History and Nature

World News - Sept. 1, 2014

What must be done? …

To answer this question pragmatically, we need to listen to science, and science is telling us that we have to alter our energy culture and control population growth if our relationship with the planet is to remain sustainable.

The underlying message here is that nature is an integral feature of history; a feature that cannot any longer be ignored in the unfolding of the historical process. From now on, human history cannot be told or understood without also understanding nature and our effects on the natural environment that we ultimately depend on for our quality of life and survival.

That we feel separated from nature in the historical process is an illusion. That the illusion persists, despite everything we know, is mainly thanks to the efforts of power to maintain the farcical image that places civilisation outside and above nature. Nature has never played a part in the explanation of history because, once it did, the exploiting classes that wield power would have had to forfeit many of its reasons for holding onto that power. Very much of wealth’s property, for example, was accumulated by claiming a natural right to property through someone’s labour, passed down through the ages via inheritance. The truth is, nature is not something that anyone can hold a natural right to. The natural rights are nature’s own.

In the Middle Ages as well as the Renaissance, nature was made by God and obeyed His laws, which was an easy way of saying that nature had to obey the laws of the churches and kings who represented God on Earth.

The Age of Enlightenment offered a new, clear explanation of history based on reason and liberty. But again, nature is largely ignored by the powers governing civilisation. Not even in the enlightenment was science allowed to have its say to explain the historical process. History gradually became something to say about the masses; a class struggle. When a revolutionary force grew, it still lacked the common-sense insight that inexorably linked the fulfilment of human progress to the world and its ecosystem, undoubtedly vital for our existence here. For the bourgeoise revolutions of the 19th century and the omnipotent force of capitalisms that accompanied them, nature was little more than an inexhaustible source of wealth that had to be exploited to the full. We are now experiencing the beginnings of the tragic consequences of that kind of thinking.

Now, things are different; we have ecology, a science that explains nature and our absolute dependency on its well-being. The damage done to the environment by our anti-natural and anti-human historical process is now evident … and it’s time to rewrite our history books and put that evidence into real consideration.

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