Friday, March 25, 2016

It's Only Natural

I don't feel safe in this world no more,
I don't want to die in a nuclear war.
I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an apeman.

-The Kinks-

The allure of nature, the yearning to get back to some other time and place when things were natural.
It's part of our American revulsion for technology and science and the way they interfere with our animal emotionalism and recreational anger.

 In man's evolution he's created the city 
And the motor traffic rumble. 
But give me half a chance and I'd be taking off my clothes 
And living in the jungle. 
Cause the only time that I feel at ease 
Is swinging up and down in the coconut trees.

in some other time and place when things were natural.  It's a thing of our time and yet it seems almost a feature of the way we are built and the way we think. We want to go back and we always have.

I'm no more immune to nostalgia than you are, but having been a nostalgic person since childhood I've learned much about how life was without the romanticized view that  commerce and politics use to make us spend and vote and sing about. Yes, indeed we have lost a great deal of both beautiful and ugly things over time, but we have gained far more than we're aware of.  Your favorite Tiki Hut restaurant on the beach becomes a soulless chain restaurant serving fish from New Zealand, that peaceful country road triples in width, sprouts ten thousand traffic lights and strip malls. The little seaside fishing community sprouts "shoppes" for people from New Jersey.  I hate it more than you do and yes it does feel like all those artisanal and natural, organic and authentic things are something devoutly to be wished for, but Capitalism has the ability to mass produce romantic ideas and sell them to us as the real thing We can't tell the difference any more.  Even Starbucks seems real to some of us.

How many TV "reality" shows are there about surviving without technology, living "off the grid" and how many "lifestyles" do we buy into that include the pretense of living like a "caveman" and eating a "paleo" diet as though all our ancestors lived in caves or ate the same things.  I fear that most of it is only theater and most of the science adhering to it isn't much different than Dr. Bonkers' elixir.  But we can't get away from it.  The modern world is scary, complex and lacking in some ineffable quality we think we want.

We want things that are "Natural" and we are afraid of anything that smacks of  the lab coat whether the distinction is real or not.  We'll spend more for something "artisanal" a word that's hard to define and you never used to see and we love the word so much you'll spend more for the product of a 'bread artisan' than of a baker although there's no difference.  We just know that preservatives are poison even when they're not.  We just know that  Ammonium Nitrate is "artificial" unless you extract it from manure and that "organic" food is healthier and tastes better even though all evidence is to the contrary. We're afraid and looking for the soothing lap of  mother nature to comfort us and commerce is happy to dress up in a mommy costume and charge us a fee.

I once had a heated argument about milk with some quite intelligent friend who assured me it was bad because only humans drank milk as an adult which shows it's not natural.  Now of course that definition of natural as something which our species is not involved in is contrived.  We are,, as all things are part of nature, but as we're the only species that brushes our teeth, removes the offal from our prey, boils water and millions of other things, it doesn't follow that all such things are harmful. Yet the urge is to deny all the science that proves milk does not make you phlegmatic, because science isn't natural and fear is.

But it's an old argument, used frequently by religious bigots.  Homosexuality isn't "natural"  there are crimes against nature that must be punished.  Ben Franklin was vilified because lightning rods are an unnatural interference with nature, just as Dr. Frankenstein was punished (in the movie version) for learning and doing things man was never meant to know or do.  Yes, it's an old story and older than the Bible which tells us that knowledge is sinful to acquire.

Man made is bad, technology is bad and frightening, and so science is not trustworthy or wholesome.

In man's evolution he's created the city
And the motor traffic rumble
But give me half a chance and I'd be taking off my clothes
And living in the jungle. Cause the only time that I feel at ease
Is swinging up and down in the coconut trees.

But the naive and the fearful and the nostalgic are the prey of bad people and bad science and the sellers of "lifestyles."  Billions are made by telling you to fear radios and anything not found lying on the ground because it's not natural. An anti-oxidant is bad if it's used as a preservative. Nothing artificial is good even if identical to the "natural" version.  Pesticides are bad unless you get them from a plant or mineral even though they may be quite deadly.  We're convinced because we hear this on the Internet or from some TV pitch man or read some charlatan's book.  We have to worry about hormones from chicken and phlegm from milk and about the antibiotics in the pig food getting into our bloodstreams, even if we can't assimilate DNA and all those "toxins' are destroyed by cooking if they exist at all.. We have to worry about grain brain and wheat belly and the equally non-existent danger of gluten or bananas or any of the "seven foods you should never eat." We don't care how much evidence refutes it.

We don't care that Autism isn't expanding and that vaccination doesn't cause it.  We don't care that all our food sources are things that don't exist in the wild and that we are the only animal on earth that cannot survive without technology and that our dominance is entirely due to technology -- like cooking your food or brushing your teeth or wearing clothes or reading a book or making music -- like human inability to tell reason from emotion -- it's not natural.

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