Killing Things

by Liam Heneghan

In the early 1980s wanting to be a naturalist — a coleopterist, in particular, that most Darwin-like of naturalists — I spent a couple of summer months in Killarney NaChrysomelidBeetleWikitional Park, in Ireland, making a collection of chrysomelid beetles. This was the first of many such collecting trips, part of a series of increasingly violent engagements with the natural world that served as stepping stones that link my life as an Irish teen to the one I live now in Chicago. All of them involved the killing of animals or plants for the sake of science.

The Chrysomelidae had been offered up to me by Dr Jimmy O’Connor, an entomology curator at Ireland’s Natural History Museum (The Dead Zoo, as it was called in Dublin). Apparently, the Irish representatives of this group were poorly known, not having been taxonomically revised since early in the 20th Century. Chrysomelid beetles include a number of notorious pests such as Leptinotarsa decemlineata, the Colorado Potato beetle, but for the most part these insects go about their business without causing us much bother. They are remarkably pretty though, many of them possessing metallic elytra (the sclerotized outer-wing of the beetle) and when you train your eye to notice them you see them as a marvel of shimmer and vivid color. Some of them, the flea-beetles, have greatly enlarged hind-leg femora, so that when disturbed they erupt into action and spring away from you like a glorious idea that thought you had but now cannot seem to fully recall.

Collecting them is easy enough. Using a sweep net, I thrashed my way across the grassier spots in the National Park; in other locations I’d search the under-leaves of shrubs and low hanging plants, catching them on the tip of a wetted paintbrush.
The issue of killing them was quite another matter. After all, I wanted to collect them because I had conceived a liking for them, and was concerned that if neglected, we, the scientific community, would not know, ironically, if these animals needed more vigorous protection. I loved them enough I suppose to want them dead; a couple of specimens of each species at the very least. I was the Noah of death and my ark was a killing jar.

However, when one sees glamorous creatures such as these looking up at you, as it were, from the bottom of the net, the ethical calculation concerning their dispatch is not an easy one to make. Should these few glimmering Isaacs be sacrificed so that others of their kind might flourish. Or perhaps more proximately, since the question of how data might be used is always somewhat further down the road, should they die so that the storehouse of my knowledge could grow?

Perhaps in matters concerning cultural affairs there exists a parallel to Ernst Haeckel’s evolutionary conjecture that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. It certainly seems as if the youth are adept at inventing rituals, and sacramentalizing their lives, in a way that seems culturally primordial. Certainly children often are ritualists in ways that those of us who are older have little patience for. So it occurred to me, youth that I was back then, that in the matter of the beetles, though my commitment to their dying was unwavering, the manner in which I put them to death mattered.

The recommended way to kill insects is to pop them in a killing jar: a sealable glass container on the base of which is a layer of plaster of paris charged with ethyl acetate, a synthetic poison. Now, I had learned around that time that the leaves of cherry laurel, if crushed, give off hydrogen cyanide. Crush cherry laurel in your hands and that delicious aroma like toasted almonds that is given off, that’s the smell of a kinder, gentler death. This being the way some plants deal with its more aggressive insect visitors, I thought, therefore, that the crushed leaves of cherry laurel might provide for my chrysomelids a sweeter, more appropriate end. Thus my routine for the summer was to walk in measured paces, sweep at regular intervals, and transfer, when the time was right, insects to a killing jar.

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Glenn Albrecht at DePaul Tuesday 27th May 2014 (3:30 PM)

We welcome pioneering environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht to Chicago and DePaul. 

Professor Albrecht investigates the positive and negative psychological, emotional and cultural relationships people have to place.  Albrecht coined the now widely used term “solastalgia” which names the human distress related to the lived experience of familiar places negatively altered by environmental change.

He will give an informal seminar and discussion on Tuesday, May 27th, 2014 From 3:30 – 5:00  PM McGowan S Rm 204 (

Albrecht’s TED talk is here:

The seminar is free and open to the public.

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Join Us For a Book Event: A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature: Ecologies of Thought by Anthony Paul Smith

APSWe are proud to welcome Anthony Paul Smith back to DePaul to celebrate the publication of his book: A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature: Ecologies of Thought.

Anthony is DePaul Department of Philosophy alum and a Fellow of the Institute for Nature and Culture. Anthony is Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of La Salle University (Philadelphia, USA).

His  book is available here:

A series of blog posts discussing the book are archived here:

The format of our event will be a series of responses to the book from faculty and graduate students ranging from Religion, Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse, Environmental Science and Studies, Philosophy, the Institute for Nature and Culture.  This will be followed by a response by Anthony!  Then I suppose we shall retire to continue our deliberations over a beverage!

When: Thursday, May 15th 6:00pm

Where: McGowan South Rm 204. 

Please RSVP to so I can judge if we need a bigger room.  

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Forum on Ethics & Nature: A Cascade of Loss, An Ethics of Recovery


DePaul Professor Liam Heneghan will be a featured speaker.

The following text is quoted directly from the Center for Human and Nature Website:

REGISTER now for the upcoming Forum on Ethics and Nature on Friday, May 2, 2014, a symposium co-hosted by the Center for Humans and Nature and the Chicago Botanic Garden.

The year 2014 is the centennial anniversary of the death of “Martha,” the last passenger pigeon. The 2014 Forum on Ethics and Nature will mark this occasion by exploring the topic of extinction in non-obvious ways, balancing information and personal stories with ethical reflection about the possibilities of social and ecological recovery.

What are the new ecological realities in front of us and how do we respond to them with care? Topics include

◦                needed ethical deliberation about recovering species through various means (e.g., the current de-extinction “debate”),

◦                the relationship between species extinction and the destabilization and loss of culture, and

◦                establishing new relationships in order to work toward the recovery of cultural and biological diversity.

Click here to be taken to the registration page.  

Friday, May 2, 2014
Chicago Botanic Garden
Regenstein Center, Alsdorf Auditorium

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Screening of Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for our Time.




Thursday 24th April: A Screening of Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for our Time.

6:00-7:15: Green Fire film showing in McGowan South 108

7:15-8:00: Discussion with Curt Meine (writer/narrator) and a team of experts in McGowan South 108: Panelists: Laurel Ross (Chicago Wilderness), Gavin Van Horn (Center for Humans and Nature), Shawn Bailey, Environmental Science and Studies, Megan Hoff, DePaul Student.

Image Source:


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Jeanne Nolan: From the Ground Up


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by | April 16, 2014 · 13:36

Earth Day 2014


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Startling Water: Epistemologies and Ecologies

rushing water


Re-reading Graham Harman’s The Quadruple Object, I am reminded of an unsophisticated argument in favor of current varieties of realism, or at least intuitions that there is more to objects than we perceive.  Though this argument may seem like common sense, I am responding to strong evidence that epistemological agnosticism, like moral relativity, has become more common (in academic circles) than speculations about what may lie beyond our perceptions.  Our internalized memory of the startle effect, from infancy, gives rise to an intuition that there is more to objects than what we perceive, at any given time, or ever.  This is both common sense and “brain science” (see next paragraph).  And this may also be true of our relationship to vital ecological objects and processes.  In other words, does the startle effect (in general) support the idea that objects somehow conceal themselves, and that individual moments of perception are, in some sense, passing fancies?

An infant is startled when a soap bubble bursts, a pyramid of blocks collapses, a dog barks.  A toddler turns the volume knob on a stereo and runs away in toddler horror when the music blares.  These events become episodic memories, and eventually semantic memories, or knowledge, that objects conceal aspects of themselves, which they later reveal.  And at some point these episodic and semantic memories become procedural (The Brain and the Inner World, Solms and Turnbull 2010).  We know, or intuit, without conscious thought, that objects are more than what they appear to be at any given point in time.  We also experience the startle effect in adulthood: in personal relationships, in politics, through the media, and through experimentation.

The startle effect may project an infinite epistemological horizon that challenges positivism.  It may also reveal the”idols” or “screens” of our perception and thus reinforce phenomenological and/or pragmatic approaches.  (I’m referring here to Francis Bacon’s doctrine of the idols in his Novum Organon, 1620, and Kenneth Burke’s “Terministic Screens” in Language as Symbolic Action, 1966.)  However, reflecting on the startle effect, should also render the intuition that objects are more than what they appear more than a signal of a naïve positivism.  We may have no reason to believe we will ever understand the depths of objects, but this is quite different than equating them with our perceptions.

What does this have to do with the environment?

“Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear” is the subtitle of the Introduction to Tim Morton’s Realist Magic (2013).  In another time and place flowing water was considered sacred.  In this time and another place (not Chicago) clean water is still or once again highly valued.  The State of California declared a State of Emergency earlier this year because of drought conditions.  So water is closer and farther than it appears in the mirror.  It is so necessary to our existence as to be virtually identical with our being . . . but it cannot really be conjured by plumbing fixtures.  Morton also reminds us that there is no “different dimension called Away” in the context of air pollution and waste (Hyperobjects, “Viscocity” chapter, Kindle location 609).  Even if we could export waste beyond the biosphere, the process would further pollute our environs.  Similarly, there is no magic source or spring of fresh water outside of the hydrological cycle.



 There is more to water than appears from any personal, professional, or cultural perspective.  Do Californians “see” water differently because they have developed new water habits? How will we regard water when—not if—“hotspots” erupt into armed conflicts in the U.S. and abroad?  Perhaps my argument about the startle effect is not quite common sense, nor quite philosophical.  However it might be pragmatic.  Someone may have the last laugh if we run blindly off the proverbial cliff, but it’s unlikely that we would recover from the fall like Wile E. Coyote.


Image sources:

1. St Francis Chronicle, September 16, 2012. <>

2. (Aral Sea) “World’s 4th Largest Lake.”  <>

3. Page Museum: La Brea Tar Pits. <

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Requiem for the Commons? Part III Movement: We’re in the Same Boat

by Jeff Tangel

In Requiem for the Commons, Part II: Prelude to Progress we left off with the good people of Tecoma, Australia “feeling like a community” having come together to fend off the siting of a McDonald’s “restaurant” in their idyllic nature/culture mash-up of a town nestled at the edge of a beloved national park in the Dandenong mountains. Recall the affront that McDonald’s is to the community: a corporate rover that won’t take no for an answer but instead files suits, evicts, arrests, litigates and demands that their “rights”, the rights of heraldic Maccas, supersede the rights of the community. And too, the townspeople were nearly unanimous in their opposition to this global company proffering its “food” and especially, its commitment to homogeneity of place, a process closely akin to colonization. In response Tecomians had mounted a number of campaigns to stop McDonalds, including occupying the space (they were arrested and removed)[1], building a community garden on the site, and sending a delegation to McDonald’s headquarters in suburban Chicago, a 10,000 mile odyssey with a simple message to management: to have the common decency to burger-off. They had run a huge ad in the Chicago Tribune to announce their arrival in which they urged readers to join their burger-off campaign—a chutzpa/civility mash-up that still has me laughing.

Picture 1

All of this and more, brilliantly executed with passion and art and civility and community, fell flat. Regional authorities overruled local objections and gave McDonald’s the go-ahead. Codified into law, the rights of Maccas (what locals call the “Golden Arches”) supersede the rights of people. As I suggested in Part II, this praxis is due to the “global proliferation of the idea that development, as defined by the biggest developers, is an unadulterated good” as well as a misguided sanctification of largely unreflective creative-destruction as good economics.[2] But the good folks of Tecoma are not done. If you ask me it’s because they found something too good to give up: each other.

On to Part III

But what about this “feeling like a community” among people who seem fairly well off? Are we supposed to be impressed by, and even feel sorry for these folks and their “first world problems?” No doubt this provoked more than a few eye-rolling “white-privilege” reactions from readers—especially since I entered into the problem dancing extemporaneously in my living room to Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning ( ). The song is a performance of a prayer-demand by the Australian rockers to restore the dignity of Australia’s Aboriginal people who have suffered dearly under colonization. Well there’s a gap. And so perhaps you’re doing that right now. But this process of commercial globalization is helping us white folk, who go through our daily routines largely unawares (because we’re largely privileged), get a glimpse—and I mean just a glimpse—of what Black folk and Indigenous populations have been experiencing all these many—too many years. Though we can never truly understand what it means to be utterly subjugated, maybe we can finally inch our way towards understanding that we are them and begin to ask some much needed questions about what is really going on in the world. The question is, can those of us who have benefitted from the dominant economic paradigm, find “fellow-feeling” with those who have not?  My thought is that given time, only the most heart-hardened Tecomian will fail to see that their feelings of trespass must be very much like the feelings of trespass felt by “the other”, by all others.

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Remember: Ecological Imaginings on Tuesday, 2.11.14

Ecological Imaginings: Aztec Human Sacrifice, Photographic Objects, and Future Simulations
Tuesday, February 11, 6:00 – 8:00 PM
DePaul University Art Museum
935 W. Fullerton Ave.
The DePaul Institute for Nature & Culture presents a visually rich, interdisciplinary panel featuring three unique perspectives on relationships among images, ecologies, and various types of networks. The panel themes range from Aztec sacrifice, through contemporary photography and philosophy, to neuroscience and future landscape simulations.
For more information see here.

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