Saturday, June 30, 2012


"My Ancestor was right

I came to recognize that the conflict I experienced so intensely was a symptom of a slip that runs through your entire civilization. This split is experienced to differing degrees by almost everyone. It is now threatening our very survival.

From the time of our remotest ancestors until the seventeenth century, it was taken for granted that the world of nature was alive. But in the last three centuries, growing numbers of educated people have come to think of nature as lifeless. This has been the central doctrine of orthodox science - the mechanistic theory of nature.

We have to remember that what are now commonplace assumptions were one controversial theories, rooted in peculiar kinds of theology and philosophy, believed only by a handful of European intellectuals. Through the successes of technology, the mechanistic theory of nature is now triumphant on a global scale; it is built into the official orthodoxy of economic development. It has become a kind of religion. And it has led us to our present crisis.

Science itself has now begun to transcend the mechanistic worldview. The idea that everything is determined in advance has given way to the ideas of in-determinism, spontaneity and chaos. The hard, inert atoms of Newtonian physics have dissolved into structures of vibratory activity. The uncreative world machine has turned into a creative, evolutionary cosmos. Even the laws of nature may not be eternally fixed: they may be evolving along with nature.
Simple though the idea of living nature may sound, it has profound implications. It upsets deep-seated habits of thoughts; it points toward a new kind of science, a new understanding of spirituality… an old relationship between humanity and the living world. We urgently need to find practical ways of re-establishing our conscious sense of connection with living nature. We have No Time to lose.

Matriarchal nature and the desecration of the world

Like human mothers, nature has always evoked ambivalent emotions. She is beautiful, fertile, nurturing, benevolent and generous. But she is also wild, destructive, chaotic, smothering, death dealing- the Mother in her terrifying form, like Nemesis, Hecate or Kali.
The idea of nature as a mechanical inanimate system is in some ways more comforting; it gives a sense that we are in control and gratifyingly confirms our belief that we have risen above primitive animistic ways of thinking. Nature is less frightening if she can be dismissed as a superstition, a poetic turn of phrase or a mythic archetype confined to human minds, while the inanimate natural world remains there for us to exploit.

Although the conquest of nature for the sake of human progress is the official ideology of the modern world, the old intuition of nature as a mother still affects our personal responses.
The very words for nature in European languages are feminine- for example phusis in Greek, natura in Latin, la nature in French, die Natur in German. The latin world natura literally meant « birth ». The Greek world phusis came from the root phu whose primary meaning was also connected with birth. Thus our words physics and physical like nature and natural have their origins in the mothering process.

In the animist beliefs (nowadays called mythologies), the great mother has many aspects. She was the original source of the universe and its laws and the ruler of nature, fate, time, eternity, truth, wisdom, justice, love, birth and death. She was Earth, Gaia, the mother of the sun, like Nun or Astarte. She was natura, the goddess Nature and she had many other silent names and images as the mother and matrix and sustaining force of All Thing.

These feminine associations play an important part in our thinking; our conception of nature is intertwined with ideas about the relations between women and men, between animals and gods, and between the feminine and the masculine in general. If we prefer to reject these traditional sexual associations, what are the alternatives to the idea of nature as organic, alive and mother like ? One is that nature consists of nothing but inanimate matter in motion. But in this case we only deny the mother principle by being unaware of it; the very word for matter is derived from the same root as mother- in Latin the corresponding words are material and mater- and the whole ethos of materialism is permeated with maternal metaphors.
 The conception of nature as a machine brings another set of metaphors into play. Many mechanists assume that this way of thinking is uniquely objective, whereas they see the idea of living nature as anthropocentric, nothing but a projection of human ways of thinking onto the inanimate world around him. But surely the machine metaphor is more anthropocentric than the organic. The only machines we know of are man-made. Machine making is a uniquely human activity, and a relatively recent one too. The 17th. And 18th. Century conception of God as the designer and creator of the world machine cast him in the image of technological man. And in attempting to see all aspects of nature as machine like, we only project current technologies onto the world supposed to be around us.

We cannot help thinking in terms of metaphors, analogies, models and images; they are embedded in the language and in the very structure of our thought. Both animistic and mechanistic thinking are metaphoric. But whereas mythic and animistic thinking depends on organic metaphors drawn by the processes of life, mechanistic thinking depends on metaphors drawn from man-made machinery.

Since the earth is our immediate home, Earth was recognized before the wider domain of Nature was conceived of on a cosmic scale to include the vast expanse of the heavens. The image of earth as a mother is found in all aboriginal cultures, all over the world. In the late 19 century, this is how a man of the Wanapum tribe explained why he refused to till the ground :
Shall I take a knife and tear my mother’s bosom ? Then when I die she will not take me to her bosom to rest. You ask me to dig for stone! Shall I dig under her skin for her bones ? Then when I die I cannot enter her body to be again. You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it, and be rich like white men! But how dare I cut off my mother’s hair?