Botkin Chapter 2: Nature is Good; People Are Bad

As usual, if you want to comment, please go to Virtual Book Club here.

Bob did an excellent job of summarizing Chapter 2 here. However, instead of answering his questions, I would like to explore another idea that arises (albeit peripherally, perhaps) in Chapter 2. (This is OK in Virtual Book Club; you, too, can post a topic, just send your post to me or Bob). This book is full of post-worthy quotes, paragraphs, and digressions.

I was intrigued by this quote from Daphne Sheldrake in the Tsavo Story (on page 28 of the print edition).

“hasn’t man always had a regrettable tendency to manipulate the natural order of things to suit himself?”
“With amazing arrogance we presume omniscience and an understanding of the complexities of Nature, and with amazing impertinence we believe that we can better it.. We have forgotten that we, ourselves are just a part of nature, an animal which seems to have taken the wrong turning, bent on total destruction.”

There are a couple of ideas in this quote.. first there is the breast-beating misanthropic tone..and the use of “we”.. as I said in this essay..entitled “Breast Beating of Others is Neither Attractive Nor Particularly Useful.”

You mean people have hunted, fished, grown crops and livestock to feed and clothe themselves? So whassup with the negative tone of “manipulate the “natural order” of things to “suit himself”? Would the world be a better place if we all killed ourselves? There is something behind this that deserves deeper exploration. We hear the same language today, even, sometimes, on the NCFP blog.

The idea of bad humans using resources seems to be a fairly recent idea (Botkin mentions Marsh in the late 1800′s, which makes sense because there were notable negative impacts from people’s uses). “People can have a variety of impacts on the land and its creatures, and we should be careful not to have severe negative effects on the environment” (my framing) is different than “we are an animal bent on total destruction.”

Where does this “nature is best” philosophy lead us? To all killing ourselves for the good of Nature? Just to feel bad that we exist? Does this go back to deeper philosophical questions about the Nature of Humankind, fundamentally good or bad, that have traditionally been addressed by religions (on both sides of the argument)? Has the rise of this belief come about since the “death of religion” due to a fundamental need some humans have to feel bad about themselves (brain chemistry) or to tell other people they are bad (bossiness), normally expressed through preaching fire and brimstone, but in the post-religion era needing some other framework for expression?

Those of us who are involved in religions may feel that this drill is very familiar. “We” have sinned by existing and using resources. By appropriate self-mortification, like riding your bike to work, as determined by the Environmental Curia, you may atone for your sins.

One more thing I’d like to address.. how the word nature is used to determine what should be is as old as the hills. “Nature” tends to be an argument used when more rational arguments for what you want to do fail to convince others. Is this the case today?

And first, where I affirm the empire of a woman to be a thing repugnant to nature, I mean not only that God, by the order of his creation, has spoiled [deprived] woman of authority and dominion, but also that man has seen, proved, and pronounced just causes why it should be.

The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558, John Knox).