Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Why Nature is Not Our Friend

Ever wondered if homosexuality is natural? What about cities, tattoos, or stay at home husbands? Of coure the thing most people worry about these days is, drum roll please, genetic engineering. Is it natural to mess with the genetic material that makes plants and animals what they are?

There are actually two problems that crop up when we think about what's natural. First, we start to use nature as measure of how things ought to be. Second, we try to explain social behavior, poverty, wealth, even human personalities as if they were mainly products of the natural world. Let me explain...

Go against nature in this regard and are not a man. Of course, you may be a woman, so you will be called a diesel dyke if you steps too far out of bounds.

It gets even worse. We tend to think of nature as having special/magical/supernatural properties. So, natural cures and natural foods are good. We "need" a spiritual connection with the natural world. Some people think plants and animals have a special "life force" that science cannot duplicate. (I think I'm right about this.)

The bottom line: What does this cost us, if anything? Well, whenever science suggests that natural cures and supplements are not better, but we buy them anyway, we waste money. The synthetic compounds are sometimes cheaper, or maybe not, but they actuall tend to work. And how many people are actually harmed each year by natural cures? And what are the social costs when we condemn "unnatural" behaviors like homosexuality and a woman taking care of her husband or boyfriend? However, the costs are diffuse and hard to understand; the benefits are concrete and clear.

We keep thinking so highly of natural things and the natural world for a couple of reasons. Some entrepreneurs are making tons of money selling "superior" natural products. People feel good about their eforts to fight unnatural things like homosexuality and genetic engineering. People feel they understand the world better when they can easily put things into the categories of "unnatural" and "natural" so we keep doing this.

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