This time, I’m going to try making a more difficult case, so I need to define some terms first. A society is a large group of creatures acting as a single organism, but with specialization, or “polygeneity.” So, ants and bees live in societies, but algae and fungus do not. A civilization is also a society, but its distinguishing characteristic is culture. Culture refers to how society is organized: its political, economic, and social structure, but more importantly, its customs and traditions. It is necessary for humanity to have culture to be a society because humans are not naturally born into their specialized roles like bees and ants; we must choose.
Now for my thesis: our culture does not dictate our relationship with nature. Rather, it is reciprocal such that our relationship with nature also dictates our culture.
An organism living on this planet must interact with the rest of nature in order to get what it needs to survive. Its behavior and adaptation are, therefore, subject to laws of natural selection; in other words, nature dictates the direction of that organism’s development. Together, civilization constitutes a society which, as stated above, acts as a single organism – an organism as subject to natural laws as any other. It must procure the energy and resources it needs to grow, survive, and reproduce. As the natural world changes, it must adapt or suffer in any or all of these areas. That’s the name of the game.
So, as a series of logical arguments: Culture makes civilization possible; civilization is a society which makes it an organism; organisms are subject to natural laws and must adapt to changes in the environment; therefore, culture is a product of society’s relationship with the environment. Culture is how the human organism adapts.
Looking back, we can find societies whose culture more clearly reflected their relationships with nature; customs and traditions were easily recognized as having significance to resource procurement, particularly (and for obvious reasons) food. Today, society is far larger and more complex, but hints of our past relationship with food still peek through in our cultural heritage if we’re willing to look for it.
Today’s culture is also a product of our relationship with nature. Modern humans exploit every level of the food chain and even more levels that few would call food (fossil fuels). Today’s culture is one that separates us from the natural horrors our existence extols on our environment. We no longer have the heart to look.
Humanity’s relationship with nature is one of consumption, and our culture is one of consumption. Our relationship with nature is one of usury, and our culture is one of usury. Our relationship with nature is one of power and submission, and our culture is one of power and submission. Our relationship with nature is one of reckless abandon, and our culture is one of reckless abandon. You get the picture…
And what is our most intimate relationship with nature? What aspect do we depend on most? Why, it is the energy which sustains us, of course; it is our food.