by Dwight Furrow
Nature is not disappearing; it's just hiding in your salad bowl.
Throughout most of human history human beings were utterly dependent on nature and everything about human life was determined by it. Adapt or die was the imperative that governed all life and so nature seemed infinite and without measure, a fact recognized by 18th century theories of the sublime. Yet, throughout most of that history, we refused to acknowledge this dependence striving to see ourselves as ultimately separate from nature. The separation of mind and body, of earth and heaven, the opposition of nature and culture, were taken to be simply obvious.
But today we have reversed that equation. Inexorably, we have learned to control nature through technologies which have reached such a critical mass that nature has been reduced to a mere instrument to be carved up and used as we see fit—a “standing reserve” as Heidegger called it. Even our biological make up will soon be subject to fundamental manipulation as gene editing comes online. The result is that nature now seems finite and fragile, disappearing under the deluge of techno-science and mass industrialization.
Paradoxically, as we gain more control over nature we have begun to acknowledge our dependence on it, as the Paris climate talks get underway amidst a deepening sense of crisis. The consequences of ignoring our dependence on nature are all too evident. For us today nature is both an instrument to be used up and a center of independent power, a Janus-faced phenomenon, on the one hand limited and circumscribed by human activity but on the other hand generating effluvia that create a devilishly devious constraint on human activity. The resistance of nature yields to our technology in countless ways but leaves behind a residue of pollution and devastation that threatens to undermine that hard won human control.