Civilization is Natural

Why do we suppose a beehive is natural and a city unnatural?  The enlightenment idea that humans have somehow transcended nature by building “civilization” is absurd.

We are taught that civilization is a safe place with modern medicine and “progress” where everyone cares about each other.  Perhaps we believe in these myths for comfort and the illusion of power over the universe.

I have to try not to stare in disbelief when people spout these kinds of sentiments.  These are the same people who would be forced to sleep on the street if they couldn’t outcompete others to seize and keep a job!  Human societies are based on survival of the fittest, the city is no kinder than the jungle.
Civilization is a snow-capped wilderness, the precious wealth needed to live wrung from jagged stones. I never forget I traverse an icy landscape, one sub-zero night away from dying.  All my grievances in life are but whistling winds pleading against a granite face.

So-called civilization is run with no plan.  Every generation, some people show up and struggle to deal with the mess after the fact.  No one assesses how many mouths can be fed or what kinds of people will be needed most.  Civilization just throws shit against the wall to see what sticks, exactly the same as nature.  Why should we not say deer in the forest also have civilization or even dandelions that also throw all their seeds to the wind and hope for the best?
Are not ants or termites then far more civilized than humans?  The queen only has as many workers as she needs.  Each worker puts every ounce of its productive ability into sustaining its civilization.  Humans are an incompetent waste by comparison yet we suppose technology separates us from the natural world.
Is it not pathetic that the same creatures that can create spacecraft must labor most of their waking hours to pay rent—if they are lucky?

Though we know nature is harsh do we not perceive great beauty in it?  I suppose that is why I see the world as I do but am more or less happy.  As a little kid, I loved to watch nature documentaries.  I remember seeing one episode where tadpoles were racing to mature in temporary pools created by seasonal rains.  In their struggle to make it against the deadline, they seemed every bit as busy and purposeful as city dwellers.  When time ran out, the stragglers were unapologetically left flopping in the mud, getting cooked by the sun.
That we perceive such beauty in a process defined by the harshest sort of attrition tells us nature is as it should be.  There’s no problem of evil to be explained any more than we must explain evil things in the stars or planets.
I’ve been called an optimistic pessimist.  I think it’s because someone who believes in the myth of a protective, safe civilization is doomed to be disappointed.
I am not disappointed, the universe is exactly as I expect it to be and there is peace in that.

Perhaps a story will serve to illustrate:

I was recently in the Caribbean.  Swimming away from the beach to a rocky area, I found a bunch of black urchins that reminded of shadow vessels from Babylon 5.  The bigger ones had spikes nearly a foot long.  To my astonishment, they shook their spines at me vigorously when I got near.  I’d only ever seen tiny sluggish urchins barely capable of perceptible motion.  I singled out a big one that wasn’t embedded in a rocky crevice and by nudging it with a rock found it wasn’t attached to anything.  I could easily tilt it up with the rock and slip my hand underneath.  Hah!  I thought, I had outsmarted its defense systems.  I marveled at the writhing black spike ball sitting safely in my hand and began to move back towards shore where I intended to look at it out of the water and take pictures.
But suddenly I felt sharp pains in my hand and had to drop the creature.  I was going to go try to pick it up again, I like a challenge, but then I realized the tips of its spines had broken off and were actually embedded in my fingers and had an “Oh, shit” moment.  At the same time, I was amused and amazed.  The urchin had a truly perfect design.  Ages of trial and error easily anticipated anything a fool like me might try.  I recognized great beauty in that.  All that movement hadn’t been idle, it had actually been shifting its spines underneath itself.  Because of the black color, I could see the broken off tips under my skin.  I suppose they were a souvenir there to remind me for about a month after my return to the US.

The struggle between predator and prey, parasite and host are everywhere to be found among humans.  Societies are teeming reefs with many niches and ecosystems.  I take it to be self evident that my role is to be an effective organism—that urchin offered an inspiring example to follow.

By Giovanni Dannato

In 1547 I was burnt at the stake in Rome for my pernicious pamphlet proclaiming that the heavens were not filled with a profusion of aether, but rather an extensive vacuum.
Now, the phlogiston that composed my being has re-manifested centuries in the future so that I may continue the task that was inconveniently disrupted so long ago.
Now, I live in Rome on the very street where I (and others) were publicly burnt. To this day, the street is known as what I would translate as 'Heretic's Way'. My charming residence is number 6 on this old road. Please, do come inside and pay me a visit; I should be delighted to spew out endless pedagoguery to one and all...

3 replies on “Civilization is Natural”

Your last few post have been extremely good but also very painful for me. I had a very good job. Decent money but I tried to make a few moves and they failed. Now I’m in a precarious position and I can see how I got there. Some of my failures were just bad timing. If I would have stayed put where I was I would very, very, very probably be in good shape but stuck. So I’m at the point where working for someone else is not going to cut it and I’m racking my brain on what to do. Reading your latest post helps. Fear is a great motivator. I see a great wreckage coming and while I’ve made some preparation I’m not even 5% of where I’d like to be.

On the other hand I look at some the stuff people watch on TV. Argue about football and I wonder just what the hell they’re thinking. They seem to have no realization of what’s going on at all. It may not help me but at least I have a clue. If you’re going some where it helps to have a map.

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