Every day, I leave work at around 4:30 to get my snack. I don’t get fruit, hells no. I get Hariboro gummy bears (a mockery of one of God’s creations) and I get Coke, flavored with thoroughly fake vanilla. I go back to work and sit in front of a computer, doing things that society pretends are completely essential, and if I remember, I pump myself full of a synthetic insulin compound to take care of all those fake-ass carbohydrates I’ve consumed.
I am a profoundly unnatural human being.
Let’s take some more examples. I live in a basement apartment where I don’t really get any sun, and where the air is strictly conditioned. Every day I squeeze into a metal tube and spend forty-five minutes reading a book from long before I was born. I only want meat if someone else kills it for me, and I’m not into raw. I’m also not that interested in well-done, like I’m eating a cow that fell into a volcano… nope, medium-rare, cooked to perfection, like they taught us in medieval France. And just to be clear, I don’t mind fruit from time to time, but it’s gotta be the right piece, carefully selected, first by the farmer and then by my own strict (though undeveloped) sense of judgment. If a caveman ate a plum from my shopping cart, he probably wouldn’t recognize it as bounty of the earth.
I gave up on a “natural course” long ago, maybe back when I was born and had to be cut out of my mother and infused with antibiotics. When people advocate a return to nature, I wonder what they mean by that; the only real meaning I can discern for “natural” is untreated and untouched, taken from some unknown region of Appalachian country, still fully populated by those effects of competitive wildness: colonies of protozoa, bird footprints, and worms that found this feast before I did.
Is this what these people mean? I’ve always had some issues with this question. What really separates a “natural” ingredient from an “artificial” one? It seems that there’s such a distinction, because Sunny Delight has to list both on their label, whereas Tropicana gets to claim one to exclusivity. Yet, if chemical compounds aren’t derived from nature, and from the possibilities proffered by the Earth and its elements, where are we getting them? Is a VERY intelligent scientist using his powers of transubstantiation to manifest these chemicals? If bisexuality and aspartame are aberrations from some profound earthly order, is the human mind, with all its strange ideas and paradoxical self-awareness, such an aberration as well? I’m still a little lost in the space between “natural” and “artificial,” but the rest of the world is ready to accept such a distinction, so I’ll buy into it for the moment.
I’m not the only one living a profoundly unnatural lifestyle, but sometimes I feel I’m the only one living up to it. The state of nature justifies the economic principles of the wealthy and the lifestyle decisions of the bohemian – it’s the first line of defense for our desires as artists, acolytes, and legislators. It’s worth paying for (particularly in the form of expensive-ass fruit and nut bars) and it’s a fair reason to give up everything you have and turn to asceticism. The lonely land of nakedness and hunger is the closest we can get to our masturbating monkey ancestors, after all.
I don’t buy into it, and there’s a specific reason for that. Read this closely, and advance your argument in opposition, but do so with care — we all choose our own worlds, and when we choose the Gods of those worlds, we need to know what they stand for. I live in a world where Nature – at least in her most commonly invoked manifestations – stands for something I’m no longer willing to stand behind.
My problem: Nature is discriminatory (forgive the personification, but it’s going to continue; and forgive the use of the feminine pronoun, it’s just for convention’s sake). Nature has set some strict, ugly standards that stand in the way of agency. Hierarchy and chaos are her signature, and it wasn’t until the human race learned its form of defiance that something could slip through her granite fingers.
She’s very hierarchical, and has a proven bias in favor of the strong over the weak. This leads to a frequent snowballing of forces within her domain, as poor, unarmed gazelle are bullied and devoured by families of lions, who are then allowed to sleep for twenty hours every day. Dolphins have found some fascinating ways of defending their collectives from sharks, but this usually means abandoning one or two of their loved ones to the bloody waters and sharp teeth of the predator; when has nature favored a dolphin in a fight and given it an opportunity to try shark meat? What penguin chick has ever been given the freedom and agency to defy the polar bear, or to make a pact with one?
For this reason, a “laissez-faire” economy (the end goal of neo-liberal economics) will never successfully uphold the purely human, purely unnatural virtues of freedom, agency and equality. Nature favors the strong, the subversive tactic of motivated manipulation, and the inertia of self-interest. She will always give precedence to the large company, the multi-national corporation, whose finances and connections can strong arm competitors and the public. Nature doesn’t care about our self-determination or our emotional well-being.
And in the same vein, nature has demonstrated a notable bias in favor of the strong over the smart. Until the human parasite took over the natural environment, there was little place for the big-brained chimpanzee, except high in the trees, safe from poisonous fangs and sharp teeth. It was a desperate, fortunate moment when rationality took over the climate of scarcity and struggle. We need to be thanking our ancestors, who invented fire, astrology, and the Age of Enlightenment.
After all, nature denied us so much. Under her rule, creatures who preferred the company of the same sex are denied the ability to have children, and it’s a wonder that this disposition has lingered within her realm as long as it has. Now we’ve finally transcended our biological need to rape and devour, our fear of scarcity and starvation. Our sick can finally live long, healthy lives, and our sciences can finally work in tandem with the elements to create new opportunities. And most importantly, our food finally tastes good.
Donna Haraway was right — we are all cyborgs. Our strangest inventions aren’t iPods or Ugg Boots – they’re the more fundamental features of our basic humanity: morals, institutions, cooperatives, altruism, history, and freedom. Every day, we buy into these virtues, these purely human, purely artificial dreams and desires, and yet, we try to justify them by the words of God and Mother Nature. And we fight to preserve some sort of “state of nature,” a natural order of foods and competition and sexuality, as if we’re nostalgic for our slavery and uncertainty.
But what did Mother Nature ever do for us, except give us a body and a hope for something different? It wasn’t nature that got us here. It was all us.Powered by Sidelines