Monday, December 20, 2010

"Life in the State of Nature..."

As some famous wag once put it, "is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."  And so it finally dawns as well on one erstwhile lover of nature, a professor of psychology no less, that it ain't all good, all the time.
Nonetheless, in resisting many things that I view as "unnatural"—nuclear weapons, global warming, chemical pollution, habitat destruction—while also honoring, respecting, defending, admiring, and nearly worshiping many things that are natural (sometimes just because they are natural), it is all too easy to get carried away, to forget that much in the world of nature is unpleasant, indeed odious. Consider typhoid, cholera, polio, plague, and HIV: What can be more natural than viruses or bacteria, composed as they are of proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and the like? Do you object to vaccination? You'd probably object even more to smallpox.
On the other hand, when we learned just last week from an official report issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services that even second-hand tobacco smoke kills, and sometimes it does so immediately, we learned also that tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 deadly chemical compounds.  When I heard that, I was reminded of a magazine advertisement of some 25-30 years ago.  The ad was a picture was of a beautiful and appetizing orange.  Beneath the picture was a long list of all the chemicals that naturally constitute an orange.  H2O, H2C4O3, that sort of thing, on and on, filling the rest of the page.  It  all looked pretty scary, but the point of the ad was that it needn't be, it was quite natural.

No one ever argued, including the Ancients, that using nature as a guide was clear and easy.  At the very least, we need always to distinguish human nature from the rest.  And then we need to distinguish even that nature from before the Fall and after it.

But then you're typical contemporary secular intellectual could never abide either of those important distinctions, could he?

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