Special Series: Reintegrating with Nature

Part 1: Introduction

The WEIRD separation of humans from their natural environment is one of the most important divisions I’ll talk about here or anywhere else. In the US, we are multiply fractured on so many different levels, not only socially and economically (among others), but within ourselves by removing ourselves from the natural world.

This will be an ongoing series, a mix of editorial, memoir, contemporary chronicling, a historical project, and most importantly a series of deep dives into Native ways of living within the natural world, as a part of it. No doubt I’ll have nothing particularly groundbreaking to say that hasn’t already been said, and said by people more deserving of being heard than I, but I learn by writing (and teaching, but writing especially), so I might as well write what I learn somewhere, right?

Coming soon: a post on physical separations from the natural world in archaic and classical Athens, and a second on the categorical separations dividing ‘human’ from ‘animal,’ a way of dividing the world that will be familiar to most anyone in the WEIRD world who reads this. Is there any greater insult than to call someone an ‘animal’?*

To say it plainly without cutesy acronyms, my starting hypotheses are as follows:

  1. Our species is not at all separated from the natural world, no matter all the effort we have expended to convince ourselves of this fantasy.
    • Our species is one species: we are multiply divided among ourselves for sociopolitical and economic reasons only.
      • Humans are ‘all one.’
    • Our species is no different from any other species of living organism in that all organisms are part of one organic world that we call ‘nature,’ ‘the natural world’ or sometimes ‘the earth.’ This organic world is comprised of interlocking systems that, when stable, all work together to perpetuate themselves and each other just as they were—that is, they are able to maintain stability. Not only atmospheric and oceanic systems and geological processes, but also ‘the food chain’ as it’s so euphemistically put, and birth and death, and so on.
      • In this way, everything is ‘all one,’ and our species in its oneness is only a fraction of a larger singular whole.
  2. That we continue to carry on as if we were different from other animals and separate from our natural world is as disastrous for the natural world to which we belong as it is damaging to ourselves.
    • On the one hand, this feigned separation allows a person to continue to extract from the world and to consume freely. If we understood what we are taking and from whom, we would not so easily take anything.
    • On the other hand we are cutting ourselves off from something essential, something without which we feel sort of hollow, unfulfilled, useless, disconnected. That connection lacked is to the natural world.
  3. Industrialization, which is at the heart of the concept of a ‘developed nation,’ relies on and in turn perpetuates simplistic frameworks like ‘inside, good; outside, bad’ (to put it very crudely): machines were meant to do the laboring for us by now, while we all sat in crisp lab coats seated in dark rooms at stations illuminated with blinking lights chirping and warbling.
  4. The capital-hoarders at the top, meanwhile, have profound interests in perpetuating or, better, further developing the basic idea of ‘inside, good; outside, bad,’ when after all their capital is only profitable so long as they successfully market housing, necessities and luxuries. (To be clear here: capitalism is implied in the notion of ‘Western(ized)’ and implicated in the idea of ‘industrialized’ and ‘rich’: it is a lurking devil hidden in shadowy innuendo, and it will be found to have exacerbated what was already a tremendously fraught situation brought on by the disdain for the natural world in favor of the human-made. The only admirable bit of nature was whatever could be tamed and denuded of anything wild about it, and now nature seems only tolerable if it is a commodity, something put up for sale for profit.
  5. This notion of ‘inside, good; outside, bad,’ is ancient. The question is, how old is it? I’ve encountered it in ancient Greek literature of the oldest period, where this is cited in two different works as if it were a far more ancient piece of wisdom.
    • It remains to take it further back by approaching the ancient-most Sanskrit texts from the Indus Valley.
    • If the concept is also present in the Sanskrit texts and if it is taken as an already ancient piece of wisdom as well, then we can confidently point to the far-ancient groups of the Steppes of Western Asia who predate even the foundation of Mesopotamia, unattractively (but descriptively) named ‘Proto-Indo-Europeans,’ the origin of most of the population of Europe, the Mediterranean and Western Asia, from the Greeks (and others) to the Persians and Indus Valley groups. I suspect the idea is in fact of Proto-Indo-European antiquity.

There’s a lot to be said, much more than I’ve laid out briefly here in this brief introduction for my new series that I’m calling Reintegrating with Nature. I can’t wait to get into this, but I’m particularly excited to explore Native ways of living within nature as a part of the natural world, something I’ve been thinking about a lot the past few years.

*. Obviously the question applies to contexts other than sexual, where the word takes on positive connotations. The positive sense of ‘animal’ in sexual contexts (as a statement of prowess) supports the central assertion that the human is anything regarded as other than animal in daily life, given the sense of taboo that powers much sexual expression.

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