Tinkering with Nature talking while walking in nature

Concepts of nature and the ‘natural’ order of things form a central anchor in public discourse about human, animal and plant biotechnology. The very complexity of the word ‘nature’ contributes to its rhetorical power. As a powerful ideological anchor, ‘nature’ is often used to appeal to what is ontological, God-given, the proper order of things, untainted by humans, primordial. Appeals to nature or to natural qualities invoke genuine, eternal and non-negotiable qualities, with the result that disagreements about the proper treatment of nature tend to be heated and tinged with moral indignation.

With the elevation of ‘nature’ comes the denigration of whatever is seen as not natural, which, by implication, is regarded as questionable, immoral, unethical, dangerous, or simply ‘unknown’. Nature thus elevated is “pure” and the non-natural a form of pollution. In this view, mixing of the natural and the unnatural upsets the harmony and balance in nature, opening up a Pandora’s Box of runaway reactions.

The unnatural is generally associated with human artifice and imposition. Materials and substances fabricated by humans are often considered unnatural and potentially harmful to the natural order, as with the use of man-made fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture.  For some, tinkering with nature through genetic engineering is especially reprehensible and if allowed unchecked would unleash a plague of ills upon humanity and the planet.

The risk of genetic engineering is often presented not in terms of specific predictable consequences but as a lack of knowledge of consequences: potentially disastrous unknown unknowns. For these critics of genetic engineering, t he precautionary principle holds: in the absence of scientific consensus that an action is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action. Those more open to genetic engineering may ask: which scientists? And how much agreement constitutes a “consensus”?

So let’s talk about how we view nature and tinkering with nature.  What does the word ‘nature’ evoke for us? What are the implications of our view of nature?

We’ll meet at the entrance (where there is parking) and take the Preserve’s 1.7-mile loop, which descends into a mature bay forest, follows the contour for about half a mile, and then ascends to the  botanically rich upper trail. For a less strenuous walk, we’ll stay on the upper trail, which begins on the right fork. The walk takes about 2 hours. Bring water. No dogs or bikes. Afterwards we’ll have a picnic near the trailhead - ­ bring something to eat/drink.

Readings (about 100 pages):

Ignorance, the Precautionary Principle, and Sustainability
http://biophilosophy.ca/Teaching/4040papers/Dovers.pdf

Tinkering with Nature by Anders Hansen
http://revcom2.portcom.intercom.org.br/index.php/cs_um/article/viewFile/4689/4406

Environmental Ethics
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-environmental/

Faking Nature (in the Files section; login to Meetup required)
http://files.meetup.com/299745/Faking%20Nature.pdf

The Big Lie: Human Restoration of Nature
http://www.erie.buffalo.edu/REU/REU%20readings/TheBigLie2.PDF

The Nature of Artifacts
http://www.csid.unt.edu/Files/3TEP/3TEP%20Vogel.pdf

Click for directions to Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve.

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  • Peter

    An injury prevented me from going on the walk, but I was with everyone for the first hour of the picnic, and we had a good discussion about the diverse points of view expressed in the readings. Unfortunately, not everyone had done all the readings, probably because the total length was quite long. Another problem was that only two members actually went on the walk together; two others arrived separately and didn't see anyone from the group, so they each walked alone. (There were also five "Yes" RSVPers that none of us ever saw.) Although nobody actually complained, we should try to coordinate better next time. For this event, if we had known what the others' cars looked like, that would have helped, because there were only about ten cars in the parking lot.

    August 2, 2011

  • Peter

    I updated the location with an address that points to the correct place on Google Maps.

    July 13, 2011

  • Katelyn

    Sounds cool. I think the Oakland Hills would be neat, but either option sounds great. Meetups too far in advance are hard for me to remember, so the sooner date might be better.

    July 10, 2011

  • Peter

    I changed the settings so that only organizers can edit this event. Once the date was set, it was impossible to unset it, and I had to change to an actual date. My suggestions: Saturday, July 30 or August 6, at either Tilden Park in Oakland or Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve in the Oakland Hills.

    July 9, 2011

  • A former member

    A former member changed the location to St Helena Public Library

    July 9, 2011

  • A former member

    A former member changed the date and time to Sunday, July 24, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    July 9, 2011

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Rafaël

We just grab a coffee and speak French. Some people have been coming every week for months... it creates a kind of warmth to the group.

Rafaël, started French Conversation Group

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