Nine Theses For A Gaia Politique

One of the articles in Sustainable Habitat (IC#14)
Originally published in Autumn 1986 on page 58
Copyright (c)1986, 1997 by Context Institute

Cultural historian William Irwin Thompson sent us the following as an extension of his ideas in "The New Story."

1) Every politically-oriented intellectual searches for a new ideology, hoping to become another Marx for a better Lenin; but ideology is to the mind what excrement is to the body: the exhausted remains of once-living ideas.

2) The Truth cannot be expressed in an ideology, for Truth is the shared life that overlights the conflict of opposed ideologies, much in the same way that the Gaian atmosphere overlights the "conflict" of ocean and continent; therefore, the Truth cannot be "known" by the process of intellectual analysis, critique, or communicative rationality; nor can it be socially administered by a philosophical or religious elite of the best and the brightest, be they followers of Mohammed, Marx, Habermas, or E.O. Wilson. Since "knowing" is a form of "false consciousness," elites are institutional reifications of this false consciousness that break up the compassionate feeling of our common life in the world.

3) A World is not an ideology nor a scientific institution, nor is it even a system of ideologies; rather, it is a structure of unconscious relations and symbiotic processes. In these living modes of communication in an ecology, even such irrational aspects as noise, pollution, crime, warfare, and evil can serve as constituent elements of integration in which negation is a form of emphasis and hatred is a form of attraction through which we become what we hate. The Second World War in Europe and the Pacific expressed chaos and destruction through maximum social organization; indeed, this extraordinary transnational organization expressed the cultural transition from a civilization organized around literate rationality to a planetary noetic ecosystem in which stress, terrorism, and catastrophes were unconsciously sustained to maintain the historically novel levels of world integration. Through national, thermonuclear terrorism, and as well, through sub-national expressions of terrorism electronically amplified, these levels of stress and catastrophic integration are still at work today. A World should not be seen, therefore, as an organization structured through communicative rationality, but as the cohabitation of incompatible systems by which and through which the forces of mutual rejection serve to integrate the apparently autonomous unities in a meta-domain that is invisible to them but still constituted by their reactive energies.

4) Ideologies do not map the complete living processes of a World. Unconscious Polities emerge independent of conscious purpose. Shadow economies (such as the drug traffic between Latin America and the United States), and shadow exports (such as the acid rain from the United States to Canada), and shadow integrations (such as the war between the United States and Japan in the forties) all serve to energize the emergence of a biome that is not governed by conscious purpose.

5) Human beings, therefore, never "know" what they are "doing." Since Being, by definition, is greater than knowing, human beings embody a domain structured by opposites by thinking one thing, but doing another; thus negation becomes a form of emphasis in which cops stimulate robbers, celibates stimulate sexuality, and science stimulates irrational superstition and chaos. In the domain of cops and robbers, an interdiction serves to structure a black market and a shadow economy. In the domain of religious celibacy, an interdiction serves to mythologize repression and energize lust. In the domain of science, the hatred of ambiguity, wildness, and unmanageability creates a superstitious belief in technology as an idol of control and power; thus irrational experiments like nuclear energy and genetic engineering become forms of seemingly managed activity that generate chaos and disease.

6) "Nature" is neither a place nor a state of being; it is a human abstraction that we set up through cultural activities. We then use this abstraction to justify these very cultural activities as "natural." This process of abstraction is an empty tautology. "Nature," in Buddhist terms, is groundless; therefore, we cannot appeal to "Nature" to condemn activities as unnatural. As Nature changes with Culture, both are individually empty and linked together in "codependent origination," or pratityasamutpadha. Genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, or nuclear power cannot be condemned on the grounds that they are "unnatural"; they can only be rejected on cultural grounds that they are not spiritually wise or aesthetically desirable.

7) The conscious purpose of science is control of Nature; its unconscious effect is disruption and chaos. The emergence of a scientific culture stimulates the destruction of nature, of the biosphere of relationships among plants, animals, and humans that we have called "Nature." The creation of a scientific culture requires the creation of a scientific nature, but since much of science’s activities are unconscious, unrecognizedly irrational, and superstitious, the nature that science summons into being is one of abstract system and concrete chaos, e.g. the world of nuclear power and weapons. The more chaos there is, the more science holds on to abstract systems of control, and the more chaos is engendered. There is no way out of this closed loop through simple rationality, or through the governing systems that derive from this rationalization of society.

8) The transition from one World to another is a catastrophe, in the sense of the catastrophe theory of René Thom. Indeed, a catastrophe is the making conscious of an Unconscious Polity; it is the feeling in Being of a domain that is unknown to thinking. Catastrophes are often stimulated by the failure to feel the emergence of a domain, and so what cannot be felt in the imagination is experienced as embodied sensation in the catastrophe. When rational knowing and political governance no longer serve to feel the actual life of a World, then consciousness becomes embodied in experience outside the world-picture but still within the invisible meta-domain. The conscious process is reflected in the imagination; the unconscious process is expressed as karma, the generation of actions divorced from thinking and alienated from feeling. Catastrophes are discontinuous transitions in Culture- Nature through which knowing has an opening to Being. This moment of passing-together through a catastrophe, this occasion of com-passionate participation, presents an opportunity for a shift from karmic activity to Enlightenment. Thus the transition from one World-Structure to another is characterized by catastrophes in which the Unconscious Polities become visible. At such times there can be a rapid flip-over or reversal in which the unthinkable becomes possible.

9) No governing elite will allow us to think this transition from one World-Structure to another, but imagination and compassion will allow us to feel what we cannot understand. As "Nature" comes to its end in our scientific culture, the relationship between conscious and unconscious will change and the awareness of immanent mind in bacteria and of autopoesis in devices of Artificial Intelligence will give us a new appreciation of the animism of ancient world-picture. The "Man" of the historical set of Culture-Nature will come to his end in a new irrational world of angels and devils, elementals and cyborgs. In this science fiction landscape, this invisible meta-domain in which we already live, the end of Nature as unconscious karma makes of Enlightenment and Compassion a new political possibility.