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Nature: earlier this year, in preparation to go up Hartsfell, I read aloud a book that documented all the wildlife in Britain—plants, animals, insects, fish. What struck me as I read this book—one of those glossy illustrated picture guides—was how much pleasure and satisfaction I derived from it, the book calmed me more than any other book (certainly more than the Internet). It was almost as good as being in nature itself—though the content did not interest a great deal, with its Latin names, the overall effect was very restful and calmed me.


It struck me that this whole situation reflects man’s alienation from nature, for when I passed through a large city after reading the book I noticed how everything we live in is deeply unnatural.


In this sense, it is meant in a moral way—not a descriptive way. The city is based on lies—it is untruthfulness that underpins the city’s greed and selfishness, and that is why it is very ugly. It is hard to make a beautiful city, and a city is only beautiful insofar as it has some relation to nature; and perhaps that is why Venice is so admired among cities, even though it is very damp and uncomfortable in some ways—for it is in perfect relation to the natural environment, to the sea (and is also, in the way it exists between two states, an enchanted city).


To take a more modest example, that a city should be made from local stone makes a great difference and gives it character; and yet, today, cities are made from generic materials—from steel sourced from China, perhaps. Hence modern cities have no character.


Indeed, why move between cities at all when all you really look at is your screen? That is where the action lies today, and the city, whether Beijing or Bogotá, provides a familiar background to your life—the real change and life is on the screen. The modern city can never be restful, because it is always out of harmony with nature—it is fragmented, as are its citizens (who are a heterogeneous crew gathered from here and there, gathered together to sup from the welfare state or to provide cheap labour—more the former than the latter). Hence the modern city can never be restful—for nature and harmony go together.


Concern over “the environment” reflects this knowledge but in a perverted form—environmentalism is not a protest over disharmony, it is a protest against inefficiency (if only our industrial processes were more efficient, if everyone had an electric car powered by the wind, then all our problems would vanish). But that is not the real problem in our technological world—the real problem is that there are few places that are restful to the eye, and so our minds are always somewhat fragmented and feel woolly (it is the electronic wool, digital drunkenness, that leaves everyone a little hazy and with glazed eyes).


I also noticed in my guide how the lowest form of life was most abundant and had the greatest variety—page after page of…insects. So many species and sub-species of…moth. So many colour variations, slight changes in the mandibles—and surely, even now, not every species is documented. There are more bugs under the log…waiting to be found. The higher animals, by contrast, fitted onto just a few pages—the individuated animals were rare, an aristocracy (once you see the proliferation of insect life you will almost feel a close kin to a stag or a dog—being above the squirming multitudes and their myriad legs).


This situation also recalled city life—for all the people I pass are, like those insects, decked out in multi-colour coats, in reds and blacks and greens, that are all baseball jerseys or similar American apparel; and, in one glance, all are so different—and yet, in another, they are all the same. Just like a great colourful fist of insects under an overturned log…there are so many species, but the difference between them is tiny. They “had it their way” and, it is true, are all different in particular—yet none is an individual.


Hence we find the city, at a higher iteration, recapitulates the lowest form of life. It is atomisation—as the molecules diffuse in the room each turns in its own particular direction, so as to assume myriad directions, and yet the overall result is one chaotic blur that envelopes the room. It is only when the gas in concentrated, when every molecule is aligned in the same way, that there is a true individual.


And it is the same with our cities—everyone is his own particular beetle, he has his red-and-black “Chieftains” cap whereas another man has a “Redskins” cap in gold-and-black (I invent the colours, it is no particular matter). Yet, overall, it is all the same—and it leaves the mind tense and fuzzy to look at; it is not restful to look at—this greed, this selfishness. It is heterogeneous—it is the mental kaleidoscope, all different colours falling about this way and that in confusion.


These lessons from nature are not scientific—the book was scientific, Linnaean, but to be “restful” and to “refresh” are not scientific concepts. Yet that is what the book provided. To show a natural aristocracy, with the more individuated at the top, does not constitute “science”—but perhaps it constitutes a philosophy. What is complex, healthy, and individual is distinct in its parts—and so rises above mere insect life to have, like the stag, majesty.


The insect is guided only by raw survival—to reproduce and find sustenance. Our analysts, our scientists, who break everything down to its simple components, would say we are just made from billions of “insects” slaved together—hence the insect is an admirable thing, the basis from which we “evolve”. But that is not how it appears to us individuals who look down.

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