by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 6
July 2021
Reaction
07:00

Sorry Extinction Rebellion, but nature is not progressive

The world is, I'm afraid, dreadfully reactionary
by Peter Franklin

Apparently, “nature is queer”. That must be true because Extinction Rebellion said so yesterday in the following tweet:

Mysteriously, the tweet was subsequently deleted. Does that mean that nature isn’t queer after all? Or did someone within the organisation suddenly realise the full implications of what they were saying?

For a start, rooting claims about the fluidity of gender in biological sex is a dangerous thread to be pulling on. Whatever trees may get up to, our mammalian relatives are overwhelming cis-normative.

But there’s a more general problem with looking to the natural world to provide a model for progressive politics. Mother Nature, I’m afraid, is a dreadful reactionary. Famously red in tooth and claw, she gets up to all sorts of stuff that would get her cancelled on any self-respecting campus. 

In fact, if nature were a person, she’d be arrested for a very long list of offences. You could name just about any crime on the statute book and find an equivalent among the birds and the bees. 

The natural world offers examples of entire societies that provide the worst possible role models — for instance, the ruthless resource exploitation of the locust swarm or the totalitarian hierarchy of the ant colony. Even those huggable trees set a poor example. For instance, some species rely on allelopathy — i.e. poisoning the local environment in order to monopolise it. 

Some people argue that environmentalism is a substitute religion. If so, then it’s a rather different faith from the one on which western societies were built. The Judaeo-Christian tradition, while praising the glories of creation, also recognises that something has gone very badly wrong with it. The doctrine of the fall doesn’t just state that sin has corrupted mankind, but by extension the world as a whole. 

Christian morality therefore does not encourage us to behave like the beasts. And neither does the secular liberalism that grew out of the Christian worldview. Progress is — or, at least, was — seen as a movement away from the uncivilised state of nature.

But now nature is seen as something we need to get back too. In fact, in many ways it is held up as the highest good. For instance, we are urged to tackle climate change not to save ourselves but to the ‘save the planet’. 

This is a mistake. Viewed on a geological timescale, the planet will be fine. If, however, we want to avoid environmental chaos on a human timescale, we need to behave in a very unnatural way i.e. unselfishly.

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  • I spend a lot of time around animals and birds, and nature is most certainly ‘red in tooth and claw’. For them, life is extremely brutal and uncertain. Do we really want our lives to be like that?

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