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Living in Harmony with Nature

During our time in Orlando, my family and I visited Sea World. At the manatee exhibit we were shown a brief film whose opening scene showed an American Indian paddling his canoe through pristine waters while the announcer informed the audience that the Indians “lived in harmony with nature.”

Of course, the film implies that we moderns don’t live in harmony in nature, and one consequence of our inharmonious existence is the manatees’ near-extinction.

I’m not here to comment upon the manatee. I’m here to do my part to make extinct the notion that modern, civilized human beings live less harmoniously with nature than did pre-Columbian Indians. We moderns live more harmoniously – much more harmoniously – with nature than did our primitive ancestors.

To live harmoniously with nature is to understand and accept natural forces. The greater this understanding and acceptance, the greater the harmony. Because we know so much more today than we did before about physics, chemistry, meteorology, biology, physiology, metallurgy, and on and on with our ologies and urgies, we live so much more harmoniously with nature.

Pre-Columbian peoples lived simply, to be sure, but let’s stop mistaking ignorance and poverty with harmony. It’s an utter myth – we might say an urban myth – that primitive peoples lived with nature harmoniously. Nature devastated them. Nature battered them into early graves. Their ignorance of nature prevented them from achieving much material wealth. To dance to imaginary rain gods or to chant and pray for a child dying of bacterial infection is not to live harmoniously with nature; it is to live most inharmoniously. Nature is doing its thing – failing to water the crops, growing lethal bacteria within a child’s lungs – while human beings who are as ignorant of nature as nature is of human beings, moan, chant, pray, dance, build totems, burn leaves and twigs, all in fruitless, inharmonious efforts to solve the problems.

It is we today, with our knowledge of how to irrigate fields using science and engineering, and how to make and administer antibiotics, who live harmoniously with nature.  We don’t demand miracles.  We don’t expect nature to change its logic simply because we arrogantly wish it to do so.  We accept nature’s logic and work with it.

Natural forces are what they are. Praying for miracles is fruitless; these forces will do what they do. Only people who understand these forces and how to counteract or reinforce or sustain or alter them with other natural forces can be truly said to live harmoniously with nature.

It is science – rational thought, skepticism, critical inquiry – that furthers greater harmony with nature.