Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nature Should not be Pacified

As technology advances, man tries more and more to apply it in various ways to the world around him. As a whole, we seek to control our surroundings, quite often to the devastation of the pre-existing natural systems. In his book One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse puts forth his belief that should civilization gain the technological means, we should protect Nature from itself. While this is a worthwhile idea, as we are now, man does not have the technology, will or unity to try to ‘protect’ Nature. Also, ideas like this often sound good on paper, but are next to impossible to execute.

Looking at humanity’s track record regarding the use of new technology, it is easy to see that we usually have to experience the destruction that comes with its use before moving to fix it. A perfect example would be here in Pittsburgh during the time of the mills on the rivers. When the mills were in operation, they dumped countless pollutants into the rivers and into the air. Pollutants destroyed the river ecosystem while the air hurt not only the surrounding wildlife, but also everyone who lived in the city. Today, the river is much cleaner but the black tarnish can still be seen coating buildings. It was only long after we saw the effects of the mills that any regulations were made to protect the environment.

With currently technology advancing so quickly, it is hard to keep up with how each new device effects nature. With the reality of nanotechnology just around the corner, man has the ability to pose an even greater threat to nature. Bill Joy expounds on this in his essay “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”. In the essay, Joy makes a point of explaining how nanotechnology could easily get out of hand with replicating assemblers destroying wrecking havoc on a natural system before anything could be done to stop them. Another point Joy frequently returns to is how humans tend to find it easier to militarize any given technology than put it to constructive use.[1]

Along with the dangers approaching with nanotechnology is the growing number of nations with nuclear capabilities. As an increasing number of nations gain access to nuclear weapons, the chance of a Blade Runner-esque world grows. If we ever do experience a “World War Terminus,” then by the time humanity has the technology and will to protect Nature, it could be too late.

Instead of trying to subdue or pacify nature, we need to learn how to live side-by-side with nature. Throughout the ages, nature has its own way of balancing everything out. Since the start of life on earth, there has existed a natural balance between predator and prey. Left alone, these cycles would continue in harmony. Occasionally, a system is altered by the appearance of a new species or a disease that devastates one already in the cycle. Both instances occur naturally and without human interference. If, however, we add careless, unthinking humans to the system, the system can be severely damaged before we realize what we have done.

Take, for instance, the odyssey of the gray wolf in the American Midwest. As settlers moved west they destroyed the bison, elk, moose and deer that the wolves relied on for food. With their natural food source nearly gone, the wolves turned to the livestock the settlers had brought along. Turning on the livestock only made the wolves a more immediate target of the settlers and ended up nearly extinct.[2] Fortunately, we have learned from this experience and have been able to stabilize the system and restore some semblance of balance to the cycle. But who knows if we will be as lucky the next time.

Humans need to realize that we are just another variety of life on earth. While we have the largest capacity for thought and rational thinking, humans might not be the smartest animals. Instead of living in balance with nature, we try to impose our will on it, harming whatever natural systems already exist in the area. Before we can transform nature using the power of Reason, we must learn to exercise that Reason as it applies to humans.

Mercuse’s believes that in order to save nature we must subjugate it. To me, that means we must assume full responsibility for everything that occurs, keep a constant eye on every animal in every corner of the world, and take care not to disrupt any natural systems in the process. In short, the whole planet would become a gigantic zoo. Given that we still know relatively little about organisms living at amazing depths, deep in jungles or other extreme locations, this is simply impossible. I do not think it should even be attempted given how difficult running even a city zoo can be.

Not only is Marcuse’s belief impossible to realize, but for the good of nature, it should never be attempted. Humanity does not have the resources or the will to make such a system work without first destroying the very thing they are trying to protect: Nature.

[1] Joy, Bill. “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us”.

[2] Gray Wolf Fact Sheet. Accessed 10/13/08.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Your introduction is weirdly indecisive. You seem to question the practicality of Marcuse's idea, rather than the theory - it seems that you agree with him, but don't believe it would actually work out. This seems kind of wishy-washy, although it might work if you can demonstrate why this would never work.

As your approach develops through this piece, it makes more sense. One might come away thinking that Marcuse wants to turn the world into a zoo, and that doing so would be deeply wrong.

While this is a good premise, and your discussion of the gray wolf is a reasonable start to justifying your premise, your paper is ultimately very short and, consequentially, superficial. In a world where we can create nanontechnology and nuclear weapons, where we occupy an enormous percentage of the earth's surface and have deeply transformed most ecosystems, what does it even *mean* to suggest that we should live side-by-side with nature, or in balance with it?

Your answer has no substance, because it has no details. If you want us to roll back from nuclear weapons and nanotech, how do we do it? Or alternatively, how do we keep those technologies in *parallel* with nature, instead of replacing it?

This was short and simplistic - a decent blog post, but not a very serious midterm.