The Zika virus outbreak, coinciding with the start of the Olympics in Brazil, reminded me of a simple fact that humanity has known for thousands of years. It’s best summarized as:

Mother Nature Wants To Kill You

The history of human civilization has been one of figuring out how best to keep from dying. We wear clothes to protect us from temperature extremes. We build homes to keep flora and fauna at bay, to keep rain and snow off our heads and our stuff, and to better protect us from heat and cold. We salt, smoke, can, dehydrate, refrigerate and cook our food to reduce the chance that it sickens us. We develop medicines: antibiotics, vaccines, anti-venoms, decongestants, emetics, antivirals, analgesics, etc., to combat the harm Mother Nature tries to inflict. We hybridize and modify our food plants and animals. We use pesticides, antibiotics, vitamins and the like to keep them alive and robust, so that we can be alive and robust. We build water and sewage systems into our cities to keep us alive and healthy. Beer, a product born of human ingenuity, has been credited with founding and saving civilization, both because it changed humans from hunter-gatherers to farmers and because it was safer to drink than water for most of human history.

Mother Nature is chock full of poisonous plants, poisonous animals, insects, contaminated food and water, predators, carnivores, scavengers and the like. Mother Nature doesn’t like being told “no, you can’t kill me,” so she continues to innovate new bacteria, new viruses and new delivery systems for them. Modern medicine is engaged in a perpetual tennis match with Mother Nature: every time we come up with a cure for the latest superbug, Mother Nature makes a new one to try and kill us.

All this is pretty obvious to anyone who bothers to pay attention, so why bother mentioning it? Because we’ve become so successful at keeping Mother Nature at bay that we’ve forgotten her perpetual bad intent. The last few decades have been characterized far more by people doing their best to ignore the realities of nature in favor of some stylized dream of benevolence.

Look around you, and you’ll find messages about how wonderful Mother Nature is and how evil the products of modern civilization are. People eschew vaccines, GMO crops, modern agricultural processes, modern medicines and modern living. They embrace “organic,” “natural,” “GMO-free,” “herbal,” and “alternative medicine.” They identify with people like Rachel Carson, Charla Nash, and Timothy Treadwell. They were shocked when Siegfried and Roy’s tigers attacked Roy, and wondered why the tiger went crazy. They buy into the idea that human civilization is, as Agent Smith believed, a virus on the earth, that Mother Nature is some Garden of Eden that obligates humans to live “naturally,” and that the advancements in living standards afforded by human civilization are a Bad Thing.

This is all a giant load of hooey. Our lives are made better by bending nature to our will. Nature, not “Mother Nature.”

I’ve portrayed Mother Nature as a murderous harridan to rebut the white-robed Earth Mother fantasy that is the stock characterization but the reality lies in the cold indifference of this rock we live on and the biosphere that evolved on its surface. We anthropomorphize nature in order to make “natural” living seem more noble than modern, comfortable, technological living. We romanticize the noble savage that lived in harmony with a Mother Nature that, we might presume, was less inclined to kill him than to kill we who choose to subordinate nature to our own well being. The noble savage is, of course, a myth. Life during days of yore was harder, meaner, more perilous, and shorter than life today. We may lament the supposed lack of purpose in our lives by comparing it to the glamorized noble savage ideal, but any one of those noble savages would (in real life – this ain’t Dances With Wolves) swap a hardscrabble subsistence lifestyle with one were the poorest members of civilization have a level of ease that he could barely dream.

People fall prey to the soft-fuzzy portrayal of Mother Nature and the idea that there’s harmony to be found with her. Sure, it’s wonderful to go lie out in a grassy field on a beautiful spring afternoon, or take a hike through the woods on a crisp autumn morning, and we should embrace that happiness just as we embrace any other. It also behooves us to be prudent in our taming of Mother Nature, since (at least for now), this is the only rock we’re capable of living on. But, we should not make the mistake of forgetting the proper order of things. Ask any outdoorsman, any survivalist, any deep-water sailor, or anyone not living in the top tiers of human civilization (as most Americans do). Mother Nature wants to kill you, not pat you on the head and give you a juice box when you’re thirsty. We are what matters, and our lives are better when we use our technology, our skills, our innovations and our brains to make them so.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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