Thursday, December 28, 2006

"The Gaian theory is just a theory"

The post below, forwarded from the yahoogroup World In Common, was sent on to me by a friend. I sent him a response, which I copy in below:

--- In http://groups.yahoo.com/group/worldincommon/, Citizens of the World wrote:
>
> The Gaian theory is just that, a theory. It is a way of describing how the
> world has evolved into a vast inter-related connection of life, all
> balanced and working synchronously. It is a way of explaining the
> marvellous web of life and matter. It doesn't postulate a new species as
> far as I know and if anyone interprets it that way it is just wishful
> thinking, similar actually to what the religious have tried to do with
> Dunne's theory of time as a series of coexisting universes, rather than
> linear in structure.
>
> How presumptuous are some people! Now they want to think our species is
> the sexual appendage of this pathetic little planet, a bit like the
> presumption that the sun revolves around this planet. We are just fucking
> mammals that's all, one of many, and we are choking ourselves and all other
> species to death because people like Jim like to think that humans are
> something special.
>
> I like what Carl Sagan says: "I'd rather know than believe." And Bertrand
> Russell. See signature.
>
> End of my contribution. Trevor Goodger-Hill
>
> >There is a part of Gaian theory which gets little publicity. That is, that
> >if the biosphere is a living organism it must go thru what any other
> >living organism must go thru in a coimplete life cycle. Birth, Growth,
> >Statis, reproduction and death. It is the reproduction aspect that is
> >little discussed. If Gaia is alive then what/where is its reproductive
> >organs? The answer may be Humankind. Our drive to explore and move into
> >new places then to adpat or convert those environments to our needs. And
> >when we go into space we will have to bring parts of Gaia with us. We
> >would spread Gaia to new worlds. So maybe humankinds present techological
> >and social conscentrations into large cities is Gaia allocating its
> >resouces into reproduction.
> >
> > jim
> >
> > >robbo203 wrote:
> > > Hi all
> > >
> > >Heres a provocative peice posted on the LA forum which prompt a few
> > >comments
> > >
> > >Cheers
> > >
> > >Robin
> > >
> > >______________________________________
> > >
> > >The Lingering Stench of Malthus
> > >Debunking Jeremy Rifkin's beef with cities
[snip]


The evolution of the "Gaian" idea was very rapid - a progression from Lovelock's engineer's hypothesis to Earth-Mother pseudo-science non-science (and indeed, nonsense) in a very short period of a few years [Gaia]... The classicist usage of the Greek goddess as a metaphorical label was, vis the hippy green movement, a mistake - but one Lovelock more or less embraced by his later books, where the hypothesis to aid our understanding was allowed to become something "more" (where more is less).

So, I agree with the first half of what Trevor says here. Truth to tell, if we are to take "humans as sex organs" of Gaia even slightly seriously, I agree with him there too - what rubbish! But on a more serious note, a role for the human animal, via evolution, wherein we seem to be (or seem to be potentially) something more than just another animal? I subscribe to the "stewards of the earth" ideal, not because I am confident and optimistic (quite the reverse in many ways), but I do believe
that we have spent the last few centuries (further) developing the work of previous generations in our philosophy and ethics, as well as in our science and technics. By the mid-50s we had the technical ability and scientific understanding to begin creating a post-scarcity environment for our species - this I believe to be a requirement for any political stability and real human evolution
beyond survivalist repetition of history.

Our choices have been bad ones many times, yet at the same time our understanding of evolutionary systems, of cybernetics and ecology, of biodiversity have been enhanced beyond measure. I think that the last half-century or so was probably the first last and only time our species will ever combine the technical, ethical and energy intense conflation to achieve a positive global tipping point. The bad choices, in this context, become cosmically bad, not just shrug-it-off-what-a-shame-better-luck-next-time bad. The window of opportunity is limited in duration - ironically, the oil and gas etc that we all deplore the polluting effects of offer a chance to build real longterm lasting eco-infrastructure and once they are depleted that chance - if not taken - will be gone forever.

I think the window is being slammed shut in resource terms - peak oil is beginning to bite, for example; climate synergy is accelerating around us; biodiversity is crashing... Once shut we
can't re-open it. No species will for several hundred thousand years, as they'll have to await a stable climate, time to replenish and evolve and geological ages for the fossil fuels to return (if survival is even possible for cockroaches).

Yet, whilst shutting fast, the fact is that we DO have the technical and ethical skills and knowledge to live differently using he same platform of resources, and the window ain't shut YET. The nay-sayers will harp on about how "human nature" will not allow it. I believe firmly that nurture is what sets our nature as much as nature. The nurturing environment is historically dictate by previous generations and their struggle to 'conquer' nature - often by nurturing values that had historical 'necessity', but which today are a liability.

This is not news, and today's environment is often deadly in terms of nurture values as well as in terms of nature's - but the picture is not that simple. Are you seeing vicious fascist behaviour in those around you? Is it your way too, or do you question it? Is it not the case that many of those with the most pessimism are not like those they fear themselves? Or not wholly? Do they worry that a compromise is losing the whole battle (perhaps because that is what those worse than them will tell them - self-seekingly of course)? Does that worry blind them to the fact that there are many who kick against what they perceive to be the tide? That they are not alone? That, by definition, extreme pessimism on the part of those of us who want change is misplaced, and that we ourselves are the
proof of that?

I am not very hopeful at this point - more so than I was in 1980, less so that in the mid-90s. By position hasn't changed - the world has. Capitalism is the matrix within which all significant technical and scientific advance has unfolded. Whether this was or was not 'necessary' is neither here nor there - the fact is that the future urgently needs us to throw over capitalism as it is currently pursued (as a free market fascism with stupid God-myths about the invisible hand - which, as I have said elsewhere, is that lovely balance seeking process entropy, so creating harm not heaven), as that is one of those previously mentioned tools that were appropriate to a small tribe of embattled intelligent apes, but that has now become a wholly inappropriate liability. The iron, of course, that if we DO continue this way, it will become a valid survival tool for a minority again, but the one important battle, nay, WAR, today is really to recalibrate our economy to fit ecological needs, where ecology and diversity apply as much within and between human communities as they do between and within all lifeforms here residing.

This brings me back to Gaia and the human role. I subscribe to a humanist viewpoint that cautiously eyes teleological and historicist aspects of humanism with a worried expression, but that ultimately sees a baby in with the bath-water of Teilhard de Chardin's view of evolution as being towards a noosphere (if not towards an Omega point), or of Marshal McLuhan's global village where our tools ("extensions of man") are where our next stages of human evolution occur, taking us beyond the nominally selfish bunch of apes we have been towards a global community integrated with our environment. As I said before, stewards of the Earth.

This certainly means I see our species rightful role as being one of metaphorically joining with the (metaphorical?) homeostatic mechanism of Gaia to make an even more even keeled balance between Earth, it's inhabitants, and the wider solar system. I don't see us spreading out of the petri dish, especially as the fuels to do so are being used up poste haste, but I see the attraction... having bleached this petri dish we feel an urgent need for a new one. If their were a Gaian Earth-Goddess, it would, of course, be hell-bent of defeating this nefarious purpose, misguided as it is - after all a metastising cancer kills its host, and why let the bugger spread to another body if you can help it?

As I said, I am getting more worried about us overshooting our main chance as the years tick by. We have been pointing out the contours of the coming storm for decades, and the synergistic
elements of it that make it increasingly difficult to get a grip on the inertial we have created behind the beast. But still some hope, and assume that most of you guys do too. Don't lose sight of that, or the baby and the bathwater will depart this knackered old tub together!

Tim

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