Man Versus Nature

May 10, 2016

THWACK. My hand is sent flying into my neck. I look to my palm, to see the face of the captured and defeated assailant. And yet, my hand is empty. Suddenly my pupils widen and the conversation around me dissolves into white noise. I must find the culprit.


My eyes dart around the room in search of the idiotic, minuscule pest who dares encroach upon my comfort. I mean, how stupid can you be? Don't you know who I am?! I am a human! I could end your worthless life with a mere two fingers!



My neck begins to sting, partially because of the insect bite and partially due to the force of my hand smacking into myself.  After searching the air and finding nothing, I resume eating my dinner, to find the whole family staring at me. My sister is laughing.


“Did you get bitten or something? You looked possessed!”


I smile, shrug it off and continue eating, wondering about the severity of the bite on my neck. I eat my last bite, put my knife and fork together and begin to carry my plate to the kitchen. On the way there, I look at the mirror to see the damage done to me.


On my neck is a small pink triangle, inside a faint hand print, whose redness increases the longer I stare at it. I continue carrying my plate to the kitchen and I notice the pain in my neck begins to widen.


It was no longer the bite that hurt, but where I had smacked my neck. Funnily enough, I had harmed myself more than the insect that I wished to kill for harming me. The strangest part of all this however, was that I wasn't sure if I had even made a conscious decision to smack my neck. My humanness had dissolved, and from then on, impulse commandeered the ship. Was I really that different from the animal which had attacked me?


So frequently I'd heard the saying repeated that we know more of space than our own ocean depths, yet now I began to see this as a somewhat ironic macrocosm. We are surrounded by such marvellous tools, technologies and machinery and yet we do not fully understand the very minds which created them; our minds.


Consciousness remains as elusive a concept as it ever has been. Our justice system and society depends on the notion of free will, and yet, we cannot even be certain that we are indeed the curators of our actions. Any one of us could have been born with different brains, perhaps psychopathic brains, which would have drastically altered the thoughts and subsequent actions which we take in our lives.


Though what does this have to do with the bug that bit me?


Well, when talking about animals or plants, especially in the age of the anthropocene, it is likely you will encounter discussion on their relationships to humans, and vice versa. “Man versus Nature” if you will.


Though when I think about it, is there really much distinction between us and the rest of the world? We are, after all, the result of our biology and our upbringing. Both of which we had very little command over. We are the fruits of forces which have been laid onto us, forces which have carved us all into the individuals we are today. Nature, and nurture.


When we think of the greatest minds in human history, did those people choose to be great? Or was it instead because they had the right combination of genes and environmental factors to produce a genius?  We often consider ourselves as foreign from nature, as a bizarre anomaly who sits outside of the animal kingdom, watching from above as the supreme arbiters of earth. I mean, we have technology, language and society, why the hell shouldn't we consider ourselves differently!


Though what if another animal followed along the same exact historical and environmental pathway which we did? Would we then be so unique? Did our ancestors simply stumble across the right range of factors to force us to evolve the way we did?  I am aware that this discussion teeters perilously close to determinism, the idea that perhaps humans aren't really that sovereign or cognizant, but rather just another part of nature, one whose history and genetic make-up carved us a place upon the podium of survival. But can we rule it out? When you get sick, is it you who chooses to raise your body temperature levels to induce a fever? Is it you  you who chooses to sneeze? Or chooses to make your heart beat? Many of the thoughts which occur to us seem less of our own choosing, and more to have been dropped into our heads randomly. 


And yet most of human guilt, and arrogance, seems to depend upon this notion that we are in fact curators, arbiters and commanders of ourselves, while most of the things which occur within us are out of our control.


When I hear the phrase, Man Versus Nature, I now think that perhaps this more of an internal battle.

I think that we, as mankind,  in fact wish to verse nature. We need to. Because if we do not verse nature, we become part of it and suddenly we are not as special and unique as we once thought.


Image: Alex Jack

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