What is nature?
As history and technology has progressed throughout history, so has people’s ideas about nature. It has gone from a place people have sought to be liberated to an object for humans to manipulate and control.
- “The idea of nature as a liberating principle and the association of the right, the good and the immutable with the natural…” (127).
- 18th Century
- “Nature was a predicament to be redeemed through culture in the form of government” (128).
- “Nature bids man to be sociable, to love his fellows, to be just, peaceful, indulgent, beneficent, to make or leave his associates happy” (128).
- Baron Holbach, Systeme de la Nature (1780).
- “Nature as a blueprint for social rejuvenation reached its zenith in the French and American physiocratic ideology of agrarian virtue” (129).
- “Nature is found in essences rather than objects and that human impact cannot alter that essence promoted a naive faith in its immortality” (137).
- “the idea of nature as the outcome of historical forces replaced the of the one-off creation” (141).
- “Nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it under human needs” (148).
- “When I say ‘nature’, I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and out place in it” (176).
- McKibben, 20th century
- “If by nature (and wilderness), we mean something unaffected by humans and their history, then not only the idea but also the very substance of nature (and wilderness) have been emphatically dead for a long time” (177).
- “Nature is not a physical place to which one can go, nor a treasure to fence in or bank, nor an essence to be saved or violated’, and that ‘where we need to move is not “back to nature”, but elsewhere’ (190).
Nature for the elite
One aspect of nature that Coates emphasized that I found particularly interesting is the idea that nature is for the elite.
- “Role of the countryside as an amenity for wealthy urbanites” (114).
- “the formal gardens of eighteenth-century continental Europe signified the triumph of culture over a self-willed natural world as emphatically as the sprouting factories and urban tenements” (117).
- “the natural world will benefit only when elites are deprived of their control over natural resources” (154).
- “London’s first non-royal parks…were private, urban versions of landscaped country estates” (160).
Nature in Poetry
- John Claire (113)
“Clare’s sensitivity to man’s savagery to man and other creatures was so sharp that his now embraced as a spiritual forefather of today’s radical environmentalism” (114)
The Village Minstrel (1821)
desolation struck her deadly blows,
As curst improvement ‘gain his fields inclose:
O greens, and fields, and trees, farewell, farewell.
Dire nakedness o’er all prevails
Yon fallows bare and brown
Are all best with posts and nails
And turned upside down
- William Wordsworth (126)
The Prelude (1805)
I held unconscious intercourse with beauty
Old as creation, drinking in a pure
Organic pleasure from the silver wreaths
Of curling mist, or from the level plain
Of water coloured by impending clouds
To every natural form, rock, fruit, or flower
Even the loose stones that cover the highway,
I gave a moral life: I saw them feel,
Or linked them to some feeling: the great mass
Lay bedded in a quickening souls, and all
That I beheld respired with inward meaning
- Charles Cotton
- Doesn’t like nature
“reviled his native hills as ‘Nature’s Pudends and quite a few English peaks were dignified with the name ‘Devils-arse” (130)
- Doesn’t like nature
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Nature as religious experience
Hymn Before Sunrise (1802)
“reference to torrents and cataracts in the Savory Alps as ‘glorious as the Gates of Heaven”
Genetically Modified Food
In Coates’s final chapter of Nature, “The Future of Nature” he mentions some environmental issues that play significant roles in our lives today. One that I wanted to talk about was biotechnology and the use of genetically modified foods (GMFs). This is a topic that has aroused debate among people because they don’t consider GMFs “natural.”
These “shocking” images make GMFs seem unnatural and inedible.
In the article, “Are genetically engineered foods natural? A bioethicist responds” there is a discussion about why people are hesitant to eat genetically modified foods despite their ensured safety. People just can’t seem to get past the fact that they are “unnatural.” Paul B. Thompson, the Purdue University Department of Philosophy Joyce and Edward E. Brewer Distinguished Professor in Applied Ethics claims that “Part of the anxiety about genetically engineered foods is that our view of how the world works is eroding away from underneath our feet.” Is having scientists alter our food going too far in our attempt to control and conquer nature? Even if the changes help provide vital nutrients the food would lack without it, or allow food to be grown where it could not do so naturally-thus feeding more people?