After having established the existence of a postnature world, wherein neither conceptually nor empirically does nature continue to exist, Wapner slides from nature to wilderness/wildness. I wondered in an earlier post how a case for environmental action could be made in the wake of nature’s disappearance. It seems that the strategy is to proclaim the end of nature while shifting attention onto wilderness and the wild, even if these latter are hemmed in by human preservation and reservation efforts (as Wapner admits).
What, then, counts as wild? As it turns out, it is that aspect of nature which remains beyond our control (if not our touch):
For all their constructed quality, wilderness areas still harbor wildness to the degree that the relationships and dynamics of ecosystems will always exceed the determinative and predictive power of human logic and control. Through a blurring of boundaries we can foster a greater coexistence with untambale wildness. (Living Through the End of Nature, 157)
In general, Wapner’s emphasis is on relationships: weaving together human and wild areas in such a way that the boundaries are respected but not strictly enforced. These relationships should safeguard the otherness of the wild, which is precisely what makes it wild and what makes it worth preserving (is this an anthropocentric response to the other?).
One of the greatest gifts wildness offers is the chance to shake off our habitual ways of being in the world and experience things anew. We enjoy this experience precisely because we are not in control. (163)
Encountering otherness is at the most basic level what wildness is all about. Preserving places, domains, realms, and spheres of experience in which wildness’ presence can be retrieved and experienced is what [environmentalists] have long committed themselves to. (163-164)
Practically, I find nothing to object to in these sentiments. I’m not sure that wildness has been successfully circumscribed in a way that nature has not. Are we clear about the wild in a way that we cannot, or can no longer, be about nature? Is it as simple as attributing otherness to what seems out of our control, just as it is simple to assert that, of course, there is something beyond social construction:
Almost everyone recognizes that there is a fundamental substratum of materiality in the world; few of us, even the most ardent constructivists, are philosophical idealists in the sense of believing that reality is merely and exclusively a matter of mind or ideas. Drop a brick on a social constructivist’s foot and it still hurts. There is a genuine physicality to the world. (126)
Wapner, like so many others, presents a strong case for constructivism. The argument is there and it is, however abbreviated, compelling. The materiality and physicality of the world, by contrast, is simply asserted. No argument, just an appeal to what most people believe. But most people also disbelieve in the social construction of the real, so does this mean that they weaken the constructivist’s position too?