Week 2, Prompt 3: Romanticism and Utilitarianism


When I think of romanticism I usually think of art and literature movements rather than any sort of influence on environmentalism. Throughout human consciousness our relationship with nature has changed immensely and this is evident and documented in our art, mythologies, and stories. For example, for many cultures the forest was seen as something to be feared and avoided, especially at night and usually housing strange and mystical creatures. This has evolved to forests being seen as a place where personal transformation can take place, a place that challenges the individual, a place to seek solitude and empowerment. During periods of colonialism, especially in North America, this view changed to the forest being seen as something to be overpowered and manipulated, cleared, in order to create space for humans—dominance over the environment as a means to an end: progress. Our relationship with the environment has created many interesting dichotomies and symbolism that mirror our need to understand and revere natural phenomenon.

 Now in a time where we largely believe the environment is something that is mostly understood, at least scientifically. We have moved towards a more utilitarian and fact/experience-based perspective in interpreting the world around us and this is evident in the paradigms that have spawned from our need to continuously reinterpret our relationships and understandings of our world. Whether or not we can bridge lofty and idealistic views to those more grounded in utilitarianism is an interesting question but it is my belief that there isn’t a need or reason to choose one or the other. Both ways of interpreting and understanding the environment from a reverent standpoint, as well as an objective one, have existed side by side more or less, just at different intensities. If we focused solely from a utilitarian approach, we would only go about protecting the earth so long as it was still able to provide to us what we wanted to gain from it which would vary person to person. If romanticism were more strictly in place ideas of dominating nature and altering it would be rejected; but without romanticism our relationship with the environment would lose some of its intrinsic value as inherently beautiful, reverent, and unique entities outside from their utility to human beings. I don’t think either perspective should or can be separated. Romantic notions of natural phenomena is something I believe will remain in our collective unconscious, and utilitarianism is a mode that has enabled our species to thrive.


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