Responding to a commentor on a thread about animal rights, I again encountered this funny view of nature that some people have. Two sentences in particular just struck me as being out of touch with reality.
The alternative may be to try to live in harmony with nature.
Trying to dominate nature has only caused suffering. There are alternatives.
Where do people get this idea that nature is our friend? Hippies drive me nuts. Not only is this just totally unrealistic, but I think it also reflects a fundamental ignorance of biology, history, and the basic infrastructure of our society. I’m of the Monty Burns school of nature.
“Oh, so Mother Nature needs a favour? Well, maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys. Nature started the fight for survival and she wants to quit because she’s losing? Well, I say hard cheese!”
Nature is not our friend, nor have we advanced our species by living in harmony with it. We have survived, and tacked decades onto our lives by bending nature to our will. Nature is trying to kill us. All the time. Bacteria, and parasites and viruses oh my, they’re out to get us. We’re not buddy-buddy with nature, we’re in competition with it for our very survival, all the time. Further there is this nonsense that messing with nature is somehow a bad thing, or frequently unsuccessful. This view can only be held by people who seem to have forgotten all the progress we’ve made in the last couple of millennia.
I think this attitude is a by-product of our modern age and an unexamined life. In the United States, we have so thoroughly subverted nature to our will that we infrequently encounter her nasty side. We eradicated the screw worm for instance, through a carefully planned genocide. And I’m more than happy we did it. This parasitic infection was caused by the maggot offspring of a fly that, unlike other maggots, would eat live as well as dead tissue. During the Civil War (since it was endemic to the South) the buggers would infest the wounds of soldiers and eat them alive – and they’re called screw worms because attempts to remove them would make them burrow deeper in the tissue. Good riddance. Same with malaria. Will eradicated the mosquitos that carried the disease by bombarding them with pesticides and destroying their habitat. And I’m more than happy to smoosh any mosquito that wants to suck my blood, the little bastards. Global efforts to eradicate the Guinea Worm bring a tear to my eye. Larger predators of humans, and of our domesticated animals, have similarly been driven off, with only the occasional mountain lion eating an unwary jogger.
And what of our success of screwing with nature to survive? We use medicines derived from other organisms, like antibiotics, to kill yet more organisms. Now that’s screwing with nature. We live in cities, drive cars, fly in planes, and extended our habitats to almost all areas of the earth. We have traveled to the moon and back – not that nature intended for us to leave our atmosphere. We domesticate animals, and use what we learn from them to screw with nature still more. Agriculturally we grow mutant plants that make fruits and grains and vegetables the likes of which nature never intended. What about our existence isn’t evidence of our massive success in using nature to suit our will?
If not for our immune system, sanitation (read mass murder with chemicals) and our medical armentarium the other beasties nature provides would eat us alive. Our body is a war zone. Our skin is the great wall of China keeping out the Mongol hoards. Once they’re through we have battalions of warrior cells to step in and eat, poison, and kill anything that might hurt us. Our digestive tract is one giant menace that kills, break apart and mash up other living things.
Do we really encounter nature anymore? Even on a nature hike? I’m not talking about trees and green things, those are plants, not nature. All our “wild” places are devoid of all those nasty parasites and man-eating animals that would actually make them wild. Nature isn’t for humans, it’s for all those other animals that have to compete for food with each other, and get eaten, and suffer the rain, and the heat and the cold.
Yes, nature is very friendly after we’ve gotten her properly under our thumb. The only way we truly experience nature in our modern age is to watch football, or boxing. There is no fight for survival anymore, and I’m damn happy about that. It lets us focus on other things.
And can we really live without dominating and killing?
Our homes are testaments to our widespread murder. We turn over the soil and lay a nice foundation of cement – take that moles and bugs. No dirt floors and living with the mice and the rats and the bugs anymore. Rodents be damned, we need a nice clean spot to live. We sterilize the surfaces of our house to kill the bacteria and fungus that would take over, and trap and poison mice and rats and cockroaches that might want to invade our homes to eat our food and spread disease (not to mention make life less pleasant). Most other bugs that make it in will soon dessicate and drop dead from the unnaturally dry environment.
We drive our cars through clouds of bugs and over scores of small slow-moving mammals not smart enough to stay off the highway. We plant crops – tasty tasty crops – why don’t they get eaten? Because we cover them with poison. Even organic crops often just use a different set of pesticides. Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean all sorts of other animals don’t want to eat them, farmers use organic approved pesticides – like sulphur – or even other animals! Actually living on a farm in Virginia you might notice a yearly invasion of ladybugs. Why? Because they’re great for killing aphids that would eat your crops. The farmers ship in frozen ladybugs (order here) by the ton and dump them on their crops, they get everywhere, it’s amazing.
Why do people think we even can live our lives without killing? If we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to live in cleanliness and comfort, protect our food (not even including meat), and get where we need to go.
Now I’m not saying that we should be cruel, or not respect nature. We simply should acknowledge that respecting nature means respecting how dangerous, and cruel nature is. Watch March of the Penguins. Watch Grizzly Man. Watch a nature show about any predator, or worse yet insects! Now that’s nature. She does not care whether we live or die, and there are plenty of other animals that would happily enjoy our niches if we were no longer here.
One does not commune with an uncaring monster. You don’t live in harmony with that which tries to kill you, at best you strive for detentes. Outright war isn’t good, a victory in a war might just be ashes in our mouth. We need her to survive, we need her to be healthy, but we should never trust her, or let down our guard. Nature is out to get us, we survive by constantly waging our battles with her, and winning. Not being the type that thinks this planet belongs to us, or that we are particularly relevant in the grand scheme of things, there’s a good chance she might win the war. I’d like to avoid that if at all possible.