But It’s Natural

Over the years, this argument has been put forward time and again in conversations I’ve had. When somebody is trying to justify smoking pot all day, for example, they may say, “Well, it’s natural.” Ok, I suppose it does grow out of the ground, so I guess that means it’s good to continuously inhale smoke from this certain plant? This seemingly full-proof argument got me thinking though, what really is natural? And just because something is “natural” does that mean it is good?

The initial premise of marijuana being natural may be a little more complicated than meets the eye anyway. I suppose it’s natural, but only in the same way a chihuahua is natural. Both have been taken so far from their original forms that they barely resemble them. Cannabis in its original form is a plant with many uses. It can make paper, rope, soap, and yes, it can even be smoked, but didn’t have the same effect. Over time humans selectively bred the plants to get higher and higher (appropriate word) levels of THC, the drug in the plant that causes that stoned feeling the user is after. At this point, modern marijuana is to the original cannabis plant what a chihuahua is to a wolf. Yes, it’s a living thing, but humanity’s meddling probably makes us more the creator than God/nature/evolution at this point. I mean, do these look like the same animal anymore to you?

But then again, is something “unnatural” just because it was tampered with by humans? This brings us to another point. Many people also use the opposite of the “It’s natural, man.” argument; also known as the “That’s not natural, man.” argument. I was discussing nuclear power with someone the other day, and they said they were opposed to it for that very reason. If human beings are a natural part of this planet though, how are we capable of being unnatural? Shouldn’t everything we do be natural? If beavers can clear-cut forests to build their dams (using their dental advantage), and bears can rip deer to shreds for dinner (using their strength and claw advantages), why can’t we use our mental advantage to build nuclear plants while continuing to be just as “natural”?

It’s just not clear to me how all the other animals can rearrange their environments and maintain their status, but not us. We are smarter and more able to do drastic things, but we are not alien to the planet. We are, after-all, just another species using our natural capacities to achieve whatever we can with what’s around us.

If the “natural” police want to just limit the human race to the sorts of things that the other animals can achieve, then they have no right to wear clothes, fly in airplanes, cook food, or read this blog entry. Humans are really a strange sort of animal, but if nature produced us, by definition, everything we are capable of doing is natural. Atomic research, nuclear fusion, astro-physics, you name it; it’s natural, man.

What goes unsaid is the assumption hidden behind the “natural” argument; that if it is natural, it is good. But is all that nature produces good? And is every use we find for anything in nature good? Well, what about heroin poppies and all the poisonous plants one could put in a pipe and smoke? No? Well, then smoking from selectively-bred marijuana plants aren’t necessarily either. So, it could be that all that is natural is not necessarily good, and all that is unnatural (if we somehow agree that we are capable of doing unnatural things) is not necessarily bad.

Maybe instead of looking at whether doing something is natural or unnatural when approving or disapproving of it, we should look to other qualities, like what is right and wrong according to objective standards of morality. Under this paradigm, a lot of things that are completely natural, are still wrong. Animals rape, steal, and murder as part of their day-to-day life. Humanity also has natural inclinations to do these things, but maybe nature is not the best moral guide. Maybe ethics has more to do with seeking the common good. Maybe we should be thinking more about whether something is “good” or not and less about whether it is “natural.” Heroin, rape, and nuclear bombs are all equally natural (at least according to my more generous definition), but that makes these things sound morally-neutral and inevitable. What I’d rather discuss is whether they are good.


Posted on July 20, 2012, in Religion. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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