To say, "There is no nature" as the postmodernists do - this strikes me as a childish, undialectical attitude, even a dangerous, willful blindness.  Yet I have to admit that there are persuasive aspects of their argument.  I would say that there is an element of truth to what they say, but it is a one-sided truth.

Perhaps we might say: nature exists, including human nature, but it lacks something: the Graeco-Roman western tradition would call that which it lacks "being" - and there is a kind of truth to this old-fashioned expression.  To use Levinas's phrase, nature is "otherwise than being."  Rather than being, nature is pure becoming.  That is, it lacks permanence, regularity, constancy.  It is not a "form" in the Platonic sense.  

Where does human nature come from?  Evolution - both Darwinian, biological evolution and cultural evolution, which are inextricably bound up with each other among humans.  Our cultures have evolved to adapt to our biology, and our biology has evolved to adapt to our culture - and now they are so interwoven that no one can untangle them.  "Evolution" means precisely, change, adaptation.  Every organism, over the generations, adapts to its environment - which mostly consists of other organisms and their products.  Thus we are all constantly adapting to each other, and what we are is determined by this constant mutual adaptation.  Any regularity to nature is an illusion.  If there is anything constant about nature it is that it is constantly changing.  And even this constancy is an illusion.  The patterns that we detect in nature should not be understood as immutable, eternal laws, but rather as tendencies.  Above all, what must be abandoned is the notion of nature as something good, caring, nurturing, an eternal cycle of equilibrium, to which disturbances eventually return.  Life is characterized by development, movement, growth - almost a frenzy - a "blooming, buzzing confusion."  But not forever.  Life is not immortal - it will come to an end.  There's nothing protecting it.  

Far from thinking that there is a constant human nature that underlies history, and which will never change, the opposite is true: you can't stop nature from changing.  That's precisely the problem with human nature.  One cannot hold it still.  It's like the Andromeda Strain, continually turning into something else - unpredictable, tumultuous, dangerous.  The danger of humans is precisely their adaptability: they prove themselves, for instance, remarkably, scarily able to adapt to dictatorial regimes, all principles disappearing, just washing away.

Nature is like water, slipping through your fingers.  It's like air - you can wave your hands right through it.  Most of all, it's like fire.

One must admit that there is a parallel between the our postmodern attempts to grapple with the concept of nature and the way that St. Augustine thought about evil - that is, as absence, or privation.  This was Augustine's solution to theodicy - that is, the problem of the existence of evil, as in the famous "trilemma" that Lactantius attributed to Epicurus: "Either God wishes to take away evil, and is unable; or He is able, but unwilling; or He is unable and unwilling; or He is willing and able."  Augustine solved this, at least in his own mind, by claiming that evil has no Being.  According to Augustine, if we could properly conceive of things, that is, if we could see the world as God sees it, we would understand that all that Is is good, and evil is just a kind of visible absence.  The devil is a walking, talking concentrated nothingness.  

Similarly, for contemporary philosophy, from the perspective of western industrial capitalist civilization and the individual consciousness, nature is a lack.  But it is a real lack.  Moreover, it is a lack that appears to the understanding as a tremendous, unaccountable surplus or excess.  Nature is overflowing, like a volcano. 

Nature can be thought of as an obstacle.  But when I say this I don't mean that it obstructs our path, preventing us from getting to where we're going - it does do this, somewhat, but this is a minor, inconsequential matter, one that can be largely eventually overcome.  More fundamentally, the path that is obstructed by nature is not where we are going, but where we have come from.

If we can put any concept, any category, on nature, it would be this: nature is the uncanny.  Not unless and until you have encountered something in its pure terrifying uncanniness can you hope to have glimpsed nature itself.  Once it "makes sense," you have already retreated away from it.  Phenomenally, nature appears as the other, as an unassimilable otherness that defies comprehension.  But even this is a kind of illusion.  Nature is unknowable, not because it is something utterly foreign to you, but precisely because you are it.  It includes you and exceeds you.  The impossibility of comprehending it is analogous to the impossibility of a box containing itself.

When I say that nature is an absence, I mean that nature is a kind of epistemological gap - something which is unknowable, but which is necessary in order for you to know anything.  It lacks "substance" in the Aristotelian sense, but what is uncanny about it is that, even though it lacks substance, it's still there.  Growing, changing, elusive, hungry.

I don't like to say that human nature is good or bad, that nature is good or evil, though if you held me to the wall and made me choose, I would say "evil."  But the proper attitude towards nature is not moral condemnation, it is terror - pure, abject terror.  I mean panic, the emotion we feel when we confront Pan, which means "all."  Specifically, it is horror vacui, the terror of the void, the terror one feels confronting the fact that we live in a universe that mostly consists of empty space, being ripped apart - a universe of accelerating expanding space, without top or bottom, no up or down or left or right, just emptiness, which to the extent that it contains anything, is mostly unknown dark matter and dark energy, and a few uncanny particles that have no stable position or momentum, just clouds of vague possibility dissipating at the speed of light.

Postmodernists, by declaring that "There's no such thing as nature," are robbing themselves of the experience of coming into confrontation with this uncanny terror - temporarily.  Or at least they're trying to.  And without this experience, one can never achieve maturity.  Can't everyone see that there's something ritualistic about this?  They remind me of Little Red Riding Hood, venturing into the woods, telling herself, "There's no such thing as nature, there's no such thing as nature, there's no such thing as nature," hoping that, if she says it enough times to herself, she will believe it.

And, in an almost ironic twist, in a certain sense, the postmodernists are correct.  There's no such thing as nature, emphasis on the word "thing," precisely because nature is too powerful to be reduced to a mere thing.  Just when you think you have contained nature in a concept or a system, it leaks out, spreading its spores, adapting, changing, becoming something else.  As Jeff Goldblum's character says in Jurassic Park, "Life... finds a way."

The traditional metaphysical way of understanding nature is full of holes.  Postmodernists are right about that.  But postmodernists go on to say, "Therefore I can be whatever I want."  And postmodernists are wrong about that.  Nature subverts everyone.  Nature subverts the traditional metaphysics, and it subverts contemporary agendas.  And it subverts me, trying to write about it, right now.  It even subverts science.  And I define nature as "that which scientists try to understand."

The image I always have in my head is: being stabbed in the back.  Nature is an attack that you don't see coming.  The scientist must be stabbed in the back by nature.


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