Which nature do you mean?
I stopped to take a photo today of a praying mantis. This jerk didn’t like my attention. I’ve never seen a mantis fly, especially not right at me.
Insects in general are pretty horrible creatures. They eat anything smaller than themselves, including their own siblings and babies. They don’t often kill first either, just start eating something while it’s alive. Insects use other creatures as living incubators and feasts for their young. And there are even worse things they do.
So when I hear people contrast “nature” and “human,” especially when they accompany it with something like “humans are the only animals that kill their own” or “only humans murder for no reason,” I laugh at them. Sure, there are the crazies among us, but most wars and murders are for the same reason as the rest of nature: social or physical dominance that leads to more resources, breeding opportunities, and more babies. It really isn’t so complicated.
But empathy and compassion are the province of creatures with social groups and bigger brains, notably, humans.
Most of us experience empathy and compassion not just for those closest to us, but for other life, even life that competes with us for survival. For example, much as I have no love for insects and other “bugs”, I don’t let the kids at recess kill what they find. They sometimes kill worms, roly polies, spiders, beetles, butterflies, and lady bugs by accident (when too many kids get excited about a find and one inevitably steps on it). But some kids seek them out and step on them or use a stick, then carry their trophy around to show everyone. I stop them. I tell them to let the creatures go about their business. It’s a nice juxtaposition when I point out that they just had lunch served to them in the cafeteria but insects have to find their own. It helps them feel empathy.
But do insects deserve empathy?
When I think about it logically, the kid with a trophy on his stick makes more sense than I do.
- Destroy an enemy.
- Show off your strength to your social group.
- Gain power for better resources, mating, and babies.
It’s worked for humans for hundreds-of-thousands of years. We beat out all other human species that have lived on earth. I think of our two closest living relatives: the male-dominant, violent, aggressive chimpanzees are quite successful; It’s the female-dominant, gentle, socio-sexual bonobos who have a far smaller population.
So if you embrace nature, if you love nature, if you pattern your life and choices after nature or follow a philosophy/religion with “natural” principles, I have to ask…which “nature” do you actually mean?