About nature and people

By Tibor Hartel

I am reading the book of Juhász-Nagy Pál entitled “Nature and people: small variations for a big theme” (the book is in Hungarian, the translation of the title is just a trial). In one of his insightful essays, starting with the name of the UNESCO program called “Man and Biosphere” he reflects about the need for recognizing the right/healthy order of things when we speak about something, especially if we address nature conservation issues.

He highlights that the order of things in this title (i.e. man first and then biosphere at the second level) reflects human arrogance and is somehow similar with the situation when someone places himself/herself in the front of his/her own mother (i.e. by saying: “Me and my mother”).

Such an order, in his view, is against some ethical fundaments which need to be considered both at societal and nature conservation levels. These hidden/latent ethical/philosophical fundaments may greatly influence our attitude toward nature, our ability to find our correct place in the biosphere, and ways how we build our strategies and the outcome of our activities. It seems that certain fundamental things in our thinking about the nature and us and our relationship with the broad ecological systems around us never change: the caveman seem to be similar with the modern “conservationist” (ok, I am a bit extreme, but I am aware about this and about the fact that I am not an exception from this general and probably sad rule) in this respect, i.e. both say “me and nature” (with its variations, but always the same order).

This writing was published in 1993 but it was finished much before that. The author died in 1993. He therefore is unaware about the fact that a new framework is starting to get roots in the academic thinking: the social-ecological framework. What would Juhász-Nagy think about this? What you think about this? How it would sound to reverse the terms, e.g. to say “ecological-social systems”. To be honest, when I reversed the term, I had a strange feeling. What about you?

Have a nice weekend!


Juhász-Nagy Pál 1993: Természet és Ember. Kis változatok egy nagy témára. Budapest, Gondolat.

4 thoughts on “About nature and people

  1. Thank you so much for such a nice and touching post! It made me actually think not only about philosophical side of a matter, but also about grammatical rules in different languages. For example, to tell in English that two or more persons were doing something, one would use a construction “person1, person 2 and I were doing…”. However, in Ukrainian we use a completely different construction, which often causes me to make mistakes in English ;-). To tell someone that a group of people including me were doing something, in Ukrainian we would say “We (with person1, person 2) were doing…”.
    What I am leading to is: when I have read a “reversed” term “ecological-social systems”, it made me feel similarly to you, strange. I am wondering whether it ever be possible to live in ecological-social system given our human nature and the fact that so many ecosystems are drastically changed and depend in their existence on human intervention??? And in this relation, I would prefer Ukrainian construction, i.e. “We”, which would imply both nature and people. I think that instead of prioritizing either human or nature, we should learn to live together in harmony for the sustainable future of our planet and humanity.

  2. Thanks Viktoriia for pointing these. The need is given, as you told. I wonder if the possibilities are given too? Or we should still wait for more correct and realistic philosophies on which we can start to build our thoughts, wording and then actions?

  3. Interesting challenge, Tibi! For me the term ”ecological-social system” (i.e. nature has a leading position in the system) has no sense. If you take the prior position of man in this system, you take his responsibilities. Putting the man in the ”first” position reflects the role of humans as rational persons who live in the nature, use, maintain and administrates the nature for its existence, and not the other way around. (e.g.: I do not expect the stone to assume any responsibility for cracking my head).
    So rather than arrogance, I think it reflects responsibility. If the humans fail in assuming the leading role in this relation, and start to abuse the nature, and its ”functions”, does not imply that the responsibility is not there anymore, and whether we want it or not, we support the consequences of this failure. Addressing the issue correctly would mean, in my view, to re-establish the responsible role of humans.

    Also I would definitely not compare this relation to the son-mother relation, as they are fundamental different (the ”nature” is not my parent). This is a rather pantheistic way of understanding the world.

  4. Thanks Letitia for these thoughts! Interesting your note about the ‘…istic’ way of understanding the world. So many ‘-isms’ around us:) Would be nice to live in an ‘-ism free’ world. Clearly responsibility is the key – we just need to find out how we can achieve this.

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