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Natural Movement Overview

The "Natural Movement" is not a 'fad', but is part of something profound and is rooted in the human reaction to major historical events, in particular, the rampant mechanization, industrialization and urbanization of Europe and the United States. Who were the early advocates of the 'Natural movement'? When did the movement begin?

In the 1800s and early 20th century, the first naturalists began to decry environmental and societal deterioration. Thomas Jefferson, Henry Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson were among the first to note the deleterious effects of European and then American industrialization. (For the early reaction to mechanization and industrialization, see "Machine in the Garden", by Leo Marx) This movement gained energy and political momentum into the early 20th century when the nascent movement was energized by a new generation, to include John Muir (see also Sierra Club), and most famously, Theodore Roosevelt. In part as a result of their efforts, and other like-minded persons, the United States established the National Parks system (similar nature and preservationist movements were emerging in Europe as well).

But the National Park effort and preservationists were in a sense 'isolationist', focused on the natural environment, not society. What was still lacking was a vigorous critique and development of alternatives for the millions of humans who were being drawn into an emerging Industrial Society. The critiques came pouring forth following the dual cataclysms of the First World War and the Great Depression. The belief that science and technology would inevitably 'uplift' humanity was dashed in the carnage of trench warfare, 1914-1918. The promise that industrialization and urbanization would perpetually improve the quality of life for the mass of humanity was dealt a mortal blow with the onset of the Great Depression, 1929-1939.

In the Great Depression millions of hardworking Europeans, Americans, Japanese, and Chinese people became victim to what became known for the first time as "technological unemployment". Writers and economists struggled to explain what had gone wrong and what did it mean? Some radical movements-- Communism and "Technocracy Inc" -- claimed the root of the problem lay in rampant, unregulated Capitalism. But others, perhaps more thoughtful, began to discern the problem as partly rooted in rampant mechanization: the rush to displace the natural and human with the mechanized, artificial, and unnatural. In relatively quick succession two important works ("Technics and Civilization", by Lewis Mumford and "Mechanization Takes Command", by Siegfried Gideon) argued that unthinking industrialization and mechanization were NOT necessarily good for the planet or human society. These early thinkers urged people to embrace what we now recognize as the 'green' and 'back to nature movements'. The natural-green-sustainable movements that are spreading across the globe today, of which is a part, are rooted in these ideas.

Today we witness a vigorous debate about how humans should live with and alongside technology. A French priest and writer, Jacques Ellul ( "The Technological Society"), and Neil Postman, a New York media critic ("Technopoly"), have sustained the debate that Giedeon and Mumford helped start. Though the questions involved are quite complex, the parties to the debate typically align with one of two camps: the advocates of "Technological Determinism" and the advocates of greater human choice and agency (typically identified as "Social Construction of Technology"). The strong advocates of "Technological Determinism" believe that technology defines humanity's existence, and that technology has taken on near absolute power to define people's lives. Such line of thinking implies that humans should quietly accept as inevitable the continued industrialization, urbanization, automation and roboticization of work. The best human strategy, if this world view should prove correct, is fatalistic acceptance and desperate attempts to adapt to the latest technology. And, if a human cannot 'adapt' to this reality, than various drugs will be available to help adapt or to cope (e.g., the proliferation of various chemical substances, from anti-depressants to Ritalin, fit this pattern of over medicated society. See Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" for an early glimpse of human fate should such a world view hold true.). A deterministic view of the world is still in vogue in some areas, most recently found in Friedman's best seller "The World Is Flat". Another strong advocate for technological determinism--human surrender to technology-- is Ray Kurzweil, author of "The Singularity is Near".

An alternative view of humanity's relationship with technology is that propounded by the 'naturalists', the 'green movement', and the sustainable development advocates. In this view, more urbanization, more technology isn't always the answer. These advocates would argue that humanity must assert what is best for man and the environment, and take action. (see Langdon Winner, "Autonomous Technology"; Neil Postman, "Technopoly", and this site). However, the advocates of a more natural way of life are at a great disadvantage: industry, academia, commerce, and government have long ago granted technology a most favored status. But the advocates of unregulated technical advance fail to recognize that many of our problems are a product of the technology, and a lost of natural balance in human society.

This important debate is fully in play, and awaiting YOUR vote. Those of us here at have voted and we ask you to join us. We believe that there is a natural balance and order that can best serve our environment and society. We also believe that industry, engineers, national governments, and scientists can help restore the natural balance to the environment and to society. Together we can build a more natural and sustainable way of life.

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