Sunday, February 9, 2014

It's in my nature

There have been people in every age of human history who believed their current world was hopelessly corrupt, that there existed somewhere in the misty past a time when man lived in perfect, blissful harmony with capital-N Nature. Eden, Paradise, Utopia, whatever. So they headed off into civilization-free territory to live as they imagined humans were meant to live. Or they built religions on the idea. Or both.

The trouble is, it’s a myth that there’s a magical man-nature relationship—at least one where humans don’t come out on the short end of the stick. The natural world is filled with things that can wound, break, maim, sicken, poison, freeze, burn, starve, wash away, blow down, crush and kill us. If nature were sentient, one might conclude that it hated homo sapiens. And that was long before we started messing up the planet.

Humanity has always struggled to survive, not because nature hates us, but because nature is totally indifferent to our existence. The natural world wasn’t made just for us. (Insert crushed egos here.) We’re just one of 8 million or so solutions to surviving in the existing conditions. We are not essential to the planet. We’ve been around only about 160,000 years of Earth’s 4.5 billion.

The way I see it, going off into unpopulated places to “become one with Nature” is actually about rejecting humanity. It isn’t introversion, it’s misanthropy. 

“People are bad. Except me, of course.”

The irony, though, is that humans have been able to survive precisely because we aren’t all lone wolves. Even the people haters out in the wilderness depend, to some extent, on things invented and produced by society, including knowledge.

“Say, Mr. Rugged Individual, where did that knife come from? How did you learn to make fire?”

What lone misanthropes often learn, though, is that their grievances remain. Because, however far from civilization they go, they are still stuck with their own malignant selves.

I’m not out here living on the fringes of society because I hate people and the civilization they’ve created. I actually like cities and their conveniences. (Thanks, everyone, for my van and the Internet.) Sure, some folks are awful, but not humans in general. I’m out here because it’s a less expensive, less complicated, freer life. And, right now, in this particular part of the planet, the weather is wonderful. Thanks, Nature.

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