I do not think that means what you think it means…
I guess, since I started down this path, I might as well keep wandering to see where it leads…
I have been throwing the term “natural world” around and have been thinking that I need to investigate that idea a bit. So, if one googles “natural world definition”, one is provided with this:
Nature, in the broadest sense, is the natural, physical, or material world or universe. “Nature” can refer to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general.
So, it would seem that “natural world” is a bit of a redundancy. So, rather, simply querying “nature”:
the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.
:the basic or inherent features of something, especially when seen as characteristic of it.
This would seem to imply that the nature of nature, as it were, excludes humans. In so far as we base our understanding on a dictionary definition of the word. However, if we take another step and query “Human nature”:
the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind, regarded as shared by all humans.
You also get references to a pop music group and the Michael Jackson song, but those are other matters… or maybe not. Either way, another discussion.
Implying that humans are not a part of the “physical world collectively” is, once again, characteristic lofty human thinking; human nature, if you will. I think, therefore I am above it all. I still don’t buy it. Just because we use words that we have constructed to describe our surroundings, does not set us apart from or above them. Does it? What I think it relates to more is first, our seemingly innate desire to differentiate our “selves” from the “other” (whatever that other may be), and second the extension of that desire in the form of characterizing, defining, and compartmentalizing everything. This particular line of thinking is beginning to flirt with a previous discussion on “knowing” from an earlier post. I will try to not repeat myself.
No, rather I am genuinely curious to explore the idea of the human relationship to, or with, “nature”. We are unquestionably, denizens, if not constituents, of the greater physical world are we not? If not (which is absurd) at what point did we cease to be a part of “nature”? The Industrial Era? When we first took up agrarian practices or some other sedentary lifeway? When we first came down out of the trees? Or was it when that one guy ate an apple? Silly. It is all so silly.
Nature has become identified as this idyllic other world; a place to go to escape the “modern world”. Even John Muir types, viewing it as some sort of cathedral suggest this. This is the heart of the wilderness concept. That we, as humans, somehow set apart from the “natural world”, need to have places, segments of that world, to which we can go to “return to nature”. It is insane and we have done it to ourselves. What drives this desire to escape the “world of our making” to return to the “natural world”? By setting ourselves apart, we have made ourselves outcast. This screams again of that free-will catch-22 where we want control but long for freedom from it.
From a dystopian view, “human nature” is centered on consumption; the extraction and over-manipulation of resources to the detriment of our surroundings and thus our well-being. The “wilderness” construct is an attempt to hold that process in check. It deifies this utopian “natural” world and in so doing perpetuates the “nature as other” mentality. Which, sadly, seems wholly necessary to stem the tide of industrial resource extraction (and I include large Agri-business here) driven by greed. Yes, as creatures of the natural world, we humans need resources to survive. Catching a fish, felling a tree, killing an elk, harvesting crops, etc.. But when the extraction of resources becomes driven solely by greed and the desire for power, it creates an imbalance that needs to be checked. It is no longer about making a living, it is about making a profit.
Which of course brings us back to the question of whether humans are part of, or apart from, the natural world. But it is more than that… of course it is. Our society, our manipulation of the world around us, is laboriously complex. Socio-political structures, economics, science and religion, and everything else that is a part of “human nature”, is an intractable morass. It is very difficult to be far sighted enough to honestly challenge our own free-will.
And then the question of what, if anything, does it matter? If certain beliefs about the “nature” of the world and the human relationship to it (not with it, because that implies we are a part of it…) perpetuate the behaviors that lead to the need for such a construct as “wilderness”, arguments over whether or not there should be wolves on the landscape, or if the climate may or may not be changing, will always have an obvious outcome; what is good for me, now, is most important.
But then, perhaps that is in a sense, fundamentally, putting humans irrevocably back into the natural world. Such a mentality implies “every man for himself”, which is troubling enough, but furthermore suggests a structure of “survival of the fittest”, which of course is one of the primary elements of evolution (actually, natural selection, more precisely). Perhaps, left unchecked, our collective behaviors will bring us past the point of balance and our place in the “natural world” will be past suspect and instead subject to collective change. Perhaps, for all our bluster, our science and politics and religions will all prove fruitless and we may be forced to accept that we are in fact constituent elements of the world around us and not so set apart; that we too are subject to irrevocable change.
If we are not a part of “nature” how can we ever have a sense of peace; if we are, by our very nature, aliens in our own surroundings? If the world in which we live is existentially apart from us (or we from it, if you prefer), how can we ever understand it, or our place within it? How could we not ask after some greater sense of meaning and purpose if we persist in believing that we are not truly a part of this world… in which we live, on which we rely? Persisting to focus our attention on separation rather than connection will be our undoing, but perhaps that is simply our nature. What a bleak and lonely existence.
 To appropriate a quote from The Princess Bride, and yes I know it is not quite right, but I needed to alter it slightly to refer to the previous quote that is the title of this piece. Points if you know where it is from and why it is a joke in this case…