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Just Because It’s Natural Doesn’t Mean It’s Good

What do anti-vaxxers and anti-GMO campaigners have in common? Underpinning both “antis” is a shared belief that because vaccines and GMOs are “unnatural,” they’re bad, which for many people—whatever their feelings about vaccines and GMOs—segues into its inverse: What’s natural is good. Shades of Rousseau’s exaltation of the noble savage, within us and without.

It’s an easy conclusion, often appropriate. Given a choice, most people gravitate toward the natural over the artificial. After all, natural environments are preferable to garbage dumps, natural foods are nearly always healthier than stuff concocted in a chemistry lab. Yet it needs to be said loud and clear: Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s good. “Smallpox is natural,” Ogden Nash noted. “Vaccine ain’t.” Gangrene, acne, hurricanes, earthquakes, COVID-19—all bona fide natural.

NOT A ROLE MODEL: Biologists have documented infanticide in numerous species, including chimpanzees. The process is a grisly affair. But it is clearly adaptive for the murderous, newly ascendant male.Afandi Teguh Afriyanto / Shutterstock

Reading 19th-century critic and essayist John Ruskin, who wrote “There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather,” one cannot help conclude that Mr. Ruskin didn’t get out much. By the same token, “doing what comes naturally” can be very bad advice indeed.

“All nature is but art,” Alexander Pope wrote in . “One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.” Pope’s conviction, embedded in social philosophy, remains ingrained in our culture today. I disagree, and so would

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