I’m sharing two lectures recorded for my online course this semester, Process and Difference in the Pluriverse. In these two modules, we are studying Latour’s recently translated book Facing Gaia.
I’m sharing two lectures recorded for my online course this semester, Process and Difference in the Pluriverse. In these two modules, we are studying Latour’s recently translated book Facing Gaia.
The Function of Reason and the Recovery of an Earthly Architecture
By Matthew David Segall, PhD
“[The] relatedness between us and the world…which begins to exist wherever there is living structure is as important in the sphere of building as it is in the sphere of nature…[Our]…daily proximity with so many non-living structures—freeways, motels, traffic lights, office buildings—dominates our awareness, [cauterizing our] capacity to enter into this relatedness, to see it and feel it…[It] is the presence of living structure in our built world that decides the extent of our relatedness with earth.”
-Christopher Alexander, The Nature of Order, Vol. 4: The Luminous Ground, 57.
The function of Reason, according to philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, “is to promote the art of life.” In the context of Whitehead’s cosmological scheme, Reason is no longer a uniquely human capacity to survey and judge the world as if from above the world. Rather, Reason is implicated in the world-process and is a factor in the evolution of all life on earth. The involvement of Reason in the world-process would seem to conflict with Darwin’s doctrine of evolution by natural selection, a theory summed up by the phrase “the survival of the fittest.” Organisms, so the theory goes, battle for position in a fixed environment with limited resources, and those organisms that happen to be most fit survive in greater numbers. Whitehead does not mean to contradict this theory of the origin of species. On the contrary, he celebrates it as “one of the great generalizations of science.” The effect of the struggle for existence “stares us in the face.” He only means to warn against the theory’s over-application.
Unlike the methods of the specialized sciences, Whitehead’s cosmological scheme attempts to interpret all the evidence. The evidence includes the upward trend of evolution: more complex organisms have evolved from less complex organisms. The doctrine of the survival of the fittest cannot account for this trend, since it is often the case that the most complex animals are deficient in survival power. “In fact,” writes Whitehead, “life itself is comparatively deficient in survival value. The art of persistence is to be dead.” Living organisms did not appear on the earth because they were better at surviving than the rocks around them. To account for the urge of life toward complexity—that is, life’s tendency to increase the qualitative intensity of its existence—it is necessary to acknowledge an additional factor in evolution. In its human form, this factor is called “consciousness.” Moderns are discouraged from attributing consciousness to the non-human world. To do so is considered childish and regressive, a relapse into primitive animism. Whitehead invites us to consider the possibility that human consciousness is not a chance anomaly alone in the cosmos, but the most complex expression of an originally unconscious urge of life operative in lesser degrees throughout the physical universe.
It is evident that the more complex organisms have not evolved simply by adapting themselves to the environment. Instead, according to Whitehead, “the upward trend has been accompanied by a growth of the converse relation. Animals have progressively undertaken the task of adapting the environment to themselves.” The primary evolutionary function of Reason is thus to set to work transforming the environment so as to promote the art of life. In the case of human organisms, this task takes form through our building practices. Human architecture is one of the most advanced arts yet invented by earthly life. For much of our species’ history, architecture has functioned to shelter and enhance our various cultural activities so as to afford us not only more safety from untamed nature, but more social cohesion and religious awe. Structures were built for the purpose of facilitating human flourishing. But in the modern age, with the shift out of the ancient world-picture into the mechanistic view of the cosmos, a new approach to architecture has taken hold of our building practices. Because our modern imaginations have lost the ability to perceive the life animating the earth and wider cosmos, our built environment has been designed without life in mind. As the architect Christopher Alexander warns us in the epigraph that opens this essay, the more we deaden our environment by surrounding ourselves with non-living structures, the less capable we become of perceiving our relationship to the living earth. Worse, the more these dead structures are allowed to proliferate across the planet, the less life it is able to sustain.
The skyscraper is the structure most emblematic of the modern world-picture. Architect Cass Gilbert described their main rationale: “The skyscraper is a machine that makes the land pay.” The function of the skyscraper is not to facilitate human flourishing, but to accumulate capitalist profits. Built of glass and steel, their structure is generally a standardized, repetitive series of floors designed to reach the maximal height with a minimum of materials. They are an expression of modern humanity’s technological power and dominance over nature. Indeed, no other built environment compares to the skyscraper in its ability to alienate its inhabitants from the life of the earth. Rather than dwelling on their alienating consequences, 20th century architects and their financiers understood these mammoth structures in terms of the Darwinian doctrine of the survival of the fittest. The taller the building, the more successful the builders. From their perch in the clouds, businessmen look out, godlike, upon the world below, which from that height resembles a game of Monopoly. In Whitehead’s terms, the skyscraper embodies Reason in its function as “[the director] of the attack on the environment.”
Nikos A. Salingaros, a close collaborator of Alexanders’, argues that industrialization ushered in a new method of building focused on copying form rather than generating form, the latter having been the norm in vernacular architecture for thousands of years. Industrial design therefore ignored local needs, conditions, and complexities to focus instead on the mass production and “monotonous alignment of identical copies”:
Monotony in our environment has profound consequences on our psyche. A worldview that exalts visual monotony has taken over an earlier environment shaped by the variety of natural forms. If industrial production tied to economic growth and prosperity necessarily generates monotony, then design variety is sure to be considered a drag on the operation of our economy.
Organic form, while it also follows design templates (e.g., statistically lawful physical norms, DNA, etc.), never produces exact copies. Nature brings forth its forms anew with each generation, only succumbing to the “life-tedium” of repetition when the “urge toward novel contrast” has been thwarted. The organic world evolves not to secure efficient survival power (the inorganic world is far more efficient in this respect), but to intensify its capacity for novel organization and experience.
As Whitehead describes it, the industrial age coincided with the canalization of the 17th century scientific outlook “content to limit itself within the bounds of a successful method.” Metaphysical speculation beyond the mechanical lawfulness of measurable material objects was forbidden. Modern industrial architects were thus driven to continue their work “in the secure daylight of traditional practical activity.” The practical function of Reason thus overshadowed its speculative function. Whitehead’s cosmology is an invitation to think differently, a call to adventure beyond the steel glass boxes of modern industrial consciousness, beyond even the projected screens of postmodern electronic consciousness. Whitehead’s heresy is to re-assert the speculative function of Reason in an effort to awaken us not only from the monotony of the modern world-picture, but also from the nihilism of our postmodern rejection of all world-pictures. His efforts are not merely speculative, since they also have a pragmatic aim: to prevent our nascent planetary civilization from burying itself beneath the smoldering rubble of fallen skyscrapers. Another world is possible, a world wherein evolution entails the enhancement of earthly life, rather than the attempt to escape from earth in shining elevators to the Sun.
Speculative Reason is no less heliocentric, but rather than attempting to “secure daylight” from darkness, its pragmatic attitude leads it to seek a mode of existence in concert with what Whitehead calls “The Way of Rhythm” pervading all life and indeed the physical universe itself. On planet earth, there is no escape from the tidal rhythm of day and night: the daylight washes in, and then recedes revealing the subtler light of the Moon and other stars. The speculative philosopher is tasked with rescuing the facts as they are for the whole of our experience of life from the facts as they appear under the bright noon light of a work day:
[We] view the sky at noon on a fine day. It is blue, flooded by the light of the sun. The direct fact of observation is the sun as the sole origin of light, and the bare heavens. Conceive the myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden on the first day of human life. They watch the sunset, the stars appear:–‘And, Lo!, creation widened to man’s view.’ The excess of light discloses facts and also conceals them.
Speculative Reason thus avoids the deadening monotone of modern industrial consciousness. It is “a tropism to the to the beckoning light—the sun passing toward the finality of things, and to the sun arising from their origin. The speculative Reason turns east and west, to the source and to the end, alike hidden below the rim of the world.”
Alexander leans on Whitehead’s new world-picture to argue “that we will not have a proper grasp of the universe and our place in it, until the self which we experience in ourselves, and the machinelike character of matter we see outside ourselves, can be united in a single picture.” Our grasp of the evolution of the cosmos and of life on earth must make room for more than the collisions of material surfaces: it must include the creative interiors of things, that is, their life. Only then can we truly understand the relational patterns of wholeness that these living creatures enact in their collective bid for freedom: whether it be the atoms of hydrogen and helium that coalesced to generate the first stars, the proteins and nucleic acids that coalesced to generate the first cells, or the hunter-gatherers who coalesced to generate Gobekli Tepe, the earliest known human temple structure built approximately 12,000 years ago in modern day southeastern Turkey. If we fail to adapt our methods so as to include our experience of living process, our own and the earth’s, then we will continue to build dead structures, further deadening our souls and their earthly habitat. It is a vicious cycle of self-amplifying self-destruction. It is practical Reason run wild, undermining its own basis of survival by forgetting that no final separation exists between an organism and its environment. The life of our own body “is part of the external world, continuous with it…, just as much part of nature as anything else there—a river, or a mountain, or a cloud.”
What would it mean to build with the earth, rather than against it and beyond it? It would mean entering into conversation with the river, the mountain, and the wind before breaking ground in the rush to build a towering monument to solitary power that is deaf and dumb to the life processes of its environment. It would mean building ecologically at an earthly pace for the purpose of human flourishing, rather than mechanically at an industrial scale for the sake of economic mastery. Unfortunately, even today, a hundred years after Whitehead’s writing, our theory of political economy remains “under a cloud,” since “it limits its view to the ‘economic man,’”—the individual worker-consumer monetarily isolated from family and community, psychologically alienated from their own labor and physically dispossessed of the very ground upon which they walk. The built environment of our civilization’s great cities reflects the economic values of the industrial growth society, values ignorant of the need all species have of remaining in intimate relationship with their earthly habitats. For now, according to Alexander, “Whitehead’s rift remains.”
Though still drowned out by the cacophonous light of electrified cities, increasingly lucid intimations of a new world-picture continue to flicker on in the night sky above us. It is possible that these lights will constellate into a new cosmological vision to guide our planetary civilization through the coming ecological bottleneck, and that this realization will come with such a sudden “shock” that it will “[transmit itself] through the whole sociological structure of technical methods and of institutions” within the span of a single generation. If human beings are to survive—and, more importantly, if we are to thrive—we must become aware, upon considering the evolutionary history of the earth, that “the struggle for existence gives no hint why there should be cities.” We must become aware that some “counter-agency” to entropy in the universe and in ourselves is the only factor that could explain the evolutionary emergence of novel complexities like stars and cells, temples and cities. Only with this awareness of the cosmic extent of our own creativity can we “convert the decay of [our present] order into the birth of its successor.” Today, the function of Reason must become the recovery of an earthly architecture: in all our building we must promote and exemplify the art of life. The other option is extinction.
 The Function of Reason, 4.
 The Function of Reason, 9-10.
 The Function of Reason, 6.
 The Function of Reason, 4.
 The Function of Reason, 5.
 “…the trained body of physiologists under the influence of the ideas germane to their successful methodology entirely ignore the whole mass of adverse evidence. We have here a colossal example of anti-empirical dogmatism arising from a successful methodology. Evidence which lies outside the method simply does not count…The brilliant success of this method is admitted. But you cannot limit a problem by reason of a method of attack” (The Function of Reason, 15).
 The Function of Reason, 4.
 The Function of Reason, 24-25.
 The Function of Reason, 7.
 Sharon Irish. “A ‘Machine That Makes the Land Pay’: The West Street Building in New York.” Technology and Culture 30 (April 1989): 376-397.
 The Function of Reason, 8.
 “The 21st Century Needs Its Own Paradigm Shift in Architecture,” Nov. 2, 2015. Accessed 6/5/2016: http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/October-2015/The-21st-Century-Needs-Its-Own-Paradigm-Shift-in-Architecture/
 The Function of Reason, 20.
 The Function of Reason, 65-66.
 The Function of Reason, 66.
 “It has been urged in these pages that there is no true stability. What looks like stability is a relatively slow process of atrophied decay. The stable universe is slipping away from under us” (The Function of Reason, 82).
 The Function of Reason, 21.
 Adventures of Ideas, 155.
 The Function of Reason, 65.
 The Luminous Ground, 13.
 Modes of Thought, 21.
 The Function of Reason, 75.
 The Luminous Ground, 17.
 The Function of Reason, 87.
 The Function of Reason, 89.
 The Function of Reason, 90.
Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible inherent in the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess. We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch’s flight.
So the movement is one from the transcendent to the horizontal? No, it can’t be that simple…
What moderns lost in verticality for their thought they gained in fact by the invention of the spaceship. The transcendental has not been replaced by the horizontal; rather, the horizontal has been brought to its completion in a noöspheric earth, a “transcendental star,” as Sloterdijk calls it: “A star on which the theory of stars appeared, the earth shines with self-generated phosphorescence” (p. 25, In the World Interior of Capital).
Horizontality, so long as we conceive of it as a going and a return, shares an essentially circular structure with verticality. Its just transcendentalism with more speed, with escape velocity. Still, whether Platonist or Humean, we ascend and descend, we travel far away and we come back home again. Sure, sometimes we get bored and give up. Sometimes we are blinded by the light on approach. Other times we die on the way back (and what unimaginable lines of flight might draw us then?). But if there is a flat plane before philosophy, there must be a curved sphere after it.
Were we to take flight toward the fading sun at the precise rate of earth’s counter-rotation, time would appear to cease and we would feel as though we needed no sleep. But when we finally came down from our magic flight, our friends back on solid ground would see the dreamlessness in our eyes. Though their subjectivity is nothing like the chains of common sense, even sorcerers are subject to the grip of gravity. Earth holds us all.
I am more inclined to bear the cross of horizontal heavens with transcendental planes than I am to let one tip the other over on its side…
The transcendental and the horizontal meet in the terrestrial.
I’m headed back to Black Rock City for the 3rd time in 4 years later this week. I’ll be camping with Cosmicopia at 7:15 J if you want to stop by. I’ll be giving a brief talk on the need to ecologize economics on Tuesday at 11am. The title of the talk is actually a set of related questions: “Why is the sky blue? Why is money green?” The sky is blue because of the way Earth’s atmosphere scatters the light streaming in from the Sun during the day. At night, the sky turns black to reveal the swarm of distant suns populating the Milky Way. All the energy powering the human economy, and the greater part of the intelligence engineering it, originated in the sky. The daytime Sun is the most important source of free energy for all living things, while for one species in particular (ours) the rhythmic revolutions of the nighttime stars served as the catalyst for the evolution of symbolic consciousness (some of the earliest known forms of writing, for example, are marks carved into bone, apparently to count the phase cycle of the moon). Gazing at the stars and planets circling overhead night after night taught us how to keep track of time and how to travel long distances over land or sea. Our ability to plan months and years in advance, to draw maps and send satellites into orbit: we owe it all to the stars. And to the Sun we owe our very life, our vitality, our source of absolutely free energy. The original biotic economy of Earth (here long before the emergence of the human economy) consists of two main economic actors: the Sun and the photosynthesizing plants. This cosmic economy is the original gift society. The Sun is slowing burning itself up to release the warmth and light necessary for life on Earth. It asks for nothing in exchange for its exuberance. Plants absorb this free energy, transforming themselves into food for the rest of the biosphere all the way up the trophic ladder to Earth’s apex predator, the human being.
American money (at least for a little while longer the world economy’s gold standard), like plants, is green. Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but if we consider the capitalist world system as a form of sorcery (as Isabelle Stengers does), then this choice of color reflects the extent to which money has been fetishized, as though the symbolic power of green paper was somehow a replacement for the photosynthetic energy captured by the leaves of plants. General purpose money truly is the life blood of global capitalism; but plant-like it is not. It should be printed red, instead. That would remind us how much blood has been spilled on its behalf.
Political ecologist Alf Hornborg (author of “The Power of the Machine”) describes general purpose money as an “algorithm of destruction” because of the way it systematically cancels the living diversity of both culture and nature by converting usable energy (labor, soil, minerals, trees, rivers, etc.) into disposable products sold in order to make more copies of itself. For this reason, an increasing GDP is typically a great indicator of decreasing societal and ecological well-being. Global capitalism is converting more and more of the free energy brought into the biosphere by plants into money. To date, geneticist David Suzuki estimates that the global economy has re-directed about 40% of the net energy intake of plants to serve its higher purposes (i.e., accumulating money). Its no wonder the planet is entering the 6th mass extinction.
In my talk at Burning Man, I hope to make apparent how incongruent the human economy currently is with the earth ecology. I also want to begin a discussion about the role of Burning Man in all this. According to the festival’s founder, Larry Harvey, the Burning Man ethos is just good ol’ fashioned capitalism. He’s not entirely off the mark. I’d agree that the extravagance of Burning Man wouldn’t be possible without the huge surpluses produced by California’s digital economy. But this is not the same old capitalism… I’ll be trying to dig deeper into these and other internal contradictions.
“In my view the creation of the world is the first unconscious act of speculative thought; and the first task of a self-conscious philosophy is to explain how it has been done.” -Whitehead
Four of us met a few days back to discuss the first 75 pages of Ed Casey’s The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (1998). I’ve heard there will be more of us next time. We talked about several ancient texts: the Babylonian Enuma Elish, Plato’s Timaeus, and Aristotle’s Physics.
We discussed the potential efficacy of ancient place-making rituals, such as that of the Australian Achilpa tribe (Fate of Place, 5). Can a single staff really found entire worlds? If a society’s world-staff were to break, would the people of that society’s world end? Would they all fall to the ground and die?
What is the modern scientific equivalent of a place-making staff stuck into the center of an aboriginal nomadic campsite? Perhaps it is geometry, the mathesis of points, lines, and planes used to draw the modern map of the globe? But what then is calculative science to make of the incalculable?: of perfect circles, infinite curves, and evolving spirals?; of real black holes and spiral galaxies?; of living organisms?
The modern scientific earth-measuring staff, the Cartesian coordinate grid, was meant to raise the human animal beyond erotic imagination into the heights of disinterested reason. But this staff has broken and can now only be used for firewood. Once turned to ash it should be scattered in a plurality of places. Chaos is the place-maker (not the place-made or the place-less), and its unruliness now and forever rules upon the earth beneath the sky. Chaos is the generative source of each and every topocosm, the place from which all order emerges.
Plato notwithstanding, the demiurge’s perfect forms of geometrical reflection have proven themselves unable to supplant geology and astrology as the philosophical foundations of cosmology. The volcanic instability of the earth and the angelic stability of the sky forbid our human pretenses to cosmic wisdom. We can only love wisdom and follow her; we cannot measure her. She is too deep.
The outer motions of earth and sky always already shape the inner emotions of humanity. We learn the God-poet’s ways first of all from Gaia and Ouranos. All other happenings are their child. We cannot invent geometry inside our heads ex nihilo, measuring the earth in some invented pseudo-space or Void, until we have first marked out our territory in the dirt and built a hut to block out the stars overhead. Only then can we place such heavy concentration on such airy abstractions.
Geometry need not lead to misplaced concreteness, of course. We need only remember that the staffs we plant in the sand can never stand the test of infinite time. Staff planting is a creative gesture, but every such planting already assumes sunlight and warm soil to feed the hand who hammers it. Staff planting is never ex nihilo.
Catherine Keller’s The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (2003) is a great example of how one might try to weave the living Word into place without getting tied in the literalistic knots of monolithic meaning. When speaking of angels, for example, we can follow her in drawing upon the rich tradition of hermeneutical heretics who turn to angelology in order to refute ex nihilo creation theories. Keller dwells rhapsodically upon the meaning of Elohim (Face of the Deep, 173-182), which is plural for Eloah (not a personal name, since it can be used to describe any deity). The plural noun is accompanied by a singular verb, bara, “create.” Some interpreters, like the 11th century Spanish-born poet Abraham Ibn Ezra, have claimed that Elohim refers to God’s angels. Keller’s Whiteheadian understanding of God as persuader rather than commander shines through when she writes regarding the implications of the Angelic/Elohimic plurisingularity:
Crowding and complicating the hermeneutical time-space, the turbulent swarm of godhood has always transgressed any possible boundaries between the One Original Creator and the many derivative creatures…According to this imaginary of bottomless process, the divine decision is made not for us but with and through us. Amidst the chaosmic committee work of creation, what work remains for a creator to do–aside from its decisive delegations (“let the earth bring forth,” etc.)? Can we say with process theology that the creator emits an eros…to which every creature willy-nilly responds? …Some respond more responsibly than others to the cosmic desire. Committees and democracies make a lot of messes…Our responses…generate our own plurisingular inter-subjectivities–out of the multiples of elemental energies, codes, socialities, ecologies that any moment constellate our cosmoi…Elohim arises out of those unruly depths, over which language catches its breath. The creator, in creating, becomes. In singular plurality (178-182).
Keller is a skilled hermeneut, capable of holding her breath long enough to dive into the polysemic depths of scriptural meaning, and of surfacing to tell the story of her journey without superficially collapsing it into a monotone theology or exploding it into relativistic jelly. She carefully unwinds the palimpsestic threads woven into the poetic phrase that begins the Biblical book of Genesis, tohu vabohu, to discover evidence of a goddess’ murder.
The Hebrew poet who wrote Genesis was clearly influenced by the Babylonian Enuma Elish, which depicts the warrior God Marduk’s slaughter of Tiamat (related to the Semitic Tehom, “abyss”). The traditional interpretation of the phrase, under the monotheistic pretense of demythologization, denies all agency to the Tehom. The ex nihilo doctrine requires that God be alone in the beginning, the sole creator of everything, even that out of which creation is shaped. Keller, like Casey, reads into tohu vabohu and uncovers its prepatriarchal significance enfolded just beneath the surface. Rather than traditional commentators, who point to the monotony (“God said…God said…God said…”) of the creation narrative as evidence of its utter transcendence over any other merely mythic event, Keller focuses on the “flirtatiously alliterative wordplay” (116) of these same verses. The “monotonotheism” (Nietzsche) of the ex nihilo tradition is replaced with the participatory eroticism of Elohim’s creative persuasiveness: let the earth produce (tadse) vegetation (dese) (1:11); let the waters produce (yisresu) sea creatures (seres) (1:20). Tohu vabohu is read with the “shinning wake” of its animistic origins in tact, such that the precreation elements are read not as “formless and void,” but as active participants responsive to God’s angelic call to cosmos. In effect, Elohim had to ask permission before creating. The God-poet, no matter how genius, always sings with a chorus, remaining forever placed in the chora, located in cosmic imagination. No creative act is ever from nothing.
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.