Friday, 11 July 2014

It's not natural

Human hair louse - nature at its best
There used to be a common saying - less so in these 'everything goes' days - where people would shake their heads and say 'It's not natural.' But they got it all wrong - what they were really thinking is  'it's not civilised' or to put it another way, 'it's too natural.'

The reason this phrase is so back to front is that we have a rosily incorrect mental picture of what is 'natural'. As soon as we hear the word we get a knee-jerk reaction that's all rosy and fuzzy about rolling hills and beautiful scenery and pretty animals and whole grain, organic, hand-knitted yoghurt. And of course there are circumstances where natural is better. Processed foods for instance. There are nations that are particularly good at beating the nature out of food and drink - dare I mention US squirty cheese (or is it Cheez?), chocolate and attempts to make tea to name but three.

However, most of the time, being natural is not so good. Here's a few aspects where we've improved on being natural.

It's natural:
  • ... to die young. Without modern medicine the majority of people die before reaching adulthood.
  • ... to encounter poisons and pesticides. Some of the most poisonous substances in existence are natural, many of them acting as natural pesticides.
  • ... to suffer in the sun if you have fair skin. Okay, evolution can naturally take care of this to some extent by increasing pigmentation (or by not losing it in the first place), but this takes time and doesn't help you personally.
  • ... to be afflicted by parasites. Worms, fleas, lice - that's everyday reality. No one said nature was nice. But you can have fun grooming each other.
  • ... to stay in a relatively small area for life. Like visiting far flung places? It's unnatural.
  • ... for life to be unfair. We apply lots of unnatural 'fairness' to help those who need it, whether it's benefits or aid for those with disability and chronic illnesses.
I could carry on for a long time. I hope you get the point. There was no bucolic, happy, natural past to wish we could return to. Not everything modern or unnatural is good - we need to keep and cherish the best of nature - but things are mostly far better than nature provides, and we should be thankful for that.

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