Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Nudism's Appeal to Nature

It is not surprising, but nudists are often guilty (and I am no exception) of using the "appeal to nature" in justifying the validity of their lifestyle - surely, you've heard the mantra "nude is natural" at some point or other. This, however, is a logical fallacy in which one equates that which is natural with being good (and, on the other hand, that which is unnatural with being bad). To illustrate why this constitutes an error of reasoning, one need only imagine something natural that is bad (e.g., disease), or something unnatural that is good (e.g., modern medicine).

Of course, it's possible to get caught up in a web of circular logic, and start defining anything that is good as being natural ("it's natural to put marshmallows in your hot cocoa!"), or anything that is bad as being unnatural ("the way he leered at me was just unnatural!"). At this point, it becomes increasingly apparent that all of this depends upon our subjective definition of what "natural" means. After all, man is a part of nature, so what separates his cities from the tunnels of an ant colony? From a certain perspective, there is nothing in this world that is truly unnatural, except perhaps that which is supernatural (if there is such a thing).

Colloquially speaking, if we are not concerned with splitting hairs, most people have a rough understanding of what is natural versus what is, shall we say, man-made. And much of the appeal of nudism, it is argued, rests on the fact that it is the natural state of affairs to be naked (as you were born), as opposed to wearing clothes (which have been meticulously designed by man). Instinctively, I feel that this is good reasoning, but at the same time, I know that it constitutes a logical fallacy. If "natural" is not a synonym for "good", then nudism can't be good because it's natural. If you're having trouble swallowing this point, don't be concerned - unfortunately, our brains are not wired to prioritize logic over emotion. Just think of the many things we do that are not natural, that we nevertheless prefer over the natural alternatives.

For example, if the natural state of dress (i.e., nudity) is ideal, then what about the state of our bodies? Is it natural to pursue a fitness regimen? How about basic hygiene? You could argue that even animals exercise (especially when they're not leading unnaturally sedentary lifestyles) and bathe (albeit without soap), but what about personal grooming habits? Is it natural to trim a beard, or shave the hair underneath our arms, or should we just let it grow out? What about a simple haircut? Consider our living environment. Tent camping is pretty close to the land (despite involving conspicuously man-made materials), but can it really be considered natural to inhabit an RV, or a trailer, let alone a house? And what about food? Is all the food we eat perfectly natural, or is much of it heavily processed? Do we cook it all over campfires, or is it more convenient to use a grill or stove? For that matter, could anything that uses electricity, or takes advantage of indoor plumbing, be considered "natural"?

If we were to adopt the philosophy that natural means better, then we'd quickly find ourselves reverting to the Stone Age. And nudism is not a euphemism for "Stone Age camping". Granted, there are people out there - undoubtedly including some that are among the nudist community - that argue for a natural approach in all things. But this is not most of us, nor even most of the people arguing that nudism is good because it's natural. And while a greener, more environmentalist-friendly approach may be desirable in many contexts, it is not because everything that is natural is intrinsically good. Or that anything that is unnatural is intrinsically bad. An approach that is too naturalistic carries problems of its own - just consider the anti-vaxxers. So, if we can't credibly argue that being naked is good because it's our natural state of dress, then what are we left with?

Let me say this: I can't deny that part of the appeal of being naked - especially outdoors - is that it gives me a sense of being "closer" to nature. But, interestingly, it's a feeling that's not mitigated by my freshly shaven armpits. And while I would rather shower under a waterfall than in a bathroom, I have no strong desire to defecate under a bush, especially without toilet paper or soap of some kind. And believe me, I could go my entire life without having to kill my own dinner. I guess I'm not really wild. But I like being naked. (And, it's interesting to note, few of the people I know that I would call wild regularly practice nudism). Call me a "tourist", but I could live peacefully in the boundary between worlds, frolicking happily in nature, but with civilization never too far away. A manifestation of that, perhaps, is my desire for more reasonable nudity laws, that would allow a person to enjoy public parks and city streets (or at least people's private yards) "au naturale", instead of having to drive out to the middle of nowhere to enjoy nudism in glorified trailer parks (that, nevertheless, often have many of the amenities of modern society).

If the reason that the appeal to nature speaks to us is because it tugs at our feelings, then I suppose nudism could be considered good because it allows us to feel natural, without any of the harmful side-effects of truly roughing it. I mean, there is some validity to the naturalistic perspective; provided that being naked is no more harmful than wearing clothes, it seems kind of silly for us to go so far out of our way, culturally, to deny a simple fact of nature. In other words, being natural doesn't make nudism a good thing, per se, but it doesn't hurt its case, either. And if there are plenty of other advantages to going nude (both physically and mentally), which could themselves be emphasized above and beyond the natural argument, then all the better!

When I really think about it, "nude is natural" seems more like an excuse for why it's okay, than a reason for anyone to pursue it. I don't actually like nudity because it's natural, even if that's how I feel sometimes. I like nudity because it's beautiful. And when it's not beautiful (because it's not always beautiful), I like it because it's comfortable. Does there need to be anything more to it than that? I think it's when people start questioning whether being naked is really sane or appropriate (on account of what they've been taught), in spite of whatever advantages a person might derive from it, that we start to become defensive, and emphasize its natural nature. Which I think is okay. We all have bodies. We were born with them, and it's not healthy to be ashamed of them. Why should they be considered "inappropriate"? Anyone can undress in front of a mirror and see one for themselves. You think nudism is crazy? I think going out of our way to hide our bodies from each other - and ourselves - is what's insane.

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