The Arbitrary Nature of Nature

‘Nature’ and ‘natural’ are held up as the ultimate sacred standards yet should they be?  Why should we revere the natural order of things?

‘Because it is natural’ we usually reason circularly.  What’s so great about being natural?

All that matters in nature is whether we succeed in passing on our genes.  Whatever function serves that purpose gets passed down.  If people with chronic excruciating pain all over their bodies reproduced more than other people, then each successive generation of humanity would become progressively more prone to chronic pain.

Our enjoyment and fulfillment in life are inconsequential in the balance of nature.  Fullness of life and lifespan only matters so long as it results in more surviving offspring who in turn succeed in reproducing.

Already, human beings are a creature able to frame existential questions but without the ability to divine conclusive answers.  We are more susceptible to things we consider bad than good.  Depression is a major problem.  Excessive happiness is not.  Nature needs to give people an incentive to follow the right course towards reproduction but the most ‘fit’ person ought never to be satisfied for long.  Meanwhile, if a grown offspring of ‘fit’ parents cannot succeed in prosperity and reproduction, their discontentment ought to know no end.  The only way we come out on top it seems is by  ‘cheating’ nature.

By becoming happy with ourselves as we are, we ‘defy’ nature.  By using condoms during intercourse we ‘defy’ nature.  Ordinarily, we would get to enjoy ourselves a few times and nature’s purpose would be done until childbirth.  Why should nature have allowed us the capacity to ‘defy’ it and continuously get the chemical reward of reproduction without actually reproducing?

I suppose like a short-sighted investor or corporation, nature selected for certain highly advantageous capabilities in humans.  The same cranial capacity that gave human beings the ability to plan for a long winter seems also to have given us that ability to ask “what happens when I die?”  The ability to look forward and ask questions had unintended consequences for the selective process.  The result was a creature that could actually kill itself or destroy all of its own species, an unprecedented feat of unsurvival.  To date, the ability to act outside the parameters of pure survival has been more of a benefit than a loss in spite of its significant drawbacks.

We can say that ‘pure survival’ is the state in which animals exist.  A state in which each creature has a fixed survival strategy to follow.  It can never act against its own best reproductive interests.  It cannot deviate from the plan that allowed its parents to reproduce.  Brains are expensive and the ideal brain does no more than exactly what it needs to.  Extra accessories are usually just wasted energy.

If nature just drives us to reproduce by any means, what lends it any particular legitimacy?  We know that we would all be hard-wired for depression or legs too weak for walking if that’s what resulted in more babies.  Since nature selects for only the bare minimum required to reproduce, human beings have no problem making machines that can perform processes with super-biological speed and precision.

If nature favors whatever reproduces, surely in a few generations the ordinary human being will start to perceive the city as sublimely beautiful and the wilderness as an ugly wasteland full of savage creatures competing for bare survival.

Right now, it is part of human instinct to enjoy being in a peaceful forest and to enjoy the sounds of birds.

Why should it continue to be so considering the current trend of more and more people moving into cities to find work.

Since being drawn to cities must increase chances of successful reproduction, surely it’s possible that our instinctual attachments could change from natural vistas to vast cityscapes.  Why couldn’t people begin to perceive urban noise as harmonious and peaceful and the chirping of birds as an obnoxious racket?

One of the most peaceful sounds a human being can hear is the sound of a flowing stream.  I’ve asked myself, why does this make us feel peaceful?  Maybe because we’re instinctually programmed to want to be near flowing water because people with this tendency reproduced more effectively.  Living by a water source makes sense.

Yet why would people be fascinated by mountain peaks and vast deserts?  There have never been large human populations of people in these areas and yet we are somehow drawn to them.

This sort of inquiry invites delving into complicated business that has yet to be unraveled.  But on the most basic level, if a dog can be bred for its affinity for very specific tasks such as herding sheep, why can’t people breed themselves to finally love their hives better than the wild world outside?

Why then should the natural be unconditionally revered?

2 responses to “The Arbitrary Nature of Nature

  1. The human/nature division, while fallacious in many contexts, seems to me useful when considering where to focus our critical attention. It is relatively far easier and less dangerous for us to tinker with our own creations, since we understand them to a large degree and can usually recreate them, then for us to tinker with natural systems which we do not understand very well. Changing nature can often be prohibitively difficult, like moving mountains, or destructive and difficult to reverse, like species extinction.

    This doesn’t mean that nature must be revered above all else or that humans must minimize our interaction with it. But we do ourselves a disservice not to consider the difference between what we create and what we find, and the implications of such.

    • I believe we do ourselves a disservice by forgetting that we still exist within nature while living in our hives. Human societies are natural systems arising spontaneously from the aggregate behavior of the hive members.

      Humanity hardly seems able to grasp the complexities of tinkering with its own creations. Even where one has invented a predictable piece of machinery, one couldn’t anticipate all of the social implications. Because technology is so integral to the nature of our species, to tinker with our technology is also to tinker with the natural processes that govern us. The cotton gin also had the effect of making slavery more profitable. The atomic bomb changed the way societies interact. The condom reduced the fecundity of peoples living in modernized societies.
      The fallout from man made projects is just as unpredictable and dangerous as messing around with the extra-hive environment.

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