WAYS OF NATURE
REFLECTIONS FROM A WARM PAUSE 4
Nature is the touchstone of our age.
As a metaphor it is ubiquitous; a reference point for everything from selling shampoo, to addressing climate change, healing minds and fixing bodies.
It is a touchstone for beauty and has an instantly recognised aesthetic. It is the template for bio-mimicry and the surefire antidote to materialist technology.
It is worshipped, workshopped and worried over. It is the grand web of life incarnate, and the simple touch of damp soil on our skin in the garden.
Nature is beauty, and nature is bounty. We take the bounty, and the Earth changes its pattens; melts the ice, makes species extinct, evolves others, shuffles life around in subtle ways that keep the web intact.
We admire nature’s beauty, but this can be little more than the subjective justification for human activity. Despite the ‘Anthropocene’, humans are never really in control of nature. Nature, in this sense, only exists because humans name it.
In doing so, we consider it as separate from us — Humans IN nature or Humans AGAINST nature or even just Humans AND Nature. We have to name it; take a position in relation to it, and in that moment it is something ‘over there’, that we have to act upon or move with or against.
It becomes a material resource to utilize or a sacred pseudo-spiritual entity to worship and deify.
Most metaphors of nature are maps in any case and, as we know from Alfred Korzybski, Gregory Bateson and others: “the map is not the territory” or “the word is not the thing”. The territory in this case holds the contexts for practical everyday living (or life-ing) in the world. On the other hand, maps (and words) are just ideas that we humans have superimposed onto the Earth, fantasies of something we have named ‘nature’.
If humans are simply part of nature (regardless of our attempts to act upon it), and nature part of humans — that is to say, if humans are complex living systems living within the endless frames and context of other living systems — then nature is not something that can be named or set apart as something in opposition to, or in harmony with, humanity.
If we must use nature as a way of describing the ways of the Earth, then we must recognise the ways in which nature is used by humans to mean what we want it to mean. And in these. days, commerce and economics will never be far from the centre.
As Timothy Morton puts it:
“One of the things that modern society has damaged has been thinking. Unfortunately, one of the damaged ideas is that of Nature itself. How do we transition from seeing what we call “Nature” as an object “over there”? And how do we avoid “new and improved” versions that end up doing much the same thing (embeddedness, flow and so on), just in a “cooler,” more sophisticated way? When you realize that everything is interconnected, you can’t hold on to a concept of a single, solid, present-at-hand thing “over there” called Nature.”