Thursday, June 3, 2010

Paved Paradise - Man and 'Nature'

Environmentalists often decry the devastating effects that human beings have had on nature. The conception of this notion is curious in itself, for is not man part and parcel of nature? Every smokestack, every computer, every chemical, every oil spill, every parking lot; are these not all products and by-products of human beings (who are found in nature) fashioning elements taken from the Earth (the Earth being located within nature) to their own purpose? If this is the case then how can it be said that human industry results in the "destruction of nature", rather than a mere extension of nature?

Does a colony of ants "destroy" the "natural" position of grains of sand in order to construct an ant hill? You can well imagine the ant-environmentalist claiming as much. Does a bird's nest "disrupt" the "natural" arrangement of twigs that have fallen upon the ground by compiling them into a new structure with new utility? The Joni Mitchells and Cheryl Crows (hello, pun) of the bird world might well think so.

It's even more curious that most extremist environmentalists tend to hail from the secular left because they have even less conceivable reason to distinguish man as "apart" from nature in any way. Christians, for example, could conceivably say that human beings are, in a certain way, distinct from the rest of nature as they carry the imprint of the divine. This divine imprint resulting in free will (which is entirely foreign to the rest of nature) which allows humans to have effects on nature that fall outside the bounds of "natural", causal events.

I wouldn't necessarily accept this line of reasoning as I would say that human free will itself, though certainly unique and attributable to the divine, is still incorporated into nature. But the point is that within a Christian framework there are at least some workable objections to my argument. However, within a secular, naturalist framework there are zero workable objections. Man is just another animal, like an ant, fashioning natural elements to his own desires and purposes and is entirely indistinguishable from the rest of nature in any way. Leave the animal man alone in his natural habitat. Stand back and allow him to construct his very natural skyscrapers, freeways, oil rigs and parking lots in peace, unobstructed. To do anything else would be tantamount to the destruction of nature, the nature of man.

1 comment:

  1. Good point Nathan. I just finished a lecture on this topic intended for an environmentally conscious audience at a green building expo (note the assumed contradiction there). You are correct in your assessment that the crux of the discussion is the human and his relation or integration with nature. For environmental designers like me, we have been put in the awkward position of seemingly having to balance between what would be called human desires (to manipulate material, to beautify, to make useful, to organize)and natural desire (to leave untouched, status quo, un-interupted). The problem is that it is supposed that ANY human alteration is a net negative. It says more about most environmentalists views of mankind than it does about their views of the "truly natural". Excellent blog.