Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I recently had to explain to a Taiwanese student why an ecological modeling paper didn't include humans and human drivers. I had also had the problem of trying to explain to a Japanese student the difference between "natural resource management" and "environmental protection"; the two terms were nearly synonymous to him. That got me to thinking consciously about something that I had grown up understanding: Eastern and Western philosophy place Man (i.e., human beings) in different places in relation to nature. As a person who straddled the divide while I was growing up, this didn't seem to me to be such a problem in terms of reconciliation, but I suddenly could imagine how such differences could pose roadblocks to implicit understanding between peoples.

The term "natural resources" itself is an interesting one. After all, what is a resource in this case other than an "available source of wealth; a new or reserve supply that can be drawn upon when needed" (or something very similar to that notion) which happens to be supplied by nature? The term resource is implicitly a socially constructed idea that implies conscious action (such as accumulation of resources) and economic capital (wealth) in order to carry out a goal. In other words, it is a term that is based on the outcomes of human society.

However, what is, then a "natural" resource? If it is something that is drawn from nature, then isn't potentially everything a natural resource (including humans)? Well, that depends on what you consider "nature" and what you consider "non-nature". Based - I believe - on the famous Cogito ergo sum, the mind (the seat of the conscious rational self/the ego) is separated from the body (the unconscious emotional self). Eventually, the mind/body separation became analogized into a split with man/nature. Of course, this dichotomy of man and nature can be traced back to the Greeks, as well; one could argue that Descartes merely pushed it one step further. So if what is natural are those worldly things that are not "of man" (as opposed to the supernatural, which - presumably would be ascribed to God), then man is - by default - not a part of nature.

What does that mean as a consequence, though? That people can't live together with nature - and remain somehow "people" or something else? Hmmm... (I'm not trying to say that this is the way things are, just trying to figure out the implication of this point of view). Just some thoughts for now. Very rough.


S said...

This may seem a little watered-down but this is how I see it... I believe that "man" should be considered a part of nature. However, the exaltation of the ego (based on our differences; i.e. - walking upright, opposable thumbs, forms of communication and written language...) often times places humans in almost constant discordance with that which is natural by choice. Sometimes natural is perceived as "primitive". It seems, to me, that social "conditioning" is what makes humans "unnatural" and the dissolvement of that conditioning would make it easier to live together with nature. Indigenous people have done so for ages.
I do think that humans could be considered a natural resource, in the sense that we "consume" and are "fed upon" like anything else in the natural world; be it by way of mosquito or bacteria inside our bodies. I can also see humans as a resource if one thinks in terms of the work force; we are a resource for employers, drawn from for labor but just as equally for ideas. The human body and emotions are often drawn upon by visual artists or writers for creative inspiration.
Perhaps I am reading into to this from a totally different (or simpler) perspective but, I just wanted to share a few of my thoughts. I enjoy your posts very much.

Umlud said...

S - I think your perspective is one of the new wave of environmental awareness that is sweeping the country. I think that it's a generational thing, though, and at sometime during the last 10 years or so, it's really started to catch. I predict that we are moving into an era of global environmental awareness that will make the environmental movement of the 1970s appear quaint.