What is ‘the rest of nature’?

April 20, 2013

I’ve come to use this phrase ‘the rest of nature’ a lot and there is a reason for that. There’s a lot of ongoing discussion about the dividing line between ‘culture’ and ‘nature’ – about how we fit into the world but somehow sit outside of it too. It all starts when we recognise that a big part of the ecological crisis comes about because individuals within urban civilization identify themselves as being so distinct from the rest of nature.

An older-fashioned argument might take this up as ‘the divide between humanity and nature,’ but thanks to continuously advancing work in ecophilosophical disciplines we know that this kind of language actually maintains the division. So, there’s humanity and there’s nature – separate? Isn’t that part of the problem?

But what to do? Some argue that we should dispense with the term ‘nature’ altogether. But i think this misses two important opportunities:

One, so many people relate to the word and that way it represents so many things they really want to protect from the rapacious appetites of ruthless transnational corporations, and their opinions and potential political power are so important to any widespread resistance to the ecological crisis, that it seems a shame to set them outside the debate by dispensing with the term ‘nature’ altogether.

And two, as one of those people in both camps (ie romantic tree-hugging member of the public and academically trained ecophilosopher), i want to underscore the difference between the way human beings have shaped their way of being in nature and the way the rest of nature lives (and dies). In the 21st century, humanity is consolidating a global colonisation that puts all life on earth at risk (apart, apparently, from cockroaches and viruses, those hardy little buggers). We increasingly do this in huge hives called cities, which suck the life out of surrounding countrysides and seas, draw enormous reserves of fresh water in and send equally vast amounts of waste out, while we demand evergreater technologies of domination and bigger and better displays of wealth and prestige all the time. Even as we know the grids of our cities are destroying the rest of nature, projections for the near future predict continually increasing appetites (especially for power, which will still be largely provided by fossil fuels) around the world.

This is not the nature i want to protect. I want to work for the rest of nature. The loggerhead turtles that walk into probable death on city streets because the lights lure them away from the full moon, which used to seduce them siren-like into the ocean that would be their home. [Answer: effective downlighting for such situations is available] The forests that keep so many countless other creatures alive and prospering [log only sustainable forests and replant them with diverse trees not monocultures], the fresh water that almost every living thing wants to drink [stop fracking everywhere], the fresh air [drastically reduce carbon emissions now], the stuff that doesn’t conform to the gridlike thinking that may be part of nature but certainly doesn’t work well with the rest of it and which – when we don’t escape the cities and actually breathe some real fresh air and see some stars at night and recognise where our food and water comes from – exacerbates our division from it and does not promote creative thinking about how precious actual trees and fish and insects and wetlands really are …

Without appreciation of the rest of nature, we become dry and caged in the nature of the cities and we all too readily accept the dominant story of human colonisation, as well as the associated story of how bad we are and how we need more lights and police and laws to keep the danger away.

By using these terms, by talking about human cultures and the rest of nature, i want to keep this usually unspoken stuff in mind, the stories that are always sitting just behind the everyday realities of modern urban life, the ones that acknowledge that there is us humans and ‘the rest of nature’: the other stuff we so often like to think we are separate from but that we actually rely upon (like soil and fresh water and air and trees and plants and other creatures).

And also the stuff we aren’t actually dependent upon for life but need to appreciate if we want to live fully. Like stars. Just looking at them.

Finally, a mention of ‘inner nature,’  the part of us that is nature but that is also both physical and spiritual (or free of the dictates of biology, the mind, our imaginations and our souls), the part that cannot be located, but can also be programmed to receive the dominant paradigm via our internalisation of the model. If the soul is truly a mirror of the world – and vice versa – i want mine to look like it loves the rest of nature, as well as what is within and distinctly human.


One comment

  1. I have become quite fascinated by a mountain because of its unique shape and the exposed rock at its top. It is an old mountain with a rounded top. One day it spoke to me.

    It said, “Yes, I have been here a long time, and I have seen much. There was a time when my peak was not so worn. It was before your kind became such an infestation. It is sad that you have such short lives, but think you are the most important things in this world. Your time will eventually pass, but I will endure long after you are gone. Unfortunately, your kind will never know how much better this world is without you.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: