Natural and Unnatural Man

Why is it tragic when human activities bring about the extinction of a single species, but natural, that is, benign, when scores of millions of species become extinct in the ordinary course of nature? How can the same result be evil when caused by man and good when caused by Mother Nature? A forest fire started by a discarded cigarette butt does not burn any hotter than a forest fire started by lightning.

More than ninety—nine percent of all the species that have ever lived are extinct, extinguished by Mother Nature. If we extinguish a species, we extinguish perhaps one hundred—thousandth of one percent of the remnant, perhaps one millionth of one percent. We are dismayed by the human extinction of one species. Why are we indifferent to destruction ten million or a hundred million times greater?

Why should human—induced global warming or cooling be a catastrophe when the earth has been warmed and cooled far more without us? According to the January 2000 issue of Scientific American, as

"many as four times between 750 million and 580 million years ago...ice as much as a kilometer thick engulfed the earth. Glaciers scoured the nearly lifeless continents, and sea ice encapsulated the oceans—even in the tropics."

Each of these mega ice ages was followed by a "brutal episode of warming," with a "runaway greenhouse effect....baking the planet." A man—made episode of global cooling that engulfed the earth with ice a meter thick would be a disaster. Why is a kilometer thick sheet of ice not one?

Sixty—five million years ago, the Cretaceous extinctions obliterated half of all species of life.  Perhaps they were killed by an asteroid impact; perhaps volcanic activity cooled the climate.  At any rate, on land and in the sea, death, death, death.

Nevertheless, the Permian extinctions 250 million years ago were far more lethal, killing every member of more than 90% of all species.  The continents of the world drifted together, volcanoes spewed pollution, and almost all living things perished.  Where was the Endangered Species Act when we needed it?

Still worse were the ecocidal Cambrian extinctions 560 million years ago. Photosynthetic organisms increased the amount of oxygen in the air and water, which killed anaerobic life like radiation after a full—scale nuclear war. This, remember, is what environmentalists consider ideal, an earth entirely natural, that is, to their way of thinking, an earth utterly unaffected by human activity.

That environmentalists are untroubled by the natural destruction of the environment and animal rights activists are moved only by human cruelty suggests that environmentalists are less interested in conserving the environment than in destroying the works of man and that animal rights activists are motivated more by hatred of people than love of animals.

Environmentalists pride themselves on their sensitivity to nature and natural things.  They of all people know best the meaning of a rustic scene.  But if there is anything that is completely alien to the objects of their affection, it is their rigidly held distinction between the natural (non—human) and the unnatural (human).  This is a distinction that no animal makes.  No animal cares whether it is killed by a human or it dies a violent natural death.  A meadow blasted by a volcano is no less dead than a meadow stripped by a bulldozer. Yet in the name of that animal and that meadow we are taught abhorrence of death by man and praise of death by nature.  We love or hate the same result depending on what brought it about.  Nature does not assign blame.  It just wants to live.

A perverse understanding of the meaning and significance of the term "natural" makes us inhuman. Traditionally, something "natural" was something that acted according to its nature. For man to act according to his essence was for him to be entirely natural. Today, however, most people understand by "natural" something that is not artificial, something not man—made, something unaffected by man.

The traditional definition gave man a nature, indeed a nature he must live up to. To be truly human was to fulfill the definition of man as a rational animal. To be less than rational was to be less than human. So the traditional definition was a calling as much as a definition. Man's vocation was to live rationally. The now dominant definition takes away that nature, robs man of any definition at all, for man becomes the only being without a nature. Man is infinitely malleable, Protean. He has no definition, much less a calling. He has no reason, no vocation, and no ideal.

A creature's nature gives it its characteristics, its needs, its desires, its relationship to others of its kind, its very being. For a butterfly, to be natural is to have all these things. Man robbed of his nature by the modern definition of natural as not human lacks them all.

What we are like, what we need, what we want, how we respond to each other, our lives themselves: all depend upon the human nature denied us by modernity. All are "socially constructed." "Society" has somehow made one person thin and another fat, one person short and another tall, one intelligent and one stupid, one male and one female, one rich and one poor, one a saint and one a sinner, one beautiful and one ugly.

Who could believe it? To be consistent, everyone must believe it who thinks that for people to wear clothes or live in houses is unnatural.

Though man has no definition, the modern definition of "natural" as "not artificial," that is, "not human," implies an exact description of what is wrong with us. To be natural according to the modern definition is to be literally inhuman. It has opened the gates of hell, releasing the will to power to roam the earth in search of souls to inhabit. We have no nature, no purpose, nothing to live up to, no reason to live. We are a vacuum to fill with a mad desire for the power to enforce our empty wills. We are like the young criminal who kills someone for his sneakers or the prisoners who fight to the death over a cigarette. We exercise power without restraint for the slightest of reasons, the most expansive of means for the most contracted of ends. We may not know quite what we want, or want the same thing tomorrow that we want today, but we'll do everything we can to get it.

We extol choice without knowing what to choose. We have bigger and bigger bookstores and read less and less. We have more information and less knowledge, more schools and less learning. We inherit a great democracy and do not vote. We build great churches without being sure what god to worship in them. We have more and more that we know less and less what to do with.

We have better stereos and worse music, more poets and less poetry, more singers and less song, more artists and less artistry, more novelists and less novelty.

We have more sportsmen and less sportsmanship, and more sports and less sporting. We have more leisure and less rest, more exercise equipment and less exercise, more food and less nourishment, more diet books and more obesity. We have more psychiatrists and less mental health, more tranquilizers and less tranquility.

We have more sex and less satisfaction, more lovers and less love, more marriages and less marriage. Our spouses are better looking, and we see them less. Our children are cuter and mean less to us.

We have more diplomats and less diplomacy, more sovereigns and less sovereignty. We have more numbers and less numeracy, more economists and less economy. We have more and more laws that we obey less and less, more lawyers and less legality. We have more and more rules that are less and less golden.

We have psychologists who do not understand people and counselors without counsel. Our social workers are a menace to work and society.

We have moralists at war with morality and ethicists at war with ethics. We have more philosophers and less philosophy, more note—taking and less taking note. We have more holidays and fewer holy days, more who prophesy and less prophecy, more profanity and less to profane, more deaths and fewer burials, more memorials and less memory. We conceive more and give birth less. We have fewer children and more childishness. We have more Christians and Jews and less Christianity and Judaism.

So we dissipate ourselves until we have nothing left to dissipate. We finally stop chasing after sex that we're never going to catch anyway and money that we're never going to have, and we seek solace in nature. Green grass and bright flowers and fresh air will revive us, we think. But until the nature we seek is our own, the grass and flowers and air will be the grass and flowers and air of a cemetery.

Jonathan David Carson, Ph.D., may be reached here. For more information, see his website Make Haste Slowly.

Why is it tragic when human activities bring about the extinction of a single species, but natural, that is, benign, when scores of millions of species become extinct in the ordinary course of nature? How can the same result be evil when caused by man and good when caused by Mother Nature? A forest fire started by a discarded cigarette butt does not burn any hotter than a forest fire started by lightning.

More than ninety—nine percent of all the species that have ever lived are extinct, extinguished by Mother Nature. If we extinguish a species, we extinguish perhaps one hundred—thousandth of one percent of the remnant, perhaps one millionth of one percent. We are dismayed by the human extinction of one species. Why are we indifferent to destruction ten million or a hundred million times greater?

Why should human—induced global warming or cooling be a catastrophe when the earth has been warmed and cooled far more without us? According to the January 2000 issue of Scientific American, as

"many as four times between 750 million and 580 million years ago...ice as much as a kilometer thick engulfed the earth. Glaciers scoured the nearly lifeless continents, and sea ice encapsulated the oceans—even in the tropics."

Each of these mega ice ages was followed by a "brutal episode of warming," with a "runaway greenhouse effect....baking the planet." A man—made episode of global cooling that engulfed the earth with ice a meter thick would be a disaster. Why is a kilometer thick sheet of ice not one?

Sixty—five million years ago, the Cretaceous extinctions obliterated half of all species of life.  Perhaps they were killed by an asteroid impact; perhaps volcanic activity cooled the climate.  At any rate, on land and in the sea, death, death, death.

Nevertheless, the Permian extinctions 250 million years ago were far more lethal, killing every member of more than 90% of all species.  The continents of the world drifted together, volcanoes spewed pollution, and almost all living things perished.  Where was the Endangered Species Act when we needed it?

Still worse were the ecocidal Cambrian extinctions 560 million years ago. Photosynthetic organisms increased the amount of oxygen in the air and water, which killed anaerobic life like radiation after a full—scale nuclear war. This, remember, is what environmentalists consider ideal, an earth entirely natural, that is, to their way of thinking, an earth utterly unaffected by human activity.

That environmentalists are untroubled by the natural destruction of the environment and animal rights activists are moved only by human cruelty suggests that environmentalists are less interested in conserving the environment than in destroying the works of man and that animal rights activists are motivated more by hatred of people than love of animals.

Environmentalists pride themselves on their sensitivity to nature and natural things.  They of all people know best the meaning of a rustic scene.  But if there is anything that is completely alien to the objects of their affection, it is their rigidly held distinction between the natural (non—human) and the unnatural (human).  This is a distinction that no animal makes.  No animal cares whether it is killed by a human or it dies a violent natural death.  A meadow blasted by a volcano is no less dead than a meadow stripped by a bulldozer. Yet in the name of that animal and that meadow we are taught abhorrence of death by man and praise of death by nature.  We love or hate the same result depending on what brought it about.  Nature does not assign blame.  It just wants to live.

A perverse understanding of the meaning and significance of the term "natural" makes us inhuman. Traditionally, something "natural" was something that acted according to its nature. For man to act according to his essence was for him to be entirely natural. Today, however, most people understand by "natural" something that is not artificial, something not man—made, something unaffected by man.

The traditional definition gave man a nature, indeed a nature he must live up to. To be truly human was to fulfill the definition of man as a rational animal. To be less than rational was to be less than human. So the traditional definition was a calling as much as a definition. Man's vocation was to live rationally. The now dominant definition takes away that nature, robs man of any definition at all, for man becomes the only being without a nature. Man is infinitely malleable, Protean. He has no definition, much less a calling. He has no reason, no vocation, and no ideal.

A creature's nature gives it its characteristics, its needs, its desires, its relationship to others of its kind, its very being. For a butterfly, to be natural is to have all these things. Man robbed of his nature by the modern definition of natural as not human lacks them all.

What we are like, what we need, what we want, how we respond to each other, our lives themselves: all depend upon the human nature denied us by modernity. All are "socially constructed." "Society" has somehow made one person thin and another fat, one person short and another tall, one intelligent and one stupid, one male and one female, one rich and one poor, one a saint and one a sinner, one beautiful and one ugly.

Who could believe it? To be consistent, everyone must believe it who thinks that for people to wear clothes or live in houses is unnatural.

Though man has no definition, the modern definition of "natural" as "not artificial," that is, "not human," implies an exact description of what is wrong with us. To be natural according to the modern definition is to be literally inhuman. It has opened the gates of hell, releasing the will to power to roam the earth in search of souls to inhabit. We have no nature, no purpose, nothing to live up to, no reason to live. We are a vacuum to fill with a mad desire for the power to enforce our empty wills. We are like the young criminal who kills someone for his sneakers or the prisoners who fight to the death over a cigarette. We exercise power without restraint for the slightest of reasons, the most expansive of means for the most contracted of ends. We may not know quite what we want, or want the same thing tomorrow that we want today, but we'll do everything we can to get it.

We extol choice without knowing what to choose. We have bigger and bigger bookstores and read less and less. We have more information and less knowledge, more schools and less learning. We inherit a great democracy and do not vote. We build great churches without being sure what god to worship in them. We have more and more that we know less and less what to do with.

We have better stereos and worse music, more poets and less poetry, more singers and less song, more artists and less artistry, more novelists and less novelty.

We have more sportsmen and less sportsmanship, and more sports and less sporting. We have more leisure and less rest, more exercise equipment and less exercise, more food and less nourishment, more diet books and more obesity. We have more psychiatrists and less mental health, more tranquilizers and less tranquility.

We have more sex and less satisfaction, more lovers and less love, more marriages and less marriage. Our spouses are better looking, and we see them less. Our children are cuter and mean less to us.

We have more diplomats and less diplomacy, more sovereigns and less sovereignty. We have more numbers and less numeracy, more economists and less economy. We have more and more laws that we obey less and less, more lawyers and less legality. We have more and more rules that are less and less golden.

We have psychologists who do not understand people and counselors without counsel. Our social workers are a menace to work and society.

We have moralists at war with morality and ethicists at war with ethics. We have more philosophers and less philosophy, more note—taking and less taking note. We have more holidays and fewer holy days, more who prophesy and less prophecy, more profanity and less to profane, more deaths and fewer burials, more memorials and less memory. We conceive more and give birth less. We have fewer children and more childishness. We have more Christians and Jews and less Christianity and Judaism.

So we dissipate ourselves until we have nothing left to dissipate. We finally stop chasing after sex that we're never going to catch anyway and money that we're never going to have, and we seek solace in nature. Green grass and bright flowers and fresh air will revive us, we think. But until the nature we seek is our own, the grass and flowers and air will be the grass and flowers and air of a cemetery.

Jonathan David Carson, Ph.D., may be reached here. For more information, see his website Make Haste Slowly.