All Things Natural

This unholy obsession with all things natural must end. Natural does not automatically mean beneficial, not physically and not psychologically. While it's true that human industry - pollutants and chemical byproducts, especially - are proving to be detrimental to our health, the answer isn't to go backward and hope that "natural living" will solve our problems.

Many people have adopted the word "natural" to mean the opposite of "made by human hands," so let's go with that for a moment. All the chemical compounds we invent, all of the additives in our food, water and air, are built using natural elements. By the physical laws of our universe, they have to be. Many chemicals are neutral in their effect when administered at small doses. Some, like certain metals are necessary for bodily functions but are toxic at the wrong dose. The same is true for organic compounds and even for the most necessary ingredient of life: water.

When it comes to behavior and society, the word natural takes on a more sinister overtone. We spend most of our childhoods overcoming our instincts, and as parents, we do our best to socialize our children by teaching them to suppress all kinds of natural behavior. Violence, jealousy, dishonesty, fearfulness, anger - these are all negative traits that we strive to overcome in our quest to improve our society. Maybe I should just quote Yoda and be done: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

A more insidious usage of the word happens when people try to shoehorn natural into justifying their biases. Once upon a time, it was considered natural for black people to do menial labor because everyone knew they weren't as clever as white people. We hear today that it's more natural for a woman to take care of a baby than a man, or that it's unnatural for two men to be sexually attracted to each other. These are all examples where the word is intended to have an automatic positive connotation while creating subjugation.

Some of our most dire problems are natural: bacteria, viruses, organ failures, cancer. Not one of these was created by human beings. We fight these, just like we fight our bad behavior, in order to improve our quality of life and longevity. We're starting to adopt a similar attitude toward the things we have created, like bad air and pesticides. If anything, we should be embracing the artificial. The same technology that creates problems will also solve them. Artificial improvements to our bodies could make us stronger, more adaptable, and less prone to disease and aging. There are risks, of course, like overuse of antibiotic, as there always will be when we engineer ourselves and our world. That shouldn't stop us from trying.

If you could trade in your bad knees for some self-repairing new ones, would you? What if you could end world hunger by planting genetically modified crops that use less water and no pesticides? If we're all a bunch of brains encased in indestructible metal and running on solar power, can we call ourselves human beings, or would that be unnatural? I'll posit that people, being the amazingly inventive, creative, thinking creatures that we are, can continue to build a better world and a better self. But to do so, we must embrace the artificial.