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The Artificial and the Natural
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3/31/2014 8:38:54 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Out of the natural world, about one million years ago, arose humans capable of artificiality. We created culture, science, technology, and philosophy. Without these four things it is difficult to imagine a purpose to our existence. It is a privilege to enjoy them; in fact it is the ultimate privilege. It is the privilege for which all other privileges stem from. But one thing I've learned about privilege is that it cannot and will not ever exist in a vacuum. Privilege exists as a balance to responsibility. Whether it be high intelligence, a driver's license, or the affection of your mate, every privilege exists only because we are performing a certain way to retain it and most importantly *not abuse it.*
Perhaps the easiest way to define being a "person" is based on this privilege/responsibility relationship. The more ability we have, the more responsibility we have to use that ability wisely. More specifically, this responsibility is, at its very base, the duty to act selflessly and not use our abilities simply to satisfy our personal whims at the cost of other people and the environment in general. I believe the concepts of morality, utility, and efficiency all lie on our ability to exist as artificial beings without breaching "naturality."
Natural actions blend in and do not disrupt the natural environment. They do not disrupt the lives of other people. They do not cause waste, destruction, or inefficiency. Natural life, for instance, exists in perfect harmony with itself. Lower life-forms don't cause damage to the environment and they use energy in the most efficient possible manner. Biological life-forms all follow the principle of least action precisely (action is defined as energy x time) and leave each following generation the same allotment of resources they inherited, similar to renting an apartment and leaving it to the next renter in perfect condition (cleaned, maintained, etc.).
Artificial actions are capable of much more greatness than natural actions (the four items presented earlier) but are also capable of limitless damage. Humans, using artificiality, destroy the environment, waste resources senselessly, and encroach the freedoms and liberties of other people selfishly (my nation, my family, my race, myself). Natural lifeforms are not capable of such destruction, and people acting naturally are also similarly incapable of such things.
While artificiality must exist in order for us to enjoy being people, it does not have to violate naturality in doing so. When using the intelligence we have the privilege of inheriting, we should not buck the responsibilities we also necessarily inherit.
Actions violate naturality when they are inefficient, destructive, and selfish (i.e., taking abilities away from others in order to enjoy them yourself). We will spend a thousand calories burning fossil fuels to send a hundred calories of lettuce across the United States. No animal in nature is capable of such wanton waste as we are. We are spreading toxins throughout the environment and are polluting our bodies as well. We destroy ecosystems, cultures/people, and our own health through the pursuit of attaining a higher state of luxury. We have stratified humanity into layers of wealthiness, with each clawing over each other to get to a higher spot (even if they are already at the top!).
We do not respect naturality. Even though we might understand that natural systems will be interrupted by, say, building structures next to a body of water, we do it anyway. Further understanding that natural systems bring us values that we are compromising by such actions do not seem to make much of a difference, as time and space buffer the externalities of our actions and force them to be borne by people and life-forms far away or in the future. The more luxuries we accumulate, the weaker our will becomes, and we become more desperate to insulate ourselves from losing our addictions.
There was a line from the movie American Psycho that I found very entertaining. The main character (who is very rich) enters the home of another rich person and is overcome with envy at his possessions: "There is a moment of sheer panic when I realize that Paul's apartment overlooks the park... and is obviously more expensive than mine." (He of course has to kill Paul). This very poetic scene captures the essence of envy that lives within us all, coming out when we see somebody with nice clothes, an attractive girlfriend, or an expensive car.
Personally, when I see somebody in a BMW or a Mercedes I pity them, because I know that they are stuck in that bitter cycle of insatiability and are doomed to go on desperately trying to acquire more without ever being oriented towards nobler goals like self-actualization. How can one nurture their intellect, body, and soul if they are preoccupied with luxury?
Only by accepting a path of naturality can one truly self-actualize. Learning what if feels like to truly give without expecting anything in return. Toughening yourself to make due with less and learning the age-lost skills associated with people who have to work for a living (doing things that are useful as opposed to the professions we currently occupy). Knowing that those in your life are there only because they love you, not because they want what you can offer them materialistically. Knowing that, on your death bed, you can look back on your life knowing you did everything you could to improve the lives of others instead of engaging in a constant pursuit of self-gratification. People who drive Beemors don't understand these things, they think happiness is a pay-check and a clean suit.
Do you use your talents and gifts to help others or to help yourself? What luxuries do you depend on that make you a weaker person than if you didn't have those things? How much of our natural world do you *use up* for yourself, leaving the apartment dirty and poorly maintained for future generations? How many of the products and services you use would you be unwilling to work at producing for others if the shoe was on the other foot? When you grow old and the gold loses its luster, and the gems cease to sparkle, will you look back in bitterness at what you could have done (but were not strong enough) or will you be proud at the condition you left the apartment in for those who will inherit it?