Nature – from the Contradictionary

We kind of hate-read this book, but it has a good bit:

Nature – The term “nature” usually appears in conjunction with its supposed opposite, civilization. This dichotomy implies that the activities and motivating forces of human beings differ categorically from those of other creatures. But once you dispense with the superstition that God created Man in His own image to give him dominion over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air, it’s hard to get around acknowledging that the same natural processes through which stars form and shellfish evolve must also be at work in every aspect of human activity.

Contradictions abound in every normative attempt to define nature. Nature is characterized as that which is “sustainable,” as if it were something constant, when in fact that natural world is always in flux. Nature is differentiated from civilization according to vague criteria such as language or domestication, in spite of bees communicating the locations of flowers to each other and certain ant colonies practicing animal husbandry. Nature is said to have ordained a specific role for every organ in a body and every species in an ecosystem–but these claims are based only on circumstantial evidence. Anyone who believes in fixed natural laws or purposes has more in common with the priests who describe sodomy as a “crime against nature” than with the naturalists who have observed homosexual behavior in countless species.

Here is another account of what nature, and humanity as a subset of it, might be. Imagine an infinite, dynamic chaos, in which experiments are ceaselessly taking place. Some of these immediately give way to other experiments; others create feedback loops in which similar processes repeat themselves, changing slowly over time. Within this context, certain members of one species have decided, not surprisingly, that they are special. The traits which they believe differentiate them from other animals–culture, language, free will–are not unique to them, but these appear very different when experienced firsthand than they do observed in others from afar. Most of these creatures can agree that moss tends to grow on certain sides of trees as a result of natural forces, but would exempt their own relationships and decision-making processes from such explanations. If one could ask the moss, it would probably argue that it has free will, too, but prefers the more hospitable side of the tree.”

Then it goes on about some deer that died out due to exhausting their food sources, and concludes:

“The deer that ate the roots were as natural as any other deer–they were an experiment that worked for a while but could not continue indefinitely. The question is if we want to follow in their footsteps.”


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