I’ve always felt there was a certain nobility to nature.
Nature seems to have achieved the kind of balanced simplicity and harmony that as humans we are still searching for.
Art seems to agree. In the early 20th century Picasso rose to fame by creating a painting style that mimicked the artefacts of tribal groups. Even today some of the most expensive and sought-after works of art are the primal sculptures and paintings of ancient, tribal societies.
However, the more I study the natural world, the more it seems that this view of nature is not right.
I often hear things described in a negative light as ‘unnatural’.
War is unnatural. Homosexuality is unnatural. McDonalds is unnatural. Coating yourself in avocado is unnatural.
But what is natural?
Now these penguins would often lay two eggs, and feed and care for their two chicks. Often one of the chicks will die from exposure to the cold, which leaves the parents with a single chick to care for. This is good because the parents can’t actually hunt enough fish to feed two chicks beyond infancy.
Sometimes, however, both chicks survive infancy, which means that one of them needs to be singled out to survive.
This is done in a very natural way. The parent returns from hunting to its nest, but instead of approaching the chicks it runs away from them. The two chicks (still covered in their downy fur) chase after the parent, pushing and shoving each other to be the first to get fed. Eventually the weaker of the two falls over and the other one gets the food.
The loser of the race will die of starvation. But it won’t die right away. It will continue to hang around the nest, ignored by the parents as it clamours more desperately for food, growing thinner and weaker while its sibling grows fatter and stronger.
To my human sensibilities the sight of this penguin slowly dying of starvation seems incredibly tragic and unjust, but this is what ‘natural’ looks like.
The penguins only have one goal; to pass on their genetic material. They achieve this in the most logical way. There is no interference of emotion, simply cold logic.
This is also what ‘balanced’ means. For an eco system to be balanced, each organism must be constantly locked in a desperate struggle to get by. It is balanced to live most of your life on the brink of starvation.
If the penguins all had enough food and safety from predators their population would grow until they covered the globe. We’d have to swim through a sea of penguins to get to work each morning.
It is decidedly unnatural to have enough food and to feel safe.
Another example is lions. The kings of the jungle.
Firstly I’m pretty sure there are no lions in jungles. Savannahs and deserts, but not jungles.
In any case, a pack of lions involves a group of females and one dominant male. The male impregnates all the females and they have cubs. If the cubs are female they will stay with the group, and if they’re male they will eventually leave the group and wander alone until they’re big enough to challenge a dominant male. If the newbie wins the battle they will become the new dominant male of the group. The first thing they’ll do is to kill all the cubs that belonged to the previous male. This causes the females to become ready to mate again, and ensures that the males own genetic material will be passed on.
This is natural.
In 1940 Adolf Hitler attempted to commit genocide on the Jewish people. He wanted to create a world where a chosen set of genetic material ruled over the others. What could be more natural?
It was decidedly unnatural for many countries of the world to unite against Hitler and put an end to his regime.
Some people say that there is no war in the animal kingdom, that war was invented by humans. This view lacks an understanding of the animal kingdom. Most animals will fight each other over mating rights. Carnivorous (and omnivorous) mammals will often fight each other to the death. Just because animals lack the organization to fight full-scale battles doesn’t mean that the concept of war is unnatural. The animal kingdom is constantly at war. It is unnatural to be at peace.
It’s unnatural to find baby animals cute. It’s unnatural to feel compassion. It’s unnatural to place the needs of others above yourself.
It’s unnatural to love other people, or to care for anyone who is not a direct descendant of your own genetic material.
It seems to me like all the best parts of humanity are the unnatural ones.