Monday, May 11, 2015

Changing Nature to Suit Our Preferences (in which I self-identify as a human being)

Man's chief problem is pride. And one of the ways this manifests itself is in the human desire to gain control over nature itself. This has been the chief impulse in both science and art for a century or more.

In art, what philosopher Karsten Harries calls the "aesthetics of subjectivity" makes the artist himself the chief and sometimes only factor in the creation of art, a tendency that leads him away from representing the world as it is (the traditional role of art) toward portraying it as he would like it to be. The artist, impatient with having to settle for being a subcreator (Tolkien's term), tries to take on the role of the Creator Himself. But since he cannot actually create a new world, he is stuck with distorting the one we actually have. He can't make a human being so, he reconstructs real ones, resulting in faces with a mouth on the top, the eyes at the bottom, and the nose to the side--in word, deformity and ugliness.

Science approaches the world very differently, but the same nihilistic impulse is on display: The humble objective of gaining knowledge of a world that has a permanent and unchangeable order takes a back seat to various attempts at trying to subdue it to his own preferences. The Aristotelian objective of determining the causes of things is replaced with the instrumental aim of bending it to our will. Since the one thing that sets man apart from the rest of nature is that we can defy nature, we end up trying to change what we set out to understand. We start by distorting the environment and end up distorting human nature.

Part of the problem is that we take our ability to defy nature as license to redefine it. So now we no longer take our cues of what natural things are for from nature. A heart is for pumping blood; lungs are for putting oxygen in it; kidneys are for filtering it. But reproductive organs are ... not for reproduction. That an increasing number of people have come to think that the functions of reproductive organs can be seamlessly interchanged with those of digestive organs is a measure of just how alienated from nature we have become.

The most fundamental theme of modern thought is the denial of nature. Nature is irrelevant to the natural function of sex. We can now "self-identify" as male or female regardless of whether or not we are.

I just happened to be thinking about all this when I ran across this comment in a somewhat related and excellent post at the Federalist on ways in which nature matters even though we try to pretend it doesn't:
Even more so than the misogynistic Christian church or the anti-gay GOP, the chief enemy of egalitarianism is nature. Historic Christianity only makes it hard for women to be pastors, but nature makes it hard for women to be soldiers, firefighters, lumberjacks, and anything else that requires masculine levels of upper body strength. Republicans may pass laws letting bakers deny service for gay weddings, but nature imposes laws denying two pairs of ovaries the power to procreate. But the greatest way that nature breeds inequality is by filling us with the desire to love the children that have resulted from our breeding.
Read more here.

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