Re: Civilization is Natural

Technotranscendence (
Mon, 17 May 1999 21:22:24 -0400 (EDT)

At 11:32 AM 5/17/99 -0600, <> wrote:
> "Civilization is protest against nature;
> progress requires us to take control of evolution."
> -- Thomas Huxley
>Civilization is a natural, biological phenomenon.
>There is nothing in civilization that has not been a well established
>aspect of life for billions of years.
>To think of civilization as somehow "unnatural" shows a profound lack of
>understanding of life and nature as well as a profound lack of
>understanding of civilization.

Yes, but by your understanding everything that biological entities do _is_ natural. Ergo, of what use is the term?

In my view, people use "natural" in three ways. One is the technical sense, i.e., something is natural if it is part of the natural world. By this view, anything that is, from rocks to space shuttles is natural. The things that would be unnatural would be things that exist outside of the natural world, outside of reality.

Another is the more common place usage, which just means whatever the user of the term believes to be normal or acceptable. Under this usage, to the average Americans, e.g., polygamy is not natural, while monogamy is.

The third is to mean not human made. By this definition, rocks are natural, but space shuttles are not. This is perhaps as commonly if not more commonly used by most people.

Huxley was probably implicitly thinking in terms of the third usage, but the lines were blurry because in the time he was operating most people considered there to be a strong separation between the realm of human society and everything else. In essense, if we look at it this way, we can see Huxley, who didn't have the benefit of ethological studies and the like, likening human civilization -- the only one we know of at any rate -- as something sui generis. To use a metaphor, it's almost like someone comparing prokaryotes to eukaryotes. The differences might astound her so much that she fails to remember the similarities and continuities.

Aside from that, it's just one quote. We'd have to read the context to know what the heck he's rambling on about.

Anyway, take a deep breath... This too shall pass.


Daniel Ust

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