The following is an excerpt entitled ‘Natural Order’ from the upcoming book One Life by Econation founder, Michael Lockhart.
A sacred balance
For centuries there has been a romantic notion that nature has a sacred balance, yet we can easily see that nature is constantly in motion, shifting and changing in a seeming chaos. How can nature be both balanced and in flux? Through self-regulation, the natural tendency is towards what could be called a dynamic equilibrium, known in biology as homeostasis. However, because of one or more contingent factors, changes can occur in an ecosystem which upset the equilibrium at times.
On broader scales of time and space you can often see equilibrium in nature with only gradual change through natural succession. Whereas, on the smaller scale of a discrete ecosystem you can observe constant flux. For instance, if you look at a mature forest from a distance over a long period of time it will seem like it barely changes, if at all. The Daintree Rainforest in Queensland, Australia is 120 million years old. However, looking at the forest up close there are the continual cycles of birth, life, death and decay everywhere. You could say that as a whole the forest is in a ‘steady state’ but at smaller scales it is a chaotic and complex system.
A healthy ecosystem contains a diverse range of organisms coexisting in a turbulent yet discernible structure that survives until some factor changes it. The sorts of factors that work on the system and drive modification include changing climate and weather patterns; fires, floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters; the migration of organisms; and significantly, the impact of human activities – which cannot be underestimated. However, it doesn’t have to be this way; in the words of Fritjof Capra:
“Since the outstanding characteristic of the biosphere is its inherent ability to sustain life, a sustainable human community must be designed in such a manner that its technologies and social institutions honour, support, and cooperate with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.”
‘Nature’s inherent ability to sustain life’, is part of what I would call ‘natural order’. The characteristics inherent in natural order are: systems, networks and self-regulation; diversity, coexistence and cooperation; change and cycles; and evolution.
When talking about ‘balance’ in nature it is probably better to think of coexistence and diversity. It is diversity that provides long-term stability and sustainability. And it is cooperation, networking and self-regulation, and not competition, that aids coexistence.
“We need to teach our children and students the fundamental facts of life – that one species’ waste is another species’ food; that matter cycles continually through the web of life; that the energy driving the ecological cycles flows from the sun; that diversity assures resilience; and that life, from its beginning more than three billion years ago, did not take over the planet by combat but by networking.” – Fritjof Capra
Where an ordered consciousness is one where there is no inner conflict, similarly natural order is when there is coexistence, harmony and proper functioning. Of course, you might say that an organism eating another is not harmonious coexistence but it is through this type of interaction that energy and matter is distributed, thereby maintaining overall sustainable order in the system in the longer term.
Natural order is contrasted with ‘artificial control’. Artificial control is performed by humans and is characterised by domination and enforcement; competition, intolerance and exploitation; over-consumption and waste.
“Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. He even talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that, if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side.” ― Ernst F. Schumacher
What is the answer to artificial control? Fritjof Capra gave the clue himself – instead of fighting nature we can design a sustainable human community in such a manner that its economic institutions and technologies acknowledge, imitate and cooperate with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.