Cormac Cullinan's book Wild Law is inspirational. Cullinan writes fluently and rhythmically, effortlesslly carrying the reader along page after page. Even Cullinan's fairly frequent use of neologisms is not disruptive; their meaning is almost always immediately clear from the context in which they appear, and they seem fitting, new words where new words are useful.
It is true, however, that in the first few chapters Cullinan relies too heavily on acronyms representing international organizations and conferences, and it's easy to forget what each one means after it's been explained with its first appearance. This difficulty is only a minor inconvenience, however, and it pretty well disappears as we get a bit more deeply into the book.
In addition to being an accomplished prose stylist, Cullinan presents original ideas about how to deal with an increasingly fragile planet. Some of the new ideas are fairly well developed, but most are merely mentioned repeatedly, so often in some instances that I found myself mistaking familiarity for understanding when, in truth, I had only been presented with brain-storming repeitions of the same gloss.
Cullinan works as an environmental lawyer with an international clientele. It seems certain, therefore, that he is, as a matter of routine, deeply immersed in the sort of legal-rational conflictual parsing of environmentally sensitive, ideologically charged concepts and rules that provide the intellectual substance of geo-political engagement over ways to minimize environmental damage while avoiding barriers to economic growth.
Nevertheless, Cullinan is also a mystic and a romantic. When indigenous people living in the Amazon River basin tell him that their shaman, after taking traditional narcotics, is able to communicate with the tribe's natural habitat and find out what is best for both their community and their ecosystem, Cullinan believes them. Literally. Callinan's openness to mysticism is emphasized as he makes the claim that the rest of us, in our hyper-rational world, could learn important lessons from the shaman's relationship with nature.
Similarly, Callinan views the earth -- perhaps the entire universe! -- as an organism with a rhythmic heartbeat -- maybe even a consciousness! -- that is discernible if only we are committed to listening carefully enough.
In contrast with what passes for commonsense in our commoditized world, Callinan holds the animistic view that not only humans and perhaps other animals, but trees, tumbleweed-strewn deserts, mountain ranges, all sorts of natural phenomena, should be viewed as subjects rather than objects. Subjects are purposeful, as a river flowing within its banks, rising and falling with rainfall, snow-melt, and drought, sometimes filling a flood plain, and, if healthy, carrying along a rich variety of aquatic life.
Much of Wild Law will seem absurd precisely because of its hopeful, mystical, and romantic character. The rest will seem wildly impractical simply because entrenched international interests that seek to control our world would not stand for the tree-hugging, we're-all-in-this-together constraints that Callinan's proposals and rudimentary ideas would impose on their unfettered ability to make as much short-term profit as possible.
None of this bothers me. I recognize Wild Law's mystical, romantic, and communitarian limitations and, as far as I can tell, Callinan does as well. There remains, however, something else -- maybe more serious, maybe less -- that bothers me about Wild Law. Pick at random any ten-page sequence, read the pages, and then pick another ten-page sequence in the same way. The chances are very good that you'll find little or no difference in the substance of the two sequences. In short, the book is very redundant. Yes, functional redundancy, redundancy with a purpose, as in repeating a difficult idea, has a legitimate place. But Wild Law seems pointlessly redundant, as if it should have been a brief journal article rather than a book.
I readily admit that from chapter to chapter there are occasional, sometimes striking differences in detail, and Callinan's fluid prose style just keeps us reading along, not particularly troubled by the fact that we've read all this before. Still, if Callinan wants to make a really strong case for what he terms "wild law," as I wish he would, he needs a lot more substance. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I liked the book and I learned from it.