What is it to be natural?


“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them–that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
— Lao Tzu

The term “natural” may be understood in different ways respective of the context.  Yet, in every context, it is much easier to handle if viewed in contrast with its antonym. At one point, “natural” contrasts “artificial” while at another, its opposite is “cultural” and further still, it is antithetical to “supernatural”. In the first sense, what is “natural” is original and its copy or simulation is the artificial. The simplest example I can think of right at the moment is orange juice which of course is natural if derived by squeezing real oranges while artificial if what makes it look like an orange juice is the artificial coloring and the simulated taste is produced by a concoction of certain chemicals called artificial flavors.

Similar thought may be applied to human beings wherein a person whom we know very well is acting very strangely–i.e., very artificially–in a particular situation. We could make a spontaneous judgment on the matter because we know the person so well and under normal circumstances, we just couldn’t imagine s/he would act in the way s/he’s acting right now. In other words, it is a circumstance wherein the contrast between what is natural and what is artificial is so pronounced. At the end of the day, we get to the point of saying, the person wasn’t her/himself. However, the same evaluation or judgment may not be applied if the other person is a total stranger. We know nothing about her/him, i.e., we are ignorant of who s/he really is. Having this condition, there is no way for us to know what is natural and what is artificial in that person.

In many instances, many normal people tend to act artificially in public because of general social expectations–even pressures–embedded in the ways and means where we have gotten used to. We always tend to think of how the public will react if we start doing something unconventional. So the best thing to do is to toe the social line. We go the way of the majority and act artificially to maintain the convention without rocking the boat. However, we act in a very natural way in the presence of intimate family members and friends who, we are quite certain, will never expect from us anything beyond what they know of and about us since time immemorial, so to speak. And in such a condition, we don’t get ashamed. We don’t care at all even if some lapses–even craziness and stupidities–are committed because we know family and friends will always understand. Criticisms from them are always well taken with less strain and no embarrassment at all.

Being natural in the second sense, i.e., natural vs cultural, is a different state of affairs. In this context, there’s nothing negative both ways. The whole situation is basically characterized by a continuum that starts off with the natural and moves forward on a trajectory that leads to the formation of the cultural. In this particular sphere of discussion, the human factor is of the essence being a culture creator. There is no culture much less civilization minus humanity. In a more theoretical configuration, we find the human being right smack at the interspace between nature and culture. Hence, prior to human existence, we say that all was a natural domain, i.e., everything was natural.

Yet, the dynamics of what we call nature–or the natural, if you will–are distinguished by the process of evolution and the emergence of humanity is part and parcel of its orbit. In other words, the human being who is the prime author of all aspects of the global cultural landscape regardless of how diverse it is finds her/his most meaningful niche within the ambit of the natural. In this sense, it doesn’t matter at all how diametrically disparate nature and culture may be; the reality that matters once and for all is the fact that nature and culture constitute an unbroken spectrum. A further elaboration of this issue leads us to a realization that even if culture is by and large thought out in the most sophisticated operation of the human mind and substantially manifested in space-time, the most basic raw materials of physical culture amidst us are drawn and extracted from nature.

Nevertheless, even if we contend of how unbroken the spectrum that connects nature and culture may be, some infringements are however committed along the way not in the area of nature but rather in the area of culture. These infringements are not matters of lapses but of abusive acts of wanton destruction perpetrated by self-aggrandizing people to materially enrich themselves to the detriment of Earth’s natural resources. Having considered this leads us to the two sides of the human phenomenon: the creative culture-builder on the one hand and the destructive nature-abuser on the other.

Lastly, being natural in the third sense, i.e., natural vs supernatural, is simply being realistic. What is natural in this sense is that which we actually experience here and now. On the basis of this, we are all authorities of our respective experiences which in a lot of instances find a common convergence point. We understand each other and agree on many things of natural importance because many times we find ourselves in similar situations. It is realistic to say that we encounter a lot of problems in this world but in the same vein, most solutions to such problems are likewise located in this same world.

This world we live in is real and this is the main issue why we are deemed to make the best of this world. The most sensitive, sensible, responsible and committed among us are the most able and determined protectors of the Earth which is our home. There is no other nebulous world elsewhere which many religions have idealized. The supernatural is a figment of one’s imagination that gives false hope to the naïve and the brainwashed. We defend the natural because we are replete with the rational grounding to sustain its reality while upholding the “reality” of the supernatural takes a lot of imagination and presuppositions based on made-up stories elevated to the level of myths and legends.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 29 October 2015


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