Saturday, May 29, 2010

It's not natural!

I think I may have posted on this before, but it's been long enough ago that I can't remember it, so I'm hoping you can't either. I imagine our IR's are conveniently forgetful about such things.

Many years ago, while I was working my way through college in a data entry office in the Southwest, I had this friend named Dave. Dave was, well, a hippy of the 90s. He had long red hair, a very laid back attitude, and although he didn't actually say "groovy" he kind of oozed it from every pore. Oh, and he definitely gave the impression that he spent at least half of his life in, shall we say, a state other than New Mexico. Dave and I got along quite well. He had the attitude and life style I never had the courage to have. One day we were talking about homosexuality, and Dave, ultra laid back guy that he was, surprised me by saying "the only thing I have against gays is that it's unnatural, man." I didn't really think before I responded, I just blurted out "Since when have you been worried about natural? Do you see a lot of chimpanzees driving cars around? Do you see baboons sticking bits of metal attached to glass tubes into their arms to deliver synthesized chemicals to fight disease? Any egrets going into space in the space shuttle all on their own, there? How about sloths putting pieces of burning leaves into their mouth to inhale smoke and alter their mood? Those are all a wee bit more unnatural than putting one body part in another perfectly natural orifice" The cool thing about Dave was, he looked at me and said "you bastard, you shot down my argument" and decided he had been wrong. That's the only time I've ever heard someone say that in the context of a subject like that.

But I've been thinking about this a bit more since then, and I've decided that I really hate this dichotomy of "natural" versus "unnatural." Mostly because a) I don't think that any thing is unnatural and b) so many things that could be considered "unnatural" are bloody brilliant and essential. So let's take point A first. What is considered unnatural? Well, anything that does not occur in nature. Ah, but we occur in nature, do we not? And all that we do therefore occurs in nature as well. Who are we to be somehow outside of nature, just by being us? And even those things that don't occur in nature, well, they come from natural things, don't they? Plastics are about as unnatural as we're going to get right? It doesn't exist anywhere in nature, right? Yeah, but plastic comes from oil. Oil is natural. Oil is dinosaurs (well, mostly the plants dinosaurs ate) that has naturally turned to oil over zillions of years. So if you go back far enough, plastic is made of all natural ingredients! Not only natural ingredients, but plants! Healthy, healthy leafy green plants! Yup, choc full of old fashioned goodness. So how will we find anything unnatural? I have no idea.

Ok, so point B. If we are to say that unnatural is anything that is done by humans, or that would not occur except for humans, then thank god for unnatural. As I mentioned, vaccinations are really just outrageously unnatural by that definition - no monkey does that! But most of us (not all of us, some fringe folk fear them, because they make too damn much sense I suppose) are damn grateful for the unnatural little things - needle sticks and all. But you know what is very natural? The black death. 100% grown in nature, transmitted by rodents, killed a very sizable chunk of the human population back when. HIV is also natural - sorry guys, nobody brewed it up in the lab, no gay mad scientists inflicted it on the world. Came from nature's own kitchen. Most of what makes humans human, and successful, is our ability to do what is unnatural. And often what we're fighting - disease, aging, and so forth, is natural.

Now, humans can screw things up all over the place, and when we do we want some label for how we are screwing them up, and I suppose unnatural is a label that can be used. Experimenting in genetics could be bad, for example, and it's "unnatural." But what could make it bad (or very very good) has nothing to do with being unnatural. Incredibly powerful, potentially dangerous, if we're not careful ridiculously foolish, sure. But "unnatural" really doesn't help a lot as a descriptor.

1 comment:

Lysle said...

Cartoons for your train of thought!