Do I really, as I suggested, rather with my tongue in my cheek, in a recent piece, 'loath Nature and detest the Environment'? Well, in one sense, not really. I have spent hours peering through binoculars at fulmars and their chicks in Ireland, shags in Cornwall, choughs both in Ireland and in Cornwall, seals etc. etc.. I have enjoyed long afternoons alone (Pam was playing golf) on a ruined, deserted and overgrown jetty in the County Kerry watching the kingfisher; the otter; and the grey mullet coming lazily in with the tide; no companion with me but a can of Beamish and a pencil wherewith to turn the First Leader in the Irish Times into Latin. Pam and I often make unsuccessful attempts to identify fungi. Sadly, we were also unsuccessful recently in our attempts to see red squirrels in Northumberland; grieved to learn that an adenovirus is now an additional problem for those so very shy and so very English creatures.
But I favour the conservation of such species for my own pleasure; as objects or extensions of my own subjective aisthesis. I view them with the same interest as that with which I would try to reconstruct conjecturally a damaged memorial stone in the Latin tongue, work out from quarterings on a hatchment the history of a long-since defunct family, find the strawberry in a Comper window. My fun; my intellectual stimulus. What I find objectionable is an ideology which has grown up and which surrounds 'Nature' and 'The Environment' with reverence, even deference, and sometimes even what looks like a whole invented morality. (Whom should I blame as the begetter of the idea that Morality is derived from Nature? Wordsworth? Heidegger?) Take the concept of Biodiversity. We are under an obligation, it is suggested, to preserve threatened species and to expand the numbers of different species in the world around us.
Really? What about the small-pox virus? Or Ebola? How much do we welcome their spread? Do we encourage it? But they are parts of Nature, aren't they? Should I explain to my GP that he is wrong to discourage promiscuous young people from providing Welcoming Habitats for Chlamydia? What about fleas? Are they part of Nature, and, if not, why not? What about those wonderful little creatures, lice? Cockroaches in your kitchen and the maggots spreading from the bit of beef which slipped down behind the cupboard? And Weather is Environment, isn't it? Tsunamis are to be welcomed, aren't they? Volcanic eruptions? Floods resulting in the spreading of Bubonic Plague by large black rats? (Perhaps Dr Dawkins will write us a book, with enlarged colour photographs, about the elegant and beautiful symbiosis between the rats, their fleas, and the plague.)
Not all, but a lot of the fashionable nonsense about Biodiversity relates to furry and cuddly mammals with nice eyes; and to other 'attractive' species. As far as anything else is concerned, we are totally ruthless. When you are settling down to an out-door tea party in summer and five wasps immediately appear, how welcoming are you? How sincerely do you rejoice when you discover that these same wasps have created one of their fascinating nests in your attic? You surely wouldn't get the Council Pests Department to come and destroy it, would you?
Recently a television 'Nature' presenter in England called Humble revealed that she liked going around naked so as to be "closer to Nature". She (and the journalist who wrote the story up) apparently saw no inconsistency between this affection for 'Nature' and the decision she said she and her husband had made "never" to have children. How 'Natural' are antiovulant contraceptive pills ... or whatever method she uses to achieve her elected infertility? She tells us that "We usually get up at 6 a.m. to feed the animals". One assumes that she seizes the opportunity to do this naked. I'm sure her house is exquisitely smelly (smells are 'natural') after she comes back indoors with animal excrement all over her (of course) naked feet (mammal excrement is 'natural', isn't it?). And Humble says that "there is something joyous about it [going naked]". I admire her ability to find 'joy' in circumstances which most of us would give a lot to avoid, like going out stark-naked to feed the pigs in a sub-zero temperature, two hours before dawn on a January morning. (Goose pimples are 'part of Nature', aren't they? And icy winter winds straight from Siberia? Or is Nature confined to agreeably warm days and a beneficent Jet-stream?).
Some people moralise about those species or natural phenomena which somehow appeal to them ... bunnies or Summer sunsets. Show them anything even moderately inconvenient ... wasps or the Common Cold virus ... and they are all for slaughter. Suddenly murderous, they swarm through their beloved Environment like armies of croaking Daleks shouting Ex-ter-min-ATE.
It is this modern superstition with its concomitant 'morality' and its silly suggestions about a Moral Obligation to encourage Biodiversity that I find odd. One reason for my feeling is that I suspect it of being a newly created 'easy morality' functioning as a substitute for a Christian (or other) morality which is found difficult or inconvenient.
So this is why I would (if by raising a finger I could do so) exterminate the adenovirus which is attacking the red squirrels in Northumberland: I am smitten by the idea of watching red squirrels while, not possessing a microscope, I have quite simply never learned how beautiful and fascinating an adenovirus can be. The very purest subjectivism.