Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: Anthill by E.O. Wilson

Anthill by E.O. Wilson. I've previously reviewed his book The Future of Life.

This fiction book presents themes Professor Wilson has emphasized in his nonfiction books. The most important theme is the necessity of creative synthesis of capitalism and environmental protection. The lead character, Raphael Cody, learns that a beloved southern Alabama old wood forest surrounding a lake will be threatened by Mobile's expansion. In fact, his blue-blood maternal uncle is among the business elite advocating this development. Raphael leaves the study of the biosphere to complete a law degree at Harvard. Upon graduation, he returns and works as the legal counsel for the developer who purchased the property and who has previously converted woodland and wetlands to suburban Mobile sprawl. As legal counsel, he is able to develop a proposal which to a large extent preserved the quality of the land while advancing his employer's bottom line.

Another theme is biophilia, and that an important step in developing the attachment to life in its varied forms (the biosphere, Nature) is direct experience and study. Raphael's parents used to picnic at this remote, undisturbed lakeside, and there he met a Florida State University biology professor who vacationed there and encouraged Raphael's explorations of nature.

A third theme is the conflict between millennial Christianity and environmental conservation. I don't believe this theme was well-developed in this book.

Another interesting portion of the book is Raphael's time in Boston while studying at Harvard. His intimate relationship with a more radical environmentalist fizzles about the same time he decides that the local student group's actions and negative attitudes towards capitalism are counterproductive. In fact, it seems like Professor E.O. Wilson uses the relationship to accuse those who participate in radical environmentalist movements of thinking with their genitalia rather than their minds. Or, to put it more gently, their radical environmentalist views are an outgrowth of their rejections of social mores rather than a sober assessment of social and ecological realities.

The highlight of the book is a fictionalized account of five years of ant colonies in the area Raphael studies.

In the video below, E.O. Wilson talks about environmentalism and compromise.