Does “Nature” need a new pronoun or do we need a new story?

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This guest post is by Duane Marcus. You can read a bit about him on the “Denizens” page.

I saw a meme on social media that suggested we need a new pronoun for “Nature,” a pronoun other than “it.” This got me thinking about “Nature.” Is nature an entity? Is there a thing we have named “Nature”? When we suggest someone spend some time in “Nature” what do we mean? Most would agree that canoeing through the Everglades or hiking the Appalachian Trail would constitute spending time in “Nature.”  Is an urban park “Nature”? Is the beach in front of a wall of million dollar condos “Nature”? Are fields of corn and soybeans “Nature”? How about a street full of weedy abandoned lots in Detroit?

Nature Deficit Disorder is a hot topic these days. Wikipedia describes it thusly.

Nature deficit disorder refers to a hypothesis by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. So would walking down Madison Avenue help alleviate this? Don’t let your kids do this without adult supervision though because you might get arrested for neglect and child endangerment.

I contend that there is no “thing” called “Nature.” Giving it (she, he?) a pronoun continues to separate us, human beings, from this thing we call “Nature.” I did some research to try and understand where this concept of “Nature” originated. Apparently it originated with the philosopher Aristotle. I can’t begin to explain what he meant by “Nature” but suffice to say it is not what we think “Nature” is today. According to the 20th century philosopher Leo Strauss, Science is the contemplation of nature and technology in the attempt to imitate it. I think this is where we began to go astray.  As long as we continue to view humankind as separate from “Nature” we will never stop destroying the earth’s systems in the name of “progress.”

Some people say that we are killing the earth. We can’t kill the earth. What we are doing is making it increasingly harder for Homo sapiens to continue to exist as a species. The goal of every species on the earth is to reproduce itself so as to continue its existence. Sometimes a species is so good at reproduction that the system within which it exists becomes unbalanced. These systems are self-correcting. Members of the species that disrupted the balance die off. Reproduction rates go down. Balance is restored.

Our species is very successful at the reproduction. We have been very good at using our unique abilities to extend our collective lifespans as well. The result is that we have pushed the system in which we exist out of balance. The system in which we exist happens to be the whole of the Earth. One way or another balance will be restored. We have two choices. We can continue to delude ourselves by thinking we will be able to use more technology to get us out of the fix we are in or we can take action, individually and collectively, to create new stories that will guide us towards restoring kilter. If we do not, the consequences will be dire for many of us.

I choose to take action. I choose to tell a new story.

4 thoughts on “Does “Nature” need a new pronoun or do we need a new story?

  1. I am told that most, if not all, indigenous cultures do not even have a word akin to our word for nature. Having a word for nature helps to create the illusion of separateness. The reality is that we are not at all separate from nature, even when we are indoors staring at our electronic devices for hours at a time. Life surrounds us no matter where we are. We are as immersed in it as a fish is immersed in water. That which we call nature has more specific names from Mother Earth to the Dao to the Akashic field and many others.

    I agree, we need a new story.

  2. I’ve heard that, too, Marcus. You know who I first heard it from? John Boecker! It really struck me at the time and I’ve never forgotten it. That one linguistic detail kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Thanks for chiming in.

  3. We both heard it from a botanist in Chicago, Gerould Wilhelm, with Conservation Design Forum. Whom I think heard it from others.

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