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My Thoughts On... Nature

Something that's bugging me lately - 'nature'. That word scares me. Why does it scare me? For the very reason it's not supposed to. Because it's not supposed to. Nature is one of those words that you're supposed to hear, and give a light sigh as if to say 'Ahhhh, nature, int it great?', and this scares me.

This horrible habit appears to have arisen lately (at least I think it's only been lately) of explaining why something is great by saying 'It's natural', or showing something to be terrible simply by saying 'It's unnatural'. Frequently these statements are about things that simply aren't unnatural - 'Eating meat, it's unnatural isn't it?', 'Erm, yes, of course something that very many of the animals that exist in your so-called 'Nature' do and that men are built to do is unnatural'.

What worries me, however, is not these cases (they just annoy me) but the rest of the cases where it isn't so obviously bizarre to claim that something is against nature, and the implicit assumption that is being mad. The assumption I'm referring to is that of assuming that human beings are somehow 'above nature'. I simply can't understand how something that is part of nature can be considered to do things that are against nature.

The sort of things that recently have been called unnatural range from the (slightly older) extension of the claim above about eating meat - namely that it's not simply eating meat but farming animals for food that is unnatural - all the way up to genetic engineering and modification of foods. None of these things, I would argue, are unnatural, simply by virtue of the fact that we're animals interacting with nature, within nature, and many of these things are examples of us acting absolutely like our animal build demands - searching for better and more sustainable ways of providing food and shelter, for example.

'Nature', if we're going to assume that the term has any meaning at all, is a very powerful thing. Supposedly it's the most powerful thing after God, to those that believe in such things. These claims that humans are constantly guilty of being 'unnatural' firmly place things in a different pecking order - with humans firmly above nature. I don't, however, believe this is true. Sure we could easily succeed in doing something that ends up wiping out the human race, or at least decimating the numbers, but this is probably the most natural thing around - with animals or plants outgrowing their habitat and finding that they run out of food, or are attacked by a predator, and with the numbers regulated this way. I can't see how numbers being regulated (even if by a combination of our intelligence and arrogance) is not absolutely the norm.

Scarily, it is just the people that do believe in God that commit the even worse crime of placing humans not just above nature but also above God. The (granted very tricky) case of the Siamese twins filling the news in Autumn 2000 are a good example. Doctors want to separate these twins - an operation that will give the more complete twin a good chance of living a relatively long and normal life, but that will kill the other twin, rather than leaving them both to die fairly soon. The parents, however, do not want the babies to be separated, saying that it would be unnatural, and that they'd prefer God to perform his will.

Whilst the issues involved are very complex and emotive, I cannot see where nature or God come into this. This operation is just another step along the path that we have been treading for as long as we have been evolving - of learning better and better ways of keeping people alive and surviving problems - to claim otherwise is to blindly worship 'The miracle of science', and be in awe of it in a way we should not. Whilst the instruments may look somewhat different from a splint made from a branch and rope made from vines, they are effectively serving just the same purpose. Even worse, to say that it is God's will that these twins should die seems to undermine the very essence of what God is. I always thought that he was supposed to be omnipotent, and that if he didn't want people separating twins he didn't have to cross his fingers and hope that the doctors didn't do it; I always thought if he didn't want people to do something they simply couldn't - and isn't he supposed to be benevolent anyway?

So, overall, I don't like people justifying things through the use of the word 'Nature' - it really scares me. Such a justification reeks of the sort of reminiscence about the 'good old days' where 'traditional values' were in force, and such an allusion to an invented ideal, as a way to control other people, seems very disturbing to me.