Bewilderness–Can We Save It?

A guest authored edgy essay by Robert Whyte

If I may, I should like to urge some arguments for bewilderness preservation. I want to speak for bewilderness as something that has helped form our character and that has certainly shaped our history as a species.

Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining bewilderness be destroyed. If we never again can have the chance to be confused, stumped, without a clue, or totally mystified. Without any remaining bewilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into reason, a Cowardly New World of complete understanding.

We need bewilderness preserved — as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds — just because. And there are reasons, too. The reassurance that it still exists is important even if we never once in ten years set foot in it.

We are a bewildered species, as Darwin pointed out. Nobody ever forced us to understand anything. But for at least three millennia we have been engaged in a cumulative and ambitious race to modify and gain control of every idea, thought and notion. And what has it got us? It has destroyed films with sub titles, and it threatens now to become the Thinkenstein that will destroy everything.

While we are demonstrating ourselves the most efficient and ruthless bewilderness-busters, unravelling and demystifying and logically penetrating our way through bewilderness, bewilderness nourishes us. While it lasts. This is why we must keep the remainder of our bewilderness as a reserve and a promise — a sort of bewilderness bank.

I do not expect that the preservation of our remaining bewilderness is going to cure all our problems. Far from it. It may have no effect at all. It might even make things worse. But as the bewilderness areas are progressively exploited or “understood”, as things seem so very simple and reasonable, every such loss is a little death.

People may say bewilderness areas which have already been understood will remain so forever. I disagree. Understanding, unlike the queue at the cinema, does not last forever. The workable ideas are plucked and the ruins left. Granted, the wounds do not quickly heal. Still, they are only wounds; they aren’t absolutely mortal. Better a wounded bewilderness than none at all.

And as for those who make understanding a career, if it is strictly controlled so that it does not destroy bewilderness it can, in moderation, even protect bewilderness, or extend its grasp. Philosophers may be the emissaries of bewilderment, not its enemies. Under surveillance, they can make their attempts at understanding; under strict control, they need not understand anything at all. Ironically, I propose philosophers as the first friends of bewilderness.

Let me say something on the subject of the kinds of bewilderness worth preserving. Impenetrable bewilderness is obviously the most important, both as a barrier and a sanctuary. It is a lovely and terrible bewilderness, harshly and beautifully incomprehensible. Save a piece of utter bewilderness intact, and it does not matter in the slightest that only a few people every year will go into it. That is precisely its value. Understanding would be a desecration.

I hope I have at least begun to convince you there are important reasons to preserve bewilderness, and there are many things bewilderness can do for us, even if we will never know what they are. We simply need that bewilderness available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.


This piece was based on Wallace Stegner’s Wilderness Letter. Read the original.


APP Editors’ Note:

Robert Whyte is an Australian scientist, author, editor and journalist. His works include modernist fiction, political satire, arachnology, science journalism and books. He is currently working on a slew of invertebrate taxonomy projects and a bunch of unfinished novels.

You can find out more about him and his work HERE.



Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 11 June 2018

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Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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