Oscar Wilde once aid, in his typically acerbic manner,
‘Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first and
the lesson afterwards.’ The same could be said of hindsight. In this case,
are there lessons to be learnt?
Yes, there are.
mess with nature at our peril.
The Agricultural Revolution, the Scientific
Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution were all supposed to “improve” the
world towards human benefit. Most of these “improvements” involved disrupting,
tinkering with, or obliterating nature.
Yet, this desire to “improve” things has often led to
damage to our own health and the health of the planet. The Covid virus is a
good example of this, as had been the many plagues and viruses over previous
The Industrial Revolution initiated our love affair
with energy available from fossil fuels. Nowadays we are witnessing increasing
global temperatures, more severe heatwaves, flooding, and hurricane
devastation. These have resulted in crop failures, massive infrastructure
damage, and loss of life, both human and non-human.1
to Apply Foresight.
Hindsight, if considered conscientiously and
consciously, can provide insight. And insight, in turn, can lead us towards
foresight. We cannot just assume that hindsight will automatically imbue us
with insight We have to work at it. Hindsight is much like the learning
available in experience.
The prominent community educator, Myles Horton, had
this to say about experience:
people say that we learn from our experiences. I say that we don’t.
We only learn from the experiences we learn from.”
The learning must be
consciously taken in and applied. It is the same with hindsight. Once that
lesson is learnt, then insight and then foresight can be obtained.
3. We Are Not Exceptional.
One of the myths that
we have taken onboard is the myth of human exceptionalism. Whether this came
from religious notions of dominion over the animals, or from early ideas of
evolution as humankind being at the apex of the tree of life, human
exceptionalism is a dangerous belief.
Setting aside our
notions of superiority and exceptionalism would be a powerful lesson to learn
As noted in the series Nature Disconnect in 7
“Easy” Steps many of the steps along the way were taken because they seemed
like a good idea at the time.
We innovate and invent with little regard for the
future consequences. An oft-quoted saying is, ‘He or she who says it cannot
be done should get out of the way of the person who is doing it.’2
It is a quote that bears interrogation.
That something can be done is no justification for
doing it. Wisdom comes in deciding not to proceed with something, because the
(often unintended) consequences can be harmful. In scientific circles this is
known as the Precautionary Principle.
Hindsight could provide us Homo sapiens with some
sapience. Such sapience (wisdom) implies that we ask not; can we? or how
do we? but, rather, should we?
In each of the steps along the path of Nature
Disconnect there were those asking; Should we do this? Even during the
early years of the Agricultural Revolution the question seems to have been
asked.3 However, eventually, those taking a precautionary approach
were drowned out by the voices of opportunity, ignored, and then ceased to ask
Today too, there are those asking; Should we do
this? And, just as in previous centuries and millennia, the voices of progress
at all costs drown them out. Now, as then, these questioners are being
Yet, if we are to learn one of the lessons from
hindsight, it would be that those questioning the opportunism of innovators and
inventors just may have some very pertinent questions to ask.
Undoubtedly there are other lessons that could be
drawn from the hindsight available to us when we map out the steps of our
journey of disconnection from nature.
1. In late 2019 and early 2020 massive, and extensive
bushfires raged through many parts of Australia causing millions of dollars
worth of damage with 33 people dying. The loss of life for non-humans was
almost unbelievable, with an estimated 2 billion (yes, billion, not million)
animals being killed in those fires.
2. This quote is often attributed to Confucius, yet there
is no evidence that he ever made such a statement. Indeed, it is a statement
that Confucius, in his wisdom, is likely to have disputed.