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The personification of nature: a preface

August 23, 2007

With a post title like that, you might be expecting a long and well-written essay….well, as much as I’d like to do that right now, I have to have will power and keep working on “real” work (some deadlines are approaching fast and furious).

Instead, this post will be a short rant (and preface to a longer, more organized essay) about my dislike for these kinds of phrases:

Mother Nature has been really cruel to our state the last four or five days.

This is a statement from Wisconsin governor about recent floods and the effect they’ve had on the people of that state. I really think that this personification of natural events should stop. We all do it, and I’m not excluding myself…I can think of a few instances where I’ve made similar remarks. Maybe you’re thinking that this isn’t such a big deal, that it’s merely a colloquialism we use and there is no harm. Perhaps. But, I would argue that the practice of demonizing (and applauding) natural events or systems is unwise and, in the long run, a detriment to our advancement as a species.

But…I need to cut myself off before I blow off the work I’m supposed to be doing right now. If I start writing down my reasons for thinking this, then next thing I know, two hours will have elapsed! Hopefully I can come back to this topic very soon.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dr. Friday Glasses permalink
    August 23, 2007 10:59 am

    Although I agree with you that it’s a bad habit, especially in the context of natural disasters, I do think there has historically been a use for this personification in the environmental movement. Changing people’s mindsets from “the Earth is ours to exploit” to the idea that it needs to be protected to be able to sustain us in the long run isn’t an easy thing to do. If people think of the biosphere as a living system, not necessarily an actual person but the metaphor works, then it’s a starting point for thinking about how what we are doing to parts of the system affect the whole. Sometimes people need to personify things to connect with them. I talk to my cat like she’s person that will talk back…

  2. Brian permalink
    August 23, 2007 11:09 am

    “f people think of the biosphere as a living system, not necessarily an actual person but the metaphor works, then it’s a starting point for thinking about how what we are doing to parts of the system affect the whole.”

    Yes…very much in agreement regarding systems philosophy (but the whole Gaia stuff is a little too new agey for me)…I guess i’m more peeved when people ‘blame’ nature within the personified context.

  3. Kim permalink
    August 24, 2007 12:55 pm

    Another example would be the way the mine owner in Utah has described the mountain above the trapped miners. I meant to blog about that last week, but the worst of the media anthropomorphizing disappeared before I got around to it.

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