by Jay Liebenguth
Editor’s note: When we were discussing which stories we wanted to tell this year on the Shadowcliff blog, someone mentioned that perhaps Bob Mann could be persuaded to write a series about the Laws of Nature*. I fondly remember my first retreat at Shadowcliff, listening to Bob talk about the LON (I hope it becomes, “a thing.”) After a quick call to confirm, he graciously agreed to write a monthly article about a separate LON and how he sees that playing out in the natural world, today. I’ve always had an affinity for the “law of unintended consequences” and can’t wait to read that one. We hope you will enjoy it too. The following is a conversation to help understand the meaning behind the Laws in our lives. –Jay
US: Laws of Nature, you say? No thank you, I do not care for any more laws, nature or otherwise.
Nature: Rest easy, my friend. These are not new laws – they have been around for billions of years. Besides, you have been living with them all your life, as has everything else on the planet.
US: Come on, I have never seen anything posted about Nature’s Laws, and I have never signed anything saying I would obey anything called “Nature’s Laws”.
Nature: The signs are all around you. Perhaps you do not speak Nature’s language, but you have been living with these laws all your life, and living with the consequences of breaking those laws.
Nature: Just like breaking any law, there are consequences. Trouble is, with Nature’s laws, you always get caught.
US: I have never been caught. Certainly I would know about that at least!
Nature: You forget. I have all the time in the world. You are paying the consequences of your parents’ lawbreaking and your children and grandchildren will pay yours—sort of a “paying it forward” model, but not the sort one is proud of. It is a little like leaving your children a huge debt rather than a nice bank account.
US: So why don’t I know all about these Laws of Nature if they are such a big deal?
Nature: Well, somewhere in the past certain human cultures decided that they were not part of nature, but that they were above nature – sort of “In charge” of nature. If they were in charge of nature, they thought, they could of course just change the laws or choose not to pay any attention to them. But of course, humans do not get to ignore or change Nature’s Laws.
US: So what has changed? Why are these laws so important again?
Nature: Well, like I said, children often pay the consequences of violating Nature’s Laws.
And, there are cumulative effects!
US: You mean that is what is happening now?
Nature: Of course. Increased droughts, more floods, more forest fires, increased food shortages, the warmest years on record, melting Arctic ice, rising sea levels, highest species extinction rate since the time of the dinosaurs, and air pollution are all interconnected events. People are finally beginning to ask more questions and perhaps even listening, a little more. Your scientists, at least, have figured out that human actions significantly contribute to these events which are rapidly changing your habitat. In other words, there are consequences – and there are so many more of you now!!!
US: O.K. Just in case I want to make a difference, I think it’s time you give me some specifics about these Laws of Nature. Make it simple. Is there one big law?
Nature: Well, I suppose there is one big law. It is the law of connection or interconnection. In simplest form it means that everything, everyone, and every time on the planet is connected. A push or a shove somewhere creates pushes and shoves everywhere. I bet you have heard the phrase, “When a butterfly flaps its wings in Tahiti it may cause a tornado in Kansas?”
US: That is a bit fanciful and sounds more like a Dr. Seuss book to me.
Nature: It probably is a bit fanciful, but it captures the essence of the law of interconnectedness. Humans may be free to clear–cut forests, spray poisons on “weeds” or pollute the air or water, but there are definitely consequences. Each action is connected to thousands of other responses. Humans are part of nature and their actions – individually and cumulatively over time – have consequences.
US: O.K., I’m beginning to get the idea. What are some other examples?
Nature: You get rid of a weed or an insect, change the course of a river, kill off a species, dig something up out of the ground or the ocean. Your desire for quick fixes often results in “unintended consequences.” This is the essence of Nature’s Law of interconnectedness. You create future problems and often unintended consequences because you do not fully consider both short and long-term consequences – or you pretend there are no such consequences. And of course, some of you simply do not care about those consequences. Nothing unintentional about that!
US: I think I get the idea of interconnectedness, but I need some simpler tools to better understand how it works.
Nature: Great idea. We’ll share some stories with you over the next few months and actually break this interconnectedness into some separate laws of nature. But they are all just different aspects of this one great law, “Everything is connected.”
The first of these stories is Nature Rewards Diversity. Check in here each month for a new story, and don’t forget: there are consequences to breaking Nature’s laws.
* Law of Nature used in this context is not synonymous with the term natural law which often incorporates human ethics/moral or religious aspects. Here we mean nature’s basic operating or guiding principles. Nor is this an original use of the term Laws of Nature. Specific credit is given to E.O. Wilson and Janine Benyus for their thoughtful exploration of the concepts. Bob Mann’s emphasis is the use of the Laws of Nature to better understand human behavior and in the possible avoidance of unintended consequences.