The Nature of Nature
April 21, 2019
Today I’m going to pick on one of my favourite logical fallacies: appealing to nature. This is an argument you can find lurking all over the place. The crux of it is this:
Nature is inherently good.
Therefore anything closer to nature is better.
Thus, my preferred way of doing things is superior because it is more natural.
The best examples of this come from nutrition: “We should be vegetarian because our ancestors were, and our ancestors were more natural.” For what it’s worth, I have no qualms at all with vegetarianism or veganism. There are very strong arguments for choosing these diets, I’m just picking on a lazy one.
If you keep looking you’ll spot this everywhere. We prefer natural beauty projects, natural textiles, natural drugs and natural bodies. But what does natural actually mean? We think of nature as the raw uncorrupted state of the world without the influence of humanity. It is commonly felt that, before humans evolved, everything was in perfect harmony and our arrival was a sign of the end times.
To take this line of reasoning requires a certain degree of both self-hatred and narcissism in tandem. It assumes that human beings are special, that they are somehow exempt from the grip of mother nature. Then, in the same breath, it uses that assumption to assert that every human innovation has been unnatural and, in turn, is bad.
The first counterpoint to this is evolution. Evolution is about as well accepted as any scientific theory can be at this stage, so it seems fair to lean on it. Our penchant for nature relies on the idea that things used to be fine. But when were things fine? As we start to walk backwards through history when can we ask ourselves “is this nature yet?”. Watch as cities recede, language disappears and people get a bit hairier. There’s no obvious inflection point to be found, evolution has been the slow process of continuous change stretching back as far as we can imagine.
Every action we take is building off of nature, but nature is also built off of nature. With a little wave of the hand you can see, everything we do is natural. Computers are natural, so is space exploration and even artificial intelligence.
I find it helpful to remember that we’re still not that far separated from our primate peers. If you watch a chimp or an orangutang for any length of time you’ll be confronted by just how human they are, and how animalistic humans suddenly seem.
One day there may be creatures on earth that look at us the way we look at wild animals or even the way we view bacteria. On an infinite universal scale we’re not that special. It may seem like natural balance is off but that’s because we’re too zoomed in. Everything is always changing and everything will always be natural.
I would go so far as to say that we should aim to deviate from nature. Our “natural” side has us filled with fear, xenophobia, jealousy and selfishness. We should aim to redefine what natural means, not regress to fit into it. Why shouldn’t we try to push the boundaries on what individuals and soceties can be?
In short, don’t do things because they’re natural, do them because they get the best outcome.
April 21, 2019
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