steven vogel

Alienation from Nature

Over the past few months I’ve taken interest in environmental philosophy, and have spent some time reading essays and works of theorists like Aldo Leopold, Val Plumwood, Peter Singer, and Eric Katz.

Simply put, environmental philosophy is the study of human beings’ relationship to nature. I’ve come across many philosophers who define nature as being completely independent from the actions of humanity. In their opinions, once humans have interfered with an environment, it loses it’s ‘naturalness’. In Eric Katz’ essay, “The Big Lie: Human Restoration of Nature”, he states that this is because humans are alienated from nature and that their every interaction with it is a destructive act of imposing anthropocentric intentions upon it. 

To me, this seemed to be the consensus among environmental philosophers. It wasn’t until I read “Thinking Like a Mall”, a book written by Steven Vogel, that I was introduced to a contrasting perspective. Vogel claims that although it may seem as if humans are alienated from nature, they are really alienated from their practices.

Vogel says that this form of alienation occurs “…when humans fail to recognize themselves in the world that surrounds them: when the objects they produce through their labor…become powers over and against them.” An excellent example of this is the meat manufacturing industry. It seems as if many have forgotten the process behind the package of meat they purchase at the grocery store. They are alienated from the cruel and polluting process of factory farming, blissfully unaware of the damage that has been done by what they choose to purchase.

Vogel offers a solution to this alienation. He says that humans must get back in touch with the root of their practices in order to understand the effect they have on the natural environment. We must come to recognize the state of nature as something produced and affected by our actions, rather than something external and separate from us. 

Featured photo taken at Bruce Peninsula National Park.