Nobody else seems to find the “800-year-old farmers” of a recent headline (and a Nibble) funny.1 And personally I don’t care that the authors seem to have misplaced the Amazon. What does concern me is the narrative that the Amazon is somehow an untouched wilderness, which remains dominant, and to a lesser extent the sub-dominant narrative that we have nothing (or everything) to learn from our farming forebears.
The point about the Amazon and other forests being untouched is examined in loving detail by Sharon Friedman in Face it: All forests are “sluts”. She blows a hole in the whole idea of “virgin” forests, for all sorts of reasons.
Calling anything involving forests “virgin” muddles the concepts of “old-growth,” “native forests” and “past practices,” promotes the notion of nature as female and humans as male, and slanders all the non-virgins in the world. It’s so sloppy a usage that it conveys a trifecta of trickiness: three bad ideas surreptitiously conveyed in one word.
Friedman makes many choice points, including the whole question of revirgination and whether “rape” is a good metaphor for what people do to landscapes. But might there, I wonder, be a sense in which biodiversity is a reasonable proxy for untouchedness? Not all biodiversity loss is going to be a bad thing, just as not all virginity loss is a bad thing either. Frankly, I don’t think Friedman’s plea — “to stop using any sexual terms in these kinds of discussions” — has a snowball’s chance in hell, not around here at any rate. And there has to be a bad-taste pun involving sluts, virgins and Amazons, but I’m blowed if I can find it now.Footnotes:
- “Farmers 800 years ago” apparently is less enticing [↩]