View part I here.
By the 19th century the Western world was busily developing a mechanistic view of life. No doubt many culprits contributed to the undoing of Mother Nature but one character worthy of attention is Baron Justus von Liebig.
In around 1840 von Liebig invented artificial fertilizer, his research proving that nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are all that’s required to nurture plants. What a fool Mother Nature was to think that you needed those creatures of the soil–earthworms, fungi, bacteria, arthropods, and that ilk–to grow plants. Of course, von Liebig wasn’t aware of all those helpful critters in the soil. Von Liebig and other Experts knew what they knew and nothing more, and therein lies a flaw.
In 1867 von Liebig conceived the idea of robbing infants of mother’s milk by replacing it with a concoction of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Baby formula was invented. What could Mother Nature know about babies compared to what Scientists knew?
This kind of thinking reminds me of the cargo cults that gained momentum in some tribal societies as a result of WWII. The basis for the cargo cult—that gods (soldiers, actually) brought useful things in wooden crates—gets part of the idea but not the whole idea.
Mother’s milk isn’t just protein, carbohydrate, and fat. It has nutrients essential to the baby’s health. Cargo cult participants might have been misguided in their efforts to get manufactured goodies from the gods but they were right as rain in feeding their babies mother’s milk. Unlike their “civilized” counterparts.
Over time the worship of Science replaced Nature as the subject of reverence. The awe that nature once inspired was now redirected to a materialistic view of Life. Life and all things living were viewed as nothing more than a gigantic machine.
Where has this overload of mechanistic thinking gotten us? We’ve managed to kill the soil with a combination of pesticides and artificial fertilizer. Nitrates from the fertilizer contaminate the water table. Pesticides cause cancer. Water becomes polluted from hydraulic fracturing of the earth to extract natural gas, and from a zillion or so other activities.
A lot of natural gas is used to make chemical fertilizer. It all fits together in a macabre kind of way.
Cattle now stand knee deep in their own manure, loaded with antibiotics, in butchering mill “feed lots.” The manure that ought to be fertilizing the soil has become a huge “waste” problem.
The Wheel of Life has been replaced by the Wheel of Death.
Perhaps the scariest of all are GMO’s, genetically modified organisms. The witches’ brew from Macbeth with its “eye of newt, toe of frog” is child’s play compared to the imaginable hell that might spring from combining a modified frog gene with a tomato and a scorpion gene with a cabbage. Experimental pigs have human blood coursing through their veins. Genetically modified chickens have no feathers. A human ear grows on a mouse’s back (really).
Today’s scientists are in the same boat as von Liebig: They know what they know and that’s all they know. They are Experts and they don’t, can’t and won’t see the whole picture.
Will our culture go on like this, intoxicated by our own hubris, or might we be able to find our way out of the mess?
We human beings have abused nature for too long. It is time that we get a quick and intelligent education in nature’s ways, before Nature decides to do it for us.