Saturday, January 3, 2015

Vandana Shiva on "The Year of the Soil"

Vandana Shiva, the Indian scientist and activist, is one of the finest Gaian Bodhisattvas alive today. Here is a piece on her response to The Year of the Soil

Gaia Schmaia

Ever since I first encountered James Lovelock's Gaia Theory in 1980, where it was featured in the 1980 edition of Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog, I have been enamored--some might even say obsessed--by the Gaia concept (as first formulated by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis), despite the fact that it has been ridiculed by scientists, sharply criticized by philosophers, largely ignored by the public and the mass media, condemned as heresy by Christians, and uncritically embraced and mythologized, much to its progenitors' dismay, by marginal California neopagans and mush-brained New-Agers. It has even been adopted as the name for one of those mass virtual reality games on the Internet, mostly for children, but having nothing at all to do with its original meaning, and even less with the deeper implications.

The Gaia concept has, to be sure, a few able defenders in philosophy, such as Mary Midgley, who sees it (as I always have) as "the next big idea." But my early hopes that the Gaia concept would be widely embraced by the global environmental movement and the intellectual avante garde, leading to a global transformation of cultural consciousness, have come to naught--in fact, many of my friends in the movement have never even heard of it, and could not care less. So why my persistent and almost obsessive adherence to these four letters--to Gaia?

My short answer is this: we still need a name for ourselves, a shared identification that crosses all national and cultural boundaries, and that refers to our true home--the only living planet we will ever know.  We still need a basis of identification that transcends the obsolete "man vs. nature" dichotomy of the Industrial Revolution, and that embodies humanity-within-nature as a single system. And "Gaia" is the only viable candidate for such a concept. "Earth" means "dirt," which is mostly how we have treated the planet hitherto. "The World" is too vague and anthropocentric--it comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "Werald" meaning "age of man" and is often used as a synonym for the entire universe (as in the French equivalent, "Le Monde").  "Gaia," however, is feminine, not neuter--like the names of the nation-states to which most of us give our primarily allegiance--"America" "Canada" "Russia" "China" and so forth. Yet Gaia is more real than any of these shifting cultural constructs. Like the names of the other planets, it is mythic in reference. But if a dead planet can be named after a mythic figure--like Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune--why can't a living, far-from-equilibrium planet like our own likewise have a deeply resonant mythic name? What are we afraid of? Having to admit that we are raping our own mother??

And so I am, and will always be, a Gaian.  Names matter, for they constitute the basis of our identification. And my short definition of this identification, this label, is one whose first allegiance is to the fabric of life on Earth. All other allegiances are secondary to this one. The nice thing about this identification also is that it is the only identity label I know that excludes absolutely no one nor any other living being on the planet. If there is any non-Gaian life, we don't yet know of it, and may never. So being a Gaian means identifying with all living beings. One can, with no contradiction, be a Gaian Buddhist (as I am), a Gaian Christian (like Wangari Maathai and Pope Francis, whether he knows it or not), a Gaian Jew (like Evan Eisenberg or the "Green Rabbis"), a Gaian Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic, or whatever...for Gaianity does not require nor preclude any religious belief system, any more than it does any national identification.

Imagine, moreover, what the effect would be if more and more people self-identified as Gaians! This in itself could trigger a quiet revolution, a subversion and transformation of Glomart, the Spontaneous Remission of the Cancer of the Earth. It is worth a try, and as long as I draw breath, I will continue to promulgate Gaianity--Gaian consciousness--in whatever ways I can.

Visions and Revisions

The following is directly copied from a response I recently sent to my friend Al Markowitz, after he sent me a link to an excellent article on Truthout:

Robert W. McChesney: "Capitalism as we know it has got to go."

My response was as follows:

Thank you for sharing this excellent article, Al. McChesney has many astute insights that are well worth discussing and disseminating.

My problem has always been with terminology--a view McChesney shares, in part.  Both the words "capitalism" and "socialism" are 19th Century concepts that tend to carry a lot of baggage and beg questions;  they are connotatively loaded, value-laden terms which people define in vastly different ways, but adherents of each tend to project all of their worst nightmares on to those who identify with the opposing term. Thus, for many supporters of socialism, a "capitalist" is by definition a heartless, greedy, corrupt, money-grubbing swine, whether he is the CEO of Monsanto or the owner of a local microbrewery; conversely, for many on the right, anyone who calls himself a "socialist" is secretly plotting a brutal Stalinist dictatorship. The terms themselves, that is, engender fear and polarization.

This is partly why I invented the alternative term "Glomart" to characterize the Global Market Economy--that is, the multinational corporate oligarchy that has hijacked our governments and mass media alike, and that has everything to gain and nothing to lose from plundering the planet and externalizing all costs of doing business, by polluting air, water, and topsoil, fabricating "patriotic" pretexts for resource wars, and exploiting cheap labor in a pernicious "race to the bottom." Glomart is basically a global monopoly game--the playing out of an unregulated, zero-sum money game on a finite system, wherein the only possible outcome is that one set of players (the 1 percent--or even 0.1 percent) end up owning everything, and everyone else has nothing, and is in chronic debt to the "winners" for their houses and hotels. This also, of course, leads inevitably to ecological collapse, and a corresponding disintegration of the social fabric into a violent and desperate Hell on Earth, with shrinking enclaves of fiercely defended wealth in a sea of chaos, starvation, and violence.

Can this apocalyptic Glomart juggernaut be stopped? I'm not sure. In my darker moments, I see no more capacity for the restraint of human greed in the aggregate than I do for maggots in a feeding frenzy. The corporations and their captive nation states will consume and compete for the dwindling resources of our dying planet with ever-increasing ruthlessness until nothing is left and the whole system collapses into chaos. 

But in my more hopeful moments, I can visualize a rapid dissemination, at the grassroots, of what I broadly call "Gaian consciousness" undermining Glomart by subverting and redirecting its primary life-support system--money--through the choices we each make about where our money goes, and for what. (That is why they spend billions in advertising everywhere we look. They need us to buy what they sell). 

 What would happen if a meme went viral on the internet, encouraging and enabling people to assume responsibility for the social and ecological consequences of their spending decisions ("Good Buy"), their livelihoods ("Good Work") and their social activism and engagement ("Good Will")--especially if the latter involved mass Satyagraha campaigns of nonviolent noncooperation with evil, speaking truth to power, and building self-reliant local community economies? In other words, what if public consciousness were raised, big time, about making a choice, in every dollar they spend, earn, or invest, and in every activity in which they engage, between supporting Glomart or supporting Gaia?

That is my dream, in a nutshell--and it takes the threefold form, at the grassroots level, of growing gardens, growing community, and growing awareness. (I like catchy slogans, as they are useful mnemonics for rapidly spreading transformative ideas). The key concepts, or memes in need of dissemination, are as follows:

  1. Glomart vs. Gaia: 
    1. The realization that the Order of Money--Glomart--is utterly incompatible with the Order of Nature--Gaia. Money is nothing but arithmetic--an abstract, zero-sum transform of information about the relative market value of commodities. And inherent in this arithmetical money game is the basic production rule that requires maximization of profits at any cost--More is always Better.
    2. Gaia, conversely, refers to the Order of Nature, a positive-sum symbiotic network of organisms that depend on sunlight and sustain topsoil, air, and water, where optimality is the defining value--Enough is enough.
  2. The Quiet Revolution: A global, grassroots movement of Gaians, predicated on three broad themes:
    1. Good Buy--assuming responsibility for the social and ecological consequences of every dollar we spend or invest.
    2. Good Work--assuming responsibility for the social and ecological consequences of our livelihoods. Becoming local gardeners, cooperatives, and entrepreneurs, to create alternatives to Glomart-produced commodities and services.
    3. Good Will--Taking care of everyone and everything, and abandoning no one and nothing. Mindful, strategic, and relentless social engagement based on Satyagraha principles:
      1. Self-Reliance (Swaraj)
      2. Speaking Truth to Power (Satya)
      3. Nonviolent Noncooperation with Evil (Ahimsa)