AR Philosophy > Morality Index

An Unnatural Order: Discovering the Roots of our
Domination of Nature and Each Other

By Jim Mason

Some think human society seems to be steadily going insane. They note the ridiculous hatreds that keep us nearly constantly at war with each other. They see we are fouling our global nest, wiping out much of the planet's life and making life more and more miserable for ourselves. I don't think we are going insane; I think we have just not learned to look deeply enough into the causes of our current social and environmental problems. I believe with a growing number of others that these problems began several millennia ago when our ancestors took up farming and broke the primal bonds with the living world and put human beings above all other life. Because of this, we have no sense of kinship with other life on this planet, hence no good sense of belonging here. Our tradition is one of arrogance toward the living world around us; it is a thing beneath us - to be either used up or kept at bay. We are, as intellectuals say, alienated from nature.

Although most religions today describe a three-tiered hierarchy: God, people, and everything else ... primal people lived not merely close to, but in and with nature. Food and materials came not by working with the soil, not by controlling the lives and growth of plants and animals, but by incredibly detailed knowledge about them. They lived with daily reminders of their connections with the living beings around them and with constant awareness of how their taking from their world might affect their lives in it. All of this evolved into a set of beliefs and eventually into tribal religions, which have taken on many forms and variations. What they all have in common, though, is a deep emotional attachment to, and respect for, the living world that made changing or controlling it unthinkable.

Alienated as we are from the natural world, our modern minds are too maimed to fully grasp how thoroughly this human mind was fed by its environment - particularly by the moving, living beings in it. The emerging cultural human mind literally took its shape and substance, its basic images and ideas, from the plants and animals around it. It came to know which plants out of hundreds made the best foods, medicines and materials. It came to know the life cycles and day-to-day habits of dozens of kinds of animals intimately enough to be able to predict when and where a hunt might be most successful. It came to know how all of the above might be affected by wind, rain, seasons, and the other elements and forces in nature. From such living, the people knew the land, their foraging territory, probably better than any modern ecologist could. They had, after all, generations of wisdom and experience in living in it, and most of all, a feeling for it that no books nor journals can ever convey.

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