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Gaia on the Move
by Jan Sand
2007-12-17 09:04:44
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The forty year old theory of Gaia seems to be exhibiting some visible repercussions. The slow but steady rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is something humanity is guiltily accepting as its responsibility despite human reluctance to fool around reversing it. If the assault on the planet were just this there would be problems enough to worry the most optimistic dude. Humanity's excesses are unfortunately not so singular.

Ogden Nash had an acute eye for the type of behaviour humans are exhibiting when he looked at termites.

The Termite
Some primal termite knocked on wood
And tasted it, and found it good!
And that is why your Cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today.

Cousin May and the rest of civilization with all the voraciousness and lack of foresight of termites are industriously working away to fall through the floor.

One of the many ways humanity is changing life on this planet is to gobble up sea turtles, a slightly unfortunate but not terribly outstanding depredation, one might think, as long as one is not a sea turtle. And one can be absolutely sure that the sea turtle lobby in the US Congress has nowhere near the clout of the one from Israel. But the sea turtles' diet favours jellyfish, something that one would think appeals only to the Japanese who seem to be capaciously hungry for anything that wiggles. And so the rapid decline of the sea turtles is consequentially resulting in a rapid rise in the jellyfish population. Well, you might say, so what?

Here's what. This indicates the jellyfish are celebrating and reproducing at a rate to appal any decent Christian Puritan who dislikes anyone having a good time. One cannot be positive, of course, that jellyfish are as appreciative of the mechanics of reproduction as the average human regularly demonstrates at the average Hollywood production. But I would guess so. Guess, because I have never been much accomplished at reading the emotions of a jellyfish.

Well, what the hell. That's far away in the Pacific. But here's another item, which demonstrates that jellyfish are obviously out to conquer the world. Sicked on humanity, no doubt by Gaia who finally conned to the idea that human beings are very bad medicine. Sharp, they are, no doubt and flashy and in their own way, and like a traditional barrel of monkeys, they can be quite amusing (although noisy) as they ritually butcher each other. But they chop up forests to print their newspapers and wipe their behinds and soon, to drive their stinking vehicles. So they really are too messy to keep as pets.

Jellyfish are quite decorative like pulsating lampshades and, once out of water can make slimy messes which is surely an aesthetic fault. But it looks like they're on the rise and Gaia really likes them.

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Emanuel Paparella2007-12-17 15:29:40
Intriguing, that mythological figure of Gaia on today’s Ovi’s cover. The return of mythos? Nietzsche resurrected the myth in his “The Gaia Science” since he was aware as most philosophers have been throughout the ages that man is a meaning seeking creature. Since humans fall easily into descouragment and despair, from the very beginning of culture and civilization they invented stories that enabled them to place our lives in a larger less confusing setting; one that attempts to reveal the underlying pattern and gives a sense that life has a meaning and value. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2007-12-17 15:34:51
Besides Nietzche, it is well known that Carl Jung was the first Western psychologist to explore and clarify the tremendous significance of myth for the human condition. Closer to us we have Joseph Campbell. But there is a current book that is worth reading on the subject: Karen Armstrong’s A Brief History of Myth. In this book, Armstrong sets out to overcome two challenges: to explain why myths are still relevant today; and to sketch a brief history of their development from prehistoric times to the present day. She does not agree with the general opinion of myth, propagated by rationalist philosophers since Descartes, as being purely fictitious narrative usually involving supernatural persons, actions or events, but sees myth as something deeper, something more significant. A myth, says Karen Armstrong "is an event that - in some sense - happened once, but which also happens all the time." It is not meant to be a historically or factually accurate account of reality... it is never meant to be taken literally... in fact, it cannot be described in terms of true and false; it is beyond that. Mythology is designed to give meaning and significance to human life, to help us come to terms with the harsh realities, with death and disease. It is a sort of therapy. A myth is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information. If, however, it does not give us new insight into the deeper meaning of life, it has failed.

Emanuel Paparella2007-12-17 15:37:41
With rationalists it always fails because their aim is to reduce to an historical fact. Perused as a purely intellectual hypothesis, it becomes remote and incredible. But if it works as a valid myth, then it may well force us to change our minds and hearts, gives us new hope, guide our behavior and compel us to live more fully. Moreover, its truth will only be revealed if it is put into practice; if it is not treated as a fairy tale to tell children at bed-time.

The decline of myths began with the Enlightenment and the preference of ratio over mythos, the mythological narrative. Humans became so much used to rational thinking, that they began to see myths in literal terms... and this was a death blow to mythology, because myths were never intended as literal truths; but these stories were not and never had been factual.

The lack of myths has created a vacuum in our lives... we have lost the therapeutic effect which these myths once exerted on humans while we still long for a significance and meaning in life, to experience something deeper. Armstrong ends with an optimistic note, saying that arts and literature have the potential to play the role in our lives which mythology once did for "A novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our self-interest."

In the world of today, the destruction of Gaia is but a symptom of a deeper malaise having its roots in the over-emphasis of ratio and the inability to see reason as a complementary relationship between mythos and ratio. Karen Armstrong offers us the opportunity to bring the component of mythos in our lives, and to save ourselves from the despair and alienation of a life based completely and absolutely on ratio.

Emanuel Paparella2007-12-17 16:10:44
A clarification: Nietzche's treatise on La Gaya Scienza does not directly deal with the myth of Gaia but it too is very much concerned with the mytho-poetic and how important it is to reason and philosophical speculation.

Sand2007-12-20 13:45:44
It is instructive that you have decried Nietzsche as insane and Jung is known to believe that books spontaneously exploded on his bookshelf. You and these two seem to have something in common.

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