A Thought for Beauty

19 05 2010

Kidepo Valley Morning

“We should do our utmost to encourage the Beautiful, for the Useful encourages itself.”
–  Goethe

It seems callous to talk about the value of beauty in a country where so many are struggling just to survive.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs rules out appreciation of beauty until a person’s more basic needs (food, water, shelter) are satisfied.  However, how long can you wait to focus on preserving beauty until it is all gone?

Writing in the 1970’s, Freeman Tilden, the “father” of National Park interpretation in the United States, could have been sending a warning to the Uganda of today.  He saw the natural beauty of the country in decline.  In an essay titled Vistas of Beauty, he pointed out that “we know what ugliness is, and the processes that create it.  In the haste to gain material welfare we have forgotten, or chosen to forget; and the bill has now come due.”

Uganda is proud of its natural beauty.  Catch phrases like “Pearl of Africa” and “Gifted by Nature” give voice to this pride.  But is Uganda forgetting its natural heritage in its “haste to gain material welfare?”  Allowing oil development in the National Parks is in direct contradiction to the whole purpose of having a national park.  The visions of wealth are blurring the visions of beauty.  Both inside and outside the park boundaries, the face of Uganda is about to change dramatically, and I wonder if people are thinking about the deeper psychological results those changes will bring.

Oil is useful.  Therefore, if Goethe is correct, it will “encourage itself” and doesn’t need outspoken advocates.  Beauty, however, needs voices speaking loud and clear from the rooftops to remind people that it has value, too, and that it is under assault.

“…our preserved places of natural beauty and memorials of the historic past [can’t] prosper and remain inspirational if they become islands in an environment of sanctioned ugliness.”

The proponents of oil development in Uganda’s national parks argue that the potential benefits of the oil revenues outweigh any negative impacts on wildlife, tourism, or the communities in the areas where the drilling is happening.  The concept of loss of beauty never even makes it into the conversation.  Should it?  Does beauty have value in this equation?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala