I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday. She was questioning nature, wondering if we were really doing anything bad to it. Her hypothesis was that Nature–the all-powerful, abstract entity that she be–wouldn't have devised a race that could damage her against her will. Therefore, by acting in what we perceive as a destructive way, we're doing what nature intended us to do...an interesting idea.
But I countered. Aristotle said that man is a rational animal, but I think there was a time when man was less rational, more animal. Aristotle would agree, noting that to the extent an animal is not rational, it is not a man. Thus the word we really have trouble with here is "man": man in the romanticized sense of the word, not in the homo sapien sense of the word. To say that a true man is rational in light of, well, humanity, just shows how far men are from the rational animals they're called to be.
Looking at humans from an evolutionary perspective (I accredit this bit to Hitchens), we are only partly rational. Our frontal lobes are too small, adrenal glands too big, and, as Hitchens continues in God Is Not Great "our reproductive organs apparently designed by committee; a recipe which, alone or in combination, is very certain to lead to some unhappiness and disorder." All of this begs the question, "Did nature make a mistake?"
I say yes and no. I think that cats are perfect, as are dogs and dolphins, sharks, leopards, sloths, and frogs. None of these species hoards that which it doesn't need; each of them helps to maintain some ecosystem. Humans were like that too, once. People hunted and gathered; they didn't take what they didn't need. They were the ultimate check on the system of checks and balances that is, in a sense, the circle of life. Gradually, they became agricultural. Hoarding began. Later, when hoarding of goods made money, people drove species to extinction that nature perhaps intended to live, plants and animals alike. Nature didn't make a mistake in creating us, but did make a mistake in giving us all the capacities to destroy her without foreseeing that we might do so. What's the proof that nature didn't intend it that way? My best attempt to answer that is with more questions. How many people today truly know nature? How many revel in it? Live off of it and it alone? What about people three thousand years ago?
In isolating ourselves so much from nature, we've become unsympathetic to it. Psychological studies show that people can't treat things poorly when they sympathize with them, but you can't sympathize with things you don't know and love (to some degree). Our ancestors (forgive the ambiguity of that term) had a more profound understanding of nature than we do. Nature's mistake was in giving us the ability to feel as if we could transcend her.
But feel the -343 degree chill at Tufts at 3:15 AM while smoking a cigarette with frostbitten hands, and her grandeur's tough to forget.