woman" (1590s), often in deprecatory sense of "a hussy, minx."

The British would call all the chickadees "tits" as a generic term. North Americans generally don't.

If you run into anyone named Titmouse (it happens), be sure to say it "TIT-mus."

Since I don't live on the Pacific coast, I never see boobies.