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We live on a damaged planet

Wild values. Natural philosophy in the age of man
Forfatter: Sigurd Hverven
Forlag: Dreyer (Norge)
NATURE / At a time when national nature goals and international nature agreements have finally made it onto the agenda, problem formulations and value concepts such as those in this book by Sigurd Hverven are very important.


The Anthropocene is the turning point in Sigurd Hverven's book Wild values. Nature-
philosophy in the age of man.
The book is based on his doctoral thesis at NTNU, where he defended his dissertation last summer. It is an ambitious project. According to Hverven, the historically situated era we are now in puts humans in a position of responsibility that we have not been in before. Such demands anthropocene in reorientering on several levels and is in itself disorienting, as it gives expression to a new identity-related turning point, existentially and morally. "Confronted with an earth that has in a short time begun to appear fragile and wounded by human intervention, modern Western people stand with a conceptual map in their hands that does not resemble the terrain." In order to counteract theorientering we need self-insight and a realistic picture of our surroundings. This is what Hverven aims to contribute to with ethical (re)orientering after the moral object, which here is of a non-human nature – mainly from recognizing that it can be damaged (or nigger).

Recognition and responsibility

Hverven invites you to think through eight chapters, which can be read as an "examination of the conditions for the emergence of a responsibility for non-human nature". He anchors a responsibility in man in down-to-earth argumentation, as "taking the perspective of people who are concerned with themselves and theirs without recognizing any active or independent nature. […] How can they become aware or curious about non-human nature?”.

Hverven believes an answer lies in experiences with what he calls negation, and as an example he cites the goose-beaked whale that stranded on Sotra in 2017 with a stomach full of plastic. The whale caused a media storm. The discovery of the everyday plastic in a place where most people agree that it does not belong shocked and acted as a wake-up call for many with a view to taking in what the Anthropocene entails. It became concrete.

Hverven argues for nature's wildness.

The main thesis of the book is that the Anthropocene places man in charge of non-human nature in a way that is historically new: "I advocate that people in the Anthropocene can and should recognize non-human nature as active, independent and valuable in itself." Hverven proposes a historically situated ethics, due to the situation we now find ourselves in, which relates to the fact that we live on a damaged planet. He argues for nature's wildness in this — its ability to surprise, surprise and surpass man and his projects. The imperatives he formulates "get their normative content from negative experiences with concrete, historical, vulnerable objects", while at the same time they prohibit rather than mandate. Experiencing negative experiences with non-human nature helps to undo an instrumental, dominant relationship with it. At the same time, one must be aware that nature is being negated, i.e. not being allowed to complete its processes, being hindered, etc. The imperative Hverven articulates reads: "You must act, and your thinking and practice must be aligned, so that you do not further contribute to non-human nature loses integrity, independence, value and ability to produce and maintain diversity.”

To articulate the main points

Hverven tries to base his thinking on humility by taking into account everything in nature that we do not know and cannot know, nature's complexity and precisely its wildness. He advocates that we can best express an ontology (which must be tentative and which is the basis of ethics) adapted to this with a poetic attitude cf. the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau Ponty. Hverven says: "We do violence to nature if we try to identify it completely with our concepts and practices, or if we try to force it irrevocably into a man-made, crystal-clear and non-contradictory logic." At the same time, he adheres to Merleau-Ponty's idea that articulation is in itself a creative act, where the expressions are never identical to what they point towards.

It is important to remember this when Hverven later categorizes nature – as one can easily think that he himself has lost sight of this perspective. Especially when it comes to the distinction of inanimate materials and rock, which makes me wonder if geology is a neglected branch of the interdisciplinary estimate he is basing it on. Categorizing is just as necessary to articulate the points of view that he believes can contribute to a reorientering which he finally lands in concepts of value.

If you want to articulate, you have to put things into words and consequently risk stumbling over them, so it's nice to have this poetic and humble disclaimeren i meant along the way: "Whoever asks for certain knowledge about active nature is asking a question that cannot be answered. This question closes the possibility that the understanding to be articulated also has a source outside the human subject. This source is precisely beyond people's full control and in its unpredictability has the character of being a gift. […] To recognize genuine non-human projects is to accept the gift.”

Wild values

Hverven devotes an entire chapter to differentiating nature, in order to avoid homogenization – that is, a relationship with nature in which man dominates nature. Individuals have intrinsic value, and material structures have independence value. But what about wild values, which is Hverven's most comprehensive and most important term?: "Nobody greensis in non-human nature surpasses the historical wild value in the earth's ability to produce and maintain diverse existence which partly surpasses us humans and partly escapes our attempts at understanding and articulation."

At a time when national nature goals and international nature agreements have finally made it onto the agenda, such articulations and the recognition they entail are very important. Hverven is, however, aware that recognition does not spring from "desk work", but arises from experiences in the face of non-human nature.

Tina Kryhlmann
Tina Kryhlmann
Permanent literature reviewer in MODERN TIMES.

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