Perception of Nature

David_J_Balan at Less Wrong . The basic premise is:

People have always had a religious or quasi-religious reverence for nature. In modern times, some people have started to see nature more as an enemy to be conquered than as a god to be worshiped.

I would actually say the opposite is true. People have historically and especially prehistorically a fear of nature. This may look like reverence but, from what I understand, it seems likely that people deified nature not out of love and respect, but from fear.

As in – “Lightning God, I’ll sacrifice my best goat if you stop scaring me” or “Rain God, how about some rain so I don’t starve.”

People today have never had a greater understanding of the forces of nature and been as immune to weather effects, in all but extreme cases. Since the hippie movements, and continuing today with the green movements, I don’t think you’ve ever seen a more profound respect for nature from the general public, and have responded by demanding our institutions take measures to protect nature.

We understand that economic growth relies on using nature’s resources, but have people ever before have concluded on such a grand scale that nature needs to be protected? Property rights have been used for this purpose for centuries now.

You can certainly debate the efficacy and the intentions of the political class in regards to environmental legislation, but the motives of the general public seem relatively clear.

I don’t think the reasons are altruistic, but maybe environmentalism is the newest form of signaling status… and it’s cheap too. Becoming an environmentalist only requires the purchase of a few buttons and demanding that other people do the changing.


  1. Oliver says:

    Sound point. ‘Nother thing: religion “back in the day” was really not like religion today, as EY touches upon here. In the older mode of thinking “a god to be worshiped” was to be worshiped because so you wouldn’t be struck down famine, disease, or some other crap outside of your control.

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