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Commerce and Nature

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Over at Say Anything Blog [2] I find this wonderful quotation from the late science-fiction master Robert Heinlein:

There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people
who “love Nature” while deploring the “artificialities” with which “Man
has spoiled Nature.” The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of
words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of
“Nature"-but beavers and their dams are.  But the contradictions go
deeper than this prima-facie absurdity.  In declaring his love for a
beaver dam (erected by beavers for beavers’ purposes) and hatred of
dams erected by men (for the purposes of men) the “Naturist” reveals
his hatred for his own race-i.e., his own self hatred.

In the case of “Naturists” such self-hatred is understandable; they
are such a sorry lot.  But hatred is too strong an emotion to feel
toward them; pity and contempt are the most at any rate.

Reading this Heinlein quotation — which, because I’ve never developed a taste for reading science fiction, I’ve not encountered before today — reminds me of one of my favorite passages from Thomas Babington Macaulay [3]‘s History of England [4].  I re-run Macaulay’s passage below (I’ve run it before [5]), for it is both eloquent and wise — and should be reflected upon deeply by all, especially by those persons who profess to love nature and who worry about commerce and civilization spoiling nature:

Indeed, law and police, trade and industry, have done far more than
people of romantic dispositions will readily admit, to develop in our
minds a sense of the wilder beauties of nature. A traveller must be
freed from all apprehension of being murdered or starved before he can
be charmed by the bold outlines and rich tints of the hills. He is not
likely to be thrown into ecstasies by the abruptness of a precipice
from which he is in imminent danger of falling two thousand feet
perpendicular; by the boiling waves of a torrent which suddenly whirls
away his baggage and forces him to run for his life; by the gloomy
grandeur of a pass where he finds a corpse which marauders have just
stripped and mangled; or by the screams of those eagles whose next meal
may probably be on his own eyes. . . .

It was not till roads had been cut out of the rocks, till bridges
had been flung over the courses of the rivulets, till inns had
succeeded to dens of robbers . . . that strangers could be enchanted by
the blue dimples of lakes and by the rainbows which overhung the
waterfalls, and could derive a solemn pleasure even from the clouds and
tempests which lowered on the mountain tops.

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