Nature and Culture

June 24th, 2015, 10am

From time to time in these sketches, I have given thought to what people mean by the common distinction between nature and culture. Of course, both words have many meanings in English, but I suppose the most common usage would contrast the god-given with the man-made. I intend the term ‘god-given’ here in the sense in which both Christians and Atheists can concur as when, for example, the founders of the American republic referred to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” Nature, then, refers to plants, animals, unsullied landscapes, and what we now think of as ‘ecological’ principles and processes. Culture consists of human constructions, inventions and doings.

In the photo above, one can see a metaphoric rendering of Nature and Culture coming together. Some might see a delightful collaboration in which natural and cultural elements combine to form a pleasing composition; while others might discern the eternal struggle between the two. Consider how God’s flowering shrub will one day both undermine and overgrow the decorative wall so lovingly rendered by human hands.

Indigenous cultures are much less likely to recognize this distinction between nature and culture. The idea of nature would, for better and worse, include mankind along with the plants and the animals. But for modern man, culture now reigns supreme. In the photo, the plant forms have likely been genetically formed by human intervention, and in any case, they have been placed, indeed ‘planted’ to please the eye of man. All, all is culture. Even the climate is driven by the insatiable pressure of immediate human ‘need’, though, no doubt, a wiser culture would have acted in a timely way to offset the disasters ahead.

Personally, I dwell in utopian dreams in which humans relearn from their indigenous ancestors and compatriots that man is not separate from, and master of, nature. Dreams in which we, as a species, sink back knowingly and lovingly into the arms of Nature’s God.

Shu, Steve, Aparna, Peter and 2 others said thanks.

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David Wade Chambers

Born in Oklahoma: 30 years in US. 6 years in Canada, 40 years in Australia. Academic field: history and philosophy of science. Currently, teach indigenous studies online at Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) and Brandon University (Manitoba). Come visit our B&B on Australia's Great Ocean Road. Mate's Rates for Hi community! (

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