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Pleasure: An Ethics Of Inhabiting, An Analysis

Engaging in pleasure that does not entail the natural world has made westernized communities be completely removed from the surrounding ecosystems and ultimately eliminates humans from what it means to live in the environment. In other words, socioeconomically privileged humans chose to live in a world filled with pleasure, a term coined by Alaimo in This is about Pleasure: An Ethics of Inhabiting, that removes any life or natural source from the life of a human, thus having the human live in a home that has no traces of the environment inside of their domestic life.

They engage in a large amount of cleanness, an argument made by Alaimo, a practice made exclusively by humans to keep their living space isolated from germs, insects, and other natural life. This cleanness, as it will be explained further, limits humans in interacting with natural life forms that humans can ultimately benefit from and places them in an irony of pollution and harm, a consequence that pleasure living humans attempt to avoid. In a western and pleasure society, nature is seen as a separated entity that we move throughout when we please.

Pleasure is a discourse that can be crippling to the environment because it removes us from the discussion of climate change even further by eliminating our connection with nature that can ultimately aid us in being empathic towards climate change. Although, if humans wish to slow down climate change, they must balance the privileged life of pleasure with ethics. Ethics, as defined by Alaimo, involves living a life style that emerges the natural into everyday life to aid in decreasing climate change, a similar opinion to Bjerg in Parallax of Growth.

Although a pleasure oriented life style is arguably only available to the socioeconomically privileged, emerging ethics into life is possible for every individual. It can be argued that a pleasurable life style neglects the environment and the socially oppressed to the point of disaster, but incorporating ethics, a solution proposed by both Alaimo and Bjerg, has the possibility to decrease climate change to a point of bearable comfort for all walks of life. A pleasurable lifestyle is often adopted by privileged and westernized humans.

As stated above, pleasure is defined by engaging in a lifestyle, in Alaimo’s terms, that removes a person from nature so far that they no longer believes themselves to be a part of nature or the natural world that surrounds them. For example, humans engage in this behavior by utilizing extreme cleaning products, building large homes to “protect” themselves from wildlife and insects, and using large sources of energy and carbon dioxide to feed their pleasurable lifestyle (Alaimo 20-22).

Alaimo notes that, “yet the home- with its walls, floors, and ceilings- is a bounded space, existing to keep the outdoors, outdoors, defining the human as that which is protected within” (20) and argues that the home is a place of human protection. Humans that participate in this lifestyle neglect the notion that they are a part of nature and their nature-removed actions further harm the earth to perpetuate climate change because they do not view the harms of climate change as affecting them and their lifestyle, since they do not have the perspective of humans as nature.

Futhermore, Alaimo discusses that these practices of residential fences, cleaning products, controlled entry ways, and more, induce, “a more general sense of fear [of nature] by increasing paranoia and distrust” (21). Fear and paranoia of the environment in a domestic space increases the removal of privileged humans from nature thus removing them from engaging in environmentally friendly activities as explained previously. When removed from environmentally friendly habits, humans further harm themselves because it is often forgotten that humans are nature.

Moreover, humans cannot eliminate environmentally friendly activities that are natural, like utilizing plants and insects to perform tasks that chemicals do, because non-natural sources harm humans. This argument is further solidified by Alaimo, as she states that socioeconomically privileged humans practice activities that harm them worse than the natural world would (21), such as the radiation from electronic devices and chemicals from cleaning and beauty supplies that cause health concerns and environmental concerns (22).

If these activities are continued, it can perpetuate environmentally harmful actions that keep inducing climate change. From Alaimo’s argument, we can view the notion that the privilege lifestyle that privileged westerners live in removes them so far from nature that they are afraid of the surrounding ecosystem, yet it is the ecosystem that can truly benefit humans. How this pleasure lifestyle is perpetuated is often overlooked. The economic system, as Alaimo argues, is a large contributor to the pleasure rhetoric that neglects the environment.

The economic system, specifically capitalism, works to remove humans further from nature by glorifying ecotourism and by providing the rhetoric of needing protection within nature, showing humans that nature is an environment that is to be observed and removed from. This glorifying of the environment is harmful because it involves exploiting the environment for humans to enjoy and to view the environment as a viewing place and not a part of our reality. The economy also proposes that proper products are needed to protect against the environment, solidifying a fear of nature.

For example, humans must drive to a nature destination with proper products to protect them against insects and wildlife so they are not harmed in the process of observing this nature. This idea of touring nature causes privileged humans to view themselves further removed from the environment and that utilizing items such as insect sprays or pest repellent, that harms the environment more than protect because of the harsh chemicals that pollute the air, provides false protection.

Due to these actions, Alaimo’s pleasure discourse exists within the economic system because the system keeps the fear of nature and the separation of nature and human alive. A pleasurable lifestyle, as termed by Alaimo, is not available to every human. As alluded to earlier, the pleasurable lifestyle that removes humans from nature excludes individuals of low socioeconomic status. To expand, individuals that do not have the privilege of living in luxuries that revolve around a large, gated home with products and tools to keep the domesticity in tact and away from nature do not live a complete pleasurable life style.

These items and methods are often expensive or time consuming and can only be regularly performed by the middle class or wealthy (Alaimo 24). The middle class and wealthy are given economic resources to reiterate their pleasurable lifestyle, such as having constant access to a vehicle, having funds to build fences or gates, and having exceptional cleaning and beauty products that keep the well-off away from nature. Another large factor in the lack of pleasure for low socioeconomic status individual’s is the geographic location of the home.

For example, Tretter researches in Austin that non-whites, specifically blacks, were placed in geographical areas in the early 1900’s that were surrounded by high-flooding areas, high polluting industrial factories, and/or high wildlife infestation areas that made it difficult for the non-whites to live a successfully pleasurable life (21-30). These residential downfalls are currently prevailing as the majority of non-whites in Austin still reside in these areas and whites do not.

However, this segregation issue exists in multiple cities. For example, New Orleans is a large example on how pleasure is exclusive within middle class and above individuals. Hurricane Katrina, a national disaster that struck New Orleans in 2005, affected all of New Orleans, but severely destroyed Southeast New Orleans, the poverty area of New Orleans (Baade et al. 2007). The lower income area of New Orleans that got severely affected by the hurricane while the wealthier areas were not as greatly affected (Baade et al. 007), is a prime example on how Alaimo’s pleasure is only applicable to the middle class and wealthy. Pleasure involves performing a life style that is able to remove nature from the domestic discourse and have the ability to protect the home from nature, yet in the case of Hurricane Katrina, the low socioeconomic status individuals were not able to do so and could not protect their home from being completely destroyed by nature.

From the research of Baade et al. and Tretter, Alaimo’s idea of pleasure involves only the middle class and wealthy as those individuals are able to fully participate in removing nature from the domestic and can live a comfortable lifestyle without stressing about environmental impacts occurring inside of the home, like insects or a hurricane.

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