Monday, June 20, 2016

Gaia: Myth, Model, Metaphor, Movement

For many years, I have been threatening to write a book, though I have been derailed from this intention, as usual, by my lifelong tendency (call it what you will--obsessive-compulsive, ADD, dissipation, or whatever) to get easily distracted, and to flitter from one obsession to the next like a butterfly.  I therefore make no promises that my present intention will be any more enduring than all the others. Nevertheless, I am 66 years old now, and if I don't do something to set down my ideas, nurtured and refined over most of my adult life, into permanent form, these ideas will die with me. This may or may not matter--that is not for me to decide.  I started this blog, in part, as a way, of preserving at least the flavor of these ideas in a form that has, at least, the questionable durability of cyberspace.  Nonetheless, unless I set an intention, nothing at all will happen.

So here is my intention: most of the ideas I have nurtured could quite easily be organized under the rubric provided by my cross-disciplinary definition of Gaia, which has already gained some currency among my like-minded Internet friends--that is, my definition of Gaia as simultaneously a Myth, a Model, a Metaphor, and a Movement. So here is what I propose to do, starting in the coming year:

I intend to start, right here on my blog, notes toward a manuscript of this book, providing entries under each of the four categories--Gaia as Myth, as Model, as Metaphor, or as Movement--as they occur to me.  Today, for example, I have been thinking deeply about the challenge of religious fundamentalism, given the intimate connection between monotheism and violence in all Abrahamic religious traditions. This amounts to an argument for Gaianity being, among other things, an argument for religious tolerance, since the notion of life on Earth as sacred is a trope around which all the authentic spiritual paths of the planet can coalesce--and in fact are often coalescing already.
So there's a start.

Gaia as Model is rooted in the science of general systems theory, as pioneered by the likes of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Norbert Weiner, John Von Neumann,  Gregory Bateson, and many others.  It was given concrete expression by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis in their Gaia theory, modeling the biosphere as a self-organizing, self-regulating, evolving complex adaptive system of which humanity is a part (though currently that part is cancerous, due to the dysfunctional "man vs. nature" ideology which coevolved with the runaway positive feedback loops of the agricultural revolution, which were dramatically amplified by the industrial revolution).

Gaia as Metaphor follows directly from its status as both a myth and model--a trope for a new way of thinking about humanity as a part of, rather than apart from, its biological support system (formerly known as "the environment" or "nature.") It refers, in general, to all intellectual formulations that begin from this latter premise--of humanity-within-nature as a single system--whether we call these formulations Green Economics, Biocentric thinking, Integral philosophy, Holism, or whatever.

Finally, Gaia as a Movement refers, first, to any and all efforts to stop the corporate juggernaut from its feeding frenzy on the planet--that is, the "environmental" movement (though I reject the word "environment" as part of the old "man vs. nature" paradigm). But secondly and more importantly, the Gaia movement refers to all efforts to model, develop, and establish sustainable or regenerative alternatives to the cancerous status quo--a movement that finds its most concrete, focused expression in Permaculture theory and practice.