I had occasion to ponder a concept too often overlooked, and I suspect it underlies much of our confusion in politics. Namely, the question of what is and is not natural. I suspect Monday’s discussion about the relations between the sexes will carry over into today, which is fine with me, and this very much feeds into that.
I had a rather interesting debate about this with a friend of mine by the name of Matt when I lacked Internet access. He is all about nature, and considers much of our world quite unnatural. This causes him to hold that portion in contempt, and this contributes mightily to his dissatisfaction, in a life he has much right to be dissatisfied about.
Now, I think the religious folks in the audience may have an easier time with this than my friend, and some of what I say here may grate against their conceptions of the natural order of things. Which is to say, God’s order. If God has commanded a given set of behaviors and man may go against this as a consequence of the incident in the garden, then this all makes perfect sense to you and I may be wasting a bit of your time.
My friend, he does not believe the bit about the incident in the garden. He views this story as positively destructive of mankind’s survival, to say nothing of his happiness and general wellbeing.
In this view, the world is matter and energy. Nothing more. The entirety of the universe is composed of these two things. Man is atoms formed to molecules formed to cells formed to organs formed to body.
And so, if what he does is not natural, then what is it? Supernatural? That would surely be at odds with this view.
This gave my friend pause. He said he would have to think about this some and get back to me.
Get back to me he did, and with all due respect to him, I found his answer unsatisfying. He said that the behavior that was “endemic” to the creature was the creature’s nature and to depart from this endemic pattern was to do an unnatural thing. It seemed to me he he was just substituting one word for the other, and an unsatisfying word at that.
To this I needed some clarification, because in the common parlance, endemic had come to include the COVID-19 virus which, as consensus was then beginning to form, had been the product of a Chinese weapons program, supposedly gone awry. If a man made virus is killing thousands of people and we are now stuck with it, and being stuck with it means it is endemic, then this hardly seems to fit the conception of nature my friend had been trying to articulate.
Our go to example was homosexuals. It is a common enough view that their behavior is unnatural. At first glance, this makes perfect sense. I could not imagine anything more at odds with my nature than having sex with a man. For women, having sex with a man, under the right conditions, makes perfect sense. Sex is the mating of members of the opposite sex for procreation, and the fact that this does not always result in offspring is hardly dispositive of the point. That is the instinct acted on. This is the Darwinian purpose of the drive. This is the way the species continues its existence, and everything we know about what we commonly call nature comports with this.
Of course, one must figure that homosexuals disagree. To them, or at least, to hear them tell it, generally, being homosexual is the only conceivable way of life for them. Typically they do not deign to seek a Darwinian explanation for that drive, and given the ones that prevail, they being so unflattering to the practice, one can see why.
But of course, whatever it is that he happens to be doing, man is a part of nature. He is a unique one, indeed, but then, so is a dolphin, or a flamingo, or a peacock, or an electric eel, or a beaver. All of these creatures have very unique traits about them, and we do not curse them as abominations. The beaver is said to alter his environment more than any other creature but man, yet when he dams a river and alters the landscape, though we may curse him for the inconvenience his behavior causes us, we do not accuse him of being a polluter, much less a ghost.
Whatever a non-human animal does, provided he is not provoked to the act by man, is said to be “natural”. Man, is said to be able to do unnatural things, but one will have some trouble building a consensus as to what the line of demarcation is between that which man naturally does and that which man unnaturally does.
Perhaps today you have had a soft drink with an “artificial sweetener”. This helps us to distinguish that you have consumed something other than sugar, but is the process by which we obtain sugar to be called natural?
Sugar.org explains a 7 step process for refining sugar.
- Harvest the sugar beets
- Wash, Slice, and Soak the beets (one step?) to extract the juice and separate it from the plant material. (One might here ask, how do we conclude that the juice is not “plant material”?)
- Clean the juice to remove impurities and extra color and produce sugar syrup. (Here we might ask ,what is impure about the sugar beet to begin with?)
- Crystallize the powder from the sugar syrup.
- Spin the crystals in a centrifuge to remove the liquid.
- Dry the sugar crystals
- Package the sugar for distribution.
Then we might ourselves add, load it onto an airplane, fly it to another continent, put it in a truck, drive it over the interstate highway, to the building called the supermarket. Go to work, earn money, buy it, put it in your coffee, which is a whole other can of worms.
This of course all comes after we have chosen a plot of land, evened the soil, put down fertilizer, and moved seeds or seedlings from one spot to the other.
That is your “natural” sweetener. Which stands in such stark contrast to your “artificial” sweetener for reasons yet unclear to me.
And doubtless anyone who is conscious of their diet may hold similar reservations. Sugar is the enemy lurking behind every corner for many of us. We avoid it more dutifully than COVID-19, and indeed for many of us it may be far easier to recover from the virus than the chemical.
But, whatever your health concerns, what we actually know is this. Certain types of chemicals, be they contained within animal dung, or cooked up in a laboratory, make plants grow more rapidly and with qualities we find more desirable, than if we place other chemicals, which may come from the urine of a dog or something cooked up in the same laboratory on a different day of the week. That is how plants naturally respond to these compounds.
When one soaks sugar beets, the natural result is that the sucrose is dissolved into the water. When the water is evaporated, the natural result is a crystalline substance. We know that this tastes pleasant to humans and other creatures in part because it signifies a rich source of calories we need to survive, when we are not sitting around on the couch all day getting fat, that is.
So, it is perfectly natural that you like sugar. It is perfectly natural that you know others like sugar too. It is perfectly natural that you would seek to give others the things they want so that you can get things you want from them. It is perfectly natural that you observe plants in one place. It is perfectly natural that you discover the capacity to move those plants. It is perfectly natural that you will harvest the plants when they grow. It is perfectly natural that you will take the most desirable parts of those plants and do with them as you see fit. It is perfectly natural that you will combine those parts of the plant with parts of other plants and with minerals from the earth to build things unique to human beings. It is perfectly natural that these things you build would help you to build more things.
By the time we extrapolate this process to where it is perfectly natural for you to burn liquid dinosaurs to travel quickly across highways, the word nature may come to take on a meaning that borders on foreign to the common parlance, but at the end of the day, there is no magic involved.
And this all may seem at first glance a bit tedious, it is natural for you to feel that way, I suppose.
But take our recent conversation about the relations between the sexes. There emerged some diversity of opinion in this discussion, of course. Man’s nature being as it is, we could expect nothing less.
A common theme of the malcontents was that we are in an unnatural state. Justice demands we impose the natural order, in which men dominate and women submit.
If we are fair to them, we confess that there are some compelling arguments behind this line of thinking, even if most of them lacked the skills required to articulate those arguments. On the other hand, if they are fair, and accept as natural the turning of beets into crystals, and the mixing of them with cola nuts, then we can hardly accuse women of witchcraft, for going to schools that men built and staffed and codified into law.
To say that a thing is natural, we might note, is not to say that it is “good”. It is no less natural to steal than to trade. No less natural to rape than to marry. And at the risk of drawing the ire of sensible people, no less natural for two homosexuals to copulate, than for a man and a wife to produce a child.
There are Darwinian explanations for the latter example here. Perhaps the creature is unfit to procreate, but is still intact enough to have the impulse. By one evolutionary explanation, homosexuals are doing their best to spare us the burden of their offspring. If they would simply cease to prey on ours for their pleasure seeking, we might consider this a generous thing of them to do, but since we observe that they do prey on our children, and since we observe that abused children are themselves more likely to become homosexuals, and more likely to then abuse still more children, it is perfectly natural that we seek to stop them, by whatever means we may deem necessary, to protect our young.
Observing this we may say that it is perfectly natural for conflicts of interests to emerge. Not only between, but among, species. In that instance it is perfectly natural that a competition will emerge, and that the interests of one party may will out over the other. It is perfectly natural that the victor will consider this justice, and no less natural that the vanquished will consider it the most egregious of abominations.
This may be a bit of a lengthy way to illustrate a simple point. Nature is doing just fine. It will be doing just fine until long after you and I are dead.
It is perfectly natural that you are disgusted by much of what you see. It is perfectly natural that this disgust causes you to act in ways that seek to change those things that bring you this discomfort.
It is perfectly natural that you will fail. It is perfectly natural that you will learn from your failures. It is perfectly natural that you will improve if you keep on trying.
It is also natural that if you misdiagnose a problem, you will propose and pursue ineffective solutions.
So you might do away with this notion that it is unnatural, this state in which we find ourselves today. It is as natural as could be. The stars are not misaligned. Gravity has not reversed. God has not abandoned his post. The Devil has not come to claim the Earth as his realm. There is no demon to throw holy water upon. The government is not possessed by wicked spirits. Women are not condemning you to sexual purgatory by boiling eyes of lizards in cauldrons.
God or none, the matter and energy of this world operate according to predictable rules. Those rules are unbreakable by all the forces relevant to your daily existence.
If you diet and exercise appropriately, you will be more physically attractive than if you do not.
If you are physically attractive, then sexual gratification will come to you more easily than if you are not.
If you work hard and educate yourself, you will earn more money than if you do not.
If you earn more money, then you will be seen as a better provider by high quality women than if you are poor.
If you are seen as desirable to the opposite sex, then the reproductive instincts of others will deem you with emulating.
If you are deemed worth emulating, your opinions will be valued more highly than if you are not.
If your opinions are highly valued, then you will be able to influence politics.
That is the natural order of things, and try though you might, you will not ever successfully violate nature’s will.
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