An Ecology of Biophilic Values
by Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb
for Stephen R. Kellert
We are but planetary dreams, puzzles
of cells completed, yet unsolved,
complexes of tendencies
defined by organic associations
in Nature. Culture me not
to be engineered to desire
such that life itself no longer inspires
Earth-given, biophilia-driven values.
My affiliate first evokes in me
its pattern in my fear; I dare
not near what used to be
a threat-filled thing
innate to mammalian memory.
To hate, to flee, to give it space,
the presence is still awesome,
yet strangely laced
with a sense of the familiar.
Within my cells it shares a time
when natural needs were met,
memory, history, chance—
the savannah dance
that pressured our design,
pulling place into neural spaces
I refer to as my mind, inclined
to find within this living form
an object of projected beauty.
This different type of kin directs
my feelings of strong affection,
reflecting my need to interact
enhancing group connection. Inspired
to share the receiver of my care
with my community, my social soul
is linked by nature/culture bonds,
from which to fashion
a model for civic compassion.
I yearn to visit a similar creature
in some exquisite feature of the wild,
for a human soul is styled to face
an immensity of freedom in a place
of exploration, of restoration, where
the experiential sense of self
can return to health and balance
in the bounty of Earth's wealth,
within which each being has its role.
How does this other make sense
to me? What does its presence mean?
Surely it must represent more
than its common form when free.
I want to make it part of me,
though we are independent lives,
so in my mind the creature thrives,
is prone to fly and crawl and deeply roam
within the symbols of this poem.
To identify this lifeform,
to classify its kind could yield
knowledge of design and function,
further, in conjunction with curiosity,
inspiration to trace the place
exactly of the thing in land or space
or time or, even more abstractly,
the evolution of its biosemiotic realm
as relative to mine.
I remember now—almost—
the beast, the way it moved, the nature
of its shape, the caution in my catching it,
and pride when casting it aside,
but, even stranger, a sense
of diminished danger
with each successive mastery
in the distance of my ancestry,
and, more so, the desire to make it mine.
I will choose the use it offers, depending
on my needs, unless, of course, whims tend
to be expressed, the affiliation will end
in sustenance or medicine or in manipulation
of its genes; it seems I can gain
profits by containing for entertainment
this captive, adaptive soul,
but regardless of the way it serves,
best to keep this resource whole.
Call me biocentric, ecocentric,
some will insist, but my spirit
is constricted, my conscience isn't clear,
for, with this other will-to-live,
who am I to interfere? The being
should be back in the land
where it does belong; thus, my affiliate
I must release if I want my biophilic soul
again to be at peace.
"The Affiliate: An Ecology of Biophilic Values" was inspired by the earlier works of Yale University social ecologist Stephen R. Kellert, who developed the backbone typology of a spectrum of nine innate tendencies related to E. O. Wilson's concept of biophilia. The poem is divided into an introductory stanza followed by three sections (Affective, Cognitive, and Evaluative) based on the associated learning levels specified in Kellert's book The Value of Life. Each section of the poem contains three stanzas, each stanza reflective of a particular biophilic tendency (including biophobia, as per the biophilia hypothesis). The Affective section includes stanzas to serve as evocations of the following innate responses or "values": negativistic, aesthetic, and humanistic. The Cognitive section includes the naturalistic, symbolic, and scientific. Finally, the Evaluative section consists of the dominionistic, utilitarianistic, and moralistic. The "affiliate" can be read as any representative or prototypical aspect of nature (a creature of some kind) that comes to the respective reader's mind.
Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb's poetry has appeared in Weber Studies, Wild Earth, The Midwest Quarterly, The Blueline Anthology (Syracuse University Press), Karamu, Poem, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Roux Magazine, Eureka Literary Magazine, So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, Hawai'i Pacific Review, The Chaffin Journal, Slant: A Journal of Poetry, Mid-America Poetry Review, Puerto del Sol, Rive Gauche, and many other journals, with work forthcoming in Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments, Rainbow Curve, Eclipse, and The Village Rambler, among others. She works as a mentor and as co-editor of the Sustainable Ways Newsletter at Prescott College and as co-publisher of Native West Press (which publishes small, edited collections of works from authors and poets in both the arts and the sciences in an effort to enhance public awareness of natural biodiversity within the American West). Her BA degrees are in English/Linguistics and in Wildlife Studies, and she holds an interdisciplinary MA in Ecosemantics.
Values and Vision: A Profile of Stephen R. Kellert by Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb
The Sustainable Ways Interview: Social Ecologist and Author Stephen R. Kellert Shares His Views of Sustainable Design
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