Alienation and Nature

The problem of interaction between nature and culture is quite relevant nowadays. It becomes especially acute and urgent for the contemporary world community, which is rightly called the technogenic civilization. The humanity has managed to push back the threat of nuclear self-destruction at the cost of enormous efforts, but the threat of environmental and technogenic disasters remains constant. From time to time, this threat turns into a terrible reality, but there are no grounds for a hope that such events will decrease.

Reasonable understanding and building relationships of natural and cultural aspects have become especially important when warnings about the global ecological catastrophe start sounding more and more insistently. Active and transformative impact of humans on the planet is increasingly enhanced, but it is certain that there is an alienation of culture from nature in this process. The humanity lives in an increasingly artificial world in which the increased power of a human being turns against them. Today, the environmental component in the growth of the culture system and establishment and development of ecological culture are especially significant, i.e. the ability to find “common ground” with the natural world. The optimum ratio of culture and nature is a major global challenge for the humanity. Thus, people are currently alienated from nature as much as they have never been.

Attitude towards Nature in the History of Humanity

Culture is often defined as the “second nature.” This understanding goes back to the ancient Greece. For example, Democritus believed that “Nature and education are somewhat similar. The latter transforms man, and in so doing creates a second nature” (qtd. in Delaney, 2011). Certainly, education serves as an integral part of culture.

One approach to the problem is formulated in contrasting nature and culture, while another approach defines the relationship of nature and culture (culture is impossible to be without nature; the nature is a source of culture).
Initially, culture was considered as something supernatural, other than natural; something that arose not “by itself”, but as a result of human activity. At the same time, culture includes both the activity and its product. It should be noted that activities (especially in the early stages of human development) are organically connected with the fact that nature offers in its primordial state to man. Direct exposure to environmental factors (terrain, climate, presence or absence of energy and raw materials, etc.) can be clearly traced in different directions, from tools and technology to peculiarities of everyday life and the highest manifestations of the spiritual life. This suggests that cultural reality is nothing but natural, extended, and transformed by human activity reality. At the same time, culture is the opposite of nature, i.e. eternally existing and evolving without human intervention (Delaney, 2011).

Christian tradition has radically changed the view of people at their environment. It has inherited not only a linear concept of a unique historical time from Judaism, but also a legend about successive stages of creation, in particular, creation of a very human being. According to this religion, a human rises above the nature. Human’s spiritual monopoly has begun to assert itself in the natural kingdom. Effective practical disposition of the Western Christianity has contributed to the conquest of nature.

Holistic and comprehensive understanding of the nature, as it had been formed in ancient philosophy, was destroyed in the following centuries. At different times, there were specific versions of nature, in which private interpretations turned out to be universal.

A huge nature’s impact on the human lifestyle (culture) was first expressed by the theoretical concept, namely, the so-called geographical determinism (Jean Bodin, Montesquieu, and Jacques Reclus). It claims that environment is the determining factor in social cultural development. The influence of the nature is interpreted materialistically (living conditions) and ideologically (formation of mentality and psychological constitution of mind). Supporters of geographical determinism also refer to the immutability of the environment and its impact on humans.

For a very long time, in the West there has been a view that people can claim if not conquer after a long period of primitive savagery and homelessness, but at least subordinate nature due to rapidly expanding demands, which are the hidden engine of every culture. Speaking about the “great general problem of self-preservation in the struggle against overwhelming power of nature,” Sigmund Freud, for example, wrote:

It was precisely because of these dangers with which nature threatens us that we came together and created civilization, which is also, among other things, intended to make our communal life possible. For the principal task of civilization, its actual raison d’être, is to defend us against nature. (qtd. in Beattie, 2013).
The above words of Freud seem to be completely fair, but they refer only to a certain stage of the Homo Sapiens’ existence on the Earth. According to the approximate data of anthropology, a human as a living creature appeared on this planet millions of years ago and the first more or less recorded distinct “cultural” manifestations are aged under a half a million years (Delaney, 2011).

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One can try to distinguish four periods in human relation to nature in this huge time interval:

  • Human’s immersion in nature;
  • Isolation from nature, opposition and fight against it;
  • Appeal to nature for mastering it;
  • Restoration of people’s connection with the soul of nature and the spiritual mastery of nature.

Freud’s words, of course, can only relate to the second and third periods and represent the entire known history of creative human existence from the “paganism” and to the modern epoch, which is far from a perfect “civilization”.
From the philosophical and anthropological point of view, artificial environment created by labor and human thought, the peculiar system of extrabiological mechanisms or so-called “cultural layer” on the surface of the Earth, in its depths, depths of oceans, atmosphere, and in the near space can regarded as a “second nature.”
The revolutionary role in clarifying the inextricable link between culture and nature belongs to the outstanding scientist and thinker Vladimir Vernadsky. He organically connected in his extensive works natural sciences and humanitarian vision of the world, earth sciences and “living matter” with the sciences of man and society, contributing to the transformation of cultural studies into a comprehensive doctrine of the future and examining the fate of humanity in the inseparable unity with nature and outer space (the so-called anthropocosmism) (Pilgrim & Pretty, 2010).

Vernadsky’s doctrine of the noosphere has determining value for contemporary culture studies. Considering the noosphere (sphere of reason) to be the highest form of continuation of the biosphere, he talked about the world of spiritual and material culture, which originated from plant and animal life and eventually turned into a geological factor after many millions of years of human existence, amending and spiritualizing the face of the Earth and the nearest space (Pilgrim & Pretty, 2010). Vernadsky hypothesized that a new type of energy associated with mental activity and mind, which became an important force in shaping the new face of the planet, started to operate with the appearance of people on the Earth along with other forms of energy and biochemical energy of living matter (Pilgrim & Pretty, 2010).

At the end of the 20th century, the question of the relationship between people and nature could be put this way: how fruitful “metabolism” between the biosphere and the noosphere is and whether people and the civilization will destroy biosphere or even the entire planet or not.

Alienation from Nature

Bacon’s point of view on the nature proceeds from the fact that scientific knowledge is nothing but the technical power over nature (Wade, 2002). Introduction of this viewpoint into mass consciousness had far-reaching consequences. After becoming the norm of human activity, this concept turned out to be the greatest historic event since the invention of agriculture; it was the greatest not only in human life, but also in the life of the planet. It is no coincidence that slow accumulation of environmental changes was accompanied with dramatic shifts exactly in the era of modern times when the alliance of science and technology was implemented in Europe and North America. A point between theoretical and empirical approaches to the environment formed in the Western culture at the time.
When the artificial and technical component dominates over the natural and organic one, it is a symptom of the degeneration of culture. Meanwhile, people have begun to lose their natural roots when they created a supernatural world. Nature has turned out to be torn to pieces. People have suddenly found a striking syndrome of destructiveness. Realizing that nature is the only hearth, a person has at the same time begun burning it, incinerating it, breaking it down, and blowing it up.

Modern technological culture demonstrates alienation from nature. This culture mediates the relation of man to nature in a deeper and more complex way. The degree of alienation of man and nature increases as a consequence. Building a supernatural reality, people gradually lose natural roots of their being and natural determination of their existence. Culture of the20th and 21th centuries has showed this clearly and maximized this alienation, which has given rise to “technocratic” forms of human existence followed by environmental problems. Growth and development of culture are accompanied with the fact that the organic unity of man and nature fades and decreases. Nature is an environment of instinctive human habitation and humans are not able to exist as a species outside of it.

Along with that, no less significant and real human environment is the culture that creates an over-instinctive behavior system. Currently, ecological human activities and ecological culture are of critical importance. The dramatic situation experienced by the modern society is largely due to catastrophic changes in the natural world as a result of human activity. Ecological culture contains new values and ways of production, as well as political and other activities designed to preserve the Earth as a unique ecosystem.

Its mission is to raise man and nature relationship to a new level and introduce knowledge about these relationships in the system of cultural values. This will require a reorientation of all kinds of human activity, mentality, goals, and ideals, i.e. worldview. Nature in this worldview must be considered as a value in itself and its transformation must be authorized by the highest spiritual sense, not technocratic indicators, as is often done in the modern culture. Such assessment of nature should be immanent to human self-consciousness, not just to its culture. Under this approach, humanism must necessarily include values and ideals of ecological character, i.e. a need to go beyond anthropocentric values and ideals. Perhaps, it will be biosphericentrical mentality and worldview where the main task of cultural and creative activity of people should be limited to the development and establishment of ecological self-sufficiency of the humanity.

Hostility or Harmony?

Humans cannot be excluded from the process of determining the culture. Culture, for example, cannot be reduced to the nature transformed by human beings because such an interpretation overlooks people. Traditional cultural studies postulate that culture is superimposed on the natural principle and is opposed to it (Wade, 2002). The relationship between culture and nature, therefore, acts mainly as hostile and irreconcilable because culture binds natural potencies of humans.

Anthropologically-oriented philosophers consider the relationship between nature and culture as non-hostile and available for harmonization. However, many other thinkers interpret the relationship between nature and culture as the escalating conflict (Wade, 2002). They believe that culture is initially hostile to people and nature. Philosophers, therefore, should not overlook tragic consequences that follow from this antagonism.

While social connections between people are patriarchal, transparent, and easy to control, a discord between nature and culture is not identified. Gradually, however, irreconcilability between nature and culture becomes clearer in the process of complication of social relations and strengthening of cultural norms governing individual behavior. Instinctive human sphere cannot withstand the increasing pressure. Confrontation of nature and culture has brought to life those nightmares, which are written in cultural studies (Attfield, 2014). They view ecological crisis, nuclear madness, and paranoid human behavior as a consequence of escalating clashes between nature and culture.
In this regard, the philosophy of culture discusses the question of how it has happened that there has been a turn for alienation of man from nature in the history of the humanity. Some researchers believe that the source of environmental problems is the Judeo-Christian belief in the human vocation aimed at domination over nature (White Jr., 2014). However, there is a question of whether this concept correctly interprets the biblical faith in the rule of man or, on the contrary, the Old and New Testaments express a more enlightened and noble attitude to nature.

According to U.S. Professor Lynn White Jr. (2014), “historical roots of our ecological crisis” go back to the Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation. In a more specific sense, these roots are linked with the belief that man has been created in the image and likeness of God, he has been involved into transcendence in relation to nature, and the whole order of the world’s natural life has been created for the sake of the humanity. Roots of the crisis are found in the confluence of science and technology, which ultimately occurred in the 19th century. However, beliefs laid in the Genesis underlie science and technology (White Jr, 2014).

According to Lynn White Jr. (2014), the victory of Christianity over paganism was the greatest revolution of consciousness in the history of culture. Currently, people all over the world live in the post-Christian era. What does Christianity tell people about their attitudes to nature and life environment? Many of the myths of the peoples throughout the world give a description of the history of creation. In this respect, Greco-Roman mythology is quite different. Thinkers of the ancient West denied, like Aristotle did, that the visible world once had a beginning (White Jr., 2014). It is impossible to introduce the concept of the origin in their scheme of cyclic understanding of time.

Christianity is in sharp contrast to this view because it inherited from Judaism the concept of time as a linear and non-repeating matter. The almighty and loving God created step-by-step the darkness and the light, heavenly bodies, and the earth with all its plants, animals, birds, and fish. Then, a man appeared. He gave names to all animals, establishing his dominance over them in such a way (Beattie, 2013). God has provided and planned all these things solely for the use of man so that he could rule the world: every natural thing has no other purpose but to serve the purposes of man.

The relation of man to nature in Christianity is determined largely by the fact that he, like God, is transcendent in relation to the world. Completely and irreconcilably opposing to ancient paganism and Asian religions, Christianity not only postulates a dualism of man and nature, but also justifies the idea that God’s will lies in the fact that the humanity should exploit nature for the sake of its goals (Beattie, 2013).
White Jr. emphasizes that every tree, every water stream, and every hill had a spirit-defender in antiquity. These spirits were accessible to man, though very unlike him, centaurs, fauns, sirens, and naiads were all dual characters. Before one cut down a tree, dug a pit, or cut off the river, it was important to arrange a certain spirit in one’s favor that owned a certain situation and to make sure not to lose its mercy in the future. After destroying such pagan animism, Christianity has opened a psychological opportunity to infinitely exploit the nature.

However, it is not known for sure whether Christianity is guilty of historical roots of the ecological crisis. Some scholars come into direct debate with Lynn White Jr.. According to Robin Attfield (2013), the relationship between science and the doctrine of the creation of the world is very close. Belief in the creation of the world means the possibility of natural science and faith in the rule of man over nature implies that the very dominance is a humanitarian duty. Robin Attfield (1991) notes that the concept of Christianity as a culprit of ecological crisis has logical inconsistencies. It is strange, for example, to discover that the same approach manifests itself not only in the post-Christian times, but in societies like Japan, which were never really Christian. However, this statement is easily refuted by the fact that Japan started to have ecological problems at the moment it faced the Christian world.

The author of this research tends to agree with Lynn White Jr.. Perhaps, there is no eternal and constantly escalating conflict between nature and culture. However, discarding pastoral and idyllic abstract notions of original harmony of nature and culture, it is important today to develop the concept of salvation of organic and civilized heritage of the humanity and to humanize culture. Religion prevents this cultural humanization. Thus, today it is a question of how to create a new environmental ethics instead of obsolete and inoperative religious beliefs. People will overcome their alienation from nature at the time when religion is gone.


Currently, people are alienated from nature as much as they have never been. This alienation is fueled by two controversial branches of culture: technological and religious. If people cannot overcome the technological issue since it is a logical consequence of human progress, then they should overcome the religious one.
Technological culture mediates the relation of man to nature in a deep and complex way. The degree of alienation of man and nature increases as a consequence. People gradually lose natural roots of their being and natural determination of its existence. Technological culture of the 20th and 21th centuries has shown this clearly and maximized this alienation, which has given rise to “technocratic” forms of human existence and environmental problems. Nature is an environment of instinctive human habitation and humans are not able to exist as a species outside of it. Growth and development of technocratic culture are accompanied with the fact that the organic unity of man and nature fades and decreases.

However, culture should gradually establish a relationship with nature as its object, i.e. people should introduce culture of environmental activities or, better to say, the ecological culture. People should introduce knowledge about these relationships in the system of cultural values. However, a contemporary Christian religion prevents such introduction. Thus, people should get rid of it in order to make relevant changes. This will require reorientation of all kinds of human activity, its mentality, goals, and ideals.

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