Most self respecting Disinfonaughts will, at some point or other, have been condemned for the crime of being ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal’. These words play on an implicit root assumption that anything ‘unnatural’ is in some sense immoral or evil. Rest assured that those who try to attack you with such labels imprison only themselves. The truth, in a literal sense, is that there is nothing in this universe which is “unnatural”. Even metaphorically the word “unnatural” is almost irrelevant because our minds cannot glimpse that which it describes and can only hypothesise that it might exist.
“[T]o call something unnatural is not an act of taxonomy but a moral judgement. The unnatural act is something we are supposed to condemn. […] Our disapproval stems from the theological tradition of natural law [..which..] plays out in a rationalistic yet teleological universe in which everything has a part to play, and all things have a ‘natural end’ which, being ordained by God, is intrinsically good.”
Here he is speaking about moral judgements suggested by the word in relation to controversies in science surrounding genetic engineering or cloning. Such debates are often framed by detractors as being about the implicitly immoral consequences of scientists who dare to “play God” but are often cloaked by concerns about people doing something “outside of nature”.
Certainly from a strictly rational perspective the word is fairly meaningless as by definition it cannot be observed in our natural universe. The dictionary defines it thus:
- Contrary to the ordinary course of nature; abnormal.
- Not existing in nature; artificial.
In a rational context the first definition isn’t very useful. How can a rationalist decide what is or is not “normal” without coming to deeply personal and subjective judgements? Most people might feel their personal perspective is ‘normal’, but as a result condemn themselves to living in a world where everyone else’s point of view is therefore abnormal.
So, some substitute the word “average” for “normal” and attempt the problem from that perspective. However, the more specific your number or measurement of the “average” the more confusing the picture becomes as more people will be excluded from it.
“The average is that which no person quite ever is”
– Robert Anton Wilson
The most famous example is the “average” family, described as having 2.4 children. It’s fair to say that this imaginary “0.4 child,” is a concept which in isolation is absurd. In a literal sense the “0.4 child” cannot exist, it’s a metaphor to describe statistical anomaly. For me the “0.4 child” is a reminder of the fact that the pursuit of “normal” or “natural,” when described by the laws of averages, produces an offspring which can only exist in our imagination.
Now, look to the second definition: “Not existing in nature; artificial”. What does this mean, where do the limits of “nature” end? Once you’ve answered that question we should be able to look beyond those limits and discover this illusive “unnatural” state. Suppose, for argument’s sake, we define the natural world as only being planet earth. This would make the moon “unnatural” but it is clearly not “artificial” as it appears to have been created by the same forces that fashioned the earth. However we can agree that as an environment fit for humans, who lack ingenuity, it certainly is “unnatural”. However I know few who do not celebrate our conquest of it.
The irony of the word is that it is most frequently used when the influence of human ingenuity is immediately apparent. For example, few consider ant hills or wasp’s nests to be unnatural but will happily condemn towns and cities. A dam built by people would be seen as an awful blight on the environment but if it was the work of beavers, no “eco warrior” would arrive to protest it. Equally a person who builds and flies a machine is against nature but a bird who has evolved wings is not.
Those who shout that something is unnatural are, in my opinion, the kind who will opine that people are innately immoral. This is ironic given that we are clearly one of the few creatures capable of moral judgements. It’s an overhang from the doctrine of “original sin,” and those who use it betray a deep hatred of humanity and all the things we do well.
This domain that lies outside “nature” is a fiction which exists nowhere in our solar system, surrounding galaxy, or indeed universe. Like the paradoxical square circle it is a construct that can only reside in our mind as a hypothesis of the absurd. Furthermore it is not to be condemned but celebrated and enjoyed. Being called “weird” or “odd” usually means only that you have been condemned for possessing an imagination. The word has been a constant attack on human ingenuity and progress.
I am against nature. I don’t dig nature at all. I think nature is very unnatural. I think the truly natural things are dreams, which nature can’t touch with decay.
– Bob Dylan
So rejoice in your unnatural dreams. Reject the absurd notion that the imagination is to be condemned and finally, revel in the conquest of the “natural world” with all its cancer, diseases, death, decay and suffering. Long may you be weird, long may you be strange and long may it be in your nature to be unnatural.
My twitter: www.twitter.com/nickmargerrison
Unnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People by Philip Ball
 Apart from the conspiracy theorists. That annoys me. Alright, so it appears they messed with a few pictures, doesn’t prove they didn’t go. It’s cool we went to the moon, don’t ruin it for me! I’m a kid of the 80’s I still want to be an astronaut.
 There’s debate on this, obviously. Frans de Waal claims to have witnessed inter-species acts of empathy between bonobos and birds. His work is particularly interesting.
 People are good.
Step 1 You’re a person.
Step 2 If you do not think people are good then you must also be bad.
Step 3 If you are bad your judgements are suspect and you are not capable of making a fair assessment of humanity.
Step 4 Therefore, logically speaking, you must believe people are good.
It’s only those who want to keep you down that need you to think otherwise.
I can’t source this, I heard it somewhere once and am including it in the footnotes to this Disinfo article with that note. It’s possible I made it up OR stole it off Alan Watts… anyone?
In the real world I'm a freelance TV/radio presenter. I've worked for LBC, Kerrang Radio, The Bay, Edge Media TV, Hallam FM and The BBC.
My podcast is here: http://thecultofnick.libsyn.com/
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