…the meaning of disaster…

Some of my thoughts concerning the still unfolding tragedy in Japan…


I take up philosophy largely to defend meaning and cosmos from the nihilism and chaos at the root of much contemporary thinking. But I am reminded by this catastrophe that the earth’s order and harmony is proved by an exception: ruptures in nature’s rhythm like earthquakes and tsunamis are the inevitable result of a planet with a highly differentiated, still developing physiology. The crust floats atop a liquid mantel, and so the ground upon which we build our cities will never be the dead rock that industrial civilization assumes it is. The rocks, and the ocean, have a life of their own running parallel to humanity’s. The life of such non-human objects exists on a level whose purposes are not necessarily equivalent, or even translatable, into our human sensibilities. It seems that there is indeed an immanent reality to chaos. Chaos (or sheer, relentless Creativity) is the condition of all conditions, but without (an incarnate) God, there would be no reason for anything determinate to occur. There could not be particular facts, nor the special fact of my own facticity, without a divine determiner to bring infinite possibility into finite manifestation. That there is an earth–this earth–is evidence of Reason (proportion, measure, etc.), experiential proof that beauty is alluring for the Real (that the Real is not just in-itself, but for-itself). It is also true that there exist many overlapping and non-overlapping layers of relation and non-relation amongst the beings of this earth, each layer of beings remaining hidden from the other until it ruptures and makes contact with adjacent layers, variably destroying or enlivening the beings discovered there.

The people of Japan are the victims of mistranslation, not the irredeemable sufferers of a world lacking all meaning. If anything, we live in a world of excess meaning. Meaningful communication often begins with contentious discord until different worlds are able to discover overlapping truths; or one world converts the other, through violence or artistry, into itself. Industrial civilization has averted its gaze rather forcefully from many of earth’s other layers of meaning, ignoring the surprising semantic ferocity of nature due to a false sense of technological mastery. Modern techno-scientific materialism is based on the mistaken assumption that all of nature’s voices can be translated into the ontologically privileged equations of the human marketplace.

If philosophy is not just an exercise in self-consolation, perhaps there is some logic to the above. I suppose that it is finally prayer that consoles, and not thought, since the latter is sometimes morally ruthless in its determinations.


  1. And the quote of the day is officially:

    “Modern techno-scientific materialism is based on the mistaken assumption that all of nature’s voices can be translated into the ontologically privileged equations of the human marketplace.”

  2. Not suggesting that our planetary system possesses Intelligence as we have come to understand such, but rather–considering all the disasters over the past few years, whether earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, floods, blizzards–perhaps we are now living on a very “sick” system that is becoming more and more out of sync. Or if we wanted
    to personalize the situation, maybe Mother Earth is starting to bite back. 😦

  3. Pingback: Ecological Realism

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