Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Man versus Nature?


São Paulo - one of the biggest cities in the world is surrounded by rainforests!

It also seems incredible that more than eighty years after the implications of quantum physics shattered classical thinking, many still consider the universe of objects and people as a static, linear system made of small discrete blocks that can be observed and thus controlled in a perfectly predictable way. The basic flaw with this old paradigm is in imagining that by comprehending things we can impose order on them. The slightest earth tremor demolishes this illusion.
This type of anthropocentrism is one of the main reasons for our estrangement from Nature as it really is - vibrant, moving, alive and integrating, disintegrating and self-organizing continually. The divorce between the inner nature of the human being and Nature, considerably strengthened over the last three hundred years, has almost succeeded in destroying our planet – almost, but not quite.
An afternoon on a deserted beach, a sunset seen from a majestic mountain, a walk in a deliciously-smelling virgin forest – who has not felt a deep identification with beauty of nature at such times? To the disappointment of the inhabitants of the great metropolitan spreads, the weekend or the vacation finish too quickly and they are thrust back into their work-posts. From the traffic-jams or office windows they wistfully contemplate the Nature that for them only exists far from the noises and smells that surround them. They begin to count the days again until the next opportunity arises for them to ‘get back to the Nature’.
Nature is often seen romantically as a sort of utopia that contrasts with the dystopia of the many urban map-stainers we call cities and their frenzied materialism. The search for Rousseau's "noble savage" who lives harmoniously and selflessly with Nature, inspires environmental fundamentalists even today.
On the other side, the anthropocentric vision that unfortunately still operates, is that humans, being the main components of creation, have the right to explore Nature's resources ad infinitum, that were predestined to them by some divine decree. However, we cannot deny that others species have their place in the scheme of things. There are more microbes in a cubic centimetre of soil than there have been human beings in all of history!
Only recently, we have started to question these two extreme positions to find a point of balance between sustainability and development, which until now have lived in contradiction to each other. Businessmen, political, scientists, NGOs and common citizens ‘try’ to make a bridge between the preservation of the inherent beauty of our planet and the rational use of its resources. But, as some modern wit has said, “trying is often a lazy way of doing nothing".
The main difficulty is that the dialectics for both extremes of our obligations regarding nature are mistaken. It is not man against Nature or that he was always fighting with it and now has to get a new mind-set to 'save' it. Our bodies are made of the same elements – air, water and food supply each molecule. The cities are just Nature transformed – the stones that become cement, the trees that are converted into beams, the ancient forests that end up as petroleum and later as plastic. Therefore, Nature is not something that starts where the cities finish. It is in fact everything we can see, hear and touch.
It is worthwhile to reflect about the implications of quantum physics in our world vision. More than 80 years ago, it abandoned the division between the observer (typically a human being) and the observed (typically inanimate matter). Both form one whole. One influences the another. You could even say that they create each other symbiotically. This does not just refer to matter itself, but what we do with it and each other in the building of a society.
While we continue to see Nature and the problems that we have to solve as something separate from us, a passive subject like an unconscious patient on an operation table, we will not understand the depth of the interconnection and interdependence between us and our planet. It is an ancient marriage. The dance between observer and the observed, implies that the external problems in nature and in society are manifestations of the pollution and confusion that reign within us. They are inseparable.
From the book, O Espírito do líder, Editora Integrare, Sao Paulo, 2008
By Ken O’Donnell