Thinking Otherwise – The Big Picture:
Reflections on Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
Organisms adapt to environments through immediate catastrophes and not to abstract information about possible future environments.
Cyanobacteria, who obtain their energy through photosynthesis, did not stop excreting oxygen to maintain themselves in their niche or comfort zone; they continued to produce oxygen until the catastrophe of a new atmosphere sent them scurrying for safety in the covering of slime at the bottom of lakes or inside the intestines of beings like us who take in oxygen gladly and exhale carbon-dioxide.
Now natural history repeats itself as we exhale far too much carbon-dioxide for our own good. Although we are conscious organisms that now read newspapers and scientific journals, there are still those among us who have not evolved to the point that information and consciousness have replaced things in our new Umwelt, so they refuse to believe that the atmosphere is changing and now generating a catastrophe or a whole series of catastrophes.
Catastrophe is a Greek word meaning “turning over,” so when I turned over a pitchfork-full of compost in the organic garden at Lindisfarne at Fishcove in the 1970s, I literally created a catastrophe for the anaerobic bacteria in the pile. When stars explode in supernovae, they cast heavy metals into space that later with the help of gravity will cluster into planets. Our planet has an iron core rich in radioactive elements that produces the magnetic field that now protects life on Earth. Looking at exploding stars and colliding galaxies and dark energy compressed black holes, one cannot escape the conclusion that catastrophes are part of the generative architecture of existence.
As I scurried inside my warm home today to escape the cold of the season in Maine, I was grateful for the oil that was heating my 1857 Victorian apartment building. To freeze to death is not the most comfortable way to shuffle off our mortal coil. No American President would dare run the risk of anarchy and civil war were there to be no heating oil delivered in fall and winter and no gasoline at the pump. So we need not have energy tycoons like Bush and Cheney running the government, a Democratic Obama will do just as well to say yes to pipelines from the tar sands oil in Alberta to the refineries in New Orleans, yes to nuclear power, and yes to fracking and off-shore oil rigs everywhere. Industrial civilization can neither adapt nor evolve; it can only experience the terminal catastrophe it generates. Its shadow is an intimate part of its architecture, but we humans have not yet evolved to the point where the first question we ask of our designs is: What does it excrete and how can we make that poison part of the architecture of its nutritional or immune system?
China’s water table now shows increasingly high levels of arsenic poisoning; the semiconductor industries of Taiwan are also spilling mercury and lead into the water table, so it will not be long before all the tea in China is undrinkable, and it will also not be long before the next Fukushima-like nuclear catastrophe in France will make French wines a Recherche du temps perdu. So, collectors, stock up on China tea and French wines and forget about Bitcoins. Warren Buffet said he never invested in financial instruments he could not understand, so since very few people understand the algorithm that mines a Bitcoin with a very powerful computer, no one knows how to protect herself against the mining program becoming malware or a Trojan horse.
Industrial civilization cannot save itself by creating a marketplace for the buying, selling, and trading of pollution, for no matter who trades their fresh air and water for coal smoke, poisoned water tables, and radioactive fallout, it all has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is over the rainbow into the atmosphere and oceans.
In other words, industrial civilization can no more reform itself than the Papacy and the College of Cardinals could create the Renaissance, Reformation, and Scientific Revolution.
It will not be homo insipiens that evolves from environments of things to planetary processual flows of Mind; it will be the ecosphere as a whole. The extremophiles in the bottom of the sea and the deep mantle may not be disturbed by our surface perturbations as the sun becomes dramatically active again and the continents rumble and the ocean currents change directions, but the Mind of Gaia will move on, grateful to the little organisms of humans that proved as effective as bacteria in transforming the subterranean layers of solid coal and the lakes of liquid oil into a gas for a new atmosphere for a completely new world under the sun.
William Irwin Thompson (born July, 1938) is known primarily as a social philosopher and cultural critic, but he has also been writing and publishing poetry throughout his career and received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award in 1986. He has made significant contributions to cultural history, social criticism, the philosophy of science, and the study of myth. He describes his writing and speaking style as “mind-jazz on ancient texts”. He is an astute reader of science, social science, history, and literature. He is the founder of the Lindisfarne Association.
His book, Still Travels: Three Long Poems was published in 2009 by Wild River Books. Order a copy from Amazon.
Works by William Irwin Thompson
Memoir – Farewell Address at the Lindisfarne Fellows Conference
Memoir – Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne: 1972
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part I
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part 2: A Community in Fishcove, Long Island
Memoir – Building a Dream – Part One: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – My Dinner with Andre Gregory: Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, 1977-1979
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Shadow Side Part Two: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Cathedral Part Three: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Conclusion: The Economic Relevance of Lindisfarne
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary: Reflections of a Homeschooling Parent
Memoir – Sex and the Commune
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary
Memoir – With Gregory Bateson’s Mind in Nature
After Heart Surgery: Hokusai’s Great Wave
A Lazy Sunday Afternoon
Nancy Grayson’s Bookstore
On Reading “The Penguin Book of English Verse”: on my iPad and Exercise Bike
Wild River Books/Poetry – Nightwatch and Dayshift: Cezanne
Anatolian Days and Nights and the Cultural Evolution of Spirituality
And the Votes are In: The American Elections of 2010
Avatar – When Technology Displaces Culture
Bedtime Story for a Civilization
The Big Picture: Reflections on Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
The Big Picture, II
Child Abuse and the Catholic Church
The Digital Economy of W. Brian Arthur
From Shamanism to Religion, Part Two
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality, Part Three
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality: Conclusion
January 1, 2011: Reflections on the Philosophical Notions of Republicans
January 6, 2011 – Part Two: The Etherealization of Capitalism
Nature and Invisible Environments
Of Culture and the Nature of Extinction
On Nuclear Power
On Religion – Part One
On Religion and Nationalism: Ireland, Israel, and Palestine
On Transnational Military Interventions
A Pagan Ur-Text of the Lebor Gebála Érenn
Part 1 – The Shift from Industrial to a Planetary Civilization
Part 2 – The Shift from an Industrial to Planetary Civilization
Part 3 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The Recovery of a Cosmic Orientation
Part 4 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – The Global War for Drugs
Part 5 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The New Jerusalem
Part 6 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Catastrophes as the Spur to Institute Tricameral Legislature
Part 7 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Complex Dynamical Systems and Tricameral Legislatures
Part 8 – The Shift from a Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Israel and Palestine: Sic transit gloria mundi
Part 9 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – On Sarah Palin and the Technocratic Society
Part 10 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – On Conspiracy Narratives as Expressive of the Transition from the Nation: State to the Noetic Polity
Part 11 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Global Awareness and Personal Identity
Part 12 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Conclusion: The United Nations
Political Meditation for the Fourth of July, 2011: Can We Shift from Empire Back to Republic?
St. David’s Day, 2011, Technology and Social Change
Saint Patrick’s Day, 2010: Us and Them: Identity and the State
Some Reflections on Hurricane Sandy and an Outline for a New Civilization
Technical Hubris: and the Sinkhole of Obama’s Centrism
Television and Social Class
Thanksgiving Day, 2010: The Uses and Abuses of History
The Elections of 2010
Thoughts on My new Kindle App: on My Mac iPad