Monday, August 8, 2011

It Ain't Natural

From Darwin's
The expression of the emotions in man and animals
We're kind of stuck, aren't we? We like to argue for the legitimacy of things by saying: "It's natural." Of course, by this, we imply that natural means it is okay -- good for us; advisable; even moral. Sometimes, the argument works; usually it doesn't. I think it would be good if we all remained aware of this.

Yet, we construct belief systems that are meant to elevate us above the rest of nature. Sex, for instance, is natural. It is natural to feel sexual feelings. How we act upon those feelings throws us into a tizzy, though. Usually, we put lines around it: You may be sexual under conditions A, B and C, but not under condition D. You may be sexual under condition A, as was aforementioned, but not if element Z is introduced into the situation.

That kind of thing.

We want to be better than animals, right? (Though, this sometimes seems an impossible task, to me, when I look at my dear dog and realize that she has a plethora of good qualities that I will never approach, despite some of her more ghastly table manners and grooming practices.)

At any rate, here are some thoughts for all of us to weigh when considering the argument that things are right because they are "natural."

1) Hemlock is natural, but I wouldn't order the Socrates Slammer at my local bar.

2) Animals in nature sometimes eat their young, but that hardly justifies throwing one's son on a ciabatta roll and slathering him with mayo.

3) Animals sometimes eat each other, but it might be different if they were conscious of the fact that they were dining upon their neighbor, Ted.

4) Animals don't wear clothing; nor do some of the jollier indigenous peoples, but they don't have to share public benches or subway seats.

5) Some animals are monogamous, some are not. But no matter how you look at it, none of them are too bright compared to us.

6) Sex is a natural part of human life. So are venereal diseases. And death.

7) Heterosexuality exists in the natural, non-human animal world. So does homosexuality. So does asexuality. Makes your arguments as you see fit and as informed by your belief systems, but try not to start here. It's lame.

8)  Animals kill for food. So do we, even though it doesn't involve getting our snouts bloody. Either way, we still rend muscle with our teeth.

9) Art does not exist in "nature." Is it bad?

10) There are bugs in nature who eat poop. Is that good?

11) I'm an animal. Are you? We can overlook that if you want. Sometimes, it is better that way. Sometimes it is better the other way.

Also form Darwin, above.
I guess the essence is that natural is natural in the same way that blue is blue. Would we argue that blue is either right or wrong? -- or, for that matter, that it is okay to be the sky and not to be a tree? -- or that a tree is only okay if it is in the sky?


  1. I think this message could be extended to include the argument, "It's just normal." So many times, I've had people tell me something is right because it's what "normal people do" or "It's just normal."

    It's a non-argument to say that something is natural, but I'll freely admit that there are certain times I want to be told "It's natural" (namely, with good. I'm a sucker for food not made in a factory).

  2. True, Matt. Normal is definitely a moving target.