The Unnaturals

 

Blueprint_for_Vetruvian_man_by_ThE_UnKO_LeMaLife has a natural order which must be respected in order to achieve happiness. Most conservatives agree to that. Men and women are naturally different. Children are naturally different from adults. Suffering and death are a natural part of life, and we should be skeptical of any utopian scheme that wishes to circumvent them.

I concede all that. Yet in conceding that, I cannot help but conclude that my own existence is deeply unnatural. Let me explain.

Without the intervention of modern medicine, I would have died several times over in childhood. If you asked me whether Mother Nature intended me to be alive, the only reasonable answer I could come up with is “No”. Moreover, I’m a third-generation unnatural: the child of a child who would have died in childhood without heroic medical intervention. I married a man who has robust good health, but it’s likely that our children (should we manage to have any) will be fourth-generation unnaturals.

Moreover, asthma — the most obvious (though not the only) problem that should have caused my childhood death — intensifies with each successive generation. My siblings were luckier, some not having asthma at all. But when children with asthma are rescued from death and survive to reproduce, is it any surprise when future generations are born with worse asthma? Moreover, wouldn’t we expect similar results to hold for any heritable malady that used to kill people off before they reproduced but now — thanks to modern technology — doesn’t have to? What, if anything, does that mean for humanity as a whole?

Now, many asthmatics are highly intelligent and productive people. That is, productive if they can keep the asthma and its many comorbidities under control. Thanks to modern pharmacology, many can. Regardless, asthma is inherently an impediment to productivity and even life itself. Attempting to live a productive life with severe asthma these days involves all sorts of artificial manipulation, from consumption of artificial hormones to injecting yourself with mouse antibodies raised in hamster cells. Sometimes, even that is insufficient.

Wait, back up a sec. Injecting yourself with mouse-hamster antibodies in order to become more productive? Isn’t that sort of like transhumanism?

Well, is it?

Or what if — instead of injecting themselves with the mouse-hamster antibodies — asthmatics could inject themselves with a virus that infected their DNA with genes to express those antibodies? Would deliberately changing their DNA in this way make asthmatics any less human?

So often on Ricochet, we talk about natural-versus-unnatural in the context of death or reproduction; but if this divide is important at the endpoints of life, isn’t it more important in its midst? Where do we draw the line between natural and unnatural survival, between natural and unnatural functioning? And is it any surprise that — to unnaturals like me — the line already seems pathologically blurred? Is it any surprise that we unnaturals who respect traditionalist arguments for natural human boundaries also feel alienated from those boundaries?

What about you? Are you an unnatural, too? Has that changed your conception of what “natural” means, or if “natural” means anything at all?

Image Credit: DeviantArt user ThE-UnKO-LeMa.

 

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  1. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Midge,

    Try walking a mile in my sock.

    • #1
  2. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    I also am–my mother and I would both have died during birth had it not been for a caesarean sction. But that’s much older technology than what you’re describing. Maybe that gets to the point, though–humans have (unless it’s been barred by some religious injunction, as has been the case over the years with transfusions, transplants,  etc) always striven to overcome nature. Even if they weren’t allowed to, they always thought of ways to do it. Even things like fire, shoes and clothing are not natural, to say nothing of anaesthesthetic dentistry. 
    Not sure you’re properly characterizing the conservative position on nature, though. Lifelong monogamy really isn’t natural, it’s a long-running tradition–a construct–that conservatives largely support because it is a favorable way to channel and shape peoples’ natural impulses

    • #2
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Jason Rudert:

    Not sure you’re properly characterizing the conservative position on nature, though. Lifelong monogamy really isn’t natural, it’s a long-running tradition–a construct–that conservatives largely support because it is a favorable way to channel and shape peoples’ natural impulses.

    Well, that’s just it. Conservatives can mean more than one thing when they bust out the word “natural”. And the unstated conflicting usages puzzle me. I think they allow for sloppy thinking, too. Hence this post.

    • #3
  4. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Midge,

    I have no doubt that a lot of our food is unnatural so the truly natural person is rare. You can still claim unique and original though. No one would ever confuse you with boring that is for sure. Too bad you have no sense of humor. (BTW, do snakes laugh? I know they wag their tails a lot but I don’t think that counts.)

    • #4
  5. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    For example, I have no doubt we have people on this site who would be leery of ART (artificial reproductive technology) even if it didn’t involve the death of fertilized eggs or embryos (which many people consider human beings for perfectly understandable reasons). If they are leery of such artificiality at conception, what do they make of using similar artificiality (or at least artificiality that seems similar to me) for survival, or simply to increase human functioning?

    • #5
  6. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    I used to refer to these folks as the 80%.  That is to say, up until the Rockefellers financed the creation of modern medicine, 4 out of 5 children died in farming-based communities, typically before the age of 5.

    I didn’t have a required medical intervention to live as a young child, but I did have a bunch of interventions, any one of which might (not would) have killed me, up until about 5 years ago.  (Yes, I also have asthma.)

    But I would dispute your phrase “naturals”.  What you’re describing is the most natural process imaginable.  Let’s say you have a child who is saved from being eaten by a lion.  That child is therefore an “unnatural”, just as much as a person who is saved by a doctor from a bacteria.  But there’s nothing more natural than attempting to avoid a predator.  There’s nothing more natural than suffering ill-health through malnutrition.

    Humans have distinguished ourselves among animals by having more control over our predators than any other species ever has.  (I’ll include microbes as predators, for some of them are, like anthrax, are.)

    This may be novel, but it’s not unnatural.

    (BTW, as someone who managed to get his daughter fired by her allergist, I’ve got a slightly different view on how to manage this stuff.)

    • #6
  7. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    For example, I have no doubt we have people on this site who would be leery of ART (artificial reproductive technology) even if it didn’t involve the death of fertilized eggs or embryos (which many people consider human beings for perfectly understandable reasons). If they are leery of such artificiality at conception, what do they make of using similar artificiality (or at least artificiality that seems similar to me) for survival, or simply to increase human functioning?

     Midge,

    Just one word “Botox”.  How unnatural is that?

    Hollywood Actresses come with part numbers now. Some actually have 5 mph collision bumpers front and rear others just have airbags. Wait, come to think of it unnatural is the new black, right?

    • #7
  8. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Tuck:

    But I would dispute your phrase “naturals”. What you’re describing is the most natural process imaginable.

    I would dispute this usage of “natural” too, honestly (or perhaps whether “natural” even has a well-defined meaning). Yet I keep on running into it. So I’m trying to understand what people mean when they use “natural” in this way.

    • #8
  9. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Jason Rudert:

    Not sure you’re properly characterizing the conservative position on nature, though. Lifelong monogamy really isn’t natural, it’s a long-running tradition–a construct–that conservatives largely support because it is a favorable way to channel and shape peoples’ natural impulses.

    Well, that’s just it. Conservatives can mean more than one thing when they bust out the word “natural”. And the unstated conflicting usages puzzle me. I think they allow for sloppy thinking, too. Hence this post.

     Yes, I agree. Most of politics, religion and science is an attempts to overcome nature, and it’s strange when an appeal to nature is used to justify an institution that evolved specifically to overcome nature. (WRT gay marriage, is where you usually see this.)

    • #9
  10. CuriousJohn Thatcher
    CuriousJohn
    @CuriousJohn

    Being allergic to just about everything when I was a kid.   Im sure I would have died at youth any time before WWI      I take it for granted that I can eat anyting now.

    • #10
  11. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Jason Rudert: Even things like fire, shoes and clothing are not natural, to say nothing of anaesthesthetic dentistry. 

    Actually, there’s fairly good evidence that the use of fire drastically changed human — or proto-human — physiology to the point that we’re completely dependent on it.

    • #11
  12. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    Jason Rudert:

    Even things like fire, shoes and clothing are not natural, to say nothing of anaesthesthetic dentistry. Not sure you’re properly characterizing the conservative position on nature, though. Lifelong monogamy really isn’t natural, it’s a long-running tradition–a construct–that conservatives largely support because it is a favorable way to channel and shape peoples’ natural impulses

    Excellent points, Jason.  When people talk about how GMO crops are unnatural, I think to myself, so what?  Shoes, clothing, houses, cooking, and eyeglasses are unnatural.  Even people in the Stone Age altered their environment to increases their chance of survival. 

    • #12
  13. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Tuck:

    But I would dispute your phrase “naturals”. What you’re describing is the most natural process imaginable.

    I would dispute this usage of “natural” too, honestly (or that “natural” even has a well-defined meaning). Yet I keep on running into it. So I’m trying to understand what people mean when they use “natural” in this way.

     MFR, I suspect you’re over-thinking this.  First, when most people use the term “unnatural,” they have no idea what they mean except that they don’t like something.  The opposite for “natural,” which often means that they want you to buy their brand of cereal.  (“Gaea Nuggets are totally natural, organic, sustainable, and locally sourced!’)

    Second, the human body was designed (by evolution or God, take your pick) to last about 40 years.  After that, things start breaking down.  Energy, eyesight, memory; eventually heart and brain.  Especially, though, fertility – because once you have reproduced, evolution is done with you (and apparently God doesn’t have much interest anymore either).

    Third, I’m glad you’re alive and I hope you are too.  Thinking that maybe you shouldn’t be is kind of, well, unnatural.

    • #13
  14. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Larry3435:

    Third, I’m glad you’re alive and I hope you are too. Thinking that maybe you shouldn’t be is kind of, well, unnatural.

    Oh, I dunno about that ;-)

    Suicides have run on both sides of my family, and there’s most likely a strong genetic component to that sort of thing. Having an unmanipulated genetic inheritance from your family: natural, right?

    • #14
  15. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Midge,

    Who do you think is natural?

    I worry that your thinking is making you sad so seriously I have tried humor. I am not being a smartaleck but I am deeply concerned. You know this about me.

    • #15
  16. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    I’m reminded of the Great Chain of Being. It’s sloppy and often difficult to apply, but it strikes at truth. A human being is inherently worth more than a dog or dolphin, regardless of intelligence or incapacity. But is a dog worth more than a gerbil?

    Likewise, we can sort and prioritize treatments, appendages, manipulations, replacements, and such without claiming perfect awareness. The key is to understand what is integral to human nature and what is incidental. Scientists, artists, and philosophers have been trying to figure that out since the dawn of history. 

    • #16
  17. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Life has a natural order which must be respected in order to achieve happiness. Most conservatives agree to that. Men and women are naturally different. Children are naturally different from adults. Suffering and death are a natural part of life, and we should be skeptical of any utopian scheme that wishes to circumvent them.

    As others — and you — have pointed out, I think you’re playing with various meanings for the word ‘natural’ here. 

    Your very first statement would (will) give rise to a wide range of responses from Ricochetti, I suspect. Some would deny any necessary moral link between what nature decrees and what happiness consists in. Others would go the full teleological hog.

    Similarly, the natural differences between men and women on the one hand and adults and children on the other will resonate very differently.

    Finally, to say suffering is a natural part of life can mean wildly diverse things, from “the poor are always with us” to “there are some parts of biology man messes with at the peril of his mortal soul”.

    Great post. For an unnatural. (So where is the line between human and posthuman with blurred vision, glasses, and lasik?)

    • #17
  18. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    I reject the whole distinction of “natural” versus “unnatural.” Virtually all animals manipulate their environments, and some species make tools to help them do so. I fail to see any reason why what humans do should be called “unnatural” just because we’re better at it than other animals. A condominium is no less natural than a beehive.

    It is our nature to use our brains to protect ourselves and others in our society. If my wife had been allowed to bleed to death after giving birth, that would have been unnatural.

    • #18
  19. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    genferei:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Life has a natural order which must be respected in order to achieve happiness. Most conservatives agree to that. Men and women are naturally different. Children are naturally different from adults. Suffering and death are a natural part of life, and we should be skeptical of any utopian scheme that wishes to circumvent them.

    As others — and you — have pointed out, I think you’re playing with various meanings for the word ‘natural’ here.

    Sure am. Maybe if we play with the term, we’ll understand the way we use it better. When you consider all the ways it’s used, ‘natural’ is a very weird word indeed.

    Some would deny any necessary moral link between what nature decrees and what happiness consists in. Others would go the full teleological hog.

    Yes, and I’m interested in that full teleological hog. I don’t understand the hog, but I keep seeing it around. What’s it doing, rooting around the conservative movement the way it does?

    • #19
  20. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    For example, I have no doubt we have people on this site who would be leery of ART (artificial reproductive technology) even if it didn’t involve the death of fertilized eggs or embryos (which many people consider human beings for perfectly understandable reasons). If they are leery of such artificiality at conception, what do they make of using similar artificiality (or at least artificiality that seems similar to me) for survival, or simply to increase human functioning?

     I think there’s a big difference between improving the lives of ourselves and others and creating life (vs being blessed by new life).

    Tuck: Humans have distinguished ourselves among animals by having more control over our predators than any other species ever has. 

     And this is why.

    Humans controlling the outside world (our predators) seems entirely natural.  A crutch, a wheelchair, a medicine, a procedure all seem to be ways that we find to overcome our weaknesses and better navigate the world around us.

    Creating life seems to become man’s mastery over man.  That’s scary territory.

    Manipulating DNA?  Boy… I dunno… but what a fascinating question.

    • #20
  21. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: So I’m trying to understand what people mean when they use “natural” in this way.

     Generally, but not in your case, it means people have a somewhat romantic attitude about life, and haven’t thought things through very well. ;)  It’s known as the “naturalist fallacy”, as much as I hate assign everything to a fallacy.

    I was thinking through the same thing, and that’s why I started using the 80% phrase, as it describes the symptom, but not the cause.  As there are clearly several causes.

    • #21
  22. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Actually, there’s fairly good evidence that the use of fire drastically changed human — or proto-human — physiology to the point that we’re completely dependent on it.

     Better than fairly good.  They did an experiment where they looked at raw-foodists (people who won’t eat any cooked food, since cooking is “unnatural”.  It leads to malnutrition.  We cannot survive on raw food alone any longer.

    • #22
  23. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Larry3435: Second, the human body was designed (by evolution or God, take your pick) to last about 40 years.

     Longer than that, but not immortal.  It’s more like 70-80 years, and can be substantially longer if you’re lucky.

    • #23
  24. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Aaron Miller: A human being is inherently worth more than a dog or dolphin, regardless of intelligence or incapacity.

     Why?

    • #24
  25. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Casey: Manipulating DNA? Boy… I dunno… but what a fascinating question.

     Ants have been doing it for millions of years.  We’re late to the game.

    • #25
  26. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Jason Rudert:

    Most of politics, religion and science is an attempts to overcome nature, and it’s strange when an appeal to nature is used to justify an institution that evolved specifically to overcome nature.

    I sense there’s a feeling among some conservatives, though, that certain modes of civilization really are more natural than others. This despite the conservative contention that civilization is how we overcome nature.

    The idea of certain civilizations (or certain aspects of civilization) being more natural than others, while potentially confusing, isn’t therefore without merit, though. Many of us get a feeling at one point or another that it’s better to work “with nature” rather than “against” it, whether we’re talking about the operation of markets or how we should eat and exercise. To harness nature without crushing it, or something like that.

    This might be a practical attitude (it’s simply more efficient to “work with” nature much of the time) or a more mystical one (we have a moral duty to respect nature in a certain way – though presumably that duty falls short of Gaia-worship, or else we have no warrant for laughing at Leftists for doing it).

    • #26
  27. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Midge I too am an unnatural having been saved from the brink of death at the hands of bacterial meningitis at a young age.  I am grateful for any technological push that takes us farther away from nature, nature is brutish and cares not for any of us.  

    I am constantly fascinated with the obsession over “natural things”, natural is always better they say.  Tell that to those who have died from  strychnine, clostridium botulinum, or arsenic.

    • #27
  28. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I like Ann McElhinney’s take on “nature”: Nature’s a b-b-b-witch. Our goal should be to live as unnatural a life as possible. Air conditioning, washing machines, medications, highways, airplanes, cooked foods — Yes!!
     
    Drill, baby, drill!!

    If you want to talk SSM, we’re going to need a time machine to transport us back to at least Aristotle.

    • #28
  29. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Tuck:

    Casey: Manipulating DNA? Boy… I dunno… but what a fascinating question.

    Ants have been doing it for millions of years. We’re late to the game.

     Late my foot!

    Terro

    • #29
  30. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Most of politics, religion and science is an attempts to overcome nature

    Life is an attempt to overcome nature.  Nothing is more natural than entropy. 

    • #30

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