- I’m going to take a break from being self-critical and be critical about something else. I’m going to talk about a work that irritates me, “natural”. I’ve seen this word abused for a long time.
- The word natural has 15 different definitions by Merriam Webster’s dictionary. This makes the word ambiguous almost to the point where it has no meaning. Why should having little meaning make the word bad? It’s because marketers love this word. It’s a word that they can slap on just about any box to make the product look better. A considerable part of the public is unaware of how pointless this word is, and like to buy what they think is “natural”. Deception like this makes me doubt the dependability of products that have the word “natural” as a selling point on the box. When used on medicine bottles, the word makes me directly uncomfortable with the pharmaceutical company, because we put a lot of faith in them.
- Onto another point, what is “natural” in the way society generally uses it? The best definition I could find is “Existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind”. This in itself is ambiguous. Is nature a person we can simply ask “Hey did you do this?” Of course it isn’t. Humans at some point were part of nature. We just had the intellect to develop our society and technology. At what point were humans no longer part of nature? This question doesn’t have a clear answer, and many people could have different opinions about it. It should be fairly simple to agree that everything you buy in a story was “made or caused by humankind”. Even a family farm requires a human to plant, tend, and harvest the crops. It would be a difficult task to find something in society that was not “made or caused by humankind”. So “natural” is not only ambiguous, but any sold product cannot be explicitly considered “natural”.
- What about things that are clearly part of nature? Few people would disagree that the flora and fauna in Yellowstone Park are natural. They clearly have all the qualities of the definition of “natural” that we are using. But does that mean they are safe? An adequate hiker wouldn’t just eat any color berries or other plant parts that happened to be along the path. He would know some of them are toxic to humans. Plants are diverse and complex organisms. Many have developed powerful toxic chemicals to keep away hungry mouths. Some have developed symbiotic relationship with only certain animals, so only those animals are capable of digesting what the plant has to offer. I’ve heard some people’s conviction that “natural” tobacco cigarettes are safe because they don’t have the other chemicals that normal cigarettes contain. Tobacco is one of those naturally toxic plants. Inhaling smoke from a burning leaf is going to have ill effects on your body regardless of how “natural” it is. I’m not sure if the fact that Native Americans smoked tobacco spurs the myth, but that doesn’t make it safe. Cocaine is made from a “natural” plant as well, and that doesn’t make it safe (to give proper credit, this is something my mother says).
- I would like to point out that I am an environmentalist. As a matter of personal speculation, a van diagram of environmentalists would have a lot of overlap from “hippies”. There are plenty of educated environmentalists, but there are plenty who are people who use this nearly meaningless word as their guiding light. This is a point of shame upon environmentalism that I hate. I suppose I should have a take away message from all of this. Please never buy something based on it being “natural”.
5 years, 8 months ago
05 Dec 2012 01:10 CET