05 April 2016

Unnatural life

We are regularly told that this or that is "against nature".  But what was life like when humans lived fully in harmony with nature?

Nature meant no vaccines or antibiotics, living utterly helpless in the face of epidemics that periodically ravaged our populations.

Nature meant illiteracy, not even being able to imagine such a thing as a book.

Nature meant dying in agony at age 30 from a tooth abscess.

Nature meant a 50% infant mortality rate.

Nature meant no contraception.  Think about it.

Nature meant no doctor if you broke a bone or got mauled by an animal.

Nature meant constant risk of starvation if rains failed or herds wandered elsewhere or some blight struck the local edible plants.

Nature meant having no idea what those bright dots in the night sky were, or how big the world was, or who lived a mere fifty miles away, or even that there was such a thing as fifty miles away.

Nature meant living in constant fear of the neighboring tribe, or plotting atrocities against them (read up on rates on intergroup violence in hunter-gatherer societies).

Long ago our ancestors lived naturally.  The history of agriculture and civilization is a history of thirteen thousand years of determined struggle to escape from that ghastly horror.

So why should we accept "natural" as a guide to what is good or right in any area?  I'm wholly unmoved by being told that a way of life or new technology is "unnatural".  Almost everything that makes life worth living is "unnatural".


Anonymous Zosimus the Heathen said...

Too true! I have to admit I still find something instinctively appealing about the idea that natural=good (usually when I read about all the damage things like pollution or overpopulation* are doing to the world), but giving the matter more than a moment's thought is usually enough to disabuse me of such a foolish notion. I always find it interesting to consider, for example, just how many deadly toxins are 100% natural (eg heavy metals, all the varieties of animal venom that exist, botulism toxin, plant and fungal poisons etc), and how many proven carcinogens fall into that category as well (eg asbestos, aflatoxins, ageing, ionizing radiation, UV light, tobacco etc).

I've found that the unthinking veneration of all things natural is one of those interesting examples of woolly thinking that seems to afflict those on both sides of the political spectrum equally. On the left, for example, you have hippies and the more extreme kinds of environmentalist who decry all things artificial and man-made, while on the right, of course, you have those religious folk who seem to love slapping the label "unnatural" on every kind of sexual act they find objectionable (which appears to be nearly all of them). With regards to the latter kind of individuals, one thing I've often found simultaneously fascinating and frustrating is watching them use nebulous concepts of "Natural Law" to try and argue why some unnatural behaviours are unspeakably evil while other equally unnatural behaviours are all fine and dandy. Invariably, one comes to the conclusion that "Natural Law" means whatever any particular proponent of it wants it to mean, and that it's therefore pretty worthless as a guide to right and wrong.

*Though I suppose the latter's perfectly natural in itself.

05 April, 2016 05:40  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

How can we humans, who are as much a part of Nature as any bee or caterpillar is, make or do something unnatural? Bees take nectar from flowers and make honey and beeswax from it. Certain caterpillars who eat mulberry leaves spin silken threads, and we humans make plastics from polymers

My belief is that anything made on this planet from plants, animals, or rocks, is "natural," since we are all part of nature.

As for Zosimus The Heathen's comment on unnatural sexual acts, I've always claimed there are no "unnatural" sexual acts, only uncomfortable ones.

05 April, 2016 11:24  
Blogger Woody said...

The 'natural fallacy' is used and abused as both of the commenters above me have noted. The definition of natural (I thought that Homo-Sapien was actually a natural species!) creates this misunderstanding.
Since the genetic codes and study of DNA shows that we, all of us, every plant and every animal are All related, should move away from the argument of natural vs. unnatural. Even I am tired of arguing with fucking clueless hippy weirdos about this.

All the best,

06 April, 2016 05:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Zosimus: I maintain that there's no such thing as overpopulation in an absolute sense, only overpopulation relative to a given level of technology. For example, the world today has more people than ever before (about 15 times the highest population ever achieved before the Renaissance), yet there is less hunger than ever before and the standard of living almost everywhere is far higher than in any previous period.

The people who decry technology usually do so via media such as the printed page or even the internet, both of which are advanced forms of technology, thus defeating their own argument. People use technology because it works.

Shaw & Woody: Yes, in a certain sense everything humans do, even artificial intelligence or radical life extension, counts as "natural" since humans are a natural phenomenon making use of other natural phenomena. People who decry the "unnatural" usually define it as achievements which become possible only after a certain technological threshold is crossed, or as behavior which they (often mistakenly) believe does not occur among animals or pre-modern humans. In both cases it boils down to things that make them uncomfortable, often because those things violate a religious taboo system.

07 April, 2016 05:59  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I know this isnt supposed to be a funny posting ... but it made me start laughing ... so true {:-)

07 April, 2016 09:18  
Anonymous Blurber said...

Great summary of so many natural things we're well rid of.

03 January, 2017 09:04  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Indeed. I'm quite glad not to have been born back when we lived "closer to nature".

03 January, 2017 18:39  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

When people (myself) included talk about a time when humans lived in harmony in nature we then to only look at the "perceived" harmony without considering the lurking dangers that were all around our ancestors then, dangers we have fairly conquered thanks to technology

19 November, 2018 05:04  

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