We Have Been Living Away From Nature For Too Long Now
Tl;dr: nature is irremediably violent, and humans, through the building of civilizations, have decreased its naturally occurring pain.
I have this theory that says that the current hyper-sensitive societal context expressed through the establishment of “safe zones” and “inclusivity workshops” as currently happening in the West (mainly in the US, thank God) has partly been enacted by the fact that people are now increasingly…living in big cities, away from nature.
Shielded from the violence naturally occurring in the wild, life in cities developed a model based on decreasing pain at all costs.
Should you suffer physically, you can go to a hospital or a doctor and receive treatment and drugs. Should you suffer mentally, you can go to a psychologist and…receive treatment and drugs.
Even though big cities are both more violent and poorer than small towns (usually closer to nature), poverty and violence are hardly tolerated. Protests against violent actions (discrimination, unemployment, restrictions of liberties, police brutality, and more) are often organized.
Split From Nature
In this article, I argue that the lack of contact with nature has hidden townsmen from its violence and by the same token, has significantly decreased their pain tolerance.
The city-like environment in which people now live has led them to change the way they interpret power relations in the world.
When “looking for a prey” became “looking for a job”, “go get the chicken we’ll have for dinner in the backyard” switched to “dOn’T eAt aNiMaLs, ThEy ArE oUr FrIeNdS”.
While this single topic is worth an entire article by itself, if not a book (and I’ll expand more on it later), the misinterpretation of nature’s nature leads to dissonance, to an incorrect interpretation of the world as usually advocated by extremist environmentalists such as Greta Thunberg.
Rejecting empiricism for reasons I ignore, these thought-leaders broadcast discourses built atop ideological principles, often wrong and often Manichean (“everything made by man is bad, all-things-nature are good”).
One of these biased views is that nature is good, should be copied, protected, and let be. While I agree with the last three statements, I disagree with the former.
Nature is not good. Nature is not fun. Nature is not kind.
It’s extremely violent.
It is so barbaric in fact that we invented a term to describe people that manage to evolve past their natural and barbaric states to adopt a higher way of living (that word is “civilization” ).
Without any further ado, let’s have a look at the nature of nature.
Life Is Pain
David Benatar is a professor of philosophy from the University of Cape Town and famous for advocating antinatalism, a movement militating for a halt to…giving birth.
His argument is quite simple: life, apart from some blinking rare moments of happiness, is mainly made out of pain and suffering, and stopping all human life will only be a benefit to both humans and the rest of the over-exploited and polluted planet.
To understand where Benatar’s idea comes from, we need to understand how nature works.
Contrarily to vegans’ beliefs, the cycle of nature is quite dramatic: for something to live, something else has to die.
Plants get nutrients from a fertile ground made out of other dead life matter. They get eaten by herbivores which get eaten by carnivores which get eaten by other carnivores which eventually die, going back to feed the soil for plants.
I like to think that this cycle of nature is probably what inspired Buddhist scholars to interpret time from a circular perspective instead of from a linear perspective, with a beginning (“…and God created the universe…”) and an end (the end of times).
But we are not talking about religion today. From a purely scientific point of view, life is a cycle – hence the cycle of life – and death is an important part of it.
Death itself is not problematic, it is part of life and makes up for a natural continuation.
Bret Weinstein pushed this idea quite far, proposing that death is insurance for life to continue. His argument is the following: should life be immortal (understand, would not die of age), it would have no reasons to reproduce, preventing a species from being able to continue to exist should all its members die unexpectedly.
It is therefore death itself that ensures that living sentient reproduce, creating more life, and avoiding species’ disappearance.
Under this lens, death means life, and unlimited life means species disappearance (death of the species). Before dying though, a living organism should make sure it reproduces and should therefore stay alive long enough so that it can do what it was put on Earth for.
The will to fight for one’s own life is, therefore, an imperative that nature ensured to encode within every living organism.
Life has been programmed to survive and to do everything in its power to do so. This principle explains why wild animals fear you in the forest, and why they attack when running away is not an option.
They whether fear for their lives, or for the ones of their cubs that they must protect at all cost. To make sure that happens, nature designed its creatures naturally fearful and mistrustful.
But not only.
Should an organism’s body be victim of something that would prevent it from ultimately reproducing (such as violence), another type of message would be sent out to let the organism know that this situation is not tolerable and should be dealt with as soon as possible.
That message is pain.
Pain is your body telling you that whatever you’re doing, it is (at least in the short term) destructive and that you should stop doing that as soon as possible.
Hence the fact that pain is not nice to feel.
A living organism’s purpose is to keep its own species alive and thriving because if that wasn’t the goal, that species wouldn’t simply exist (the purpose of life is its own existence, how ironic).
This principle leads species to do all they can to preserve and guarantee their physical integrity, as encoded by nature through “the will to survive at all costs”.
Feelings, emotions, and sensations such as fear and pain keep organisms out of situations that hurt their overall well-being and integrity.
Pain, in such an evolutionary context, is imperative. It serves as some sort of “motivator” for organisms to fight for their own lives. Pain is keeping species alive and is an important component of life.
It prevents mice from getting devoured by birds and cats (or not) and cows from being eaten alive by packs of wolves (or not). This observation eventually leads us to the answer on the nature of nature: it’s “horrible”.
From dolphins raping each other to reproduce to vultures fighting to the death at birth, nature is not peaceful, nature is not “nice” and it is not always “beautiful”.
Such is the fate of life. Such is the nature of nature.
The Bottom Line
I like to think that humans have outnatured nature. We are unique in so many different ways that I cannot believe we reflect an idea nature had when designing us. In my eyes, it looks like an experiment that didn’t turn out well, a bit like viruses ;).
I cannot imagine a planned scenario that would have seen us capable to influence our own nature with biological tools (genetic scissors, for example) as we are able to do so today, making humans almost more powerful than that that created them. But this is a whole other topic.
What we want to remember from this article is that nature is not good. Nature is the worst version of capitalism you could have ever envisioned. Those that are not good enough don’t simply die. They get eaten by more powerful than them.
Is it bad? I don’t know. Can we judge? I don’t think so. We can observe and take notes of consequences, and maybe help to improve the state of living organisms, decreasing their suffering as much as possible and improving their living conditions (the ethics behind such an idea, quite questionable, cannot possibly be discussed here).
In any way, what we need to understand is that as violent as nature is, humans have managed to create a world where suffering has been lessened, violence has been forbidden and pain can be significantly decreased compared to the past (about 350 000 years ago).
Nature is not good. Nature is not nice. Nature is.
And when we compare the amount of happiness with that of suffering throughout a lifetime, we might wonder if David Benatar was not actually right.