Is Man Part of Nature

Do you have a conversation topic that doesn't seem to fit any of the other conversations? Here is where we discuss ANYTHING about Joseph Campbell, comparative mythology, and more!

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Clemsy
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Post by Clemsy » Mon Jan 18, 2010 3:27 pm

Bill Moyers: "So when we say, 'Save the earth,' we are talking about saving ourselves."

Joseph Campbell: "Yes...
JJ, I've always considered this "save the earth" theme in the environmentalism movement to be misguided at best. At worst it's an expression of that dualistic attitude, (also represented by the quote from Hepburn's character in The African Queen. She's a Methodist missionary... what else could she say?) that's been pounded into the Western mind by the hammer of biblical interpretation.

After all, we exist within a narrow window of environmental parameters.

Nature and natural are defined by context. Somewhere in there, however, is an idea that it means healthier. Any given species can behave against its own best interest, especially in extremis. We use 'unnatural' to define human interference or intervention, which is fine in demarcating the line between intervention and a 'natural' course. Often, such intervention is deemed unhealthy compared with the natural course. (i.e., 'natural' vs. medically managed birth) Very often, that intervention is validated by the twisted perception that 'natural' is unhealthy. (i.e. the virtual elimination of breastfeeding in mid 20th century America.)

Of course, when something 'natural' is deemed unhealthy, someone is going to make a buck off the 'artificial' alternative. The fallen aspect of nature is very good fodder for the profit motive.

There's lots of hair splitting of words here, which certainly makes for a successfully long discussion! But in the long run, if our behavior results in our extinction, we will have been just another species that was here for a bit and then died out. And we will have died out for the same reason lots of other species do: an inability, or unwillingness, to balance ourselves with the parameters of our habitat.
We are, in fact, productions of this earth. We are, as it were, its organs. Our eyes are the eyes of this earth; our knowledge is the earth's knowledge. ~Campbell
Not a bad way to spend the day, even if Moyer's constant biblical references get a bit tiresome after a while!
Moyers is a Baptist minister! What else could he say? :lol:

Watson's reply to this is valid. Alas I buried him on the previous page. This bit particularly:
Moyers' conversations with Campbell were intended first and foremost for an American audience steeped principally in the Bible, didn't it simply make practical sense for them to discuss the Bible considerably more than other mythical traditions? Because the Bible is the main body of myth that most of the intended audience knew more about in the first place.
Quite so. Moyer's was helping the Western audience connect Campbell with their previous knowledge. Good teaching, that.
Give me stories before I go mad! ~Andreas
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Post by jonsjourney » Mon Jan 18, 2010 5:05 pm

JJ, I've always considered this "save the earth" theme in the environmentalism movement to be misguided at best. At worst it's an expression of that dualistic attitude, (also represented by the quote from Hepburn's character in The African Queen. She's a Methodist missionary... what else could she say?) that's been pounded into the Western mind by the hammer of biblical interpretation.

After all, we exist within a narrow window of environmental parameters. -Clemsy
I guess I interpreted Campbell's statement as an attempt to illustrate, in a way that the audience could readily understand and in response to Moyer's question, the idea of accord, rather than some sort of "this way is better than that way" sort of manifesto for environmentalism. Specifically, I felt that Campbell was trying to drive at the idea that a more "naturalistic", or in accord, view of existence would be to recognize the human brain's psychological adjustment to knowledge of our own mortality being expressed in mythology and, subsequently through religion. Just like when he cites the Gnostic texts stating things like "I and the Father are one" and "The kingdom of Heaven is spread before you upon the Earth". Do you think maybe I was missing his point in this part of the conversation?
Moyers' conversations with Campbell were intended first and foremost for an American audience steeped principally in the Bible, didn't it simply make practical sense for them to discuss the Bible considerably more than other mythical traditions? Because the Bible is the main body of myth that most of the intended audience knew more about in the first place. -Watson
Agreed. I just felt like saying that I found Moyer's constant referring back to the Bible to be tiresome after watching all the episodes. That being said, he did seem to be attempting in a serious way to incorporate much of what Joe was saying, even if it seemed contrary to his established beliefs.

Also, just because something is the established majority does not mean it is the best way to approach something. A good reporter, who may have his own personal biases, needs to ask appropriate questions that need not necessarily serve the majority, but instead a sincere search for truth.
Moyers is a Baptist minister! What else could he say. -Clemsy
Funny. My good friend has a close colleague who is a minister. He is one of the most interesting people you will ever talk to. Far from stereotypical. In fact, I think many Christians would consider him a heretic. His perspective is based upon the fact that he recognizes the inherent flaws in the Bible and its reliability of sources. This does not prevent him from being a believer and bringing the message to his flock each Sunday.
"He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot." -Douglas Adams
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Post by Clemsy » Mon Jan 18, 2010 5:44 pm

I guess I interpreted Campbell's statement as an attempt to illustrate, in a way that the audience could readily understand and in response to Moyer's question, the idea of accord, rather than some sort of "this way is better than that way" sort of manifesto for environmentalism.
Absolutely, JJ.I was pointing out the hubris inherent in the 'save the earth' theme. I think the clearer focus, saving ourselves, may be more productive. Exercising a power that will never be more than magical thinking, saving the earth, will not only not save the earth (which doesn't require saving anyway), but may allow us to continue ignoring the most effective means of saving ourselves.

Which would then be nature's way of saying, "Oh well. Back to the drawing board."
Give me stories before I go mad! ~Andreas
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Post by noman » Mon Jan 18, 2010 5:59 pm

Joe says...

"...Now, the biblical tradition is a socially oriented mythology. Nature is condemned. In the nineteenth century, scholars thought of mythology and ritual as an attempt to control nature. But that is magic, not mythology or religion. Nature religions are not attempts to control nature but to help you put yourself in accord with it. But when nature is thought of as evil, you don't put yourself in accord with it, you control it, or try to, and hence the tension, the anxiety, the cutting down of forests, the annihilation of native people. And the accent here separates us from nature."

From my 1988 book version of Power Of Myth, page 23-24.

* * * * * * *

The above quote helps to illustrate why we seem to attempt to separate what we perceive to be unnatural from ourselves.


I think that if Joe was asked directly is man a part of nature or is there anything we can do that is separate from nature (?), he would have probably said that since we come from nature, that which we extend from this assumption is natural.

- JJ


* * * * * * *

Would it not make the word' natural' useless if absolutely everything we do could be termed natural?

- Evinnra

We have a problem. A BIG problem. I don’t mean ‘we’ at this forum. I don’t ‘we’ as modern Westerners. I mean ‘we’ as in humanity.

As Evinnra says, you can’t use the word ‘natural’ without implying that there is actually something that is not natural. Otherwise the word wouldn’t have any meaning at all. And as the definitions JJ posted illustrate, we use the word a lot. So it must mean something. The definitions show that what is not natural is often something that is extraordinary. For example, in the devil’s bible (a deck of cards in the old west), a natural royal flush is one that doesn’t have any wild cards. The ‘wild’ cards, whether deuces or jokers are rare compared to the set of natural cards.

When we began building cities ten thousand years ago we knew we were ‘freaks of nature’. That is why we came up with the concept of ‘natural’. Many of our most powerful myths speak to this knowledge. No sooner did we make that distinction but we were confronted with another problem: which is better, natural or ‘human made’. The reason nature is evil in the Bible (the real one), is that we tend to cheer for the underdog. Those magnificent cities we read about in the ancient near east weren’t really much more than one of our little one-horse towns. Nature had its foot on the throat of humankind so-to-speak. But now, the tables are turned (at least in our psyches); and we, human beings, have our foot on the throat of nature. So we root for the underdog.

Well, Campbell says we should abandon the idea of there being a conflict at all. I don’t think that’s possible. If that ever happened, the meaning of the word ‘natural’ as it applies to human beings would disappear. There is something grave and constant in the human condition that won’t allow this conflict to go away, something that makes many of our most potent myths timeless truths, something that makes us – human.

- NoMan
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Post by Clemsy » Mon Jan 18, 2010 6:24 pm

we, human beings, have our foot on the throat of nature. So we root for the underdog.
Really? If you must. I think a Haitian would look at you kind of oddly...

The throat our foot is on, I fear, is our own. Physically improbable the metaphor may be, but there it is. We're an itch capable of scratching itself. The elephant just yawns.

The Five Worst Extinctions in Earth's History

I like this one in particular:
Permian-Triassic extinction, about 251 million years ago. Many scientists suspect a comet or asteroid impact, although direct evidence has not been found. Others believe the cause was flood volcanism from the Siberian Traps and related loss of oxygen in the seas. Still others believe the impact triggered the volcanism and also may have done so during the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. The Permian-Triassic catastrophe was Earths worst mass extinction, killing 95 percent of all species, 53 percent of marine families, 84 percent of marine genera and an estimated 70 percent of land species such as plants, insects and vertebrate animals.
Nature has set the bar rather high. However, nature is forever optimistic and treats these events as ...opportunities. It just keeps on keepin' on.

In my own opinion, of course.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away". ~Percy Shelley
Give me stories before I go mad! ~Andreas
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Post by nandu » Mon Jan 18, 2010 7:09 pm

The idea that we can "destroy" nature is laughable, as Michael Crichton rightfully pointed out in Jurassic Park. We can make it unlivable for ourselves, which is what we are currently doing. We have no control over nature; we only hallucinate that we have.

I come from a culture which worships the earth (read "nature") as mother. The following is one of my favourite Sanskrit slokas:

Samudra vasane Devi
Parvata sthana mandale
Vishnu patnim namastubhyam
Paada sparsham kshamasva me


(Oh Goddess, who wears the sea for a dress and has the mountains for breasts, I bow to you, O wife of Vishnu: please pardon the touch of my foot.)

We are supposed to recite this every morning as we get out bed, begging pardon, because we are going to walk over the earth the whole day. Somewhere on the way to "progress", we lost this respect, and began talking about "exploiting" natural resources.

Let us hope that the next generation does not pay the price.

Nandu.
Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu
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Post by Clemsy » Mon Jan 18, 2010 7:31 pm

Hi Nandu! Good to 'see' you!
Give me stories before I go mad! ~Andreas
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Post by nandu » Mon Jan 18, 2010 7:52 pm

Yes Clemsy... it's good to be back!
Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu
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Post by jonsjourney » Mon Jan 18, 2010 8:10 pm

As Evinnra says, you can’t use the word ‘natural’ without implying that there is actually something that is not natural. Otherwise the word wouldn’t have any meaning at all. -noman
Natural
Unnatural.

It
Not it.

Right
Wrong.

God
Not god.

Us
Them.

Does the hero's journey lie down any of these roads?


Nandu....very nice to see you here again. :)
"He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot." -Douglas Adams
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Post by richard silliker » Mon Jan 18, 2010 8:22 pm

jonsjourney
Natural
Unnatural.

It
Not it.
Suggestion. Try juxtapositioning of the words. l:l symbol for juxtaposition.

Natural l:l unnatural

unnatural l:l natural

and so forth.

RS
"We sacrifice the whole truth of any given experience for the value to which we are constrained".
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Post by Clemsy » Mon Jan 18, 2010 8:27 pm

Unless, of course, 'unnatural' is a subset of natural which branches off from the subset of 'human.' Might seem contradictory, like a koan, but then I've come to expect a bit of chaos theory and quantum contradiction wherever I turn my head. If everything were neat and tidy, words would have only one definition. :lol:
Give me stories before I go mad! ~Andreas
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Post by noman » Mon Jan 18, 2010 9:43 pm

Hi Nandu,

Nice to know you’re still among the living.

But now, the tables are turned (at least in our psyches); and we, human beings, have our foot on the throat of nature. So we root for the underdog.

- NoMan

* * * * * * *

Really? If you must. I think a Haitian would look at you kind of oddly...

- Clemsy


* * * * * * *

We have no control over nature; we only hallucinate that we have.

- Nandu
That is why I said ‘at least in our psyches’. I know it’s not true. But it is one of those powerful hippie-myths I always harp on. Mother Nature just laughs at our arrogance.

The research biologist Lynn Margulis is known for her work in evolutionary biology. Richard Dawkins said of her:
I greatly admire Lynn Margulis's sheer courage and stamina in sticking by the endosymbiosis theory, and carrying it through from being an unorthodoxy to an orthodoxy. I'm referring to the theory that the eukaryotic cell is a symbiotic union of primitive prokaryotic cells. This is one of the great achievements of twentieth-century evolutionary biology, and I greatly admire her for it.

- Richard Dawkins
In her book Symbiotic Planet Margulis wrote:
P115 Life is a planetary-level phenomenon and the earth has been alive for at least 3,000 million years. To me, the human move to take responsibility for the living Earth is laughable – the rhetoric of the powerless. The planet takes care of us, not we of it. Our self-inflated moral imperative to guide a wayward Earth or heal our sick planet is evidence of our immense capacity for self-delusion. Rather, we need to protect us from ourselves.

P128 We cannot put an end to nature; we can only pose a threat to ourselves. The notion that we can destroy all life, including bacteria thriving in the water tanks of nuclear power plants or boiling hot vents, is ludicrous. I hear our non-human brethren snickering: “Got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now,” they sing about us in harmony. Most of them, the microbes, the whales, the insects, the sea plants, and the birds, are still singing. The tropical forests trees are humming to themselves, waiting for us to finish our arrogant logging so they can get back to their business of growth as usual. And they will continue their cacophonies and harmonies long after we are gone.

Symbiotic Planet , Lynn Margulis, 1998
The truth is we humans are still the underdog and probably always will be. That is why we glorify every success, why we deplore every failure, and why we laugh so much – laughing at ourselves - in humility.

But the idea, or myth if you will, of having 'our foot on the throat of nature' has repercussions. How much of global warming is 'natural'? How much of it is due to human behavior? Without the dicotomy of man and nature; this question has no meaning.

To 'put oneselve in harmony with nature' as Campbell suggests, implies that we have other options. And if we have other options, we are not completely part of nature.

This has been a problem ever since we climbed down from the trees, started walking on two limbs, learned to control fire, and tasted that forbidden fruit. It all happened so fast. And now, everything we see or concieve of we place some sort of value on. Is Nature evil? Is Nature good? If man is 100% natural (no artificial colors or flavorings added), how can a judgment be made? How can a piece of nature like ourselves determine what parts of nature are good and what parts of nature are bad? Any criteria we use will be 100% naturally influenced. We don't allow alleged criminals to judge themselves. Nor do we allow their alleged victims to make the call. True values can only be derived by transcending nature.

If the people here that don't agree with that last statement are correct, then, eventually, the word 'nature' will fade from our vocabulary because there will be nothing outside of nature to give the word meaning.

- NoMan
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Post by Clemsy » Mon Jan 18, 2010 10:48 pm

But it is one of those powerful hippie-myths I always harp on.
Can you discuss anything without pulling this into it? I'm not going to comment further than that because this thread won't be dragged off onto that overworked and, frankly, tiresome theme.

Leave it at that.

Besides, the 'at least in our psyches' part is due to this:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our
likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over
all the earth
, and over every creeping thing that creepeth
upon the earth. ~Book of Genesis
Not this:
We are stardust, we are golden,
We are caught in the devils bargain,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden. ~Joni Mitchell
:roll:
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Post by S_Watson » Tue Jan 19, 2010 12:04 am

"And we got to get ourselves back to the garden"

My garden has spiders in it. From an insect's point of view it's a kind of hell.
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Post by jonsjourney » Tue Jan 19, 2010 12:14 am

We don't allow alleged criminals to judge themselves. Nor do we allow their alleged victims to make the call. True values can only be derived by transcending nature. -noman
From whence do the edicts come? (I have already ruled out the evil hippies)
Suggestion. Try juxtapositioning of the words. l:l symbol for juxtaposition. -RS

Natural l:l unnatural

unnatural l:l natural
This does create the necessary corridor! :wink:
My garden has spiders in it. From an insect's point of view it's a kind of hell. -Watson
Hell is what we make it. No?
"He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot." -Douglas Adams
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