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The Notions of Mother Nature and the Balance of Nature

by on September 11, 2011

On the Notions of Mother Nature and the Balance of Nature and Their Implications for Conservation (2010), written by Dennis Jelinski, confronts the use of “Mother Nature” and “Balance of Nature”- phrases widely used when talking about the environment.  Mother Nature has been personified through many mediums of Western Culture, including through weather journalists, music artists, and “Mother Nature” has even been used in a slogan for margarine. Mother Nature has been endured many criticisms and descriptions such as Motherly and warm, “in need of healing,” and ruthless (38).  Jelinski criticizes the way people have personified nature and made it a “thing” to either love or hate.  I see Jelinski’s point in this argument and reading over his description of Mother Nature forced me to think a lot about how words and the way we view them has shaped the way we view a topic.  When connecting Mother Nature to nature, I have always had a little bit more sympathy and thought about the environment as something that takes care of us, much like a mother does to her child.  I believe that people do differ in how they think about a topic depending on what words are used to address that topic.

Jelinski then discusses Rene Decartes’ view of Mother Nature, and specifically his view of the culture/nature debate.  Decartes says that nature and culture are distinctly separate and sees them in a dualistic point of view: they exist in direct opposition of each other.  He backs up his claim by saying that “culture is the process of cultivating the natural; to subordinate it to human control” (40).  This view of culture and nature is extreme and unyielding; it does not allow for any ambiguity of definition. Personally, this view is too black and white to be able to apply to situations where people and nature come into contact and affect each other. Terborgh’s book Requiem for Nature addresses the nature-culture duality in much of the same way.  He believes that people are the cause of everything wrong in the environment and that nature is sacred and should not be touched.  He would not agree with Jelinski’s view of “Mother Nature” because Terborgh views nature are nurturing and caring, much like a mother.  In a sense, he does view nature as “Mother” nature. How would this view of culture and nature as dualistic affect how people treat nature? What about culture?

After discussing Mother Nature, Jelinski continues on to the topic of “Balance of Nature.” This idea has been around since the Ancient Greeks, who believed that this balance is what keeps the world revolving around a “stable endpoint of equilibrium” (41). Throughout the centuries, many have attributed the Balance of Nature to G-d’s devine plan, saying that things like the water cycle and a food chain are not merely random. It is also around the concept of Balance of Nature that conservation ideas first surface. Jelinski talks about the Balance of Nature in terms of Landscape Ecology, which includes the Paradigm Shift and the Nonequilibrium view. This view says that it is very rare, almost impossible, for ecosystems to be in perfect equilibrium;  random disturbance happens too often. Instead, they say an ecosystem is made up of many equilibria.  How does this idea play into the Balance of Nature?  

Does the way people hear and relate words in accordance with certain topics affect how they view that topic?

Why do the phrases “Mother Nature” and “Balance of Nature” have an affect on environmentalism? What message, if any, could these phrases help convey?

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11 Comments
  1. I completely agree with you Janelle. Couldn’t of said it better when you stated “this view is too black and white to be able to apply to situations where people and nature come into contact and affect each other”. After the discussions that our class engaged in about this topic, it is clearly quite difficult to separate culture and nature when we discovered several things that have a relationship within these two categories. I also believe that Descartes point of view excludes the uncertainty of this relationship cross-culturally because many different cultures, societies, and even individuals have there own opinion and relationship with nature and culture.

  2. Frederick Reisen permalink

    I also agree with the shortcomings of Decartes view on mother nature and the necessary separation between her (whatever that means) and us as humans. However, I believe personifying nature as a mother is not inherently bad. The image of nature and the environment (which humans are apart of) as a mothering force is a comforting one for me. It alters the view of struggling against nature or even forced adaptation to the environment. Instead it a force that allows all things to grow and mature at their own pace and in their own way, “mother nature” is really only there to provide for us and guide us, without strictly telling us what to do, much like a good mother. In regards to the second question I think I lean more towards the big picture side of natural balance. I do not think a perfect balance may ever be found but concentrating on the big picture is important. Is there really a way to focus on establishing the entire gamut of equilibria by paying attention to the parts and not the whole?

  3. In regards to the second topic of balancing nature, i think that it is impossible to think that anything in nature can have an actual equllibrium state because, as mentioned, nature, culture, and the environment are constantly changing. This idea also relates back to the topic brought up in class of how adaptation is such an important part of cultural ecology and how humans and the environment interact with one another. We are all organisms working as just a part of a whole in the environment. There will always be imbalances in our environment, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the scale between humans and the environment is impossible to regulate either.

  4. The terms “Mother Nature” and “Balance of Nature” have for centuries shaped our way of thinking about the natural environment. Janelle pointed to a few of these examples in her post above from the article. Jelinski suggest that these terms “have produced cultural, social, and scientific misconceptions about the structure and function of nature rather than fostering any useful or meaningful understanding” (47). I would have to say I disagree. These terms influence us to be mindful and aware of ourselves within the environment and with other living organisms.

  5. vcowdrey permalink

    I agree with the comment about how “these terms (Mother Nature and Balance of Nature) influence us to be mindful and aware of ourselves.” I think in part this is due to the personification of nature. By personifying something we try to have a greater understanding of why things happen, sort of like understanding the motives of a human being. I appreciated how Pimm included how we perceive “Mother Nature” as a deification of the natural world, and how she is “frequently characterized as capricious and blamed for poor weather,”(38) but on the other hand, “good for supplying us with bountiful natural resources, abundant harvests, forests teeming with wildlife…”(38) The way people, especially in western cultures, view the natural world is such an accurate reflection of how we need to have someone to thank or blame when anything happens.

    • I totally agree with this idea of being able to personify nature and how that gives us a deeper understanding of how the world works. Viewing nature as a motherly figure can directly connect us to nature, which i think is very important for us to use especially this day in age because our culture seems to be diverging the culture/nature boundary more and more each day.

  6. vcowdrey permalink

    * I appreciated how Jalinski included….

  7. 242colleencarey permalink

    I totally agree with this as well. The idea of seperating culture and nature baffles me. We can see, from the past several weeks in class, that nature and culture have affects on one another and can’t be seperated. As for the balance of nature, I don’t agree with the statement, “it is very rare, almost impossible, for ecosystems to be in perfect equilibrium; random disturbance happens too often.” This might be too far fetched, but I believe that these random disturbances aid in the balance of nature. And if people have “attributed the Balance of Nature to G-d’s devine plan,” then wouldn’t it makes sense that these random disturbances aren’t random and are apart of this devine plan?

  8. the concept that Jelinski believes that nature and culture have a dualistic relationship seems completely off base to me (obviously, everyone else in our class apparently agrees). Janelle i agree with you that Jelinski’s definition is too “black and white,” and in my opinion i think that the two completely co-exist and essentially intertwine with one another. i think there are many correlating factors that attribute nature to culture and visa versa. it’s irritating to me how jelinski seems like such a pessimist. when talking about the “balance of nature” he argues that ecosystems are rarely in perfect harmony due to the fact that random occurrences happen too often. i understand this thought and perspective has obvious truth behind it, but i find it impossible to dismiss the fact that an equilibrium must exist at some level for there to be an existing co-habitation. i believe in some aspect that there has to be somewhat a “yin and yang” aspect between ecosystems and those who inhabit it in order to continue the “cycle of life.” in essence i don’t believe that plants and animal would florish at the extent they do, if the aspect of equilibrium did not exist.

  9. We know that different words invoke different feelings in several ways for us. I think when it is used specifically to represent something it can affect the way we perceive that topic. This is because we have different experiences and filters associated with words than someone else would. These phrases have an effect on environmentalism because they link nature to us directly as my classmates have stated previously. The messages these phrases convey a multitude of relationships between humans and nature depending on the filter (person).

  10. I have enjoyed looking at this article for a second time because it’s very interesting. I think that the words we use to describe our world reflect how we see it in our minds. Words like majestic, vast and mother have positive connotations that suggest awe-inspiring sites and an environment that takes care of us. If we choose to call our environment “mother nature,” we are somehow letting go of some of our responsibility. The mother takes care of us, not the other way around…or at least not until they have aged. When we use terminology like this, it allows us to escape the responsibilities required for helping our environment.

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