May 19, 2010

A Natural Arrogance

I've been thinking of a number of topics to write about and have came up with quite a few good topics for posting, but I think this one might be the topic that I see flaunted around the most without it even being analyzed. This one refers to the common belief and appeal to something being natural is akin to something good for human consumption, or something non-harmful to people. This belief has a counter-belief that goes with it as well, the belief that something that is artificial is bad for people in some way.

It may be at first obvious that most absolutes like this are wrong in some way. There could be an artificial 'black swan' substance out there that isn't bad for people, or there could be a small minority natural things that would be harmful to people. I'm not stating that there are some exceptions to the rule, I'm saying that the rule is broken, it doesn't work.

I think this mistaken belief has came from the sheer arrogance of people and can be traced back at least to Thomas Aquinas. He created a purposeful world where, if it rained it was to water the grass and in this world people were at the center of its purpose (look at his natural law and how man alone was endowed with reason). Even natural evils have their purpose. That being said the idea that everything natural has a purpose, is meant for humans and has existed for a long time along with people are mistaken and arrogant beliefs.

It is extraordinarily arrogant to believe that the world was put here for us and that everything in the world has a purpose. It is a step further than that to say that everything that is natural is good for people. The world is abrasive.  To demonstrate this a person could just go outside, where-ever they are, and eat any random leaves or animals they run into, it wouldn't take very long before this natural world makes you extremely sick at the minimum. Natural things aren't necessarily good for people, and in many cases they are hazardous. Mold, Cyanide, Arsenic, Lead.... are all natural and all not safe at some level. The claim all natural is supposed to make it seem like the product is safer, less harmful to the environment, but that is not the case.

Eric Schlossen, in his book Fast Food Nation (pages 120-130), points out that the differences between natural and artificial flavors isn't very great, and that in fact many 'natural' flavors have to go through more processing than the artificial flavors. In fact often they use the same chemicals derived by different means. The key to food safety is not whether something is natural or not, it has to do with its testing and track record.
So when you see something that say's 'all-natural' it doesn't mean anything outside of a marketing ploy. Make choices based on food studies, not the distinction between what is natural and what is artificial. 

I was going to end with that, but I just want to make a comment of Genetically Modified Food and labeling. Many people who have fallen for the 'all natural' belief want the GMF's to have a label to say that they have been genetically modified. I actually agree with them in theory, but I disagree with them for a different reason. It is great to know what you are eating and where it comes from, but labeling something as a GMF would create a non-rational fear of that product that would bias what is really a safe and well tested food. Genetically modified foods have to go through a bunch of tests and get approved, you don't get that same level of guarantee with some natural products. If you want to know more on this issue just watch the Bullshit episode on it and look into the issue.

Looking into those food issues will change how you view 'all natural' and GMF's and you'll probably even gain a deeper understanding of the world around you, even if it doesn't have a purpose.

Thanks for reading,

The Moral Skeptic

1 comment:

  1. I was just reading Skeptic North and came across and article much like I wrote above, so it you liked this one, then you'll probably enjoy this.