Monday, March 23, 2020

“Mother Nature”?

Let me try this: A good word to describe the coronavirus crisis is “biblical.”

Now I don’t want you to misunderstand: I don’t believe in God. A biblical interpretation of this crisis goes against everything my rationalist mind and education have taught me.

But the paradigm, or the metaphor, seems so apt. This is Sodom and Gomorrah all over again. God’s revenge, punishment for our sins, for our descent into greed and selfishness, for raping the planet, for excessive hedonism and materialism, for Wall Street, etc.

Okay, convert the term “God” into “Nature.” Then, the metaphor works better already: We are destroying the planet. Even so, a near unanimity of economists - left and right - still agrees that the solution to poverty, inequality and all other economic problems is GROWTH. It is almost universally agreed that a 1% growth rate is bad (that’s often Europe’s rate), a 3% rate is pretty good (something the US achieves occasionally) and that 6% to 10% annual growth, which China has often achieved in recent decades, is the envy of the world.

But in fact, economic growth is destroying the world.

For decades, some people have been warning us that when man continues to meddle with nature and cause imbalances, “mother nature” has a way of retaliating, of making “corrections.” This is by now a commonplace idea, shared by scientists, philosophers, hippies and others.

We introduce rabbits in Australia, and they eat up the country. We introduce some new plants and fishes into various North American lakes, and this kills all pre-existing life in those waters. We warm up the planet, and the number and power of hurricanes rises dramatically.

To quote my sister Madeleine and philosopher Martha Nussbaum: “...nature always has a way of taking revenge. Winter takes revenge on summer, night takes revenge on the day and animals take revenge on humans. It's all a matter of balance. Nature abhors imbalance.” 

But not to worry, we hear: Human technology will come to the rescue. We can continue to grow the economy as long as we switch to new forms of energy such as solar and nuclear.

So mother nature faces two problems: (1) the sheer growth in our NUMBERS, and (2) our ever-more invasive intervention in nature. The logical correction, then, is to (1) stop human intervention in the natural order, and (2) reduce the number of humans. Ergo: the coronavirus.

Okay, okay, I’m babbling nonsense. There is no such thing as a (conscious) Mother Nature. The earth is not GAIA, a super-organism with an immune system to rid it from invasion by a destructive bug - humans.

But it sure LOOKS that way, doesn’t it? So: “God” or “Nature,” take your pick. If you go with “God,” you can be an evangelical, repent, and pray for forgiveness. If you go with “Nature,” you can be an environmentalist with a mystical bend. As to me, while I don’t subscribe to either of these two concepts, I am nevertheless struck by their verisimilitude.

© Tom Kando 2020;All Rights Reserved

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