Why are People Drawn to the Organic?

Machinery is inorganic; it is analytic, not synthetic. What we want in ecological longing is the synthesis of ourselves into organic nature, organic culture, and organic selfhood.

We want harmony to oppose the fragmented and competing machines in us and around us.

We want, in other words, to make sense of our landscapes; to have them bound up (religio); to have a sense of understanding (some solid ground on which we feel safe and in control).

But here’s the thing. By focusing on becoming one with this or that thing; that is, in working to line up “what is and what is desired,” we engage in sublimation.

What do we sublimate? We sublimate the war against the latest alienation (from labor, politics, a consumer product, the way we want our bodies, scenic nature) for the larger war against four much bigger and intractable problems; the four great problems:

  • death;
  • the experience of our lives in a limited body;
  • the silence/hiddenness/absence of God; and
  • the unconscious machine cosmos, which functions without apparent purpose as contingency, chance, violence, competition, and change.

These four things do not answer to us or render an account of themselves to us. They are the wholly Other, the Lacanian Real. All other battles (politics, consumerism, etc.) are skirmishes sublimating these four problems.

And that’s why people are drawn to the organic.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Why are People Drawn to the Organic?

  1. Peter Smith says:

    Hmm, that is one possible explanation. You are right that we are drawn to the organic in a strong and quite fundamental way. My preferred explanation is that we are drawn to life and the products of life are organic. Organic things are symbolic of life. Nature is the continuous thread of life that sustains us, comforts us and is the primary source of beauty in our lives. Life is deeply fascinating. Every gardener will tell you this as they spend limitless energy on the careful cultivation of their flowers. Every pet owner will tell you this as they experience the joyful companionship of their pets. Every hiker will tell you this us they experience the beauty of nature. We are endlessly fascinated with life in all its aspects and this fascination with life is reflected in the way we value organic products.

    We have use the inorganic for its functional value, we embrace the organic for its link to life.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Is what you’re describing, then, Freud’s oceanic feeling–or is it just distraction through novelty and enchantment (the gardener focused on the mandala of her flowers)?

      Beneath the novelty and enchantment, is it just the clash of machines?

      • Peter Smith says:

        No, I am not describing the ‘oceanic feeling’, or, as I prefer to call it, the experience of the numinous, so well and far better described by CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain. He quoted from Wind in the Willows as follows:
        ‘”Rat,” he found breath to whisper, shaking, “Are you afraid?” “Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid? of Him? O, never, never. And yet–and yet–O Mole, I am afraid.”‘.

        No, the numinous is something else. I see it like this. The world’s a vast stage that represents a harsh, unforgiving, lifeless reality. It is a merciless, unfeeling world of threat. On this stage is the overlay of life, sustaining us and rewarding us. Life is transient and yet strangely persistent. Life is inexplicable and yet everywhere present. Life is strongly contrasted with the hard reality of the unfeeling physical world. Life softens this reality and sustains us in the face of this reality. When the cognitive light came on in our brains we were able to perceive and become fascinated, entranced, indeed enchanted by life.

        Above the bright lights of the stage is something else, obscured by the lights but vaguely(or sometimes strongly) felt. That is the numinous.

        We experience the harsh reality of the physical world, we experience the nourishing overlay of life, we experience the awe and hope of the numinous. This experience is illuminated by our conscious cognition. The nourishing overlay of life occupies centre stage in our consciousness and this is why organic things are intuitively perceived as more valuable.

        “or is it just distraction through novelty and enchantment”
        no, not a distraction, not a novelty but we are instead enchanted and entranced by it.

        “Beneath the novelty and enchantment, is it just the clash of machines?”
        Well, that depends on your metaphysical world view. Do you believe in the radical eliminativism of the kind described by Alex Rosenberg?

        If that is what you believe then it ‘is just the clash of machines‘. That is not what I believe. For me at least, hard, physical reality is incongruously and improbably contrasted by three miracles, the miracle of life, the miracle of consciousness and the miracle of the numinous. There are many names for how we perceive these miracles.

      • Peter Smith says:

        We want harmony to oppose the fragmented and competing machines in us and around us.

        Here I see the heart of the matter. You have smuggled in an important concept ‘harmony‘ with the simple assumption that we want harmony. But why should that be? There is nothing about our Darwinian imperatives that demands harmony. Survival, dominance, sex, etc are the imperatives but harmony is an ephemeral shadow that has nothing to do with the reality of competing Darwinian machines. You are justifying a conclusion by appealing to a concept that lies wholly outside your framework of reference.

        As it happens, I agree we want harmony, but for different reasons. We want harmony because we believe that a deep underlying harmony exists in this world. My earlier comment about Occam’s Razor explains this in a little more detail. Our need for harmony reflects a profound, intuitive understanding of the world, that there is harmony to be found if only we would search for it. Here is the real miracle, science, as it advances, is confirming that intuition. As for why we have that intuitive understanding, the only explanation that makes sense to me is to appeal to our sense of the numinous.

        If the thesis of radical eliminativists of people like Alex Rosenberg was true there would be no necessity for an underlying unity and harmony. They cannot explain this unity without denying their eliminativism and so remain conspicuously silent about the subject.

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