In his essay "The Social Siege of Nature" Michael Soule identifies multiple ways we, as homo sapiens, tend to regard nature and wilderness. The different versions of Nature represent competing mythologies, with the origins of some quite visible in the creation stories of the past--like Genesis--while the origins of others are more opaque or invisible.
--Nature as the provider of necessary resources--from minerals to fresh meat, to lumber for the construction of homes--has its beginnings in the cosmology in Genesis where Adam and then again Noah are told by God that "I have given to you all things." This is an economical approach to nature; nature is mired so to speak in human interests. Everything that moveth upon the earth and even the green herb is for man and therefore its value is determined by its relationship to man. This is anthropocentrism.
--Nature is unpredictable--a force mindlessly causing random catastrophes. Nature is to be conquered but not without hazard and difficulty. Nature is the source of anarchy and barbarism. All cultures have flood stories which underscore this aspect of the wild. To go out into the wilderness is to become "bewildered."
--The image of the garden seems an idyllic version of nature where man is the ultimate steward of the land and ORDER prevails.
--The Wild Kingdom. Nature provides the trophy quest, gives us ecotourism, the bird watcher and the sportsman.
--Nature as an open-air gymnasium, the place of ski slopes and whitewater rapids.
--Nature as Temple, the place of the vision quest or the landscape of divine inspiration and self-esteem.
---Wilderness exists purely separate from homo sapiens.
--Gaia--nature as self-regulating.
--biocentrism, Nature has intrinsic value and consequently possesses at least the right to exist. This view is the opposite to anthropocentrism. For instance, the Endangered Species Act (1973) represents the idea that nonhuman residents of the United States have a right to life and liberty. As conservationists, the wildlife biologist and the secular scientist in general are, by design, working to uphold the federal and state mandate to protect all species and their habitat from management schemes that are driven solely by the economic philosophies of anthropocentrism.
The Paintings of Thomas Cole
American painter Thomas Cole (1801-1848) uses religious iconography to portray the tension between the idyllic garden of myth and the unpredictable and hostile wilderness.
Expulsion from Paradise
Heroic Cycle: The Departure ; The Return
Thomas Cole was concerned about the future of America and his The Course of Empire gives us a narrative version of the human journey from creation and apocalypse. His first painting in the series shows us the "Savage State." The journey continues through different stages of the empire (of civilization) by first taming the savage state, thus creating a "Pastoral State." This is metaphorically synonymous to the conversion of wildness in any of hundreds of narratives. As humans become more fully urbanized, we have Cole's interpretation of the epitome of human culture: "Consummation of the Empire." Obviously Cole implies the "course" of the Roman Empire or any other empire (such as the British Empire at the height of Imperialism) as the epitome of this kind of consummation. In the study of mythology and the heroic cycle or monomyth, this is often the end, the happy ending where the Kingdom or City on the Hill is glorious as a result of the journey. However Cole takes this further. It is what happens next that suggests that corruption or calamity, inevitably it seems, which occurs in many civilizations or Empires. We eventually achieve "Destruction" and finally "Desolation." The implication is that humans bring this apocalypse on themselves and indeed may deserve to die--an idea we see in Genesis. In the best case scenario, out of this desolation comes some promise of a new life or New World Order. In this case, Cole does not offer such a promise--desolation means a world without humans. But the story is similar to the mythos of Genesis, at its best and perhaps paradoxically its most frightening levels of cognition.