Botkin Chapter 2: Nature is Good; People Are Bad

Bob did an excellent job of summarizing Chapter 2 here. However, instead of answering his questions, I would like to explore another idea that arises (albeit peripherally, perhaps) in Chapter 2. (This is OK in Virtual Book Club; you, too, can post a topic, just send your post to me or Bob). This book is chock-full of post-worthy quotes, paragraphs, and digressions; which is why it makes such a good Book Club book.

I was intrigued by this quote from Daphne Sheldrake in the Tsavo Story (on page 28 of the print edition).

“hasn’t man always had a regrettable tendency to manipulate the natural order of things to suit himself?”
“With amazing arrogance we presume omniscience and an understanding of the complexities of Nature, and with amazing impertinence we believe that we can better it.. We have forgotten that we, ourselves are just a part of nature, an animal which seems to have taken the wrong turning, bent on total destruction.”

There are a couple of ideas in this quote.. first there is the breast-beating misanthropic tone..and the use of “we”.. as I said in this essay..entitled “Breast Beating of Others is Neither Attractive Nor Particularly Useful.”

You mean people have hunted, fished, grown crops and livestock to feed and clothe themselves? So whassup with the negative tone of “manipulate the “natural order” of things to “suit himself”? Would the world be a better place if we all killed ourselves? There is something behind this that deserves deeper exploration. We hear the same language today, even, sometimes, on the NCFP blog.

The idea of bad humans using resources seems to be a fairly recent idea (Botkin mentions Marsh in the late 1800’s, which makes sense because there were notable negative impacts from people’s uses). “People can have a variety of impacts on the land and its creatures, and we should be careful not to have severe negative effects on the environment” (my framing) is different than “we are an animal bent on total destruction.”

Where does this “nature is best” philosophy lead us? To all killing ourselves for the good of Nature? Just to feel bad that we exist? Does this go back to deeper philosophical questions about the Nature of Humankind, fundamentally good or bad, that have traditionally been addressed by religions (on both sides of the argument)? Has the rise of this belief come about since the “death of religion” due to a fundamental need some humans have to feel bad about themselves (brain chemistry) or to tell other people they are bad (bossiness), normally expressed through preaching fire and brimstone, but in the post-religion era needing some other framework for expression?

Those of us who are involved in religions may feel that this drill is very familiar. “We” have sinned by existing and using resources. By appropriate self-mortification, like riding your bike to work, as determined by the Environmental Curia, you may atone for your sins.

One more thing I’d like to address.. how the word “nature” is used to determine “what should be” is as old as the hills, and has been used in a variety of contexts, including “human nature”. “Nature” tends to be an argument used when more rational arguments for what you want to do fail to convince others that you are right. Is this the case today?

And first, where I affirm the empire of a woman to be a thing repugnant to nature, I mean not only that God, by the order of his creation, has spoiled [deprived] woman of authority and dominion, but also that man has seen, proved, and pronounced just causes why it should be.

The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women 1558 John Knox

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2 Responses to Botkin Chapter 2: Nature is Good; People Are Bad

  1. Steve Wilent says:

    Nature is good, people are bad was the main message at one protest of the infamous salvage rider I attended way (way) back in 1995. I’ll never forget the first speaker, from an enviro group whose name I can’t remember, who urged all in attendance to not have children. His message was that people were a scourge of the natural world, a plague on the earth, and the only solution was an immediate, radical decrease in population. Whether he would have done more than urge childlessness I don’t know. To her credit, the next speaker, from a major Oregon enviro group, disavowed that view and said that she was happy and proud to be a mother of two children, and that her family and group were devoted to reducing the impact of humanity on forests.

  2. gildehuff says:

    Re: ““hasn’t man always had a regrettable tendency to manipulate the natural order of things to suit himself?”
    “With amazing arrogance we presume omniscience and an understanding of the complexities of Nature, and with amazing impertinence we believe that we can better it.. We have forgotten that we, ourselves are just a part of nature, an animal which seems to have taken the wrong turning, bent on total destruction.” ”

    I have significant problems with this quote above. Their are varying states of mankind and mankind’s relationship with the rest of nature. Until an individual or group of individuals become extremely secure, isn’t mankind just trying to acquire the essentials necessary to survive? What does an individual or group of individuals care about the rest of mankind when that individual’s ability to survive another week, month, winter is in serious jeopardy? This is the very essence of nature.

    “Suiting oneself”, “arrogance”, ‘presumptuous omniscience’, “Breast Beating”, selfishness and the like only come after an individual or group of individuals has secured their survival and has time on their hands to think about niceties rather than essentials. There is no Breast Beating over the killing of a wild animal when you are concerned about getting back to the cave without being eaten by a saber toothed tiger.

    From all of the above, I don’t think that the concept of separating mankind from nature can occur until mankind has perceived that it is not threatened by the rest of nature. From that I would tend to agree with this statement quoted by Botkin: “The idea of bad humans using resources seems to be a fairly recent idea.”

    Re: “Where does this “nature is best” philosophy lead us? To all killing ourselves for the good of Nature? Just to feel bad that we exist? Does this go back to deeper philosophical questions about the Nature of Humankind, fundamentally good or bad, that have traditionally been addressed by religions (on both sides of the argument)? Has the rise of this belief come about since the “death of religion””

    The Judeo-Christian bible specifically places man as the manager/manipulator of the rest of nature. So the rise of those arrogant enough to believe that they control their own destiny certainly rather than any god would contribute to a more exploitative, arrogant, mankind knows best philosophy rather than a “nature is best” philosophy. So I don’t think religion has anything to do with it.

    I believe that the “nature is best” philosophy is simply a convenient tool for those who don’t want anyone messing with their viewshed, hunting, fishing and other recreational endeavors. “Nature” is god and is therefore sacrosanct. These people include many who are willing to remain ignorant in order to “manipulate the natural order of things to suit” themselves. These are the same people who want their social security, medicare, and other benefits regardless of the impact on future generations. Selfishness Rules. No one feels bad that they exist. Many feel bad that other humans exist. No one is volunteering for the electric chair in order to be the first to reduce population. Many would like to exclude others from “their woods”.

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