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Author Topic: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism  (Read 2226 times)

Yei

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #15 on: July 08, 2019, 06:59:58 pm »
I would make a quick point that I think that sometimes Nature is so broadly defined as to be useless as a term.

My definition of Nature is that which supports life and is not built by Humankind. A forest is a natural environment. So is the sea. The vacuum of space is not a natural environment, at least not for humans. For us to venture out into space requires advanced technology.

Anyway, I do find the idea of Nature to be useful, and I think that Technological artifacts should be distinguished from Natural objects. A tree and an oil rig are fundamentally different things, in my book. Your views might differ.

I don't entirely agree with this. While it doesn't apply to every environment, people can build 'natural' environment, including 'artificial' lakes, forests, and grasslands through various means, many with complex and functioning ecosystems of their own. Not only that but 'natural' environments can co-exist within or alongside humanised ones.

I think the nature/man-made dichotomy is actually really harmful, because it leads to the mentality where human created/modified/affected environments are seen as somehow 'illegitimate' and are therefore 'worthless' environmentally speaking. This leads to a kind of environmental fatalism where 'pristine' ecosystems are seen as spoiled by small bits of trash, the occasional path, or even the mere presence of people. Thinking like this also denies us the opportunity to create and manage the environment effectively, by teaching us that any form of intervention/management will spoil it and it won't be pristine anymore. And so we struggle to deal with habitat loss and environmental recovery.

The sad part is that many of the environments we think of as pristine are either man-made or human induced. I remember attending a presentation a few years ago where the speaker noted that many of the 'pristine' forests around Melbourne were actually forest regrowth over abandoned tuberculosis hospitals, and were less than a century old. Hardly anyone had noticed.

Donal2018

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #16 on: July 08, 2019, 08:06:18 pm »
I don't entirely agree with this. While it doesn't apply to every environment, people can build 'natural' environment, including 'artificial' lakes, forests, and grasslands through various means, many with complex and functioning ecosystems of their own. Not only that but 'natural' environments can co-exist within or alongside humanised ones.

I think the nature/man-made dichotomy is actually really harmful, because it leads to the mentality where human created/modified/affected environments are seen as somehow 'illegitimate' and are therefore 'worthless' environmentally speaking. This leads to a kind of environmental fatalism where 'pristine' ecosystems are seen as spoiled by small bits of trash, the occasional path, or even the mere presence of people. Thinking like this also denies us the opportunity to create and manage the environment effectively, by teaching us that any form of intervention/management will spoil it and it won't be pristine anymore. And so we struggle to deal with habitat loss and environmental recovery.

The sad part is that many of the environments we think of as pristine are either man-made or human induced. I remember attending a presentation a few years ago where the speaker noted that many of the 'pristine' forests around Melbourne were actually forest regrowth over abandoned tuberculosis hospitals, and were less than a century old. Hardly anyone had noticed.

I don't disagree entirely. I think that there is a continuum between Nature and Civilization, and I do recognize that the interactions between Humankind and Nature can be complex. I don't think Nature has to be pristine to be regarded as Nature. I do understand that Humans can alter Nature and manage it, by creating artificial lakes, planting new forests, landscaping, etc. So it is not all black and white.

Still, I think that it is useful to have categories such as "Nature" and "Civilization" as a starting point for discussion. I don't agree that this distinction denigrates "artificial" or "manmade" environments. I grew up spending my Summers on a man-made lake. It was still "natural" in most ways. I also do not think that the distinction between Nature and Civilization is inherently harmful, as you state. I don't think that it inherently denigrates natural systems that are altered by Humankind. 

I don't think the dichotomy between Nature and Civilization has to favor one category over another. There are plenty of manmade and artificial things that I like and use. There are some things in Nature that I do not like (mosquitoes, anyone?). Part of what I was originally saying is that I like a lot of the built environment, I love a lot of aspects of city life. There is Nature in the City, and also managed lands and resources in Nature, thus manmade activity in Nature. So it is not all just one or the other. 

I also have no problem with humankind managing Nature, as long as it is done intelligently and with respect. I am not some sort of eco-fundamentalist. Again, I bring up the distinction between Nature and Civilization as a starting point for discussion, not as absolute categories with no intersection between them.

[edits for spelling and readability]

Donal2018

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #17 on: July 08, 2019, 08:40:52 pm »
"Reconciling" them would require there to be a perceived conflict.

As a person with a strong reconstructionist thread in their practice, I reject the utility of the modern invention of "nature", which dates to roughly 1860 and is thus several thousand years postdating my relevant period.

The world is the world.  My gods are, among many other things, urban gods, and technological gods, and that was as much the case in 1250 BC as it is today.  Yes, they also have what would be considered "nature" theophanies, but the fact that they have both strikes me as proof that They consider such distinctions invalid.

I think that for some there is an important distinction between Nature and Technology. Some do perceive it as a conflict, but I just view it as two different types of phenomena. By "reconcile", I Just mean harmonizing ideas about two different things and trying to figure out how they relate to one another in a coherent schema. I do not think that "reconcile" implies conflict in this context. Rather, "reconcile" is about providing an intellectual framework that coherently describes both phenomena and explains how they do and do not relate to one another. 

I also do not think that it is a coincidence that some modern conceptualizations of Nature were articulated roughly around the time of the Industrial Revolution. Immediately prior to that period of time, most people lived engaged in agriculture, in my view closer to "nature". During and after the Industrial Revolution, more people moved into Cities and Built Environments and worked in factories with Industrial Technology. So, some have pointed out that at this time, many people had become "divorced" or separated from Nature.

So, it does not surprise me that intellectuals of that period focused on what might be viewed as an important dichotomy between "Nature" and "Civilization" or "Technology" and the "Built Environment". Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most people lived closer to "Nature" engaged mainly in agricultural and food production activities. After the Industrial Revolution, that all changed. Large populations moved into Cities and engaged in activities that some viewed as divorced from arguably "more natural" lifestyles.

I find these subjects and concepts useful for my own thinking, and can see that they might have some applications to religious beliefs that treat Nature as Sacred. If you do not find these terms and concepts useful to your thinking, more power to you. Myself, I find it hard to avoid thinking about these distinctions when thinking about Nature and Humankind's relationship to it.

Klaw

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #18 on: July 08, 2019, 09:40:32 pm »

I think the nature/man-made dichotomy is actually really harmful, because it leads to the mentality where human created/modified/affected environments are seen as somehow 'illegitimate' and are therefore 'worthless' environmentally speaking. This leads to a kind of environmental fatalism where 'pristine' ecosystems are seen as spoiled by small bits of trash, the occasional path, or even the mere presence of people. Thinking like this also denies us the opportunity to create and manage the environment effectively, by teaching us that any form of intervention/management will spoil it and it won't be pristine anymore. And so we struggle to deal with habitat loss and environmental recovery.

I am originally from Iowa which is one of the concentrated areas of Roundup in the states. As an adult, I lived in a small town of about 600 people. We were the only ones in our neighborhood who didn't spray their yard. All of the wildlife ended up in our small yard. Rabbits having their babies and even squirrels coming up to our door. About once a week, the town sent out a spray truck to spray the entire town for mosquitoes.

My question is, does any of that really sound natural?

Yei

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #19 on: July 09, 2019, 06:15:12 pm »
I am originally from Iowa which is one of the concentrated areas of Roundup in the states. As an adult, I lived in a small town of about 600 people. We were the only ones in our neighborhood who didn't spray their yard. All of the wildlife ended up in our small yard. Rabbits having their babies and even squirrels coming up to our door. About once a week, the town sent out a spray truck to spray the entire town for mosquitoes.

My question is, does any of that really sound natural?

That example says to me, that most of those animals would be happy enough to live amongst the human community, if people weren't actively trying to spray/kill them with poison. Its not about what is natural or not, its about how humans treat other animals.

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #20 on: July 09, 2019, 06:53:53 pm »
That example says to me, that most of those animals would be happy enough to live amongst the human community, if people weren't actively trying to spray/kill them with poison. Its not about what is natural or not, its about how humans treat other animals.

Yeah, I could never quite get my head around the idea that humans somehow don't count as 'natural'. We operate under the same rules of physics and biochemistry as every other mammal.

Klaw

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #21 on: July 09, 2019, 08:24:27 pm »
Yeah, I could never quite get my head around the idea that humans somehow don't count as 'natural'. We operate under the same rules of physics and biochemistry as every other mammal.

Humans are very natural as a living thing. It is their actions that are in question.

ehbowen

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #22 on: July 09, 2019, 08:40:04 pm »
Humans are very natural as a living thing. It is their actions that are in question.
Looking at the subject from the viewpoint of a Christian, I see the real question as one of stewardship. It would not be good stewardship to take the wheat fields which feed the world and turn all of them back over to the buffalo. On the other hand, neither is it good stewardship to focus on short term profits to the exclusion of considering the effects of our actions on the other creatures and habitats with which we share our world.

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Donal2018

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #23 on: July 10, 2019, 02:50:19 pm »
Yeah, I could never quite get my head around the idea that humans somehow don't count as 'natural'. We operate under the same rules of physics and biochemistry as every other mammal.

I do think that Humans are natural. We have the same biochemical basis as other animals, as you point out. It is just that some of the things we do or make are not so natural. We create machines and other things that are not natural, we create substances that do not occur in Nature (Benzene, anyone?). The "machine in the garden" syndrome.

That said, we still have lower animal natures, a brain and a body. Yet we have language, culture, hands that allow us to make and use tools, to build and create extraordinary things. Animals do not have many or any of these.

So, I would call Human Beings "super animals". We are animals that are a step or two above other animals here on Earth. We have advanced abilities that other animals mostly do not (language, culture, tools, technology, etc).

Our bodies are natural, but many of the things that we create or construct are not so natural. So we are a mix of nature and non-nature, in my view.

EclecticWheel

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #24 on: July 10, 2019, 03:06:57 pm »
I do think that Humans are natural. We have the same biochemical basis as other animals, as you point out. It is just that some of the things we do or make are not so natural.

How could anything we do be unnatural?  How could we act contrary to our nature or natural phenomena in general? Even when we have conflicting interests, we cannot escape our nature in making a decision, not even if there are competing elements in our nature.
My personal moral code:

Love wisely, and do what thou wilt.

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #25 on: July 10, 2019, 03:08:42 pm »
I do think that Humans are natural. We have the same biochemical basis as other animals, as you point out. It is just that some of the things we do or make are not so natural. We create machines and other things that are not natural, we create substances that do not occur in Nature (Benzene, anyone?).

As examples go, something as basic and existing in the actual natural world as benzene is a poor choice.  It's just a carbon ring with hydrogens attached, which means even for organic chemistry it's super simple.  It's a minor component in fossil carbons, which are also used to manufacture more of it.
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

Donal2018

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #26 on: July 10, 2019, 03:12:48 pm »
As examples go, something as basic and existing in the actual natural world as benzene is a poor choice.  It's just a carbon ring with hydrogens attached, which means even for organic chemistry it's super simple.  It's a minor component in fossil carbons, which are also used to manufacture more of it.

You are right. I made a mistake. Benzene does occur in nature. It was a bad example. I thought that since it is normally synthesized that it was only synthetic.

Donal2018

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #27 on: July 10, 2019, 03:18:50 pm »
How could anything we do be unnatural?  How could we act contrary to our nature or natural phenomena in general? Even when we have conflicting interests, we cannot escape our nature in making a decision, not even if there are competing elements in our nature.

I don't know what else to say about this. We might just be defining the term "natural" differently. I have stated before that humans sometimes do things that are not natural, in my view. GMO plants were an example that I used. Genetically modified organisms do not exist in nature. They are altered in an artificial way.

If we define "nature" as everything that exists, it kind of becomes a useless category. To me, nature is simply the biosphere that gives life. There are things that are outside of the biosphere. There are environments that seem hostile to life (the vacuum of space for example). So, in my definition, not everything is "nature". Your definitions might be different.

Donal2018

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #28 on: July 10, 2019, 03:24:10 pm »
You are right. I made a mistake. Benzene does occur in nature. It was a bad example. I thought that since it is normally synthesized that it was only synthetic.

A better example is plastics. Also some rubbers and other synthetic substances in the broader category of polymers. (It has been many years since I took an organic chemistry course. I am a bit rusty). But my overall point is that there are some human, man-made substances that do not normally occur in nature. There are synthetics, artificial substances.

Donal2018

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Re: Technology, Civilization, and Paganism
« Reply #29 on: July 10, 2019, 04:12:19 pm »
I don't know what else to say about this. We might just be defining the term "natural" differently. I have stated before that humans sometimes do things that are not natural, in my view. GMO plants were an example that I used. Genetically modified organisms do not exist in nature. They are altered in an artificial way.

If we define "nature" as everything that exists, it kind of becomes a useless category. To me, nature is simply the biosphere that gives life. There are things that are outside of the biosphere. There are environments that seem hostile to life (the vacuum of space for example). So, in my definition, not everything is "nature". Your definitions might be different.

A few more points.

Again, my definition of Nature is that system or environment that directly supports life, and those things that normally occur within it. Air, water, elements, sunlight, food, plants, animals, all part of Nature. An example of a non-natural environment- the surface of the Moon. No atmosphere. Limited or inaccessible water. No plant or animal life. Not an environment conducive to life. So, no biosphere, an absence of Nature. Part of the Cosmos, yes. Part of Nature, no. Nature exists within the larger context of the greater Cosmos. Not everything in the Cosmos is a biosphere or form of Nature.

The most natural environment that we know of is here on Earth. There may be alien environments that support life, so maybe extra-terrestrial life. But in the absence of life out in Space, you have the larger Cosmos that mostly does not support life. There might be pockets of alien life and foreign planets with their own Nature, or life supporting eco-systems. So alien or xeno environments that support some form of life. Extra Terrestrial Nature.

So, Nature is something that exists as a part of a larger Cosmos. Not everything in the Cosmos is Nature or a Biosphere. All Nature exists within the larger frame of the Cosmos. In the midst of space, stars systems, and planets, maybe some pockets of Life, pockets of Nature.

Another aspect of Nature is of that which occurs in the environment that is not man made. So, there is a distinction between Nature and that which is Artificial. This is as simple as looking a the ingredients on a package of food- "natural flavors" versus "artificial flavors". It is not a complicated distinction.

Things do not need to be complex to be artificial. There are simple man made substances. There are also complex substances and organisms that exist in nature. So, complexity is not a good guide as to what is natural and what is artificial.

I would tend to use the terms "natural" as well as "non-natural" and "artificial". "Unnatural" implies a profound insult to what is "nature", so "non-natural" or "artificial" are more objective terms that are not as loaded as the term "unnatural".

[edits for spelling and readability]
« Last Edit: July 10, 2019, 04:16:45 pm by Donal2018 »

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