The Last Chapters
This part of the book upset many people, for here Carson argued that the "conquest of nature" was a futile exercise and a dangerous delusion. To a post-war generation raised on the wonders of modern science and dreams of a high-tech future, this was heresy of the worst sort. Injured pride accounted for some of the reaction--economic entomologists saw themselves as part of the vanguard of Progress and the hope of the world for recommending DDT--but injured ideology for much more. Carson offended against the dream of a triumphant humanity, doing as it wished. Worse, she used science to argue for her view.
She did not, please note, reject insect control or even technology, as some of her more heated critics argued. She praised Edward Knipling's high-tech project of eradicating screw worm flies by releasing millions of male flies sterilized by radiation. She rejected our control of nature. Critics saw that as a radical rejection of science, but that shill for science, Francis Bacon, said, in the seventeenth century, that "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed," and while moderns fastened on the "command," obedience came first. Bacon's position meant that nature placed limits on what we did, but limits were the last thing post-war Americans wanted to discover.
Some environmentalists seized on Carson's prescriptions to argue that ecology would lead us into the Earthly Paradise of harmony with nature. While that would be an improvement over the one promised in the ads--the Earthly Paradise of Consumer Goods--Carson had a different message: of humility in the face of forces larger and older than humans. On that see her article, "Help Your Child to Wonder," and the book that followed, The Sense of Wonder. [to be discussed in November.
April 23, 2007
The Last Chapters