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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 462)...

    I just read your speech Technology & the Other War. I'm still confused over your meaning of "natural" and "unnatural." You're saying that buildings and airplanes are just as natural as a bird's nest and a beaver cutting down a tree for a dam. Correct? Does this mean that pollution from airplanes is natural as well? It seems that the pollution that we're pouring into the world is making the world very uninhabitable very quickly. Is this natural?

    ...and the response:

    What I'm saying (and have always said) is that "nature" and "natural" are useless terms, and it's impossible to have a sensible conversation once you bring them in. Two hundred million years ago, mammals were not "found in nature." They didn't exist. Beaver dams were not "found in nature" until beavers came along and began building them. Where did they build them if not "in nature"? Humans were not "found in nature" five million years ago. Human dwellings were not "found in nature" until humans came along and began building them. And where did they build them if not "in nature"? Transistors were not "found in nature" sixty years ago, and when they began to be made, where were they made if not "in nature"? Is there someplace OTHER than "in nature" where humans live and do the things they do? If "nature" is where humans DON'T live, then where exactly DO humans live--and when did they start living there? If you put strychnine into a glass of water, in what conceivable sense is this an "unnatural" act? The chemicals in strychnine all occur "in nature"--where else would they come from? The mere act of adding it to water surely can't be seen as "unnatural" (unless anything a human does is considered unnatural). If you drink the water with the strychnine in it, then you'll die. Is there something unnatural about this? On the contrary, it would be unnatural if you DIDN'T die! You ask if it's "natural" for us to be polluting the world. As far as I'm concerned, it would make just as much sense to ask if it's "magnetic" or "buxom" of us to be polluting the world. I don't care whether it's natural, magnetic, or buxom. You don't have to know whether it's natural, magnetic, or buxom in order to know that polluting the world puts our future in danger. If you were to ask if polluting the world is "intelligent," "healthy," or "far-sighted," I'm sure you can see that the answer is obvious. But if you ask if it's "natural," all I can do is wonder what the question means.

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