“In 1957, the sociologist and philosopher Max Weber ‘disenchantment’ (Entzauberung) as the distinctive injury of modernity. He defined disenchantment as ‘the knowledge or belief that…there are no mysterious incalculable forces that come into play but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation.’ For Weber, disenchantment was a function of the rise of rationalism, which demanded the extirpation of dissenting knowledge-kinds in favour of a single master-principle. It found its expressions not just in human behavior and policy–including the general impulse to control nature–but also in emotional response. Weber noted the widespread reduction of ‘wonder’ (for him the hallmark of enchantment, and in which state we are comfortable with not-knowing) and the corresponding expansion of ‘will’ (for him the hallmark of disenchantment, and in which we are avid for authority). In modernity, mastery usurped mystery.
Our language for nature is now such that the things around us do not talk back to us in ways that they might. As we have enhanced our power to determine nature, so we have rendered it less able to converse with us. We find it hard to imagine nature outside a use-value framework. We have become experts in analysing what nature can do for us, but lack a language to evoke what it can do to us. The former is important; the latter is vital. Martin Heidegger identified a version of this trend in 1954, observing that the rise of technology and the technological imagination had converted what he called ‘the whole universe of beings’ into an undifferentiated ‘standing reserve’ (Bestand) of energy, available for any use to which humans choose to put it. The rise of ‘standing reserve’ as a concept has bequeathed to us an inadequate and unsatisfying relationship with the natural world, and with ourselves, too, because we have to encounter ourselves and our thoughts as mysteries before we encounter them as service providers. We require things to have their own lives if they are to enrich ours. But allegory as a mode has settled inside us, and thrived: fungibility has replaced particularity.”
–Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks, p. 25