A talk I gave for ERIE at CIIS a few months ago building on (an admittedly loose interpretation of) Andy Clark’s extended mind thesis and Richard Doyle’s ideas about the role of psychedelics in human evolution:
It’s got me reflecting on what the “creaturely” might mean/be after the death of God (the Creator), or what the “facticity of matter” might mean/be after its traditional opposite, the activity of spirit, has been reduced by natural science or deconstructed by post-modern philosophy. What is the “creaturely,” the “material”? Can they have a definite meaning without consideration of the (real) nature of their opposites? Do they have a ground internal to themselves? Or are they groundless? I’d say not only spirit, but matter, too lacks an internal ground. They are both grounded outside themselves, by each other.
Might we say that the need for a post-nihilistic praxis has arisen for (post)modernity precisely due to its encounter with groundlessness (i.e., the “unprethinkable,” the non-reason-able), both the groundlessness of spirit (=freedom) and the groundlessness of matter (=gravity)? The Modern project is driven by the feeling of vertigo associated with the Abgrund, which is to say the entire enterprise of Enlightenment society to manufacture a more hygienic “second nature” to replace the first has been driven by a sort of nihilism, a desire not only to kill an all good God but to kill an entirely feral Gaia, to replace him with our own intelligence (=techno-science) and to replace her with an entirely domesticated techno-oikos. A post-nihilistic praxis, or at least a rhetorical gesture towards one, seems to me to have been well expressed by Latour during his Gifford lectures. I tried my hand at such a praxis in this essay on what I’ve called Gaian praxecology.
Grant wonders what I meant by referring to Tarnas’ archetypal cosmology as a “middle up” approach to transforming culture, and to Latour’s anthropology of the moderns as a “top down” approach to the same. I appreciate Grant’s use of Latour’s own network analysis to deconstruct my construal of the two thinker’s relative positions within academic and popular culture. Latour has been problematizing the politically enforced boundaries between natural science and folk psychology (i.e., between elite knowledge and mass opinion) for most of his 40-year career.
My vertical metaphor may have been misleading: I intended it as a reference to the size and shape of their respective audiences, not as a reference to the degree of their value or profundity. Tarnas’ bestselling Passion of the Western Mind has been read by hundreds of thousands of college educated people. It is bar none the most balanced, insightful, and well-written gateway into the long arc of Western intellectual history that I have ever come across. I characterized Tarnas’ impact on culture-at-large as “middle out” because Passion has succeeded in offering a coherent and carefully argued meta-narrative that many people can accept as basically true. The archetypal depth and conceptual clarity of its mythico-dialectical structure works like magic to compel its readers to accept the strength of the 2,500-year long thread of historical meaning it weaves from Socrates and Jesus through to Jung, Hillman, and Grof.
As for Latour, one 2007 study showed that he was the 10th most cited humanities author of the year. I presume the study included all languages, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Latour was also on the top of an Anglo-only list considering the important influence of post-war French thought on the American academy. If you feel like following that particular thread, check out Francois Cusset’s French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States (2008). What Cusset means by “intellectual life” in his title is a bit more concentrated than what I meant above by “college educated,” and by “concentrated” I mean in terms of the number of readers who are both capable of and interested in reading authors like Latour, Deleuze, or Derrida. Their work appeals to (relatively speaking) a very small number of highly educated graduate students, professors, and conceptual artists. Latour’s influence has been “top down” in the sense that it just isn’t accessible to many people (which is ironic considering his desire to make knowledge political–that is, to bring science to the people!).
A reviewer of Cusset’s book offers a story that is relevant enough to Grant and my discussion that I will quote it:
Artist and activist Jean-Jacques Lebel, who had imported beat poetry into France from the United States, once invited Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari to a 1975 concert held in Massachusetts, where the two had the opportunity to meet Bob Dylan and Joan Baez backstage. Somewhat unimpressed with the two French philoso- phers, the folksingers had not bothered to read Anti-Oedipus, and likewise the two theorists were unfortunately not interested in smoking marijuana: an inadvertent misalignment of social interests, creating a somewhat awkward encounter for all parties involved. This anecdote of an ill-conceived compatibility epitomizes the spirit of comprehending the objectives of French theory and prompts an inevitable query: have we on the U.S. side of the Atlantic been able to come to terms with the French, their traditions of intellectual thought and their philosophical legacy?
The reviewer (as well as Cusset) suggets that much of what the French have to offer to we American theorists has indeed been lost in translation. Latour is certainly easier to read than a Derrida or a Deleuze, but his writing is still full of stylistically rich ironies and affective potencies. In such a textual environment, sometimes creative misreadings are the only available option (I’ve been offering my own no doubt often erring reflections on Latour for a while on this blog). Nonetheless, in the spirit of moving the discussion forward in a productive way, I’m going to risk contesting Grant’s reading of Latour’s analysis of knowledge-networks as somehow purely horizontal. Grant writes:
I see academic power as a horizontal network of relations, though differing from Latour, it seems to me that there are central nodes and margins of that network determined by the number of connections and the intensity of influence of those connections.
I’ve noticed that Deleuze and Guattari’s related notion of the “rhizome,” developed in A Thousand Plateaus (transl. 1987), is also usually interpreted as though it were a purely horizontal structure. This despite the fact that the final pages of the introductory chapter on the rhizome read as follows:
If it is a question of showing that rhizomes have their own, even more rigid, despotism and hierarchy, then fine and good: for there is no dualism, no ontological dualism between here and there, no axiological dualism between good and bad, no blend or American synthesis. There are knots of arborescence in rhizomes…despotic formations…and channelization specific to rhizomes…(p. 20).
Latour has clearly been influenced by D & G’s account of the rhizome in his own analysis of networks. In Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society (1987), Latour first introduces his concept of the network to English-speakers:
If technoscience may be described as being so powerful and yet so small, so concentrated and so dilute, it means it has the characteristics of a network. The word network indicates that resources are concentrated in a few places–the knots and nodes–which are connected with one another–the links and the mesh: these connections transform the scattered resources into a net that may seem to extend everywhere. Telephone lines, for instance, are minute and fragile, so minute that they are invisible on a map and so fragile that each may be easily cut; nevertheless, the telephone network ‘covers’ the whole world. The notion of network will help us to reconcile the two contradictory aspects of technoscience and to understand how so few people may seem to cover the world. (180)
Latour’s analysis of networks finds in them precisely the sort of power distribution that Grant does. His goal has never been to relativize the natural or cultural power of certain concentrations of scientific or academic knowledge. He is fully cognizant of the forever advancing dialectic of discovery and invention underlying the technoscientific process of knowledge production. If he is arguing for any kind of relativism, it is that all knowledge (whether scientific or folk) is constructed out of what at first may be fragile relationships–relationships that are only gradually forged through repeated acts of translation between and among various sorts of human and nonhuman actors.
To be fair to Grant, Latour would seem to prefer a “multi-narrative” to a “meta-narrative” perspective on knowledge. This resistance to telling a simple story sometimes makes his ideas hard to track. Judging by the audience’s question after Latour’s first Gifford lecture on Gaia theory, it appears many of them were stunned, as Grant put it, “by a mixture of reverence and bafflement.” Grant wonders how many people actually grasped exactly what Latour was on about (the fellow who introduced him certainly didn’t seem to). Personally, I love his style, and I don’t think in this case aesthetics is just the icing on the conceptual cake. If, following Whitehead (as Latour does), aesthetics is first philosophy, then we should proceed carefully whenever we try to distill the pure logical essences of flowery rhetoric. We may find that much is lost in translation whenever the supposedly pure conceptual content of an argument is purified of the metaphors and imagery that originally delivered its meaning. Maybe I’ve read too much “post-modernism,” but I’ve come to understand philosophy as a kind of dramatic performance art. After reading Deleuze, I can’t help but notice the personalities of concepts. I agree with the object-oriented philosopher Graham Harman’s comments in an interview about the importance of style in philosophy:
there are immense pressures working on us at all times to shape us as if with cookie cutters. There are three or four readily available opinions on most issues, and at best we are usually only imaginative enough to choose the least common of those three or four options. But the sign of a genuine thinker is the ability to develop a new option, never heard of before. When this happens, the thinker has broken away from the robotic array of available opinions and made some sort of contact with the real. And how do you know when someone may have done this? You recognize it by a certain freshness in the style, a directness and honesty of testimony, a streak of the unexpected or original in the thinker’s voice… Arguments are secondary in philosophy; failure to realize this is the central flaw of the hegemonic school known as analytic philosophy. (The continental tradition has signature weaknesses of its own, of course.) You can refute Plato’s “weak arguments” twenty times per day, but Plato remains fascinating nonetheless. Why? Because his voice is unique and it speaks from the depths of the real, not just from the tabletop of refuted propositional claims. (the rest of Harman’s thoughts on style are here).
Another point of contention between Grant and I is the role of technology in the evolution of consciousness. While its true that technology needn’t necessarily disenchant (indeed, as I argued in my first response to Grant, it is itself a very powerful form of enchantment, whether mis-directed or not), I passionately reject the thesis that technology is in any way neutral. It’s precisely because I agree with Grant’s comparison of technology to psychedelics that I can’t accept their supposed neutrality. Like psychedelics, media technologies (which includes everything from the alphabet, to the printing press, radio, TV, PC, and smart phones) have radically called into question our understanding of human agency. Media theorists like McLuhan and Ong have shown that, for instance, the relationship between alphabetic print and literate consciousness cannot be understood in a linear way as though the print medium merely amplified the innate capacities of an already internally constituted rational individual. Media also amputate formerly endogenous capacities (Plato long ago realized the risks posed to memory and learning by writing). Media technologies are not neutral because our very sense of identity, and so also our values, have always already been shaped by the message of the medium. Technologies are actors in their own right with their own effects independent of what their human inventors or users intend. As I see it, consciousness is way too mixed up in a co-evolution with its media for us to pretend we can disentangle what is “me” and what is “media.” Someone with a more mystical leaning like Jean Gebser is going to privilege the agency of consciousness in its evolution, its ability to chose to use this or that technology in whatever way it sees fit, while a Marx or a Latour is going to try to reveal the way the evolution of consciousness through its magical, mythical, mental and post-modern/deficient phases has more to do with the widespread cultural shifts in material practices associated with humanity’s development through song and dance, hieroglyphic symbolism, alphabetic script, the printing press, and electronic screens. I wouldn’t want to dismiss Gebser’s more consciousness-centric position, but I think it is just as important to pay attention to the way seemingly external media technologies transform the very shape of our inner lives in powerful and often unacknowledged ways.
In closing, I definitely agree with Grant that the translation table Latour constructs to bring the religious people of God, the scientific people of Nature, and the Earth-bound people of Gaia into diplomatic conversation may benefit from a more archetypal sensibility like that offered in Tarnas’ Cosmos and Psyche. As I understand it, Tarnas is creatively carrying forward an ancient tradition dating back to Plato that looks to the meaningful motions of the stars and planets above for a universally available source of cultural and political orientation here below. I believe any future people of Gaia would benefit greatly in their struggle to find meaning in chaotic times by practicing the psychoplanetary therapy Tarnas has helped to birth.
Before you read this post, go watch Bruno Latour’s recent Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, titled “Facing Gaia: A New Enquiry into Natural Religion” (or read the PDF version). I’ve written a few short commentaries on these lectures that may help bring you up to speed if you don’t have the 7 or 8 hours to watch them all just yet: here are my reflections on lectures one, two, three, four, and six).
Next, read my friend Grant Maxwell’s post comparing Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern to Richard Tarnas’ Passion of the Western Mind, both published in 1991. Grant is an editor of Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, an academic journal that is continuing to develop the perspective of Tarnas’ last book, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View (2007).
I applaud Grant’s diplomatic effort to bring these two thinkers into dialogue–thinkers who, on the face of it, seem to be engaged in incommensurable projects. While Latour’s Modern aims primarily at the problematization of any simple story about the rise and fall of “Modern Western Man,” Tarnas’ Passion would seem to aim precisely to tell such a story. The story Tarnas tells, of course, is hardly “simple.” He succeeds in brilliantly tracing the grand multi-millennial narrative of Western philosophical history through each of its dramatic dialectical twists: from the strange and unsteady but powerfully dynamic Christian synthesis of Greek philosophy and Hebrew prophecy; through the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution; on to the progress of the Enlightenment and the reaction of Romanticism; finally culminating in the hermeneutical sensitivity of our post-modern condition, a sensitivity that entails both the peril of groundless relativism and deconstructive suspicion as well as the soul-healing and world-enchanting promise of post-Jungian depth, archetypal, and psychedelic psychologies (Tarnas develops this “promise/peril” theme in his preface to Cosmos and Psyche, “The Two Suitors”). I believe Tarnas’ motivation for telling his epic history of the evolution of consciousness in the West is not only to argue for the over-all nobility of the Western project, but to prophesy its imminent self-inflicted dialectical sublation by the “otherness” it has for so long been projecting onto “Nature,” “God,” and most especially, “the Feminine” (Passion, 444). In the final lines of Passion, Tarnas’ writes:
[W]hy has the pervasive masculinity of the Western intellectual and spiritual tradition suddenly become so apparent to us today, while it remained so invisible to almost every previous generation? I believe this is occurring only now because, as Hegel suggested, a civilization cannot become conscious of itself, cannot recognize its own significance, until it is so mature that it is approaching its own death.
Today we are experiencing something that looks very much like the death of modern man, indeed that looks very much like the death of Western man. Perhaps the end of “man” himself is at hand. But man is not a goal. Man is something that must be overcome–and fulfilled, in the embrace of the feminine. (445)
Latour, while he may be somewhat more suspicious of Hegel’s totalizing dialectical philosophy of history, is, in a unique but comparable way, also prophesying the inevitable overcoming of “man” as a result of his terrible embrace by the long-forgotten goddess of earth, Gaia.
From Grant’s perspective, having studied Tarnas’ work deeply but admittedly having just begun his study of Latour’s by reading Modern,
the cores of both works partially intersect and express the archetypal quality of that moment near the height of postmodernism, which has a lot to do with seeing through seemingly airtight modern constructs to a novel vision of reality.
I agree that it is just this potential for creatively seeing through the postmodern condition that makes both men’s work so relevant to anyone involved in what we could call the “re-enchantment project.” However, whether Latour is indeed involved in such a project or not remains a matter of contention. Grant isn’t at all satisfied with Latour’s seeming dismissal of the need to mourn the loss of an enchanted world (Modern, 114cf.). I suppose I read Latour’s ironic statements about modern science and technology bringing about the disenchantment of the world somewhat differently than Grant. Latour may be a bit flippant at times, but his point is certainly not to “do everything he can to deny enchantment,” as Grant argues. Latour’s point, as I understand him, is precisely the opposite. Drawing in no small part upon the work of his Whiteheadian friends, Isabelle Stengers (see Capitalist Sorcery) and Donna Haraway (see Latour’s review of Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature), Latour argues that we have never been disenchanted, that in fact, modernity has been far more a wayward adventure in mis-enchantment than outright dis-enchantment.
Moderns may have lost their ability to magically participate in the animate powers of the earth and larger cosmos (a loss worth mourning), but the modern world is hardly lacking its own forms of consumer-capitalist misenchantment. Moderns have devised their own, no less enchanted technoscientific magic. This modern magic, with its hybrid factishes and cyborg machines, has allowed for the construction of an immense networked technoösphere whose all-encompassing mediation of human life (by satellite-linked touch screens and the like) has by now all but severed our conscious connection to earth and cosmos. Even the stars are now out-shined by the numinous glow of our gadgetry.
I’d argue, then, that Latour, like Tarnas, is involved in the re-enchantment project. This is especially evident after Latour’s Gifford Lectures on Gaia, as we’ll see below. He sees, like Stengers and Haraway, that the technocapitalist-entertainment complex has been providing humanity with a sort of surrogate enchantment for much of the last century. This makes the task of re-enchantment all the more perilous, since it involves not simply bringing a bit of magic back into a mechanized universe, but rather represents a true sorcerers’ battle pitting light and dark magics against one another. Who will win: Big Oil propaganda, or the world’s indigenous peoples and their reverence for Mother Earth? Or someone else? “Would it be possible,” asks Latour as part of an effort to summon “the people of Gaia,”
to accept the candidacy of those people who claim to be assembled, for instance, by Pachamama, the Earth goddess? May be, if only we could be sure that what passes for a respect for the Earth is not due to their small numbers and to the relative weakness of their technology. None of those so called ‘traditional’ people, the wisdom of which we often admire, is being prepared to scale up their ways of life to the size of the giant technical metropolises in which are now corralled more than half of the human race. (lecture 6)
Grant is put off by the difficult and anxiety-producing academic style of Latour’s Modern, preferring the “classical narrative clarity” of Tarnas’ Passion. There is no question that Tarnas’ book can and has reached a larger sector of the educated general public. But Latour didn’t write Modern for the general public. He wrote it for the modern philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists who mistakenly enforce the nature/society dichotomy he so detests. We might say that Modern was an attempt to transform the modern Zeitgeist from the top down, while Passion attempted to do the same from the middle up.
As for the anxiety one may feel upon reading Modern, or listening to the Gifford Lectures, Latour might respond by asking if hope might not be our biggest enemy. Hope allows us to wait until tomorrow to face the climate crisis, because maybe our situation isn’t so bad, after all. Like most of the world’s climate scientists, he has recognized the direness of our planetary position, the fact that we are already committed to at least 2 degrees centigrade of global warming, and that in all likelihood, we will be committed to far more before any meaningful action is taken. The changing climate that results from this warming will produce tens of millions of refugees, food shortages, and resource wars. Latour depicts climatologists as the most tragic figures of our time, in that despite their knowledge of the coming threat, they cannot mobilize the political will to do anything about it. They are the first scientists to be accused by other scientists of being a lobby. Latour’s project is an attempt to empower their knowledge, not by pretending to purify it of the vagaries of politics (as modern scientists normally do), but by re-positioning scientists from their disincarnate perspective beyond earth to an incarnate perspective bound to earth. This means admitting one’s local concerns and grounded norms, even and especially when one’s profession is the production of scientific facts. The climatologists are the closest the planet has to a people of Gaia, according to Latour. They are the people who speak on behalf of earth’s health.
For the sake of argument, let’s say Latour was barking up the wrong tree in Modern–that, on the contrary, we have been modern and science once could be purified of politics. In his recent Gifford Lectures, he sets out to prove that, in the age of the Anthropocene, we can no longer be modern because the natural fact of climate change is inseparable from the economic and political values of society. The reason ours’ is such an anxiety-producing time, according to Latour, is because Whitehead’s bifurcation, rather than being brought to its end by the revenge of Gaia, has, in fact, been reversed:
Incredibly enough, the question has become whether humans may retrieve a sense of history that has been ripped away from them by what they had taken until now to be a mere frame devoid of any agency. The Bifurcation of Nature, so criticized by Whitehead, has not come to a close: it has reversed itself in the most unexpected way, the ‘primary qualities’ being now marked by sensitivity, agency, reaction, uncertainty; the ‘secondary qualities’ by indifference, insensibility, numbness. (lecture 6)
In other words, “nature,” for so long merely the raw material out of which the progress of human history was made to take shape, is now, due to the unpredictable nonlinear effects of climate change, beginning to seem far more agential and sensitive than we human beings, our political paralysis and complete lack of serious response to the looming threat of ecological disaster making us seem more like inert and insensitive consumerist robots.
Since the Scientific Revolution, moderns have pretended to possess a “view from nowhere.” This objective view was predicated upon Galileo’s erasure of the primordial dichotomy between the earthly and heavenly spheres of the cosmos. In the beginning of his 3rd Gifford Lecture, Latour offers his non-modern take on the “reverse symmetry” displayed in Galileo’s theory of universal nature and Lovelock’s Gaia theory. Both men, Latour points out, “[turned] cheap instruments to the skies to make radically opposite discoveries.” In a way similar to Tarnas’ astrologically-informed (and so geocentric) participatory perspective, Latour argues that the living earth really does inhabit a special sub-lunary realm. One wonders if Latour’s attempt to return earth to its pre-Galileo status might be of any assistance to those hoping to re-assert the “metaphysical and psychological premises” of archetypal cosmology (see Passion, p. 296). I’ll quote Latour’s 3rd lecture at length:
While Galileo, by looking up beyond the horizon to the sky, was expanding the similarity between this Earth and all the other falling bodies, Lovelock, by looking down on us from one of those heavenly bodies, is actually decreasing the similarity among all the planets and this highly peculiar Earth of ours. From his tiny office in Pasadena, like someone slowly sliding the roof of a convertible car tightly shut, Lovelock brings his reader back to what should be taken, once again, as a sublunary world. Not because the Earth lacks perfection, quite the opposite; not because it hides in its interior the dark site of Hell; but because it has—and it alone has—the privilege of being alive in a certain fashion—which also means, in a certain fashion, being corruptible—that is, animated and also, thus, simultaneously in equilibrium yet brittle. In a word: actively maintaining a difference between inside and outside. Even stranger, the Blue Planet suddenly stands out as what is made of a long concatenation of historical, local, hazardous, specific and contingent events as if it were the temporary outcome of a ‘geohistory’ as attached to specific places and dates as the Biblical narrative, that is, exactly what was not to be taken into account when considered simply as a falling body among all the others.
Is not the reverse symmetry really admirable? Take the cliché of three ‘narcissistic wounds’ celebrated by Freud: first Copernicus, then Darwin and then — somewhat narcissistically — Freud himself? Human arrogance was supposed to have been deeply hurt by the Copernican revolution that had chased the human out of the centre of the cosmos (and hurt deeper still by the discovery, secondly of Darwin, and, thirdly, of the Unconscious that had kicked the human subject out of its privileged position). But in order to invent such a series of wounds, Freud had to forget the enthusiasm with which the so-called ‘Copernican revolution’ had been embraced by all those who had suffered so much for being stuck in the dark centre of a cosmos out of which they had no other escape but the super lunar regions, the only place where incorruptible truths could be found. Out of the hole at last!
Those familiar with Tarnas’ argument concerning the fundamental ambiguity of the Copernican revolution (representing both a blow to human centrality as well as a boon to human autonomy) will recognize its similarity to Latour’s treatment.
In closing, Latour may not be as optimistic about human history as Hegel, for whom all of natural and human history is “spirit disporting with itself” (as he wrote in the Phenomenology). Latour sees just as much contingency as he does dialectical inevitability in the course of evolution. On the other hand, he is a practicing Catholic, though I’m as yet unable to determine how the doctrine of providence survives his seemingly heretical, almost pagan, natural theology.
“Even Hegel in the Phenomenology of Spirit,” said Latour during his 5th lecture,
did not envision that the advent of the Anthropocene would so radically reverse the direction of the historical project–that humans would be dialectically merged with the geostorical adventure of carbon, oxygen, and metal. Think of that! The whole breath of Spirit now sublated, aufheben, overcome, intoxicated by carbon dioxide…
Tarnas, not unlike Hegel, would seem to have a greater degree of trust in the dialectical plot underlying our human adventure, that no matter how dark our plight may become, “it is always darkest just before the dawn.” Personally, I experience equal doses of hope and anxiety when faced by earth’s future prospects. I deeply appreciate the work of both Tarnas and Latour for providing us (those of us engaged in the “re-enchantment project”) with some essential weapons in our ongoing battle for the soul of the world.
Whereas the Atlas of the scientific revolution could hold the globe in his hand, scientists of the Gaian counter-revolution, I am sorry to say, look more like ticks on the mane of a roaring beast. -Latour
Who are the people of Gaia?:
…if the agent of geostory had to be the revolutionary humanity of the Marxist utopia…[that is,] had the proletariat succeeded in destroying Capitalism for good, pollution would have been even greater than it is today thanks to the fact that vast masses have remained in abject poverty! Would it be possible to accept the candidacy of those people who claim to be assembled, for instance, by Pachamama, the Earth goddess? May be, if only we could be sure that what passes for a respect for the Earth is not due to their small numbers and to the relative weakness of their technology. None of those so called ‘traditional’ people, the wisdom of which we often admire, is being prepared to scale up their ways of life to the size of the giant technical metropolises in which are now corralled more than half of the human race.
This little snippet on Whitehead wasn’t read by Latour in the live lecture, but was included in the PDF version of his talk:
Incredibly enough, the question has become whether humans may retrieve a sense of history that has been ripped away from them by what they had taken until now to be a mere frame devoid of any agency. The Bifurcation of Nature, so criticized by Whitehead, has not come to a close: it has reversed itself in the most unexpected way, the ‘primary qualities’ being now marked by sensitivity, agency, reaction, uncertainty; the ‘secondary qualities’ by indifference, insensibility, numbness. To the point where I could invert Whitehead’s quote I used in the first lecture: ‘so that the course of [humanhistory], [he had written nature]is conceived as being merely the fortunes of matter in its adventure through space.’
And this on power sharing with Gaia:
the Earthbound are tied to Gaia in a very different way than Nature used to tie Humans to Her. Onone hand, Gaia is much less personified than Nature, but, on the other, it does not claim to be outside or undisputable and does not pretend to be indifferent to politics. Whereas Nature could lord over Humans as a religious power to which a paradoxical Cult had to be rendered, Gaia commands, orders, binds as a secular not as a religious power. The translation table does not go from God or from Nature to Gaia, it comes from the more humble tradition of the body politic to the Earth by which this assembled body accepts solemnly to be definitely bounded. Even though so far there is no cult, not even a civic one for such a self-imposed tracing of ‘planetary boundaries,’ it is fascinating to imagine through what sort of public ceremonies such self-imposed limits would be be sworn and enforced. The rituals to be imagined might not fill the churches, but they will shake the scientific disciplines quite a lot and extract from ethnography a rich lore of practices. When we begin to gather together as Earthbound, we realize that we are summoned by a power that is a fully political one since it possesses what is called in Anglo American law ‘radical title’ to the whole land, that is, a legal claim that has precedence over all the other property rights. Faced with such a title, the Earthbound understand that, contrary to what Humans keep dreaming, they will never play the role of Atlas, nor that of a Gardener of the Earth, that they will never be able to fulfill the function of the Master Engineer of Spaceship Earth, not even that of the faithful and modest Steward of the Blue Planet. It is as simple as that: they are not alone in command. Someone else has preceded them, even though they learned of its presence and precedence long afterward. It’s called power sharing.
And this on “Creation” as a replacement for “Nature”:
…the belief in Creation as an alternative to Nature is a powerful way to make certain that the converting power of Incarnation is not limited to the inner fold of the psyches, and that it may extend finally to the whole cosmos. But only on the condition that Creation is not another name for Nature, distinguished from it only by the presence of over-animated agencies and packaged by Design. The Holy Spirit may ‘renew the face of the Earth’ but He is powerless when confronted with faceless Nature. It is because Gaia is such a secular figure, that it may allow the dynamic of Incarnation to resume its movement in a space freed from the limits of Nature. If we really‘know that the whole creation groans and travails in the pain of child birth until now,’ it means that it is not yet achieved and thus that it has to be composed, step by step, soul by soul, agency by agency. How strange is it that theologians fighting against paganism don’t realize that they are the ones that have built up, over centuries, a real Cult of Nature, that is, a search for an outside, immutable, universal, indisputable entity in contrast with the mutable, local, entangled, and disputable narrative which the rest of us, Earthbound, inhabit. By accusing ‘pagans’ of being close to Nature they have deprived themselves of millenaries of precautions, rituals, institutions, inventions that had much less to do with Nature than their own definition of transcendence. They have tried the impossible political theology of associating a people —the Church —with a place of no place, a Globe of God that has all the characteristics of Nature, what I have called Deus sive Naturasive Sphaera. To save the treasure of the Faith they have given it over to eternity. By wishing to migrate to this supernatural world, they did not notice that what was ‘left behind’ was not the sinful but everything for which, according to their own narrative, their own God had let his Son die, that is the Earth of His own Creation. They might have forgotten that another rendition of the word ‘ecology’ —to use Jurgen Moltmann’s beautifully invented etymology—could be oikos logos, that is, the ‘House of the Logos,’ this ‘house of the Father’ of which the Gospel of St John writes that it has ‘many mansions.’ I hope you have understood that to occupy the Earth, no, to be occupied and preoccupied by the Earth, we need to inhabit all of those mansions at once.
By 2016, the world’s geologists will officially decide whether or not Earth has entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. From Latour’s non-modern perspective, neither “nature” nor “society” can enter this new epoch unscathed. The theater of Modern history has been destroyed and must be re-constructed from scratch. Gone is the passive stage, “nature,” upon which the actors, “rational animals,” have for so long waged their wars and signed their peace treaties. The Anthropos is no longer in nature, nor outside of nature. Latour heralds the coming of an entirely new kind of political animal, a novel form of political body. They are a people to come, the people of Gaia, agents of an impatient planet.
Is climate change “anthropogenic”? No, says Latour. That the supposedly incontestable category, “human,” does not apply universally could not be made more evident than by the notion of “human-caused climate change.” Responsibility for the climate catastrophe is obviously not evenly distributed among “humans.” Unfortunately, its effects will not be evenly distributed, either. Sea level rise, food shortage, disease, etc., will disproportionately affect precisely those sectors of the world population that are least responsible for causing the catastrophe. Climate change has been caused by certain industrialized sectors of the human population, that is, by a particular people (consumer-capitalists) summoned by a particular God (Mammon, the market).
Gaia will not provide “humanity” with some sort of political magnet that might swiftly, as if by magic, unify a global people. Gaia, now fully sensitive to the presence of the people of Mammon, is growing increasingly impatient with that presence. Latour quotes Matthew 10:34, where Jesus says: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
We’ve permanently entered a post-natural, post-epistemological era: Unlike nature, whose ways were clearly and distinctly knowable to modern reason, the face of Gaia is as obscure as the face of any ancient God or Goddess. Her motives are unknown to us; she could care less about our human comforts, or about justifying her ways to us. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD, “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine” (Isaiah 55:8).
The people of Gaia do not assemble under a unified globe or a continuous sphere. The noösphere, “the true white man’s burden,” is supposed to include all that is true and beautiful, to smooth out all the discontinuities that threaten to cloud our human knowing and all the localities that threaten to multiply our human being. But where is the providential mountaintop one might stand on to take in the view of this neatly composed, ahistorical whole? It is precisely nowhere. The globe is an architectural impossibility: it always requires a foundation, a ground upon which to rest, and so it inevitably crumbles under its own weight.
Latour prefers a geostorical connective tissue woven out of “loops” to the historical-spherical project of globalization. Spheres, “from Plato to Nato,” have disconnected us from the local, narrative knowledges of the Earth Community. In the rush toward “global thinking,” Man has tried to unify too quickly what should have been composed slowly, taking great care to follow the networks, the feedback loops, that tie us to this planet and her uncanny life. This work of composition is not simply cognitive (i.e., scientific), but also affective (i.e., political).
Gaia has no central control station. She is not an all-seeing sphere, but a complex assemblage whose life is precariously composed by an indefinite multiplicity of chemical, microbial, and, increasingly, human teloi. She is not a unified actor; Her agency is fully distributed, which is why her face is so frightening.
Latour marvels at the reverse symmetry of the discoveries of Galileo and Lovelock. Both transformed humanity’s perspective of the Earth (and itself) by pointing cheap instruments to the sky. In the 17th century, Galileo dissolved the lunar membrane that had separated heaven and earth. He expanded the laws of nature into the distant reaches of space, dislodging Earth from its cosmic perch. No longer unique, Earth became just another falling body obeying the universal law of gravity. In the 20th century, Lovelock’s discovery of Gaia put Earth at the center again. He disturbed the homogeneity of Galilean space and re-established the uniqueness of the sub-lunary world. Earth was not simply one falling body among others; Earth is a living body.
After Lovelock (and Latour), nature is no more. We live not in empty space, nor as “cosmonauts ensconced in spaceship Earth.” We live, earth-bound, within Gaia, subject to a new kind of geocentrism. She is a strange entity: neither a supernatural goddess or a unified organism. She has been improvisationally assembled over the course of billions of years through a series of contingent events whose effects have interlocked her processes into complex systems of planet-wide feedback. The only way to understand a creature of this type is mythically–that is, through narrative. Latour’s “geostory” is a non-human narrative fabric, a fabric woven of tectonic plates, meteorite impacts, and ice ages. Geostory foregrounds all the actors backgrounded by history. In an ontology of events, the past is understood as a story which could have been otherwise, a story whose endurance in the present depends on its constant re-telling.
Having helped us to see the shifting shape of Gaia, Latour wonders: “What type of political animal does the human become after he has been coupled with an animated Gaia who is no longer natural?” Paradoxically, it seems the human will have to morph into a new shape just as the Earth is entering the Anthropocene.
On to lecture 4…
Latour is introduced by professor of physics Wilson Poon, who publicly confesses to being a great admirer of Latour’s work. Latour, thinly veiling how tired he is of the “Science Wars,” thanks him for the “rare confession”: “I don’t have many friends among physicists.” Poon contributes to a course at the University of Edinburgh on the relationship between Science and Religion, a favorite inter-disciplinary topic of my own. A quick google search turned up a sermon by Poon, titled “Giving Voice to Creation: A Christian Vocation in Science,” delivered at his local Episcopal Church in 2008. He speaks humbly on behalf of sand granules for their role in God’s creation (his scientific research specializes on fluid dynamics). Strange what can happen to natural scientists after they embrace a politics of nature…
In his second Gifford lecture, Latour rehearses David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Practicing the art of philosophical fiction, Latour re-constructs the history of philosophy (in much the same way that he helped reconstruct the Bergson-Einstein debate), wondering if Hume’s reflection on natural theology was really enough to stir the sage of Könisburg from his dogmatic dreaming, or if, in fact, he and all other Enlightened moderns are still sleeping, still spellbound by the pleonasm of natural religion, still stuck within the paradigm of design (by mechanistic de-animation or deistic over-animation), still paralyzed by the false split between science and religion, matter and spirit, fact and value, etc.
I haven’t read Hume’s dialogue since college, but Latour has made it seem like necessary re-reading. I’m particularly fascinated to expand Philo and Cleanthes’ discussion concerning the scope of analogical reasoning in cosmology. Is the universe more like an animal (a world-soul), or a plant (a giant vegetable)? Hume leaves the matter undecided, all the worse for the supposed speculative power of analogical reasoning. The Naturphilosoph is left wondering whether his imaginal methods of conversing with nature, namely correspondance and analogy, have any basis in reality. Hume argues that they cannot be justified. Poetic metaphors cast too wide a net to catch the certainties sought by calculative mathesis. This is no refutation of the power of imaginal methods; it is only to say that, if analogical reason and speculative philosophy are to be productive of knowledge, they can only achieve this result through a cognitive magic still too occult for conscious reasoning to dispassionately reflect upon (see Hume’s Treatise, i. Sec. 7). The possibility of reasoning about the cosmos analogically in a scientific way depends upon the possibility of scientific genius. In his Critique of Judgment, Kant defines genius as “the inborn predisposition of the mind through which nature gives the rule to art.” He grants genius to the artist, but denies it to the scientist, since for the latter, “rules that are distinctly cognized must come first and determine the procedure in it.” So whereas in artistic creation, the soul of the genius rises to a state of infinite free play that links it directly with the naturans of nature, in scientific research, the finite soul must work to mechanically imitate nature according to the limits of its own merely reflective organs of knowledge. The possibility of a Naturphilosophie capable of determining the animality or vegetality of the universe depends upon the possibility of scientific genius, on the possibility of what Gaston Bachelard has called the “material imagination.”
The material imagination is alchemical. Christian alchemists are both the agents and patients of the incarnation of Imagination. They seek not to understand the Trinity abstractly, in merely theological terms, but concretely, physically. They search for it, summon it, in plants and animals, in human communities, because they are called by it (this is Latour’s dynamic of co-relative construction between a people and an entity). They pay as much attention to the close at hand (their many neighbors) as to the far away (the one globe).
I’m reminded here of what Schelling has one of his own conceptual personae say in his non-modern dialogue concerning natural religion, Clara, Or on Nature’s Connection to the Spirit World. Here is a speech by the Naturphilosophic doctor to Clara about how modern philosophers have neglected the concrete elements of the cosmos in favor of the abstract forms of the spirit:
How much happier most people would be, how much pointless longing would come to an end, how much easier would life be borne and relinquished, if everyone continually kept in mind that here anything divine is only appearance and not reality, that even whatever is most spiritual isn’t free, but arises only conditionally—that it is the blossom and here and there even the fruit, but not the trunk and the roots…[Instead,] they start with what is most general and spiritual and are thereby never able to come down to reality or particulars. They are ashamed to start from the earth, to climb up from the creature as if from a rung on a ladder, to draw those thoughts that are beyond the senses first from earth, fire, water, and air. And so they don’t get anywhere, either: their webs of thought are plants without roots, they don’t hang onto anything, like spiders’ webs do on shrubs or walls; instead, they float in the air and the sky like these delicate threads here in front of us. And yet they believe they can strengthen man thereby, even help advance the age that nevertheless suffers by the very fact that while one part has indeed sunk completely into the mud, the other has presumed to climb so high that it can no longer find the ground beneath it. (28)
Schelling sought, much like Latour, to bring the natural sciences back down to earth. Also like Latour, he engaged natural philosophy (what has since become ecology) as a work of political theology. As Latour mentioned in his first lecture, political theology is articulated in the trinitarian terms of theos, demos, and nomos, or God, people, and land. In his preface to Clara, Schelling composes his own work of philosophical fiction concerning how the moderns had set apart ancient (Aristotlean) metaphysics from their own transcendental epistemology (a veiled metaphysics founded on bifurcation):
Through its name the old metaphysics declared itself to be a science that followed in accordance with, and that to some extent also followed from, our knowledge of nature and improved and progressed from that; thus in a certain competent and sound way that is of service only to those who have a desire for knowledge, metaphysics took the knowledge that it boasted in addition physics. Modern philosophy did away with its immediate reference to nature, or didn’t think to keep it, and proudly scorned any connection to physics. Continuing with its claims to a higher world, it was no longer metaphysics but hyperphysics. Only now did its complete incapacity for its proposed aim emerge. Because it wanted to spiritualize itself completely, it first of all threw away the material that was absolutely necessary to the process and right from the very beginning it kept only what was spiritual…In this state of affairs there was indeed no other means of restoring philosophy than by calling it back to earth—albeit not from heaven, which it had renounced, but from that empty space in which it was suspended between heaven and earth. This happened through the philosophy of nature. Nevertheless, it was only to be expected from the general order and run of things that the spiritualizers of this time would clamor that this beginning was bringing philosophy down, denying everything spiritual, even denying what was holy and divine…Just because of that we declare that however far we may care to drive the edifice of our thoughts in what follows, we will still only have achieved something if the temple whose last spire disappears into an inaccessible light is, at its very deepest foundation, wholly supported by nature. (3-5)
Schelling’s “nature,” of course, is not the unified, undisputed, externalized nature of the moderns. Schelling’s nature is a dynamically evolving pluriverse of potencies. Schelling’s Naturphilosophie is perhaps the first “post-epistemological science,” as Latour calls it: it is the first science to be done with the modernist images of spirit “in here” and nature “out there.” For Schelling, the human is the turning point between the physical and the spiritual. I quote the doctor at length:
…shouldn’t we suppose that a divine law prescribed that nature should rise up first to man in order to find within him the point at which the two worlds are unified; that afterwards the one should immediately merge with the other through him, the growth of the external world continuing uninterrupted into the inner or spirit world?… Man would have lived both a spiritual and bodily life at the same time, even here; the whole of nature would have risen to heaven or to an enduring and eternal life in and with man. God did not want a lifeless or necessary tie (between the external and inner world), but a free and living one, and man bore the word of this link in his heart and on his lips. Thus the whole of nature’s elevation, too, depended on man’s freedom. It rested on whether he would forget what was behind him and reach toward what lay before him. Now, however, man reached back (how this happened and why God permitted it, I do not ask); man even called for and hankered back to this external world, and by stopping not only his own progress, but that of the whole of nature, he thereby lost the heavenly world. Whoever has seen with their own eyes what terrible consequences a constricted development has on the human body, a development that nature strongly desires; whoever has seen how a crisis in an illness remains, due to an inept treatment or to a weakness already present, making the crisis unmanageable, and how such a crisis immediately causes the body’s strength to relapse to a mortal frailty unfailingly resulting in death; whoever has seen this will be able to get a general idea of the destructive effects that the constriction of evolution suddenly entering in through man must have had on the whole of nature. The strength that had emerged fully and powerfully, ready to rise up into a higher world and to reach its point of transfiguration, withdrew back into the present world and consequently suffocated the inner drive toward life. This drive, though still like a fire enclosed within, now acted as a fire of pain and fear looking everywhere for an outlet because it was no longer possible for it to rise up. Any stage leading upward is delightful, but the one that has fallen is frightful. Doesn’t everything point to a life that has sunk downward? Have these hills grown just as they stand here? Has the ground that carries us come about by rising up or by sinking back? And, in addition, surely it’s not that a stable, constant order prevails here, but that chance, too, set in once the lawful development had been constricted? Or who will believe that the waters that so obviously have had an effect everywhere, that have severed these valleys and have left behind so many sea creatures in our hills, are the result of everything working in accordance with an inner law? Who will suppose that a divine hand has laid hard stone on top of slippery clay, so that the rocks would subsequently slide down and bury in terrible ruins not only the peaceful valleys dotted with people’s homes, but also the walkers happily going their way? Oh, the true ruins are not those of ancient human splendor that the curious seek out in the Persian or Indian deserts; the whole Earth is one great ruin, where animals live as ghosts and men as spirits and where many hidden powers and treasures are locked away as if by an invisible strength or by a magician’s spell. And we wanted to blame these powers that are locked up rather than thinking about freeing them within us first? Certainly, in his own way man is no less spellbound and transformed. Because of this, heaven sent higher beings from time to time, who were supposed to undo the spell within his inner being and to open up to him a glance into the higher world again with their wonderful hymns and magic charms. Most people, however, are completely captivated by external appearances and think that it is therein that it is to be found. Just as farmers creep round an old, destroyed, or enchanted castle with divining rods in their hands, or shine their lamps into chambers buried underground, and even go with crowbars and levers in the hope of finding gold or other valuables: so, too, does man go about nature, entering some of her hidden rooms and calling this search “natural science.” But the treasures are not covered by rubble alone; the treasures have been locked up in the very wreckage and rocks themselves by a spell that only another magic charm can undo. (23-24)
Schelling here hints at the connections only now becoming obvious to us (we the people of earth) between our way of knowing and our way of dwelling. Do we dwell on the earth? That seems obvious enough. But do we know earthily–that is, do we think nature heartily, with heart (the organ of imagination), rather than resentfully, with hatred for our fallen condition? Do we tell our theostories as if from nowhere (history), as if from an aerial vantage point looking back at earth as we flee from her terrors and repress our own humble origins from out of her soils? Or do we set our stories in place, telling them while firmly planted on this planet among its human and non-human people (geostory)?
Latour is asked at they end of his talk [1:09:00] a rather simple question: What of magic? He jokes that he was too fearful for his life to bring it up having recently learned of Edinburgh’s history of witch-hunting. I get the impression, though, that an earthly science would have more in common with the ancient relational knowledges of elemental alchemy and geocentric astrology than it does with the alienating informatics of modern techno-industrial capitalism.
“Just think,” continues Schelling’s doctor, “of nature’s many bright and beneficent strengths…
She still hasn’t forgotten that through man she shall be raised up further and freed, that even now the talisman still lies within him through which she will be redeemed. That is why she comes to man in thanks when he scatters seeds on the earth, tills and waters the wild and arid ground, and why she rewards him with extravagant abundance. It seems to me that her feeling for man is essentially one of friendship and often of sympathy…on her great path to the common good nature can perhaps only seldom take part in the fate and mood of an individual. But perhaps important changes have never happened in whole nations without there being a general shift in nature at the same time. History books are full of this; how many signs from heaven, in the air and on earth, have presaged these fateful times. Everything speaks to us and would so much like to make itself understood. (26)
Magic, according to the Whiteheadian poet Charles Stein, can be defined as “the art of producing ontological shifts in public.” I’m more and more convinced that Latour’s tactic is to bring magic back into the matter of science so as to better publicize its powers.
Bruno Latour (the infamous sociologist of science, …or famed political ecologist and anthropologist of the moderns) is delivering the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh. Above is his first lecture, “Once Out of Nature: Natural Religion as a Pleonasm.” In these lectures, Latour is attempting to prepare us (we moderns? we humans?) to meet the terrible face of Gaia. To do so, he first has to compose us, that is, to concresce us as a political fiction, a people, the people, of Earth.
No longer content to remain the storehouse and dumpster for modernity’s noisy industrial parade, Tellus is returning to tell us of her 4.5-billion year “geostorical adventure.” From primeval fireball in the Hadean, to bacterial superorganism in the Archean, to a lush, oxygenated animal habitat in the Proterozoic; now, at the height of the Anthropocene, just as her wild vitality appears to be succumbing to the technoöspheric control of the “perfectly” self-regulating global market, she is showing non-natural signs of shape-shifting.
Climatologists–the people of Gaia if there are any–are attacked by other scientists for being a lobby. The climatologists have a choice, according to Latour: they can respond by saying “No, no, we are not a lobby, we are just scientists!” (But who are the scientists? They are just people with no specific boundaries or biases, which is literally “everybody.’) Or, the climatologists can accept themselves as a people trying to articulate the face of the earth.
A people is not ‘everybody,’ since that would be no one in particular. A people is not composed by the autonomous rational subject of the moderns, it is composed by the earthly ‘commonplace’ norms to which we each belong.
Adam at Knowledge-Ecology has posted a reflection on the need for an object-oriented ecology (what’d I’d call an ecological ontology, or, following Whitehead, a philosophy of organism). Adam agrees with my comment about the moral significance of techno-capitalism’s assault on Gaia, writing that “this moment is, ecologically, what slavery was, sociologically.”
What the world needs now is something like what Isabelle Stenger’s called etho-ecology. The corporate governance of earth is destroying the place faster than human persons can even comprehend. Our imaginations are simply not big enough to grapple with the consequences of the long-term havoc we are reaping.
The question of the coming century is not whether corporations should be people, but whether the earth and all her creatures are people, too.
- Whitehead and Ecology (excerpt 3) (knowledge-ecology.com)
- Open Letter to the President (beccatarnas.wordpress.com)
Towards a Christian Ecosophy
The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun by William Blake
“The Lord was born with me [Wisdom] at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth…Then I was beside Him, as a master artist, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men.” –Proverbs 8:22-31
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image…so that they may rule…’ And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’…And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”-Genesis 1:26-31
“I say that man must be serious with the serious. God alone is worthy of supreme seriousness, but man is made God’s plaything, and that is the best part of him…What, then, is the right way of living? Life must be lived as play.” -Plato, Laws
“He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio sees himself only. Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.” -William Blake, There Is No Natural Religion
“The life of God and divine wisdom…can…be spoken of as love disporting with itself; but this idea falls into edification, and even sinks into insipidity, if it lacks the seriousness, the suffering, the patience, and the labour of the negative.” -G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit
The epigraphs quoted at the start of this essay are meant to remind my reader of the meaning of life and the reason given for the creation of the world by the religions of the West. God creates and maintains the universe because He delights in doing so, and our role as His most imaginative creatures is to take seriously His love of play by organizing our lives, and the life of all creation, accordingly. To be made in the image of God is not merely to be capable of thinking His plan after Him, but to be co-creator with Christ of the Kingdom, on earth, as it is in heaven.
In our secular age, when the hands of humans are reshaping the earth to their liking, it has become difficult for us to read of the ways of our ancestors without incredulity. Their prophecies of God’s gift of grace do not in any way cohere with the profiting and purchasing that constitutes our everyday labors. Their way of speaking with and about the universe no longer make sense to the modern mind. Our eyes can no longer see, nor our hearts hear, the logic with which the ancients weaved the world.
This ignorance of the old ways has grown alongside the rise of a new kind of knowledge. Modern science continues to reorient humanity’s understanding of and relation to earth and the larger universe. Its discoveries and inventions have fundamentally altered our conception of how the universe evolved thus far and how it will evolve in the future. Left unanswered, if not also unasked by the scientific perspective is the age old question of why the universe was created and why it continues to unfold creatively.
The ancients of Athens and Jerusalem alike perceived an eternal Wisdom to be at work shaping the course of the visible cosmos. They believed Her fruit was better than the choicest gold or silver.1 They sought a way of life in concert with this universal intelligence responsible for creating and sustaining all temporal things. Further, they assumed that “their portrayal of an ordered cosmos helped to create one, and their liturgies maintained it.”2
Moderns, in contrast, have become alienated from their origin in and forgetful of their responsibility toward the Wisdom of creation. Science, in the modern age, has lost sight of Wisdom and the moral vision She provides. It has wed itself instead to the instrumentalism of market-driven technology, replacing an understanding of the names of angels3 with an ever-accumulating body of specialized knowledge and the earthshaking power it makes possible. Man-made models of nature have come to obscure modern humanity’s vision of the glory of creation as the artwork of angels.
The laws of the market are opposed to the Laws of the Creator. The accumulation of wealth has come to replace Wisdom as the most important aspiration in human life. Money has become the source of all value and meaning. “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and money.”4 Not the beautification and celebration of Gaia and Her creatures in the Name of God, but the production and consumption of Her resources in the name of the dollar is now the normal, “the good,” way of life.
Modern intellectuals, taught to think according to the values of the age, take for granted the ontological chasm separating questions of meaning and morality from those of mechanism and motion. Economics, now considered a positive science and therefore beyond the pay grade of philosophers and theologians, was once defined as the science of morality.5 It stands today, rather awkwardly, at the helm of our techno-capitalist civilization. Not philosopher-priests, but capital engineers rule over the contemporary geopolitical arena. Citizens of more progressive leanings are uncertain whether economic “science” is not just the purveyor of an oppressive upper class ideology.6 Ecology, similarly, is dismissed by many conservatives as a front for socialism.7 Because of these widespread uncertainties, humanity’s sense of the purpose of life–of the way we ought to live–has become increasingly fragmented and privatized, relegated to personal opinion and banished from reasoned political discourse.
Ecology is no doubt another fundamental scientific reorientation, “a revolution in self- and cultural understanding that matches, if not exceeds, in importance the sixteenth-century Copernican astronomical revolution.”8 Unfortunately, the influence of ecological science on public policy has been superficial, leading only to slightly more efficient light bulbs and hybrid gas-electric automobiles. So long as ecology remains narrowly scientific in the secular sense, concerned with how and not why, it can penetrate no deeper into humanity’s dysfunctional cosmopolitical orientation. “Home,” in the individualized techno-capitalist context, means my home or your home; Gaia–our home–has receded into the neglected background of human life.
I believe the eco-social crisis of our age has its roots in the rupture between religion and science, especially the science of economics. In order to reunite the how with the why, humanity must remember its proper relation to creation and its Creator. Ecosophy is the fruit of such memory, the wisdom of home that, when watered, grows as a great tree from the soil of every earthly soul.
“The Gods of the earth and sea,
Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain”9
Ecosophy brings economics back to its roots in moral science and theology, and enchants ecological science so as to renew humanity’s connection to a living creation.
Our species has a wealth of wisdom traditions from which to draw in service of this call to remember, and those concerned to answer it have a dual responsibility: to give what they have drawn from the deep well of their own tradition and to receive the living waters others have likewise drawn up from theirs. We must all drink together, since Gaia has but one ocean, one climate, and one life.
The Christian religion is an especially important well to explore in relation to the contemporary eco-social crisis, since modern Western science and technology were born out of its cultural matrix.10 Secularity, in other words, can itself be understood as an inevitable moment in the historical unfolding of Christ’s incarnation.11 Without historically situating modern Western civilization in the context of Christianity, secularity is all too easily misunderstood. As radical a break with the past as it may appear to be, Enlightenment secularism is evidently not best characterized as the rise of individual rationality above commonly held myths, nor as the firm grasp of scientific truths and technological powers that can replace religious delusions and magical incantations. The evidence of the inadequacy of such a triumphant characterization of modernity is legion: the isolated modern consumer is ruled over by perhaps the most deceitful, destructive, and oppresive myth of all, the myth of the market; Kantian philosophers have come to impose epistemic limits upon the study of reality, creating an intellectual culture of skepticism too embarrassed to authoritatively address matters of ultimate concern; and the fetishization of both money and industrial machines has so completely alienated consumers from the concrete materiality of life that such technologies now function in a way indistinguishable from black magic.12
Secular philosophy’s failure to engage the market-driven metaphysics of techno-capitalism for fear of trespassing into theology has allowed the “science” of capitalist economics to upstage the Wisdom of creation. Any hope of finding orientation in these chaotic times depends upon a renaissance of the poetic science of God:
“For beyond the nostalgia for a premodern grandeur or the doomed utopias of modern reason, what is the actual work of theology–but an incantation at the edge of uncertainty?…In this gathering space, religious discourse as a spiritual and social practice offers a unique depth of history and future…At its shore, the very edge of [chaos], the ancient oscillation of religious language between assertion and negation, utterance and silence, takes on a tidal rhythm.”13
It is not merely the knowledge of God that must be reborn, but the practice of His Wisdom. The human, as the imago dei, is tasked with the renewal and maintenance of the creation covenant. Genesis 1:28 calls us to “subdue” and to “dominate” that is, “to harness or to bind” heaven and earth, to “maintain the bonds of creation.”14
“Dominion must always be tied to the gratitude that follows from seeing everything in its relation to God. It must share in and be patterned on the grace and delight manifest in God’s creation of the universe. As our practical lives reflect gratitude back to God, we will at the same time transform the look of the creation of which we are a part.”15
As the children of Wisdom, we are called upon by our Creator to be co-creators with Her in all our deeds and all our speech.16 To be made in the image of God is to be God’s poet, the namer and storyteller of creation.
“The storytellers of ancient Israel knew that our attitude to the creation is shaped by the way we speak about it…Only time will show the impact on society, and on the whole creation, of [secular humanity’s] refusal to use theological or even moral language. So far, the signs are not good.”17
The Rise and Fall of the Myth of the Market
In a recent op-ed published in the New York Times, Greg Mankiw, former economic adviser to George W. Bush, responded to students of his introductory economics course at Harvard after they staged a walk-out in solidarity with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.18 The students cited the increasing corporatization of their education and the conservative slant of his perspective on the economy as their reasons.
“Like most economists,” Mankiw responded, “I don’t view the study of economics as laden with ideology.” He then cites the words of John Maynard Keynes: “[Economics] is a method rather than a doctrine, an apparatus of the mind, a technique for thinking, which helps the possessor draw correct conclusions.” Mankiw goes on to admit that economists don’t “understand everything” and “still have much to learn,” as is evidenced by the recent financial crisis. The implication of his response is clear: the financial crisis was not caused by the inherent immorality of the logic of the market; rather, it was caused by a technical oversight that can only be solved using the scientific method.
No soul-searching required.
It is no surprise that modern day economists fail to recognize their own ideology at work; as Marx suggested, “Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es“–“They do not know it, but they are doing it.”19 The goodness of the market is always assumed; its technocrats merely crunch the correct numbers designed to keep the monetary machine running smoothly. Unfortunately, the more efficient the machine becomes, the more quickly the planet and her people are ravaged. Gaia groans in bondage, waiting for the Logos to remember His Name and save Her from the logic of the beast.20 Lacking the eternal vision of Wisdom, the human heart remains vulnerable to the secular myth of the market, now the most formidable rival of traditional religions.21
Following the financial crisis of 2008, the thought of Ayn Rand, perhaps the world’s most popular purveyor of the myth of the market, saw something of a resurgence. Sales of her novel Atlas Shrugged (1957) went through the roof as American business leaders struggled to hang on to their dream.22 The dystopian story’s mysterious protagonist, John Galt, along with other captains of American industry, decide to go on strike to protest government regulation, bringing the country to a standstill. The core of the novel is Galt’s 70-page speech, wherein Rand’s entire philosophy is laid out. In it, she denounces the Christian morality of love of one’s neighbor, calling it a “morality of sacrifice,” while championing a “morality of life” based upon egoism and the sovereignty of the individual rational mind over the human community and the raw materials of nature.
“We will open the gates of our city to those who deserve to enter,” she has Galt say,
“a city of smokestacks, pipe lines, orchards, markets and inviolate homes. With the sign of the dollar as our symbol, the sign of free trade and free minds, we will move to reclaim this country once more from the impotent savages who never discovered its nature, its meaning, its splendor.”23
It would be difficult to come closer to John’s vision of Babylon in the book of Revelation, where all wear the mark of the beast.24
Former chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, who joined Rand’s circle in the early fifties, helped her do research for Atlas Shrugged.25 In early 2010, Greenspan was asked if the financial crisis signaled an indictment of Rand’s free-market ideology. His answer is instructive:
“Not at all…There is no alternative [to competitive markets] if you want to have economic growth and higher standards of living in a democratic society…If you merely look at history since the Enlightenment…when all of those ideas surfaced and became applicable in public policy, we’ve had an explosion of economic growth, especially in developing countries, where hundreds of millions of people have been pulled out of extreme poverty and starvation…”26
No one can deny the good that came of the political and economic transformations of the Enlightenment, but in the decisive shift from a society ordered by the revealed authority of God to one remade by the rational autonomy of man, much has been bent out of proportion. Greenspan and Rand are of course right about the explosion of economic growth resulting from global capitalism, but they appear blind to the eco-social costs of this growth, past and present. I could spend the rest of this essay listing present market-generated global injustices, but for the sake of space, I will list only a few telling examples: half of the world’s 2.2 billion children currently live in poverty,27 almost a billion people lack access to safe water supplies,28 about 25 million acres of crop land are lost every year due to soil erosion,29 and 50% of the world’s non-human species may be extinct by 2100.30 “They have rejected the law of the Lord [and] have been led astray by false gods…They sell the innocent for silver…They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground.”31
Further, global climate change resulting from “free market” industrial capitalism is threatening to make all these injustices far worse, in addition to other consequences. As Naomi Klein argued in her own recent op-ed in The Nation, “responding to the climate threat requires strong government action at all levels,” which is exactly what “free market” ideologues find so appalling. Such action is necessary for any globally coordinated transition into a more eco-socially sustainable economy, where “justice [rolls] down like the waters.”32 However, government takeover of industry is not the desired goal, but the initiation of “a new civilizational paradigm” grounded in a “respect for natural cycles of renewal.”
“Real climate solutions are ones that steer [government] interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, whether through community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.”33
As for past injustices, Rand’s celebration of the genocide of the native population (“impotent savages”) that once called Turtle Island home is a telling reminder that capitalism has always been wed to colonialism. In order to achieve perpetual growth, capitalist markets had to continually expand into untapped territories, there exploiting the labor and land of conquered peoples to turn a profit back at home. From Rand’s perspective, such exploitation was perfectly justified, since indigenous populations are not made up of free individuals, having no concept of rights or property ownership.34 Nor does Gaia or any of Her non-human creatures deserve the respect of properly rational individuals, since, following Lockean theories of property ownership, their value is inferior until produced for consumption in the human marketplace.35 The myth of the market reigns. “Alas, alas, thou great city…for thy merchants were the great men of the earth, and all nations were deceived by thy sorcery.”36
Another myth, that of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, teaches us that humans “have been created with free will, but not with freedom.”37 Adam was deceived by Satan, being promised the total freedom of secular knowledge and power over the earth when all that could be delivered is shame, guilt, and death. Similarly, Rand’s is no morality of life, but of death, since it lacks the Wisdom of a higher authority, of the Creator of all things.
“Adam was created with free will–it was possible to choose the forbidden tree; but Adam was not created free, he did not create the system within which he exercised his free will.”38
The freedom of human beings is in our capacity to love and to serve, to do the work of Christ whose life is eternal. Any other freedom humans attempt to steal comes at the cost of death, since the rules of creation are not designed by human desires.39
These are two competing visions, that of the life of the market versus that of the miracle of life. The life of the market is that of ruthless competition, the struggle for existence between selfish animals, who come from dust and to dust return.40 The miracle of life is that of spiritual communion, the joy of co-creation amongst loving angels. The former is a morality rooted in the shallow pleasures of private accumulation, while the latter calls humanity to participate with Christ in the renewal of all creation.
The miracle of life can be understood through an ecosophic perception of the sacramentality of creation. Consider Gaia’s relationship with the Sun, that most generous of celestial beings. The Sun sacrifices its own body to give away vast quantities of energy to Gaia without any expectation of return.
“Men were conscious of this long before astrophysics measured that ceaseless prodigality; they saw it ripen the harvests and they associated its splendor with the act of someone who gives without receiving.”41
Not a single quantum of energy could be transacted between living beings upon the surface of earth without the Sun’s primordial generosity. This is as true of the monetary transactions of the human economy as it is of the ecological transactions of soil and plants. Life is a gift, not an earning, a celebration of divine surplus, not a competition amidst material scarcity.
Contrary to Rand’s racist ideology, the native populations of pre-conquest America understood the meaning of the Sun’s splendor deeply enough to ritually organize their lives on earth to reflect the same patterns it was performing in heaven. Extravagant potlatch celebrations were held in honor of births, weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage. Natives would gather together for great feasts gifted by wealthy families, and to sing and dance in honor of their divine ancestors. These ceremonies provide evidence that not barter, as classical economists assume, but gifting was the earliest form of exchange.42
Potlatch celebrations were outlawed by both Canadian and US governments in the late 19th century, and remained so until 1951. Christianity’s influence upon such legislation is complex. Protestant missionaries like William Duncan wrote in 1875 of the celebrations that they were “by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized.”43 On the other hand, by the 1950s, many churches openly integrated potlatch into their liturgies.44
Max Weber’s analysis of the complicity of Protestantism in the rise of capitalist economies is well known.45
“Weber deserves credit for having rigorously analyzed the connection between a religious crisis and the economic turnover that gave rise to the modern world…It seems that there is an affinity between the frame of mind of a hard-working, profit-calculating industrialist and the prosaic severity of the reformed religion.”46
Not only does potlatch present a challenge to standard histories of economics, much like Weber’s analysis of Protestantism, it “enables one to perceive a connection between religious behaviors and economic ones.”47 By emphasizing humanity’s nearly irredeemable fallenness and God’s incomprehensible transcendence, Protestant theologies succeeded in separating the physical/economic sphere of works from the spiritual/religious sphere of grace. This meant that one could not hope to find God’s favor through outward deeds like gifting, since salvation was won through inward faith alone. This was, no doubt, an important critique of the Catholic Church’s pompous hypocrisy,48 but as with many of the Enlightenment’s later reforms, the Reformation ended up distorting the West’s moral and ontological bonds with creation as much as it may have advanced it spiritually (through intensified inwardness of faith) and epistemologically (through rational criticism of received belief).
As modernity unfolded, traditional sacraments were increasingly considered to be culturally constructed symbolic performances, rather than theurgic events opening an economy between creature and Creator.49 Skepticism of inherited norms and revealed truths steadily increased as individuals turned to their own reason and values for guidance concerning ultimate matters. Weber famously argued that it was the downplaying of communal ritual among the Protestant laity that first made possible the disenchantment of the world, the formation of the private modern subject, and the subsequent rise of techno-scientific capitalism. God, even if not quite dead, had all but fled the realms of space and time. Free of the sacred places and liturgical calendars of traditional sacramental religion, the modern individual no longer mirrored the celestial economy of angels, but remade the earth in his own fallen image.
“It can doubtless be said of the Protestant critique of saintly works that it gave the world over to profane works, that the demand for divine purity only managed to exile the divine, and to complete man’s separation from it. It can be said, finally, that starting then things dominated man, insofar as he lived for enterprise and less and less in the present time.”50
Potlatch was practiced by native communities as a form of ritual participation in the divine effulgence of creation. Sharing in Gaia’s bounty, they lived like the Sun, for glory rather than for greed. Protestant capitalists found the practice wasteful, and sought to eliminate such rituals from the American continent because they were based upon the impure mixing of the Great Economy of God with the profane economy of the market. The Great Economy is “reflected in God’s Sabbath delight, a celebration of all life, an affirmation of the right of all to be and to thrive.”51 The profane economy of the market, on the other hand, reflects the sinful nature of an alienated humanity, more interested in its own shortsighted pursuits than the flourishing of all creation. The Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment are not here being blamed for the eco-social crisis; rather, they are being read as moments in the historical dialectic of Christ’s incarnation. They are birth contractions, the divine labour pains that Hegel refers to in the epigraph above while insisting upon the necessity of the negative to avoid a shallow conception of salvation.
Reintroducing theologically grounded and ecologically sensitive morality into the norms of the marketplace will require an initially painful reorientation of modern human life, the crucifixion of the old to make way for the new.52 In order to come into alignment with the Wisdom of creation so as to participate in God’s ongoing artistry, everything from our scientific understanding of life and energy to the time-anxiety underlying our socio-economic commitment to work must be reimagined.
Imagining the Great Economy
Ritual practices like potlatch break down the dichotomy that normally exists between work and play. The Jubilee year and Sabbath commandment provide Biblical parallels to potlatch. On the 7th day of creation, God rested.53 Our human “holy days” call us to rebalance creation by making time for rest and re-creation.54 In Jesus’ time, Genesis was understood as the pattern of world history: the 6th day was considered the human age, the time when Adam is called to work with the Wisdom of the Creator to bring about the completion of the creation, so that all may rest on the 7th day. The completion of creation on the 7th day is the coming of the Kingdom55 wherein God becomes “all in all,”56 bound up in relational joy with creation.57
In order to imagine, and to co-create, the Great Economy of the Kingdom, it is first necessary to free ourselves from the anxieties of the world of working. Anxiety makes the problems of the market apparent to us, but uncovering their solution requires that we release ourselves from its world-distorting grip.58 Unlike the anti-religion of the market ruling over the world of working, wherein “time is money” as Ben Franklin famously quipped, the religion of Jesus calls us to observe the birds of the air and the lilies of the field living without toil: “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?”59
Play, like the perception of Wisdom, opens up a non-ordinary reality, allowing us to transcend the everyday world of work. The idea is not to transcend work entirely, but to recognize its relativity in regard to all the other experiential realities that are engaged with during a full 24-hour cycle of earth’s rotation (sleep, dreams, etc.), or the full span of a mortal life (birth, love, near death, death, spiritual vision, etc.). Work will always be necessary for survival, but the question remains: why survive? If not to play, then for what?
Ritual performance, and the creative efflorescence it encourages, is at the existential core of our lives, and indeed is the beating heart at the center of creation.
“We might sometimes reflect and recall that the purpose of all our science, technology, industry, manufacturing, commerce, and finance is celebration, planetary celebration. That is what moves the stars through the heavens and the earth through its seasons. The final norm of judgment concerning the success or failure of our technologies is the extent to which they enable us to participate more fully in this grand festival.”60
The meaning of the world and the order of the cosmos must be enacted, or imaginally bodied forth. The human imagination, the Seal of creation, does not receive the world’s meaning ready-made, but must participate in its making: “The creature of earth and heaven [upholds] within his own being the bond that [joins] the material world to its source of life.”61 The meaning of earthly life soon dissolves unless we are willing to play, to make imaginally present what would not otherwise be so. Imagination is the soul’s temple, the holy of holies within which immanence and transcendence meet and give birth to worlds worth living in. In this way, everyday is made holy, and all our work becomes a form of worship.62 Religion, science, art, and indeed, culture in general, are all born out of playfulness.63 Humans may not be the only creatures who play, but surely only we take play seriously enough to die for it.
Contrary to this vision of creation rooted in play, biologists since Darwin have tended to understand evolution primarily as a competitive “struggle for existence” amidst scarcity, where only the fittest survive. More recently, the work of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis has entirely transformed Darwin’s picture of the biosphere, a picture that perhaps reflects the economic conditions holding sway in 19th century England more so than the natural conditions of earthly life.64 Lovelock’s Gaia theory has shown that life is necessarily a planetary affair, constituted by a massively interconnected web of biotic and abiotic feedback loops.65 Margulis’ research on the bacterial basis of all life and her theory of the origin of species via symbiogenesis reveal that lateral gene transfer (gene gifting) and cooperative symbiosis are the primary engine of evolution.66
Another 19th century science, thermodynamics, was developed to increase the efficiency of industrial machinery. It defined energy as the ability to do work,67 a socio-economic concept. A few decades earlier, William Blake wrote of his eternal vision–“Past, Present & Future, existing all at once”–of industrializing Europe:
“And there behold the Loom of Locke whose Woof rages dire
Washd by the Water-wheels of Newton. black the cloth
In heavy wreathes folds over every Nation; cruel Works
Of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic
Moving by compulsion each other: not as those in Eden: which
Wheel within Wheel in freedom revolve in harmony & peace.”68
Blake’s phrase, “cogs tyrannic/Moving by compulsion each other,” perfectly sums up the picture provided by mechanistic science of creation, the same picture underlying techno-capitalist industrialism. From Blake’s poetic perspective, energy is not compulsive work, but “Eternal Delight.”69 Nor is God’s ongoing creative artistry tyrannic or compulsive, but persuasive:
“The action of God is its relation–by feeling and so being felt, the divine invites the becoming of the other; by feeling the becoming of the other, the divine itself becomes…[affirming] an oscillation between divine attraction and divine reception, invitation and sabbath…”70
This is a perspective contrary to the logic of creatio ex nihilo, be it God’s creation by fiat of the cosmos out of chaos, or humanity’s of property out of the purposeless matter of earth. Genesis’ acts of creation must be read in concert with the wisdom of Proverbs and the passion of the Gospels. God did not create the world out of nothing, but beget it and suffered it with Wisdom.71
Modern techno-capitalism, rooted in a disenchanted science, has made humanity forgetful of the Names of the angelic powers animating the cosmos. Lacking such an ecosophic perception of the true nature of reality has left modern humanity ignorant of why Gaia is the way She is: “ever hearing, but never understanding…ever seeing, but never perceiving.”72 This ignorance hardly stopped us from learning how many of Her seemingly isolated parts worked, and how we might manipulate them for our own profit. Cunning power became our knowledge, following Kant’s maxim: “He who would know the world must first manufacture it.”73 Isaiah perceived the result in the Israel of his day: “Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands.”74 Jeremiah, as well: “They burned incense to other gods and worshipped the works of their hands.”75
The Great Economy of the Kingdom “is in our midst,” as Jesus said.76 Wisdom, too, is all around: “He who has ears, let him hear.”77 If the heart be reached, not through reason, but through imagination,78 then healing humanity’s eco-social wound must begin there. Enlightenment conceptions of the “state of nature” must be entirely re-envisioned, such that Gaia’s values become the soil out of which the human soul imagines its own. Without resurrecting the imagination–“the divine body of the Lord Jesus, blessed forever”79–our senses will remain dulled80 to the power of angels wisely weaving the world together in God’s Name.
“Blessed be the praise of Your Name and the song of Your strength and Your remembrance in eternity and forever. In the praise of Your Name is revealed the secret of Wisdom and in the song of Your remembrance are disclosed the mysteries of mysteries and the gates of understanding, so that the creatures of heaven and earth acknowledge before You: Blessed be You, Lord, wise of the mysteries and ruler of all that is concealed.”81
1 Proverbs 8:19
2 p. 20, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker.
3 “Angel lore was in effect the natural science of that time,” see p. 79, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker
4 Matthew 6:24
5 See James E. Alvey’s essay “A Short History of Economics as a Moral Science” (1999). As Alvey points out, even Adam Smith, the intellectual architect of capitalism, understood economics to be subject to a moral framework of virtues, namely, justice, prudence, and benevolence.
6 See, for example, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. More on p. 8.
7 See, for example, the Heartland Institute: http://www.globalwarmingheartland.org/; “It is a painful irony that while the Heartlanders are busily calling climate change a left-wing plot, most leftists have yet to realize that climate science has handed them the most powerful argument against capitalism since William Blake’s “dark Satanic Mills” (and, of course, those mills were the beginning of climate change).” -“Capitalism vs. the Climate” by Naomi Klein in the Nov. 28th edition of The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate?page=0,5 (retrieved 12/9/2011).
8 p. 93-94, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (2003) by Norman Wirzba
9 lines 21-25, “The Human Abstract” in Songs of Experience (1794) by William Blake
10 Wide consensus among scholars has been reached on this point. See especially Lynn White’s essay “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” (1967) and more recently, Donna Haraway’s Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium (1997).
11 See Sean Kelly’s Coming Home: The Birth and Transformation of the Planetary Era (2010). Kelly argues that secularity is dialectically woven into the Great Code at the core of the Christian mythos.
12 Machines do not magically create growth and increase efficiency at the industrial centers ex nihilo, but are animated by land and labor that has been exploited on the periphery. Economics, like ecology, is a zero sum game. See p. 147 of Alf Hornborg’s The Power of the Machine: Global Inequities of Economy, Technology, and Environment (2001).
13 p. xviii, Face of the Deep: a theology of becoming (2003) by Catherine Keller. Keller is at the forefront of a promising new field called “theopoietics.”
14 p. 122, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker
15 p. 138, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (2003) by Norman Wirzba
16 p. 210, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker
17 p. 21, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker
18 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/business/know-what-youre-protesting-economic-view.html?sq=harvard%20economics&st=cse&adxnnl=1&scp=1&adxnnlx=1323047019-jVyFPOfBIdOYaAIgzNU3NQ (retrieved 12/4/2011)
19 From Capital, quoted on p. 28, The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989) by Slavoj Zizek
20 See Revelation 13
21 See p. 55, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker
22 http://articles.cnn.com/2009-04-27/entertainment/ayn.rand.atlas.shrugged_1_john-galt-ayn-rand-institute-atlas?_s=PM:SHOWBIZ (retrieved 12/2/2011). To date, nearly 30 million copies of her books have been sold.
23 p. 957, Atlas Shrugged (2005)
24 See Revelation 18
25 p. 6, Alan Greenspan: the oracle behind the curtain (2006) by E. Ray Canterbery
26 http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/video/interview-alan-greenspan-10281612 (~7:00 mins, retrieved on 12/2/2011)
27 http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats (retrieved 12/2/2011)
28 http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/monitoring/jmp_report_7_10_lores.pdf (retrieved 12/5/2011)
29 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/feb/14/science.environment (retrieved 12/5/2011)
30 See The Future of Life (2002) by E.O. Wilson
31 Amos 2:4-7
32 Amos 5:24
33 “Capitalism vs. the Climate” by Naomi Klein in the Nov. 28th edition of The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate?page=0,5 (retrieved 12/9/2011).
34 See p. 102-104, Ayn Rand Answers (2005).
35 “The ‘labor’ of his body and the ‘work’ of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labor with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.” -“The Second Treatise on Civil Government” (1690) by John Locke
36 Revelation 18:23
37 p. 230, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker
38 p. 230, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker
39 In secular terms, the mathematical laws governing ecological energy exchange cannot be remade by even the most powerful technologies.
40 Genesis 3:19
41 p. 28-29, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille
42 See p. 67, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille
43 p. 207, Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774–1890 (1977) by Robin FIscher Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press
44 p. 78, Aboriginal Peoples and Politics: the Indian Land Question in British Colombia, 1849-1989 (1990) by Paul Tennant
45 See The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905)
46 p. 114-115, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille
47 p. 68, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille
48 “Catholic theologists enjoy dwelling in scholastic juridical arguments about how Christ paid the price for our sins, etc.–no wonder that Luther reacted to the lowest outcome of this logic, the reduction of redemption to something that can be bought from the Church.” -“Only a Suffering God Can Save Us” by Slavoj Zizek (http://www.lacan.com/zizshadowplay.html [retrieved 12/9/2011])
49 I would add that the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura forbid any poetic interpretations of or apocryphal additions to Biblical scripture, thereby marginalizing the creative role of humans as God’s earthly imagineers.
50 p. 133, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille
51 p. 163, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (2003) by Norman Wirzba
52 James Lovelock coined the apt phrase to characterize the needs of our moment: “sustainable retreat.” See The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back–And How We Can Still Save Humanity (2006)
53 Genesis 2:2, “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.”
54 See p. 58, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker
55 See p. 182, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker
56 1 Corinthians 15:28
57 See p. 245, “God at the Crossroads: A Postcolonial Reading of Sophia” by Mayra Rivera in The Postcolonial Biblical Reader (2006), ed. by Rasiah S. Sugirtharajah
58 See p. 14, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille
59 Matthew 6:26-28
60 p. 69, The Dream of the Earth (1988) by Thomas Berry
61 p. 230, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker
62 See p. 171-174, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (2003) by Norman Wirzba
63 See Religion in Human Evolution (2011) by Robert N. Bellah
64 p. 418, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (1962) by G. Himmelfarb: “…natural selection arose…in England because it was a perfect expression of Victorian ‘greed-philosophy,’ of the capitalist ethic and Manchester economics.”
65 See The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of our Living Earth (1988) by James Lovelock
66 See The Symbiotic Planet (1999) by Lynn Margulis
67 “Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire” (1824) by Sadi Carnot
68 plate 15, line 15, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804)
69 plate 4, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793)
70 p. 198, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (2003) by Catherine Keller (summarizing Alfred North Whitehead’s dipolar divinity).
71 Proverbs 8:22
72 Isaiah 6:9
73 p. 240, Opus Postumum (1993); “Manufacture” from the Latin manus meaning “hand.”
74 Isaiah 2:8
75 Jeremiah 1:16; Compare with the words of a 19th century business man “Smoke is the incense burning on the altars of industry. It is beautiful to me. It shows that men are changing the merely potential forces of nature into articles of comfort for humanity.” -W. P. Rend, quoted on p. 385 in “Businessmen against pollution in 19th century Chicago,” by C. M. Rosen, Business History Review 69 (1995)
76 Luke 17:21
77 Matthew 11:15
78 p. 89, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Ascent by J. H. Newman (1870)
79 plate 5, line 59, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804) by William Blake
80 2 Corinthians 3:14
81 section 676, Hekhalot Rabbati; quoted on p. 98 of The Hidden and Manifest God (1992) by Paul Shafer
- Bruno Latour – “Waiting for Gaia: composing a common world through political art” (footnotes2plato.com)
- The Spirit of Integral Poetry: “Waring” the Symbolism of Organism (footnotes2plato.com)
- More on Myth, Panentheism, and Participation… (footnotes2plato.com)
- Thinking with Latour and Bellah: Religion beyond Nature and Culture (footnotes2plato.com)
Two abstracts for the papers I am writing for courses on Carl Jung and the Philosophy of Relgion, respectively.
“Uncovering the Unconscious: Psychology and the Soul”
William James credits W. H. Myers with the discovery of “subliminal consciousness” (i.e., the unconscious) in 1886, a discovery James’ suggests is psychology’s most important insight into human nature. But Carl Jung is still forced to admit more than half a century later that psychology is a long way from the mature state of other natural sciences: “Swamped by the knowledge of external objects, the subject of knowledge has been temporarily eclipsed” (OTNOTP, par. 357). Psychology, so long as it treats the soul or the unconscious as a natural object like any other, remains to this day in a sort of pre-Copernican state. Rather than a science seeking to explain and control the soul, psychology, I will argue, would be better served by seeking out reliable means of opening and sustaining imaginal dialogue with living psychic processes. The rational ego accesses and produces detailed scientific knowledge about the external cosmos, but it is precisely the alienating force of the ego’s outward-focused and divisive eye that pushes the psyche (and indeed the psyche-cosmu) into the shadows and the depths. My paper will ask: “How is the psychologist to develop and articulate a meaningful, systematic discourse concerning the soul if the greater part of her processes are unconscious?” Jung asked the same question, and may have been forced to re-imagine the traditional relation between self and cosmos in order to answer it. Following Jean Gebser’s rejection of a dualistic conception of consciousness and unconsciousness (see The Ever-Present Origin, p. 137, 204), I will attempt to develop Jung’s own intimations of a participatory and cosmocentric psychology.
On the Nature of the Psyche by Carl Jung
The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung
The Red Book by Carl Jung
The Ever-Present Origin by Jean Gebser
Jung and Steiner: The Birth of a New Psychology by Gerhard Wehr
Notes from Gebser’s EPO:
“After the heights of heaven have been lost, the sciences pose themselves the task of “‘exploring the depths.'” (p. 393)
“Since the super-terrestrial no longer affects man, the subterranean surges upwards.” (p. 394)
“If we are sufficiently bold as to consider the ‘unconscious’ as an acategorical element, which is suggested by the spacelessness of the psyche, then the emergent awareness of the unconscious is nothing other than the psychic form of time’s irruption into our consciousness.” (p. 396)
“There is no so-called Unconscious. There are only various modalities (or intensities) of consciousness; a one-dimensional magical, a two-dimensional mythical, a three-dimensional mental consciousness. And there will also be an integral four-dimensional consciousness of the whole.” (p. 204)
“The ‘unconscious,’ if one insists on using this misleading term at all, is the structure of consciousness one dimension less than a particular or given structure; and it is the next ‘higher’ or incremented consciousness structure which makes the unconscious amenable to its mode of understanding.” (p. 204)
Steiner on Jung:
“Everywhere we find important facts that can only be successfully dealt with by spiritual psychology (anthroposophy). At least psychoanalysis has made us aware that the reality of the soul is to be accepted as such, but the devil is at their heals. By that I mean that they are neither able nor willing to approach spiritual reality.” (JS, p. 83)
Sample writing (introduction):
“The hypothesis of the unconscious,” writes Jung, “puts a large question mark after the idea of the psyche” (OTNOTP, p. 77). Philosophers had for many centuries assumed that the structure and function of the soul was already known in every detail, but as the 19th century came to a close, the burgeoning discipline of psychology began to reveal a far more complex and even irrational subterranean source of conscious processes. Rather than the static and easily compartmentalized model of the soul constructed by Scholastic thinkers, Jung was forced by his experience as a clinician to develop a dynamic, living relationship with psychic processes. For him, the soul was not a scientific object; on the contrary, it is what makes such objectification possible: “every science is a function of the psyche, and all knowledge is rooted in it” (ibid.).
But how is psychology, the study of the soul, to proceed if its foundational hypothesis assumes the existence of an autonomously functioning unconscious? The cultural philosopher Jean Gebser recognized this difficultly, and though he had the highest respect for Jung’s groundbreaking work, he nonetheless called into question the concept of the unconscious: “There is no so-called unconscious. There are only various modalities (or intensities) of consciousness; a one-dimensional magical, a two-dimensional mythical, a three-dimensional mental consciousness. And there will also be an integral four-dimensional consciousness of the whole,” (EPO, p. 204). Gebser suggests that the concept may still be used to describe the relationship between a structure of consciousness one dimension less than the incremented structure above it, but rejects entirely the dualistic framework, wherein consciousness is opposed to an unconscious. Jung himself rarely if ever collapsed the psychic terrain into so neat a dichotomy, but Gebser’s phenomenology of consciousness in terms of an unfolding series of structures assures that such a rationalistic reduction is avoided.
In light of Gebser’s important critique of the notion of an unconscious, Jung’s work will be interpreted in what follows as the tentative beginnings of an integral psychology. Both Gebser and Rudolf Steiner will provide important additions and amendments to Jung’s psychology, so as to avoid the undue reduction of spiritual realities to psychic projections. The purpose of psychology, I will argue, is to enter conscious dialogue with the archetypal energies of the soul, so as to heal the split our mental-rational civilization has hewn between instinct and intelligence. Jung’s practice of “active imagination,” as artfully displayed in The Red Book, will provide a working example of how this dialogue can be initiated and sustained.
a. The discovery of the Unconscious
b. What have Jung, Gebser, and Steiner to do with one another?
II. Gebser’s structures and critique of the unconscious
III. Steiner’s spiritual psychology
IV. Towards a neo-Jungian re-imagination of the psyche
“Towards a Spiritual Science: An New Story of Human Nature”
The continuing and indeed growing influence of traditional religious modalities and New Age spiritual practices in the supposedly secular Western world has forced scholars to reconsider the role of such modalities and practices in human life at both the collective and the individual level. The inevitable decline of religion as a result of the march of technoscientific progress long theorized by sociologists has not materialized as expected. Instead, we live in a world both increasingly polarized by a diverse panoply of irreconcilable belief systems and increasingly unified by the planet-wide implications of ecology and the mind-bending revelations of physical cosmology.
In my paper, I’d like to explore the creative tension at the heart of the so-called culture war between science and religion, or more specifically, between New Atheism and what, after Sean Kelly, I’d like to call Gaian panentheism. The categories of “science” and “religion” as popularly understood serve as poor conceptual placeholders for a more complex philosophical terrain. Atheists and traditional believers alike tend to misunderstand the nature and scope of the scientific method; similarly, they over-literalize and so kill the spirit of religion. My goal is to unpack and deconstruct the categories of science and religion by way of a historical overview (with a focus on Platonic, Thomist, Cartesian, and Hegelian sources) and, then, to re-construct a more metaphysically nuanced account of their relation to human being and knowing in light of Barfield’s and Whitehead’s philosophical contributions. My research will focus especially on the rhetoric of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and PZ Myers, whose voices are cheered by a growing contingent of atheists who have begun calling themselves “confrontationists” to make clear their secular belief that religious belief “poisons everything,” as another outspoken New Atheist Christopher Hitchens has put it. (“Confrontationists” can be contrasted with “accommodationists,” or those who feel science and religion need not be in conflict).
My general thesis is that while New Atheism drastically oversimplifies both science and religion, its aggressive mode of discourse may in the end be providing the necessary intellectual and psychological impetus for a sort of second axial revolution. Such a revolution, I hope to show, must overcome the sharp divisions between ancient animism, medieval theism, and modern atheism/agnosticism by making transparent the evolutionary trajectory of our species toward a more wholesome integration of spirit and matter. A Gaian panentheism would preserve the rigor and empiricism of science and at the same time celebrate the participation of divinity in the course of earthly events.
Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on Aquinas
A Secular Age by Charles Taylor
Saving the Appearances by Owen Barfield
Adventures of Ideas by Alfred North Whitehead
PZ Myers’ blog Pharyngula
I. Theory and Theos in Western Thought
II. Whitehead’s Philosophy of Science
III. Steiner’s conception of the Human
IV. A Third Option: Gaian Panentheism
Sample pages (introduction):
The last century has arguably brought more change to the Earth, measured either in terms of increased complexity (of culture and consciousness), or in terms of entropy release (as pollution), than any other 100 year period in the planet’s history. Human civilization, and the technoscientific mode of life which has come to dominate it, is largely responsible for this rapid transformation. Whether it be the population explosion and global poverty, the continued threat of world war, civil rights, feminist, and other social justice movements, peak oil, or the ecological crisis, ours’ is a world with much at stake for whom the fast approaching future may just as easily bring tragedy or triumph, or perhaps equal doses of each.
In such an unstable and uncertain context as this, how is humanity to orient itself cosmologically, and in the service of what ideals is it to direct its spiritual aspirations? These are not peripheral questions–they inevitably burn in the hearts of every individual faced with the aforementioned chaos. Answering them in an integral enough way so as to overcome political divisiveness while at the same time avoiding the subsumption of cultural difference is essential to assuring the future flourishing of our species and the planet. The possibility of a planetary civilization rests upon re-inventing our complex human identity, such that it is inclusive of our origins as embodied earthlings and our destiny as immortal spirits.
Whether our aim be scientific investigation of the cosmos, or religious worship of the divine, sooner or later we are going to have to articulate a conception of human nature. Are we creatures of God, or products of Nature? Or, is there an alternative conception of humanity (of God, of Nature) that overcomes this false dichotomy? The following essay is my attempt to provide such an alternative: an integral anthropology, or theory of the human, which is neither exclusively theological nor cosmological. After Pinnikar, my approach in what follows might be called “cosmotheandric,” in that I am attempting to tell a story about human origins and destiny that does justice to our traditional spiritual intuitions and is adequate to our modern scientific realizations. Contemporary debates, especially in popular media outlets, tend to collapse the complexity of the science/religion dialectic into easily digestible slogans derived from the most extreme ends of the spectrum of opinion. The cosmological options are typically dichotomously construed as atheistic scientific naturalism vs. literalistic creationism. These are not the only options.
The process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and the spiritual science of Rudolf Steiner will be the primary protagonists in the alternative narrative I hope to construct. Before beginning this reconstruction, however, I must deconstruct the popular conceptualizations of “science” and “religion” which pit them one against the other as if irreconcilably opposed. Only a new synthesis can provide humanity with a viable way forward.
It’s raining for the first time in two weeks here at the college, but the soft patter on the old roof provides the perfect ambiance for reflecting upon my stay. We had our second bonfire last night to commemorate our time together. Each of us threw a small pine cone into the flame to signify an old habit we’d outgrown, or to inspire a future goal. Then we spoke one-by-one about our favorite moments.
Some were especially moved by the deep time walk that Stephen lead us through along the beach near Dartmouth. It was a 4.5 km trek meant to represent the 4.5 billion year history of the earth.
Every step we took (approx. half a meter) represented half a million years. It was about a kilometer walk before the first life emerged, and the journey was about 4/5ths of the way over by the time the first metazoa appeared.* Stephen had to get out his tape measurer as the walk concluded to show us where homo sapiens appeared on the scene, less than a foot from the end. All of recorded history fits into a centimeter, and the Industrial Revolution began 1/4 of a millimeter from the end.
For me, one of the more significant moments occurred while we were walking along the granite hills of Dartmoor. A large part of our disconnection from the earth, I believe, has to do with our exclusive fixation on the human world. It’s no surprise that we’d be most interested in members of our own species, but while walking along an old tin mine path, our group encountered about two dozen cows who seemed intensely interested in us. I gazed at them, and they gazed back.
We were silent as we walked through the herd, and our human world fell away as the heifer’s stole our undivided attention (and we theirs). It was a brief moment of interspecies communication. Soon enough, the bull began to get grumpy, and we decided we’d better be on our way. Gaia has many eyes belonging to creatures of all shapes and sizes. The eyes of cows, an animal domesticated perhaps 10,000 years ago, probably see quite deeply into our human nature. I realized I couldn’t say the same about my insight into them. I though then about my eating habits, and felt guilty for treating them more like means than ends. They give their life (or rather, it is taken from them) for my appetite, but beef purchased from grocery store refrigerators seems so distant from the being I then saw behind those jeweled eyes. All the meals at Schumacher are vegetarian, and though I must admit I haven’t felt as satiated as usual, this experience has forced me to reflect deeply on the ethics of eating. Can one develop Gaian consciousness while still feasting on the blood of fellow animals? Aside from the moral implications, there are also practical reasons to avoid beef, as it takes approximately 100 times the amount of grain and water to feed a single cow as it would if I skipped that layer of the food chain by sticking to vegetables. Not to mention the methane they release, which accounts for more green house gas emissions than automobiles and factories combined, according to some estimates.
The bonfire glowed late into the evening, and as the embers began to fade, I found I needed to share a feeling that began welling up within me. It seemed as though each of us, having come from 6 continents to attend this course on Gaia, was now responsible for returning home as a seed which might be planted in the hearts and minds of all our friends and family. We are all so privileged to have had this opportunity to deepen our knowledge, but unless it allows us to grow into a wiser way of life, it will all have been for naught.
The gong has been rung, which means my last dinner here is ready. The first chapter of this adventure is coming to a close. Sunday I fly to Dublin to meet Kelleigh and celebrate my first Independence Day over seas.
Wide is the world, to rest or roam,
And early ’tis for turning home:
Plant your heel on earth and stand,
And let’s forget our native land.
– A. E. Housman
*While writing this blog, I received an email from my school’s listserve. Apparently the next issue of Nature will detail the discovery of fossilized multicellular life found in sediments more than 2 billion years old. This entirely re-writes the history of the early earth! From a Science Daily article published yesterday:
While studying the paleo-environment of a fossil-bearing site situated near Franceville in Gabon in 2008, El Albani and his team unexpectedly discovered perfectly preserved fossil remains in the 2.1 billion-year-old sediments. They have collected more than 250 fossils to date, of which one hundred or so have been studied in detail. Their morphology cannot be explained by purely chemical or physical mechanisms. These specimens, which have various shapes and can reach 10 to 12 centimeters, are too big and too complex to be single-celled prokaryotes or eukaryotes. This establishes that different life forms co-existed at the start of the Proterozoic, as the specimens are well and truly fossilized living material.