The Difficulty in Defining What is “Natural”/”Unnatural”

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In reading Cronon’s Natures Metropolis, I was particularly taken by his contention that the boundary between what is natural and unnatural might not be as clear cut as is often thought. It seems that my classmates have taken particular interest in this same point, as everyone mentioned this notion to some degree or another in their blog posts. For me, having grown up primarily in large, urban cities, I have always seen rural life as separate and unfamiliar–perhaps even ignorantly, less “modern”. To then read Cronon’s take on cities forced me to think more deeply about how I view urban vs. rural spaces in relation to one another. Further, Cronon’s argument that, “City and country might be separate places, but [are] hardly isolated,” led me to consider whether cities and the country are truly independent spaces. As Cronon writes, “The more I learned the history of my home state, the more I realized that the human hand lay nearly as heavily on rural Wisconsin as on Chicago” (p. 7). Even further, cities and countrysides are quite interdependent. It is at this point where defining what is natural vs. unnatural becomes problematic.

I see the same issues in defining nature as in defining disaster. Wells brings up in his post Cronon’s idea of “First Nature” and “Second Nature.” I think these terms are helpful tools when discussing what is/is not nature. In my historiography paper, I discussed the vagueness of the word disaster and it’s potential to be problematic in the field of disaster study, but concluded (through examination of Bergman, Hewitt, and Biel) that it may not be that problematic after all. A changing/vague definition forces us to constantly reconsider the subject, perhaps leading to some new, previously overlooked, ideas on the subject.

Going now in a slightly different direction, I enjoyed Amani’s discussion of the morality of city and country. I think her question is a great one because there does seem to be a widely accepted notion that country represents the natural, which is better than cities which represent the unnatural. But if we consider Cronon’s argument that the two are interdependent, and that rural farms are not as natural as we might think, then this ascription of moral adjectives is no longer viable.