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A twist on naturalist

August 21, 2006 | Comment icon 4 comments

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The word “Naturalism” brings various topics to mind: art, natural sciences, philosophy and sociological concepts, among the many things that this word may be used to rightly or wrongly represent. We may all be familiar with the famous writings of popular American Naturalist and Philosopher Henry David Thoreau, but are we also familiar with the opinions of Donald Watson or Elsie Shrigley? While the famous Thoreau may have his books on natural living and the government in most bookstores, and is immortalized in natural places such as Katahdin, there is more than one branch of society that may be considered, more or less, Naturalist. It is through this division of the term, however, that a large amount of confusion may arise, including practices that easily and even unknowingly challenge the very definition of natural. If you are truly unfamiliar with Donald Watson, it is unlikely you are unfamiliar with the term “Vegan”, which has quickly intentionally or unintentionally become a powerful and outspoken social movement that may indeed hold the connotation of “clique” in general society. The claims of various people that may be considered Naturalists often seem to conflict in ways that boil down to philosophical nit-picking. However, in recent years the claims of such group such as PETA may be difficult to ignore - groups harboring Vegans, among others who will valiantly defend their opinions.

PETA, standing for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is hardly an unknown group. Since 1980 the group has made headlines time and time again, voicing powerful claims -- that are sometimes considered radical by those not members of the group -- about the wellbeing of animals. One of the aspects of the group called PETA is the existence of the “Lettuce Ladies”. These are women who expose themselves to the public adorning their bodies with nothing but a few leaves of lettuce to cover themselves. The wild attire, combined with the obvious sexually-charged character and magnetism of the clothing - assuming a majority of men will look at attractive women in very little clothing - is an effective and popular method to spread information on Veganism and PETA philosophy. The philosophy of Veganism in particular, however, has been around under that name since the middle of the 1940's. Strongly separating itself from Vegetarianism, Veganism avoids - often with inviolable conviction - the use of any animal product for use or consumption. This includes foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, as well as a variety of other products with some sort of animal or insect used in the processing, such as honey, silk, leather, feathers, and even the ingredients in some breads. Vegans, although a small portion of the Vegetarian population, are some of the most forthright of the society that could often be considered Naturalist or "back to Nature".
Many valid points, though, are brought against Veganism when the diet is overlooked. Without the proteins and amino acids found in animal products humans can be put in dangerous straights. There are ways to obtain such things from a peculiar and wide diet of plants and other non-animal products, as composes the diet of many Vegans. Tofu and other plant-based foods are popular in the forms of burgers and hot dogs - but is this really in accordance with the very nature of Veganism, especially since the more creative Vegan foods may be wholly impractical and needlessly expensive? After all, hot dogs and hamburgers, for example, are staples of the glorified American diet, and the meat in such products can often come from questionable or undesirable sources. Clearly, though, Vegans accept eating tofu, rice, and other ingredients in the likeness of these foods which they so strongly object to. Is this ironic, since Vegans often debate their point with clerical pride?Many points can continually be brought up against Veganism. Using sexually-charged methods to advertise their philosophy, often speaking inexorably against those who are not Vegan, and playing upon social stereotypes, fads, cliques and the general youth population can be seen as questionable at the very least, and corrupt or deceptive at the very most - but Vegans are not the only who may be considered Naturalist, Environmentalist or “in touch” with Mother Nature. Even so, the obvious Vegan belief that plants are not sentient can vex and bring into open questioning and wonder many philosophies and the definition of sentience or consciousness itself. Are plants not lifeforms, just as animals and insects?

Naturals or Nudists seemingly use similar methods to advertise their unusual philosophy. By playing upon the aforementioned topics and the subconscious or conscious desires and imaginations of many humans, one could say that members are attracted in a questionable, cult-like fashion. Although many Nudists are in fact entirely innocent in their philosophy, along with many Vegans, the possibility cannot be ignored. In all likeness, Nudism, being spread in a similar way to Veganism, could be used to promote refutable promiscuity, sex parties and a possibly dire change in society. Exposing the flesh for spiritual or natural purposes seems inherently natural, as it would seem to state. Although it is personal choice, one must wonder if Nudism could indeed be used for social -- let alone quite carnal -- purposes. One only has to look to today's youth and social changes to realize that many would unknowingly or intentionally use Nudist or similar philosophies to promote the following of a glorified sexual instinct and promiscuity. We may never really know for sure if such beliefs are based on the principles of innocence, or those of lust. The fact of the matter is that the definition of Naturalist, or the definition of Natural as a whole are interpreted and may be used very different by different people. These terms, more than many other terms in language, go hand in hand and should seemingly be, by definition, the least refutable known terms. Vegans, PETA, and Nudists are only several of the many groups on the fine line between Natural and Unnatural.

It would seem as though through Naturalism we should be able to define the very meaning of the word, but such is not currently the case. Humans are naturally able to consume meat and animal products, and have so for thousands of years- only social constructs prevent some from doing so. Humans may be born nude, which is also inherently natural, however it is not practical to not wear clothing in non-tropical environments with conditions possibly harmful to the human. In other environments clothing has a purely social purpose.Through the objective study and quiet observation of the natural world and our natural history we have been able to discover the aspects of nature that we already accept and realize, most prominently the scientists and spirituals in this field. In time a larger consensus may be founded on Naturalist and Nature groups that lay on the line -- from the spiritual and religious, to the nude. For now, however, and the foreseeable future, such free groups will continue to coexist with the majority of the very different society that they are wholly a part of. Whether people conform to these groups because of carefully researched personal beliefs, because of fads, because it is the “hip” thing to do or because they desire to be part of an alternative social group for various very personal and human reasons, their presence in our world cannot be denied or overlooked. The philosophies and questions brought up by such free-thinking groups, regardless if they are personally disagreed with, can be used to benefit all of humanity through research, investigation and philosophical evaluation. We all have something to learn from the philosophies of others, even if they are against our own. This, in turn, is the most Natural aspect of their existence.

Comments (4)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Morian 17 years ago
Vegans... I remember when I wanted to be like that. Then I realized that I'm more of a lion than a fruit bat and that plants have feelings too. Now, I am a jerky fiend. Protect your flora friends! Tell Vegans they're impractical! Once I also wanted to be a nudist. Then I realized I live in Pennsylvania. This is not a good place to be a nudist. Too cold, then too hot, and no pockets.
Comment icon #2 Posted by IronGhost 17 years ago
I once read a study which showed that nudists actually are a tad less well sexually adjusted than the rest of society. The whole vegan debate can get quite thorny. Even the Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. Even so, I think it's clear that the vegan diet is more healthy -- but the bigger thing is that eating meat is a poor way to feed an overcrowded planet. It takes somethng like 8 ounds of grain to make one pound of meat. Then there is the animal cruelty factor -- modern, industrialized agriculture has become a horror -- thousands of chickens packed into narrow confinement -- gigantic pig ... [More]
Comment icon #3 Posted by The Raven 17 years ago
I once read a study which showed that nudists actually are a tad less well sexually adjusted than the rest of society. If by this you mean that their practices are not for sexual exploitation, than I find that beliveable. While writing the article, one of my fears what if that nudism as a practice and not a philosophy spread. Without the mindset behind it, as you say, things could get "quite thorny". Or maybe I'm totally wrong. The whole vegan debate can get quite thorny. Even the Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. Even so, I think it's clear that the vegan diet is more healthy -- but the bi... [More]
Comment icon #4 Posted by IronGhost 17 years ago
Your points are well taken, Raven. I also forgot to mention in my previous post that I very much enjoyed this well written, thoughtful column.

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