Sunday, August 1, 2010

Outside vs Inside Nature & Caves of Steel

If we hunt we are acting “within” nature. If we only observe then are we acting “outside” of nature? Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading a couple of books and a number of essays on the subject of identification of our position in relation to nature. Now, as some of you may know, I maintain that nature is consistent with wherever a person happens to be. The sort of nature a person is experiencing will vary, from the living room of a home to the nature of the northern woods, but I believe each one is nature. In the one nature will exist the mites, insects, pets, houseplants, people and maybe even mice, and at the other end we will have moose, bear, fish, with thousands of other forms of wildlife.

My question is this: “Is there a true separation between being “within” and “outside” of nature?

Can anyone actually find themselves living outside of nature short of living in a bubble to be isolated from even bacteria? I want to answer my own question with the statement that “no, we cannot escape from nature.” But, if that statement is true then how do we explain the identified psychological problems that are known to arise with children and adults who have been raised to think of themselves as being separated from nature by the march of technology and growing reality of Asimov’s Caves of Steel?

We don’t need to read the work of today’s influential thinkers to realize there is a functionality disorder commonly shared among people who grew up in the sans-nature environs of urbanized cultures. Frequently, we find these people the targets for fund raising campaigns by radical anti-hunting/fishing movements, or similar activities, and these people never check the groups’ backgrounds to verify their claims. Simply being pro animal rights on some level is enough and they make their donations, ignoring the Silver of Judas in the leadership’s hands. Sadly, these same people will reject valid conservation and preservation programs administered by organizations with no connection to the consumptive sports—even in their own backyards—to follow the movement’s credo. What is truly disturbing is that very few of these well-meaning people are capable of identifying wild flowers, animals, and even local bird species and when asked, cannot identify the ecological zone they live in! For millions of people the very closest they ever come to “wildlife” is the city zoo and the only interaction with an animal is a dog, cat, or other pet and they cannot fathom a cat relieving itself outside of a box of kitty litter or a day not following Spot on the city sidewalk and picking up after the dog.

Most authors of academic studies place the blame for the creation of our “no nature” generation on the advent of replacement social technology. That is the technology of tools that replace the need, or desire, to go outside and interact with nature and other people in the freer environment of nature where playful creativity and social interaction generates a stronger sense of well-being. These researchers are on to something that is important, except that the replacement technology, whether we are talking about computer games (online or in computer) or other aspects of technology, are only as valid as the individual is willing to let them become and they only gain validity when the technology is an economical substitute for outdoor activities. I realized the importance of the economic battle between technology and the outdoors when pricing fishing tackle after a discussion with my step-son over the price of a computer game—the computer game was much less expensive than the lowest priced, moderate quality rod and reel combination. That revelation had been foretold nearly twenty years ago when an older hunter stopped by our Colorado hunting camp to share hunting tips and coffee. I and another hunter from our group had been working on our laptops because both of us had article deadlines for the day after we returned from camp. The older hunter looked disgustedly at the computers. He asked me how much I paid for my laptop and after I told him he snorted and said, “Someday, when that thing is cheaper than a hunting trip, people will stay home with those and your grand kids won’t get to go hunting.”

He was a prophet.

That’s the problem that so many researchers are alluding to—technology is replacing activity. I maintain there is much more to the equation than technology being guilty of locking us indoors—we’ve made nature a victim of ourselves. We’ve damaged nature with the industry that drives our civilization and if there is to be any repairing of nature then people have got to be willing to foot the bill. I’m not so sure people are. Consider the BP spill, media attention has increasingly focused on how much the spill is costing BP and then how and when that cost will be passed on to consumers. Already, those people who live close to the spill are worrying that both the government and BP are setting the stage to “cut-n-run.”

I suspect that two strong factors are working against the repair of the damaged nature and they are the public’s fear of paying for cleaning up coastal wetlands that most people have never seen, nor do they understand, and the second factor is time—the more time after the event the farther the event is from the public’s mind. The public needs to understand that when nature has people interacting and protecting it, it is going to support us as a species. We, as individuals, must not be tricked into accepting an artificial nature created in a computer or the lobby of a massive hotel as the nature that sustains our world. No matter how hard programmers try to incorporate nature into the machine it remains the machine and is outside of nature, and when the real nature needs humanity’s help a line of computer code will not save nature as we know it.

Think about it. glg

If you have never read Caves of Steel, the robot series, Caves of Steel (Robot (Spectra Books)) or Robot Trilogy: The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn it is well worth the time to read it. He wrote The Caves of Steel in 1954 and it is incredible how much of the book has become reality. You don't have to be a fan of Science Fiction to enjoy Asimov's work. glg


NorCal Cazadora said...

Galen, it sounds like you and I are on parallel reading tracks these days, though I'm digging into the what-we've-given-up track, while you're looking at what-monstrosities-we're-creating.

On your first line of thought, I differ just a bit: I think we have habitats wherever we go. Nature abhors a void, so the bugs and "weeds" and bacteria will always move into whatever palace of purity we build.

But is that nature? Not by my definition. Nature is an ecosystem functioning as it was designed to, not adapting to the grotesque interventions of homo sapiens. Part of it is about our perception: If we live in a city, we view all those critters as bizarre interlopers. We may be grateful they're there, but we still view them as outsiders, as "other." In nature, that would never be the case; they would all be simply members of our extended animal family.

Galen Geer said...

Hi Holly,
Do we view those animals as outsiders or are we training our youth to view them that way?
:) glg