Why the hate for nature in the West?
What drives us to log the Amazon, to carpet the terrain with concrete?
Well I think it has a little something to do with our cultural heritage, the influence of the Abrahamic religious traditions on our culture and their basic conception of the nature of reality
Western monotheism is based on a monarchical concept of cosmic governance, with god being a king of kings and all others being subservient to god himself, down the chain in a hierarchy, with humans occupying a special place near the top.
This perception of how reality “is” has informed our attitude towards nature herself, leading us to the conclusion that nature is, by providence and by virtue of her lower rank on the cosmic chain of command, ours to chop and change as we see fit
In addition to this notion of a cosmic hierarchy, we seem to be under the impression that nature is hostile to us. that our lives are suspended ever so delicately on a thread above the gaping chaotic maw of Gaia. But is this really so?
It’s common for a king to concretize his ideological status with a physical referent, that is, the throne. Now a throne is usually positioned at the far end of a room, back to the wall, so the king is protected from assassination.
When his subjects approach him, they are bade to bow, which leaves them vulnerable and unable to use weapons.
Now isn’t this reminiscent of the attitude we take to nature? We build our thrones, our houses, up off the ground, with thick walls and thick windows, we garden obsessively to square the wiggly mass of life we gingerly allow to grow inside our fences. With our cutters we bid nature to bow to our conception of how she should be. With our houses we have erected castles, bastions against the frightening idea of being overgrown by all that mess.
But this seems to be superstition more than an observed phenomena.
We see that in cultures that have embraced the ideas of pantheism and who hold nature in reverence in and of itself, that their ability to coexist with the natural world far outstrips our own. they grow their bridges out of vines, carefully shaping the course of nature, cutting with the grain, they take only that which they need to allow for regrowth and plenty when the next season arrives.
Is it then that our conflict with nature is a spook? a matter of attitude? a hangover from a nonsensical and pernicious idea of a hierarchical cosmos?
It certainly seems that way to me, because if we look around, we see that the cosmos is more anarchistic than theocratic.
There is no social strata in the world of rabbits, and while there is some rudimentary hierarchy in the higher primates and in pack animals such as wolves, this is subject to change on a frequent basis, is not generational and obviously produces needless conflict over who’s in charge.
In the world of plants and bees, there is co-operation, free association for mutual gain. We call this symbiosis. And in this I believe lies the key to our emancipation from our battle with the natural world.
We are living as a parasite lives. We take for our own gain, yet give little to nothing back. The finite amount of resources our planet is home to dwindles by the day, but we, the proverbial tick, continue to suck. Aerial photographs of the amazon show scars crisscrossing the earth that if we were to see them on our mother or sister, we would be appalled.
Now how can we get ourselves in line with the idea of living symbiotically when our whole culture, our society, is bent on upholding a parasitic mode of being? That’s a damn good question, and one I’m not sure I can answer.
But I will say this much: a profound ecological awareness is needed in every individual, and for the first time in history, this is more than within our reach to accomplish.
Sagan’s pale blue dot photo has changed the lives of millions. What if we could give that experience of seeing the earth from outside of her atmosphere, that humility borne of the recognition of our minuteness, to every person?
How would we go about it? Well. It seems that this experience is common to astronauts who have left our atmosphere. Leary believed that our consciousness on earth was in some sense a result of the up/down dualism of being inside earth’s gravitational pull. We want to be top dog.
To transcend that pull, to be put into a state of weightlessness, observing our planet, which has hosted wars, loves, plots, triumphs, stories stretching back to the first hand that picked up the first tool, to see it almost for the first time, maybe that is the shift in perception our dulled senses are in desperate need of.
Who wants to go to the stars?