Human-beings are part of nature, although many of us seem to overlook this fact. But in certain cultures where the natural and the supernatural comingle, this shallow difference is non apparent. The difference in conceptions of the relationship between humanity and nature produce distinct frames of reference for human desires, attitudes, and behaviors. At one end of the scale devised by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck is the view that maintains human beings are subjects to nature. Cultures that hold this orientation believe that the most powerful forces of life are outside their control. Whether the force be a god, fate, or magic, a person cannot overcome it and must therefore learn to accept it.
According to Somovar, this orientation is found in India and parts of South America. For the Hindu, because everything is part of a unified force, “the world of distinct and separate objects and processes is a manifestation of a more fundamental reality that is undivided and unconditional.” The “oneness” with the world helps create a perceptual vision of harmonious world. In Mexico and among Mexican Americans, there is strong tie to Catholicism and the role of fate in controlling life and nature. As Purnell notes, at the heart of this world view is “a stoic acceptance of the ways things are.”
“Cooperation” with Nature
The middle or so-called cooperation view is widespread and is associated with East Asians. In Japan and Thailand, there is a perception that nature is part of life and not a hostile force waiting to be subdued. This orientation affirms that people should, in every way possible, live in harmony with nature. The desire to be part of nature and not control it has always been strong among Native Americans. As Joe and Malach note, “Tribal groups continue to teach respect for the land and to forbid desecration of their ancestral lands. These groups also carry out various ceremonies and rituals to ensure harmony with as well as protection of the land (Mother Earth). Chief Seattle eloquently summarized the orientation when he said: “Humankind has not woven the web we do to ourselves. All things are bound together all things connect.”
At the other end of the scale is the view that compels us to conquer and direct the force of nature to our advantage. This value orientation is characteristic of the Western approach. It has a long tradition of valuing technology, change, and science. Americans have historically believed that nature was something that could and had to be mastered. The early immigrants to North America found a harsh and vast wilderness that they needed to “tame”. Even today we use terms such as “conquering” space. For people with this orientation there is a clear separation from nature.
The American view of nature even has some religious underpinnings. There is a belief that it is God’s intention for us to make the earth our private domain. As an article in Newsweek magazine noted, “Environmentalists have long blamed Biblical tradition—specifically God’s injunction to man in Genesis to ‘subdue the earth’—for providing cultural sanction for the Industrial Revolution and its plundering of nature.” We should add that Arabs hold much the same view toward because, as Haviland notes, the Koran holds that people have dominion over the earth.
We can often find examples of cultures clashing because of divergent views on how to relate to nature. A case in point is the ongoing controversy between the dominant American culture and some Native American tribes who object to widespread strip mining of coal because it disfigures the earth and displaces spirits worshipped by the tribes. Our cultural orientation of controlling nature can be seen in a host of other instances. Adler highlights of these: Some other examples of the North American dominance orientation include astronauts’conquest (dominance) of space; economists’ structuring the market; sales representatives’attempts to influence buyers decisions; and perhaps most controversial today, bioengineering and genetic programming.
Note: This article was first published on Profile My Story www.profilemystory.com