Monday, March 14, 2011
Cosmic Wildness: A View From The Abyss
THE ACTIVITIES OF modern, post-industrial, cybernetic life seem to have left wildness far behind—to be outside wildness and intrusive in the Earth ecosystem rather than remaining an expression of it. And yet, it is remarkable that we continue to imagine that we have left wildness far behind.
Perhaps since literacy emerged in human development, we have described human life has having irrevocably left a wild state. In the 19th Century, wildness was dangerous, in need of control and as a wasteland needing our use to activate it. With a growing ecological perspective, wildness was revisioned in the 20th Century as complex and dynamic. Now, we look nostalgically “back” at landscapes and biota, and reference wildness primarily as “wilderness” that our 19th Century perspective has reduced down to remote zones.
Now in the beginning of the 21st Century, however, we have been challenged by our most objective measures that place us deeply lost in a cosmic wilderness still in creation. In this vast cosmic terrain, we have barely appeared in its time-scale, and the Earth itself has been reduced to far less than a dust speck. Now, we look at and measure the whole Earth as an ecosystem. And we find the Earth ecosystem to be the expression of the evolution of one obscure star, and the Milky Way galaxy in a local galactic cluster that is interrelated with myriad other clusters. The biotic Earth is not something in it own right, but rather, a niche where macromolecules can exist in the outer reaches of a star that is still in its own evolution. The capacity to step out of this context or rise above it becomes farcical.
Still, our measures have not caught up with our much slower-paced perspective that continues to describe post-modern life as separate from wildness. In our most “real,” rational scientific reality, human life occurs in the deep abyss of a cosmos that essentially operates on a strategy of wildness. Now, when looking at “wildness,” we find ourselves deep inside a landscape of stars within galaxies that are inseparable from the dynamics of other galaxies, and all of those galaxies, perhaps within a tapestry of many universes—a “multiverse”—that are all based on a strategy of wildness—alertness to changing conditions of existence in a vast, ongoing process of creation.
So, when we look at a city-form, with its hard architecture and high consumption (“massive eco-footprint”), it can appear to us (with a 19th Century or 20th Century perspective) to be irrevocably lost from “wildness” as nearly the antithesis of wildness, and to many, of nature in general--artificial. But, when we begin to look from a cosmic perspective, we begin to see both the impossibility of being separate from wildness and the reality that the city, cybernetics, astro-physics, and even plastic, are the expressions of the Earth ecosystem. And we also begin to discover that they are not fundamentally “intrusions” upon wildness, as much as they are features of wildness—some maladaptive and some ecologically adaptive.
Everything around us and within us is a living miracle, down to every atom and wave. The nucleus of each atom spins at perhaps 150,000 mph, and was born in generations of nuclear fission within exploding stars. We sit in a “skyscraper” that seems remote from rainforests, but on a dust speck moving at many speeds through space: the rotation of the Earth, the rotation of the sun around the galactic center, and the movement of the Milky Way galaxy through space at well over a million miles-per-hour. Once presuming the center of the universe to be inside our skulls, we can’t even begin to make ourselves visible in the universe or to really describe the parameters of the cosmos.
Since literacy, our description of wildness itself has fluctuated wildly. We have gone from referencing dangerous forces that we have had to overcome to complex resources that we now damage and abuse. But since literacy, wildness has consistently remained either nostalgically or rationally on the outside of human life—now cultural rather than creatural. This view is destructive and drives inappropriate design. It is an attitude more than a reality.
Post-industrial, cybernetic culture continues to express the creatural; is totemic, talismanic. The rich diversity of opinions—even in their irrationality in the face of information, or in either their narrowness or holistic reach, or in their scientific precision—and the rich diversity of interests and skills are wild responses. The spontaneous, unthinking action of global urbanization is a spontaneous expression of wildness. For all of the nasty eco-footprint that the city provokes, it is also accomplishing adaptive features such as a reduction of the rate of global population and decreased consumption of resources [primarily driven by population density] as compared to other forms of human habitation that every bit of nature writing, environmental advocacy, and legislation has failed to achieve.
Our astonishing technologies still crude and built from Earth elements and energies. And all of our customs still archetypal, far more than personal—still mythic—and still fundamentally serving creatural functions of nutrition, shelter, territoriality, reproduction for continuance. All of our eco-costly shopping and consumption is still gathering and hunting. They are not that different from the magical thinking of First World societies that are extremely culturally structured—“domestic”—that tends to produce far higher homicide rates than post-modern societies. Our bodies are still evolving in response to fundamental conditions of existence that are themselves still in creation. Far more than leaving wildness behind, we are perhaps still neotenic—still immature and imbalanced—but richly wild.
No matter of how much we aspire to degenerate modern life as eco-destructive (and we should as a eco-healthy measure of alertness), we are lost deeply in a cosmic Oceanus that operates on a strategy of wildness. Were we to begin to really understand everything we do as an expression of the larger Earth ecosystem, we would begin to encounter adaptive features in that which we believe to be the antithesis of “wildness” that we might optimize.
Being fond of unsettled landscapes such as rivers and forests and wild grasses and deserts, to begin to approach components of modern life such as urbanization as wild was a direction that I did not want to go. But pressed to understand “wildness,” modern human life as wild, the context of Hubble’s “red shift,” and DNA, and quantum physics, and even exquisite flora/fauna orientations such as “the Wallace Line” or the implications of Darwin’s “Galapagos,” was unavoidable. Unsettled landscapes and “post-modern,” “post-industrial,” “cybernetic” built environments are profoundly different. But in the cosmic landscape where wildness is the core dynamic, differences markedly diminish. And similarities between settled and unsettled landscapes can be found, especially ecologically adaptive features as well as similarity in such things as overturning of forest trees and housing stock.
It is remarkable that we can imagine human life as having somehow leapt out of the process of the Earth, the sun, the Milky Way, the universe, and perhaps a multiverse of universes. Not leaving wildness behind, we are likely gradually developing our eco-literacy that is still in its infancy. We still do not know well how to say just who it is that we are, or where we are from, or where we are going. Still, our eco-literacy is expanding. Intellectually, we read deeply in geo-time and have expanded our environment from a planet under a ceiling of stars to a universe of galaxies, and have even begun to knock on the possibility of a gateway to a multiverse. And practically, having peopled the Earth with no vast remaining physical frontiers from which we can feel separated, we are more on the inside of the Earth ecosystem. Now, human migration is primarily toward urbanization rather than outward, and environmental feedback nearly immediate.
We find ourselves in a new, infinite context of nature where wildness is abyssal rather than relegated to dwindling remnants. We begin to acknowledge that the ongoing conditions of existence continue to involve living in a wild state of alertness and adaptation. With our widening view, we begin to find an inherent wildness in all our actions no matter how civil or domestic or even artificial that they may have appeared to us to be. Finding this, we can begin to optimize those actions—those ecologically adaptive features of modern life—rather than aspire to remove ourselves from wildness, as if we could.
We begin to understand that there is no way out of nature. We begin to understand that this offers an opportunity, that the way forward is within, and that this way forward is renascent, not retro, and our destiny. It offers a way to listen deeply and respond—to express whom we are, from where we come, and where we are going.
It will appear apologist and dangerous to reference modern human life as wild, and to not reference “wildness” as nonhuman. However, our stance of separation from wildness is no longer accurate, and such a stance is threatening to the fundamental health of the Earth ecosystem and human life to continue to design for modern life as if we are separate.