The Murder of Nature

The popularity of both William Wordsworth, the Romantic English poet, and the Avatar franchise — in their respective eras — indicates a steady decline to destruction, writes Jonathan Cook. 

A close up of blue planet. (Pixexid, CC0)

By Jonathan Cook

Watching Avatar 2: The Way of Water, I was reminded that there is nothing new under the sun, ours or Pandora’s. James Cameron’s three hour-plus epic tells us little more than The Tables Turned, a short poem written more than 200 years earlier by William Wordsworth. One verse observes:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:-
We murder to dissect.

Another points out:

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

But while Cameron and Wordsworth share a pressing concern that we are losing our connection to — murdering — Nature, including our own natures, their visions differ on what it is to actually be a modern human.

With two centuries of additional historical experience to draw on, Cameron’s view is much bleaker than Wordsworth’s.

On Pandora, humans don’t just murder through their compulsion to understand and master their surroundings (Wordsworth’s “dissection”). They murder to make money, they murder in the pursuit of vanity, they murder simply because they can. Power has no higher purpose than its own self-promotion.

Wordsworth’s Romanticism did not halt, or even temper, the Industrial Revolution’s appetite for material dissection: the relentless ransacking of the planet’s resources, the prioritisation of endless economic growth over everything else, the promotion of a hollow rationalism that stripped out the wonder, the spiritualism that had been at the core of human existence even before mankind emerged from the cave.

There is no evidence that Cameron’s Avatars, 1 or 2, will have any greater effect on rethinking our relationship with Nature two centuries on, or end our slash-and-burn approach to our planet. We have gained no greater insight, even as the harm we have inflicted on the environment, and science’s ability to measure that harm, have grown exponentially.

Diseased Agenda

In Avatar, the diseased intellects that have turned Earth into a dying shell send their forward-party spaceships to Pandora with exactly the same diseased agenda of domination and pillage. It is clear that no lessons have been learnt, and that, with humans in charge, Pandora’s fate will be identical to Earth’s.

It is not just the military — represented by the crew-cut, machine-like Col. Miles Quaritch — that kills everything it touches on Pandora. It is business leaders, bureaucrats and scientists.

Cameron’s metaphors are not subtle. The peaceable whale-creatures that inhabit Pandora’s oceans are more intelligent and creative than the “Sky People” — the human invaders. But lacking the humans’ offensive technical capabilities, they are freely hunted for a highly profitable brain extract that can end the natural aging process. Once looted of this elixir, the whales’ giant carcasses are left to rot on the high seas.

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Pandora’s indigenous Na’vi understand what has been lost. They can couple with the whales, not sexually, but through fibres in their hair that bond both parties into a spiritual communion in which they share language, songs, emotion, a sense of unity and family.

The Na’vi can conjoin with all the animals and plants around them. These connections give them a direct pathway to a planetary consciousness, a oneness, that reminds them of their dependency on the integrity of the whole.

Cameron is not, of course, inventing the wheel. He draws on the ancient wisdom of the remnants of indigenous peoples — the survivors of the White Man’s conquests — on our own dying planet, a wisdom we now either mock or exoticise.

Had this sense of oneness remained intact, had we still an awe for Nature, Cameron implies, humans might have evolved to be more like the Na’vi — as they might have too had they listened to Wordsworth all those many years ago. If we had stopped murdering and dissecting, if we had looked inwards rather than so resolutely, so aggressively outwards, we might live in a Pandora rather than in the last stages of the Anthropocene.

Belligerent Rationalism

The huge popularity of both Wordsworth and the Avatar franchise — and their impact in their respective eras on the popular imagination — indicate something significant. That inside us, in the places where we so rarely look, we understand intuitively that Nature needs, demands our reverence. The message resonates with us because, without such reverence, we are empty vessels, living in a godless, competitive, materialist world created in the image of our own belligerent rationalism.

But here is the point. If we recognise the truth of Wordsworth’s injunction to value a direct connection with Nature more than its depiction and representation in books, or Cameron’s admonition to stop plundering and exploiting Nature as though it is something divorced from us rather than integral to our survival as a species, why do we carry on as before? Why are we so averse to change?

Let us put aside the problems with Avatar for the moment. The fact that the film preaches a oneness with Nature even as it bolsters the very same corporate structures that are killing the planet. The fact that it fetishises military solutions for the Na’vi — even a peaceable whale gets recruited as a battering ram — as it claims to be denouncing Col. Quaritch’s militarism.

In our culture, even a film warning that Nature should not be instrumentalised is required to instrumentalise Nature, to earn the big bucks needed to keep its director and producers in the business of making more Hollywood films.

But still, why are we so impervious to the central message: of the need for humility, for respect towards that which transcends us, that which completes us?

Here lies the conundrum. As we watch Avatar, we identify not as human but as Na’vi. We know the indigenous people are right about the threat humans pose, and the necessity of fighting these interlopers to the death or face Pandora’s destruction. We know these humans only too well because they are us.

By extension, we should understand that humans — we — pose the same threat to our own planet, Earth. Through the eyes of the Na’vi, we should be able to see ourselves for what we have become: a virus contaminating and killing everything of value in our path.


And yet clearly, we cannot do so. The awareness dies as soon as we emerge from the cinema into the light. Our Na’vi eyes close, and our murderous human eyes are restored.

Unthinking Cogs

Out of the cinema, we return to our “normal” lives, to being a small, unthinking cog in the giant machine of human civilisation that pillages the planet, pollutes its air and water, decimates its forests, kills its insects, meddles with its climate.

We go back to poisoning our home world just like the humans in Avatar did, before they were forced to send spaceships to colonise a second planet. Except that last bit is just a sci-fi story. There is no second planet, no second chance.

The paradox is that we identify with the Na’vi because they have what we have lost: they have community and tradition, they share, they believe, they belong.

But we cannot really become Na’vi, outside of our immersion in a cinematic event, because we have been persuaded generation by generation that we are nothing more than individuals. There is no society. Nature is there to be tamed and exploited, there is no higher purpose than profit, there is no meaning beyond our selfish whims, our own self-aggrandisement.

Knowing something to be true with our minds is not the same as understanding its truth, feeling its truth. Which is why in our supremely interconnected digital worlds, with platforms providing infinite possibilities for virtual exchange, we have become so alone, so lost.

Wordsworth again:

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

Our new ethereal, soundbite “books” of instant information, easy opinion and even easier outrage are a haven for misinformation and manipulation — chiefly from our own governments but also from the terminal cynics sure everything is a plot and a deception, from disease to environmental collapse.

Without community, without common purpose, without a connection to the fixed wisdom of Nature, we are adrift. We are buffeted by the lies power wields to keep us compliant, and the knee-jerk reactions of those who sense the lies but have no yardstick of truth to gauge the reality that has been obscured.

If we can learn anything from Avatar, it is this: We long to be Na’vi but are doomed to be Col. Quaritch. Cameron’s film, as Wordsworth warned two centuries ago, is just another dull, strife-filled book — a representation of Nature, not Nature itself. Avatar points us towards the path of redemption, only to slam shut the door that could lead us there.

Jonathan Cook is an award-winning British journalist. He was based in Nazareth, Israel, for 20 years. He returned to the U.K. in 2021. He is the author of three books on the Israel-Palestine conflict: Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish State (2006), Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (2008) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair(2008)

If you appreciate his articles, please consider offering your financial support.

This article is from the author’s blog Jonathan

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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26 comments for “The Murder of Nature

  1. Tony Kevin
    January 6, 2023 at 17:33

    Both film and this essay are excellent. Spoiler alert – I went to see Avatar 2 knowing nothing about it except my memory of the original Avatar movie. I am glad that I had not read this essay or any other review before I went. More impact this way .

  2. Wade Hathaway
    January 6, 2023 at 13:21

    I am taking orders for Tshirts: Capitalism Kills Everything It Touches

    Beautifully written article and so poignant. I think is was in Thoreau’s Walden Pond, he describes how commerce steals the essence of any thing that becomes a commercial object. I believe the example he used was that once the berries are picked by a laborer to be packaged and sold, they are no longer truly berries, they are commodified. Their essence or nature is gone and it cannot be restored.

    This understanding of our disconnection from nature has been with us so long, and so long ignored.

  3. Czarist Bot
    January 6, 2023 at 11:33

    A worthy subject, thanks for covering it. For those interested, I’d recommend the lectures and writings of ecologist William Rees (he can be found easily on YouTube), and the book “Overshoot” which lays out the impacts of human techno-expansionism succinctly.

    I do disagree with Cook’s assessment of the film though. Cameron could have made any movie franchise he wanted and decided to make a brutal polemic about corporate greed, militarism, and the rape of the natural world- a laudable and gutsy choice. Will it change humanity’s path? Of course not- it’s a movie. But what else can artists do?

  4. January 6, 2023 at 11:04

    Taken from an essay on fundamentally questioning accepted values:

    “ A most underlying principle of social life in all human societies is to find ways of being valued, to accomplish something, either within the overarching social hierarchies or within the hierarchies of some sub-set of society. It is my argument that this, almost completely unquestioned, social motive has been and remains the most destructive biologically created force in the evolutionary history of life on this planet.

    “I realize that such a statement is far out of the central principles of my society, that it is represented by only a very tiny sub-set of values and ideas (social stories); that such a statement is easily rejected out of hand. But, when it is realized that each human animal can be potentiated by the social value of ‘needing to accomplish something’ in their life, that the millions and millions of acts of, primarily, material accomplishment, accomplishments defined by societies whose value systems are often largely disconnected from ecological realities, will result in vast and rapid changes to the material worlds in and surrounding such societies. To put it more simply: millions of small, seeming inconsequential, acts of accomplishment sum into great forces for change, increasingly rapid and far reaching change.”

  5. Eric Foor
    January 6, 2023 at 11:00

    All forms of life, with the possible exception of virtual life, seem to share one single function…and that is we eat and degrade the “order” we are impeded in…whether the order is mineral or biological. Apparently the purpose of all life is to break apart ordered molecules that have spontaneously originated and grown to to an excessively high degree in our very unique terrasphere. You could say life is a process of biological erosion. Clearly we are very successful at this. The mechanism that that keeps life’s purpose in check is that we are all surrounded by competing organism that are all struggling to do the same thing. When a form of life breaks free of it’s historic niche it proceeds to overwhelm, dominate and consume it’s neighbors. When that happens within us we call it Cancer. In other words, Cancer is the unrestrained epitome of our purpose. Order begets Order….Order grows. Currently we are employing our “order building devise” (our intellect) to consume our environment. That in itself is not unnatural…but as in internal Cancer we are going to kill our host.
    Our story does not have to end this way. I believe we can tune our “rate of order erosion” to match the creation of order by other life forms. We don’t have to jump off the cliff…we can slide down the hill slowly…and still accomplish our purpose. If we restrain ourselves we can sustain ourselves. We can use our intellect to cure our urge to burn at an excessive rate….and this may apply to our internal Cancers as well.

    • January 7, 2023 at 00:41

      Your choice of the words eat and degrade and erosion are quite loaded and a fundamentally imbalanced way of looking at life processes which are simply transformative through recycling. The processes of stellar formation and explosive disintegration are not any more of a pure ordering of molecules than turning light and CO2 into carbohydrates, or eating seeds, fruit, grass or other animals. To my mind life is particularly interesting because it is so clearly imbued with something you might loosely think of as will or just awareness, consciousness. Where this consciousness comes from in the patterning of the universe and how pervasive it is, and whether evolution requires a humbler harmonic relation within that larger pattern seems to be inescapably linked to the survival of a human friendly earth. Maybe it is time to recognize that militarized, fossil fuel reliant industrial capitalism was never the way.

  6. jamie
    January 5, 2023 at 16:17

    I like the article. So much to discuss. It seems to me we are caught between romanticizing nature and seeing nature as the evil to be defeated and conquered. I believe both are not helping and both are reinforcing each other and alienation. Nature is all but understood, as of today, for what we know, we are probably the best chance for nature/life to leave this planet and conquer others (to expand); a dead astronaut floating in space is already a great achievement for “mother nature”, an entire crew heading beyond our solar system a jackpot; perhaps, our incapacity to refrain ourselves from ravaging the planet’s natural resources, to procreate infinitely, to be insatiable of anything and everything is just nature’s will/plan, not our fault. Perhaps, to nature it does not matter if we still be here in the next century, what matters truly is that before goodbyes, we brought life a step forward and farther that it has ever gone. Nature to me is chaos and always will be, attempting to understand nature, to listen to it with mind and heart, perhaps is the best thing we could do in order to survive rather than trying dominating it, engineering it, resulting only in creating new chaos an immense energy requirement… understanding that it is neither good nor evil, just surviving and expanding with or without us is important. Perhaps one day will be all surfers, seeing nature in waves, learning how and when to surf them rather than trying to change their shapes, rhythm, and strength to move forward with it and even enjoying the ride

  7. Em
    January 5, 2023 at 12:40


    We are as integral an aspect of nature, as were all the other species we have driven to extinction, since first losing the innocence of pure instinct, and consciously becoming aware of our ability to reason rationally and think critically.

    Anthropomorphism of our very nature is nothing less than ego run amok!

  8. Caliman
    January 5, 2023 at 12:31

    The Romantics naturally romanticized everything, especially nature as some kind of a pure and unspoiled entity that one could commune with and be refreshed by. It’s a pretty and lovely concept only typically affordable by the very rich and/or otherwise secure members of human society, which became a significant number of humans only with the advent of industrialism.

    Real nature of course, which humans are a part of and influence heavily and are influenced heavily by, is messy and dangerous to life and health where not tamed into human habitat … dealing face to face with a hungry grizzly bear will disabuse anyone from the concept of oneness of all beings.

    As for individualism and lack of social sense being the issue, I’d beg to differ. In fact, as humans have become more isolated and individual in their consciousness, we have developed a more romantic understanding of our connection to nature. The old farming societies with their close-knit communities were typically more consciously separate from and “at war” with nature day to day than most modern humans.

    • Bill Todd
      January 5, 2023 at 15:41

      Thanks for such a clear example of the propaganda which infuses most of our culture. What you describe as desirable is the isolation of humanity from nature to the extent that we dominate it without suffering the fairly short-term consequences which nature imposes on other rogue species. The obvious conclusion is that the world (including what may be left of humanity) will be much better off without such behavior on our part and that this behavior will to be the direct cause of our demise (because so many other species are considerably more resilient than we are).

      It’s too bad (for us) that advances in human cleverness do not based on current trends appear to have led to the same benefits in terms of survival of our species that natural mechanisms (e.g., responses to overpopulation) would have.

      • Caliman
        January 5, 2023 at 19:48

        Every species capable of it modifies “nature” to suit itself … we just happen to be spectacularly good at it.

        Very few species are actually more resilient than humans … humans are the only mammal that naturally expanded to and thrived in every significant and insignificant land mass on the planet other than antarctica. We are absolute survivors. “Nature” did a great job with us :).

        I’m sorry that pointing out the fact that most people would find the romantics notion of nature to be dangerous and unappetizing beyond a camping trip’s visit rubs you the wrong way … I think it’s a realistic view of humanity.

        • Czarist Bot
          January 6, 2023 at 11:24

          Being part of nature doesn’t mean that you’re not on the menu. Indigenous subsistence cultures that have had a much lower impact on the ecosystem understood that give and take, that life and death are part of natural systems they honor and respect.

          Humanity’s turn towards sedentary agriculture and expansionist technological civilization was only “good” for humanity insofar as it removed restraints that keep most species in an equilibrium status with their environment. Our “success” as a species is temporary, as it’s based on hyper exploitation. Hence the mass extinction we’ve already undertaken.

          • Caliman
            January 7, 2023 at 12:04

            I agree with much of what you say, but your conclusions are colored by romantic narrative.

            Just as one example, those very indigenous subsistence cultures you mention: most members of such, when exposed to modernity and the fruits thereof, immediately want and use them. Why? Because they make life EASIER and more fruitful. Subsistence fisher societies switch to power boats. Amazonians and Africans pick up steel tools and fabrics. “Harmony with nature” tends to be an outcome based on lack of tools and knowledge rather than a positive desire for same.

            Now, as you say, we may overuse the abilities of our planet to the point where there may be a human population crash a la Easter Island writ large. However, I would not underestimate the ingenuity and sheer resilience of humanity. For better or worse, we will probably survive.

        • Deniz
          January 6, 2023 at 13:42

          Ok Daniel Boone, tell us about your near death experience from that grizzly.

          • Caliman
            January 7, 2023 at 12:14

            Oh, I respect wild animals far too much to put myself in such a position like a romantic fool trying to get closer to nature. That was, in fact, my point: humans tend to modify their habitat to reduce risk and increase success for themselves and their children, and that includes removal of dangerous animals from their neighborhood.

  9. Valerie
    January 5, 2023 at 09:48

    Thankyou Mr. Cook for that realistic look at the state of our planet and the disconnect from Nature.
    I am ridiculed and laughed at with my attempts to aid our failing/falling creatures. But the pleasure and joy i experience when my hand-made bee hotel and bird feeder are used, more than compensates for any derision.
    Another aspect which needs close scrutiny are factory farms and the “murder” committed on a grand scale within their walls.
    An informative non-fiction book entitled “Eternal Treblika” by Charles Patterson compares our treatment of animals and that of the Holocaust.

  10. jef
    January 5, 2023 at 09:48

    We have allowed ourselves to be structured under a system designed to bring out the worst behavior humans are capable of. None of what Jonathan writes, or Wordsworth, or anyone else matters at all when everyone has to go to work in the morning. Virtually nobody gets to “decide” to not work because what they are tasked to do is somehow harmful to the planet or to another human. Pretty much everything humans do, I would say more than 80%, is detrimental to the planet and life on the planet in some way.

    Stop making money and you will soon begin to suffer greatly, your loved ones will suffer and you will have to watch suffer. This is by design, the Owners have even said so out loud, if we don’t have people suffering and dying because of lack of money then they won’t be motivated to do what we need them to do. This system has been so thoroughly indoctrinated in the general population that even the general population will enforce it.

    People always ask why do countries not stop using FFs and stop polluting? Well if you would listen they are telling you loud and clear, over and over, There number one responsibility is to grow the economy, create jobs, raise people up out of poverty so they don’t have to suffer and die. What part of that does everyone not get?

    If everyone on the planet eventually gets a decent job and can then afford a reasonable house, plumbing, electrical, heating, AC, nutritional food, phone, some a car… the planet will be totally destroyed.

    Right now we have maybe 1 or 2 billion people living like this and we are hurtling faster and faster to collapse. We have 6+ billion living very hand to mouth, closer to nature. It would be easier for them to shift their aims and goals to become one with nature if they had some support and guidance, if they didn’t have the threat of suffering and dying hanging over their head all the time. Things will still get done.

  11. susan
    January 5, 2023 at 08:40

    Oh Jonathan, thank you for such an eloquent piece – you have hit the nail on the head with it. If there were more humans like you, I feel we would be in a different situation altogether but unfortunately, there are too many who ignore what is right in front of them. Humans are like the cancer that grows inside of its host – eating it from the inside out. There are way too many of us on this beautiful, finite planet and we are completely destroying her without a care.

  12. Anon
    January 5, 2023 at 08:05

    Only 1 way 2 ensure defeat: Give Up the FIGHT!
    Last I looked… Immortality Drug not yet brought 2 market… But…
    Unlike Wordsworth’s era… Those of us Alfa Earth Predators (including Jonathan & CN)… DO have Worldwide means 2 Communicate Instantly with our fellows Anywhere around the Globe…
    Perhaps the Battle 2 Preserve Freedom Still In Progress…
    Tnx CN (& Readers) 4 Commitment!

  13. Paul Citro
    January 5, 2023 at 07:20

    Heartfelt connection comes from personification. But only children, poets, and madmen are permitted to do this. Hence our world appears to us to be empty, brutal, and dead.

  14. Stephen Blobaum
    January 5, 2023 at 05:20

    Will our species evolve beyond the “Epoch of the Ego”? How many dye are being cast how many times? Intellect versus Awareness.

  15. firstpersoninfinite
    January 5, 2023 at 00:12

    My guess is that the sterility of both ourselves and our culture is the necessary end of our worldview. I mean Spengler made that plain for all of cultural history, going back to ancient Egypt. The question now is what does one do about the time we find ourselves living in: a cowardly era of meaningless acquisition? We can only fight for connection to each other and all that which surrounds us. Wordsworth is a very good start because the physicality of language is a living path back to what we have lost, and a much better alternative to that which we have chosen. Propaganda and useless pseudo-events will never show us a way forward. Nihilism may be dangerous, but it is the primordial sea in which we may still become something unique unto ourselves. All the old verities lack the backbone of believability, and should be discarded unless they find some way to speak to us again. First nothingness, then equal measures alone will expand that daylight we still possess between us.

  16. Joni Appleseed
    January 4, 2023 at 19:34

    “Had this sense of oneness remained intact, had we still an awe for Nature, …”

    It can be regained. Go sit under a tree. Sit there long enough, and it will return. Most of us are taught from birth to be separate from Nature. We are taught that ‘our life’ is something different and separate. But we don’t have to be separate, and we remain so for only as long as the delusion remains in our minds. Thus …. go sit under a tree. Sit there for awhile, long enough for reality to sink in and for the delusions to fade. Perhaps a bird will come by and help you to understand.

    When the movie-goers step outside the theater, the massive mind-control that is modern western society re-exerts its pull. Mr. Cameron can at best create only a sphere of suspension of the corporate reality for his audience. Western society uses extensive mind control, from advertising to publicity to PR to propaganda to politics to …. Attempting to control the minds of the planet’s inhabitants is constant. The constant presence of ‘doublethink’ reveals its existence. Thank you, George.

    Make Love! Not War!

    Remember that once much of a generation managed to break free, some for a short while, some for a lifetime. It can be done. There is an alternative. There are many ways of finding reality, but Nature is a good one, and there is still a little of bit of Nature, left about here and there, that has not yet been paved to put up a parking lot. Or pick the parking lot where you can see Roger Waters perform, as he is obviously one who broke quite free and sees reality. There are fifty ways to leave your lover, and other delusions are the same.

    • Daedalus
      January 5, 2023 at 11:52

      Ah, ‘Joni’,

      I, too, remember those years of hope (I’ll be 80 in two weeks). Today, however, our ‘masters’ learned from that time and have created a far more controlling structure. Now, they convince us that Nature is our enemy (we have ‘enemies’ everywhere). We live in an Orwell novel.

      The good news is that ‘life’ will persist after the plague that is our species is gone. At least until the sun’s core runs out of hydrogen and the surface expands.

      • Valerie
        January 6, 2023 at 03:25

        But what we tend to overlook Daedalus, is the fact that without humans, some 400 or so nuclear stations will explode/meltdown or whatever they do, without humans to control/monitor/regulate etc. That will be our legacy. So our planet could end up a toxic, nuclear wasteland. Would “life” persist in this environment?

        • jamie
          January 6, 2023 at 09:41

          well, life has persisted even after worse event than nuclear catastrophe; bacteria from which we are composed are extremely resilient, apparently capable of surviving even in space, our body is a vessel of bacteria, hundred trillions they say, the fact is to renew itself nature will probably need catastrophe; without it we would probably not even exist.

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