Wilderness and Privilege

I’m not much into post-modern political complaints about privilege and whatnot, and I’m not much of an environmentalist, but this article by Lupa really struck a chord with me:

I feel less and less like there’s a strict dichotomy between human habitations and everything else. Yes, wilderness is its own thing, and to be valued for what it is, and preserved as best as possible. But I’m feeling increasingly critical of the idea that cities are uniformly bad, that anything humans do or create is unnatural, and that you have to choose sides or else you aren’t a good enough environmentalist.

All these ideas of moving out to the country, living sustainably, or just spending more time hiking, camping, etc.–all these have something in common. They all assume that a person has the means to spend quality time outdoors. And that smacks of a great deal of social and financial privilege.

For one thing, it assumes that you have enough money to be able to drive out to the wilderness if you don’t already live there. It assumes you can buy or rent a car, and also have the necessary equipment to hike, camp, etc. once you’re out there.

It also assumes that you have the time to be able to do this. If you’re working two or three jobs and spending eighty hours a week working, you probably don’t have much leisure time to put toward outdoor activities.

The urban:bad, wilderness:good dichotomy is very prevalent, and definitely in long need of review. There are plenty of good books out there on urban paganism, and some of them don’t focus solely on ways to pretend you’re in a wilderness environment while you’re in the city. As Lupa has previously said, nothing we do as humans is unnatural or really different than what most other animals do: we’re just more complex and sophisticated in the doing of it. Nature is all around in the city, and its magic is there too.

But that’s not the issue I want to get at.

Last week, my partner and I met with a friends of hers to pick apples from an orchard. We loaded up the car, drove almost 50 miles to the orchard, got to pick among some apples that were half-rotten and worm-eaten, and then went to dinner at a rather nice nearby restaurant. Sure, it was a fun time, but the economics break down thusly: $30 in gas, total travel time of two hours there and back, $25 for dinner, because we shared a plate, and around 4 hours of lingering around the orchard and other nearby attractions. For a dozen apples of lower quality than what we could have gotten at the local grocery store for $3.

We paid for the experience. And that assumed that we had the money and time to indulge in that experience. And I don’t know about you, dear reader, but that excursion used up my day off (which I intended to use to rest my feet from my 50 hour workweek) and depleted the remainder of my funds for the next week and a half afterward.

And going out to a campground is the same deal. It assumes you have the money, the equipment, and the time available to indulge. The local/organic food movement is also of the same mindset: it assumes you have the resources to purchase more expensive food, and that you have the agricultural diversity that the movement’s originators in California enjoy locally. (Sorry, but I like tomatoes and bananas, even if it’s winter. And I like coffee. Ever notice that local-food people always have coffee, but aren’t usually from Hawai’i?)

And here’s the kicker: try telling someone that you’re pagan, but that you don’t buy organic/local food or camp. See what kind of looks you get. Tell a fellow pagan that you don’t like to be naked in the woods, because you welt when you get bit by mosquitoes and you burn easily in the sun. See what they say.

Boy, aren’t we a privileged bunch?

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3 responses to “Wilderness and Privilege

  1. Pingback: Great Blog Post « HollaBlog

  2. Pingback: Privilege and Space | Blacklight Metaphysics

  3. Pingback: Order and Chaos | Blacklight Metaphysics

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