There is a fundamental problem with this planet, or at least, the governments that control the fate of this planet, illustrated by the Federal Ban on Marijuana. The racism, oppression, and natural domination that the hegemonic leaders of the “free world” propagate is creating the fundamental separation between man and his environment that has spiraled into the catastrophe we can see before us. The dangerous pesticides we spray to kill these plants, the billions of dollars we spend on overcrowded prisons to house the millions of people who sell these plants, and the amount of human resources allocated to destroy these plants are all representative of the fact that Man, in his ignorance, has declared war on nature in its entirety. While tobacco is recognized as one of America’s biggest cash crops and major killers, Marijuana is considered to be medicine that has not resulted in a single documented death. Perhaps this demonstrates the governments’ priorities in making sure population is at a controllable rate. It would certainly seem to be the case as they have done virtually nothing to prevent world famine or the detrimental water and air pollution that decreases our IQs and results in the reproductive failings of countless men and women every year, opting to instead spend their budgets to war against “terrorism,” agriculture, and the people of the so-called “Third World.” The legalization of Marijuana can be justified on multiple fronts that extend to Environmental Ethics, Deep Ecology, Eco-feminism, and the Land Ethic in general; these ideologies all support and bleed into one another in their attempt to prevent the obliteration of Man’s environment, and so, his Self. This paper will demonstrate that the ideology behind the ban on Marijuana (which has destroyed any sense of Wildness we may have once enjoyed) is synonymous with the natural oppression that has plagued our history for years, while proposing a new framework for which we can hope to regain a natural harmony with our surrounding environment.
In an attempt to preserve those places our communities have considered to be “sublime,” more and more men and women tend to celebrate this idea by designating Wilderness areas to the spaces around them. An illusion is thus created and promoted, aimed at reflecting a post-frontier consciousness in which people can be closer to “god,” and the beauty of the world. This, unfortunately, creates the separation between man and his environment that has led to the removal of indigenous peoples from their native homeland. By rendering nature as removed from the sphere of humanness, the Wilderness dualism reinforces environmentally irresponsible behavior. Wilderness works under the assumption that nature is fundamentally apart from the realm of humanness. Whether we take on the role of “preserver” or “conserver” to keep humans out of the resources we maintain for ourselves, the idea of control is still ever present. For instance, Ramachandra Guha writes in his essay, “Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique” that many times, Wilderness preservations are orchestrated and promoted by ex hunters-turned-conservationists who seek to impose a “western style” system of national parks onto developing landscapes. While perhaps beneficial to wealthy political elites, the designation of nature reserves helps to displace villages and their inhabitants, resulting in the direct transfer of resources from the poor to the rich. We can see here that Wilderness is demarcated, disenfranchising a significant portion of the population. It is in this way that Wildness, the inherent essence of natural beings, is suppressed and dissolved.
Yet that which is deemed Wild is considered by many to be the best parts of nature. In his essay, “Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks of the lover of nature who finds perpetual youth in the forests and stars he lives harmoniously with. Likewise, Henry David Thoreau writes in “Walking” that all good things are Wild and free and should abstain from being cultivated: “Give me for my friends and neighbors wild men, not tame ones. The wildness of the savage is but a faint symbol of the awful ferity with which good men and lovers meet.” (Thoreau 19) For the poet, Wildness becomes a quality of the earth and its constituents that must be preserved at all costs, for fear of disintegrating into tameness and so, an unnatural perversion of truth.
By mistaking Wilderness for Wildness, we fail to preserve an environment that instills a sense of belonging for us. In his chapter “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World,” Jack Turner warns that “without big, wild wilderness I doubt most of us will ever see ourselves as part and parcel of nature,” a loss that would reinforce the fallacy that the natural is “other” than what we are ourselves. When we convert the natural landscape into commodities for tourism and economic profit, Wilderness becomes nothing more than a resource that provides for human beings. We forget that we are participants in a great cycle of feeding and enslave the surrounding environment to serve our interests—a notion detrimental to the ecosystems that are subjected to this contradicting framework of utility.
In making a Wild space domestic, the landscape is subjugated to the basic white male anxiety that has catapulted us into the environmental holocaust we find ourselves at present. Those who feel the need to possess and dominate the landscape legitimize their conquest of territory with such concepts of anachronistic space and panoptical time. The myth that these “empty lands” are devoid of any people who “really matter” reveals a love for power that has historically been reserved for those elite few who write the legislation and policy that perpetuates a particularly close relation between land and money. Anne McClintock reveals this conceptualization in her description of the slave trade and plantation system:
“For what were [they] if not massive experiments in social engineering and discipline, serial production, the systematization of human life, the standardizing of persons? The global science of the surface was a conversion project, dedicated to transforming the earth into a single economic currency, a single pedigree of history and a universal standard of cultural value—set and managed by Europe.” (McClintock 34)
As money and land are ultimately fused together, economic protectionism corrupts the freedom of the Wilderness, sacrificing Wildness for a comparative advantage in a newly imposed system.
The protection of comparative advantage becomes evident as immigrants historically find themselves the most despicable forms of life in relation to the White “natives” that control policy. For example, Priscilla Wegars writes in her essay, “Heritage Tourism of Chinese Archaeological and Historical Sites in Idaho,” that cultural insensitivity and racism were prevalent in the 1800s, conditioning a new atmosphere that sustained visible prejudice and intolerance. “Few people know that the U.S. government permitted opium for smoking to be legally imported into the United States until 1909, provided the importers paid the heavy taxes levied on it. Only Caucasians could import opium; they then sold it to Chinese people.” (Wegars 19) This shaped the nature of a historical process that ultimately led to the torture and murders of 31 members of the Chinese community in 1887, appropriately named the Snake River Massacre of Chinese Miners. The general hostility and forced taxes the Chinese endured directly led to the racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, banning the immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years and prohibited the naturalization of all Chinese. Major outbreaks of violence spread everywhere until the massacre threw the legislation into the spotlight. Though $276,619.75 was initially paid to the Chinese groups as compensation for general losses and injuries, none was ever made to the families of the murdered Chinese, and President Cleveland arranged for congress to pass the Scott Act of 1888, “which prohibited the reentry of some 20,000 Chinese laborers who had left the United States temporarily.” (Stratton 224) These men were considered much like slaves, indigenous peoples, and women were: non-human or “other,” and thus, not worthy of acknowledgement.
This passion for blankness has escalated in the 20th and 21st Centuries as well. For instance, in a campaign to reach and capture the North Pole for territorial conquest, economic interests provided a cut-throat atmosphere in which reputations, lives, and businesses were ruined. Presidential endorsements, national sponsorships, and private institutional finances contributed to one of the biggest scandals of the early 1900s, resulting in the unsubstantiated imprisonment of Frederick Cook, as land as a potential possession fueled the desire for conquest. (Bloom 31)
Nature has been fundamentally linked to wealth and profit, we can see, for hundreds of years. Whether the product is identified as glory, territory, gold, or any of a thousand other natural resources, the fact remains that humans have unilaterally considered themselves the possessors of the land around them. However, it is in the recognition that one resides within and along with nature that this discrepancy can be negotiated. Only as we return to a more harmonious understanding with our environment, made possible by such instances as returning to a mere particle in the food chain, can we reenter an understanding of what it is to be Wild. The domesticated and human-centered fear of death is destroyed by the recognition that food is not merely a means to sustain life, but an ends unto itself. “No being who lives comes to be except through its gestation in a flesh, in which not only a particular edible other but also all the other others are also already implicit in its being. Put in other words, food is contagious with the heterogeneity (rather than merely the indeterminacy) of possibility, leaving the particular human soul inextricably involved with all others who eat or have eaten.” (Hatley 23) It is in a return to the most Wild, when Man himself becomes nothing more than the makeup of an infinite number of processes that have provided him with the flesh he delivers to a ranking member of the food chain, that he discovers his most basic truth- that he himself is created to be dissolved. Thus, the separateness he has created for himself to understand the world around him is simultaneously destroyed as he becomes unified once again with his natural Wildness.
Because Marijuana is a weed and grows anywhere, it cannot therefore be regulated, and the government cannot tax it. Nature in this case has become reconceived in economic terms and deemed useless to the public. Similarly, nature is used to promote racist ideals. Because “brown” people used Marijuana, many lawmakers and political elites banned the plant in order to easily prosecute and imprison these “others.” Likewise, slaves practicing religious ceremonies were prohibited from using for similar reasons. In this instance nature has become a tool to reproduce the racial oppression that has destroyed indigenous peoples for years. The federal ban impacts issues concerning justice, race, class, public health, taxation, science, democracy, civil liberties, education, reason, and the environment as a whole. If we choose not to acknowledge a system or plant or animal or person for what it is—a unique and acceptable part of the environment—then we doom ourselves to an irreparable separation that may prove to be too challenging for us to fix. If land is a fountain of energy, then to make illegal those plants that grow on that land is truly a mistaken response in reaching a sense of unity with our environment. The upward flow of energy is hindered by the federal ban on marijuana, affecting the lives of those engaged with these plants, their families, and the society they are absorbed within. By maintaining this unjustifiable law, we reproduce the political and economic injustice from where the darkest parts of our histories originate. It is only in our love for the truest and most appealing parts of a surrounding nature that we may also find the truest and most loved parts of ourselves.