Fuzzy think piece in the NY Times today here on the Tsunami and what it all means. A good discussion of how cataclysmic seismic events seem to come in clusters lies sandwiched between the contentious headline "The Year the Earth Fought Back" and some spurious riffing on the Gaia hypothesis, which holds that the entire world is a living organism.

The key word there is "living." To imply that the molten rock under our feet is an active (as in volitional) part of Gaia takes us a bit further back into animist mysticism than most of us should want to go. In other words, the headline and thesis might be intuitive if 100,000 had died as a result of disease or sudden release of organic chemicals into the air. That could indeed suggest that Gaia has "fought back" against our sloppy stewardship of her--that she is self-regulating to correct damage one of her component species causes.

Yet surely if Gaia exists it is in the community of living matter hugging an inhospitable ball of nickel-iron like a skin, not the ball itself. The ball's mistreatment of the skin may very well come in peristaltic spurts of volcanos and earthquakes, but the skin adjusts to that over the eons. Rock responds to the biosphere, too, of course, but lightly, in the form of erosion. To say that the biosphere sent a signal to the rocks to deform themselves and punish mankind is Old Testament hogwash--turning a nurturing mother back into the man with the spear.

- tom moody 12-29-2004 8:06 pm

This Gaia explanation reminds me of the book/movie "The Sweet Here After". Nothing can just simply be tragic. There has to be some explanation that revolves around lacking morality, and thus someone's fault. If we blame our misuse of the planet for Tsunami, then all of a sudden this tragedy can be seen as something avoidable, and thus much easier to digest, implying that the human animal always has some level of control.

Agree. It's hogwash.

- anonymous (guest) 12-29-2004 8:45 pm

Much as I cringe at the over-used term "Gaia," I do think the "silly ball" we live on functions as an integrated organism. On the other hand, we humans are the only component of that organism to fuss about things like purpose and revenge. My preference and my tendency is to think of life on earth as a thin slime mold, clinging to the surface of a giant lovely neutral timeless rock. But life is pretty much affected by geology: land masses affect climate affect environments affect biology. On a more basic level, all matter has chemistry in common. Also, the magma is boiling, in big convections, and while it shifts and juggles the plates on top, bits of that deep dark rock are constantly getting spit upward into the crust that we short-term gooey beings are inhabiting. I don't think there's much scientific doubt that the processes of biology are intimately connected with the processes of geology.Volition, now, that's another matter. The closest I've seen to volition in natural processes, in geology or biology, (outside of our old-style approach to evolution as teleological and progress-oriented, endeavouring towards the great achievement of humankind - as if!) is in the spooky patterning phenomena of emergence and self organising systems. But that's physics so it applies to pretty much everything. Also it's not volition, it just looks, to our meaning-hungry human eyes, as if there is a personality behind the behaviour.

I like Simon Winchester's article for pointing out the sheer volume of seismic activity on earth, taking a step back from the human tragedy (with all its murky, complex facets of emotional and political narrative) to posit the geological context. The headline is hogwash, but for the most part he keeps a pretty cool head, talking about interconnectedness as a physical reality, rather than a mystical lovey-dovey goddess thingy. I like this bit on Lovelock's Gaia: "But his theory also acknowledges the somber necessity of natural happenings, many of which seem in human terms so tragically unjust, as part of a vast system of checks and balances." He slips in the next sentence, implying a "planetary purpose," but that seems to be the worst of his out and out speculation. I like the ending a lot, suitable for existentialists and cynics everywhere: "...one thing is certain, and comfortless: on earth, eternally restless and alive, there will, and without a scintilla of doubt, be a next time."

- sally mckay 12-29-2004 10:14 pm

Nothing ever "happens" at the level of the for-itself..happenings, catastrophic or otherwise exist in the domain of a for-itself observer giving an account or description. In the world or the dumb physical universe, there is no distinction between the tsunami and a twig falling.
- chris lee (guest) 12-30-2004 12:46 am

correction: nothing happens at the level of being "in-itself" ..only being "for-itself" tells stories and evaluates differences.
- chris lee (guest) 12-30-2004 12:48 am

Not exactly on point, but the geological part of the discussion reminded me of something a friend recently wrote to me in an email. In my friend's despair after the election, a Repugnican acquaintance offered him some advice. The Repug said that after Clinton's reelection, he had been very depressed and was comforted by his study of geology. The study of rocks, and the eons required for changes in the earth's surface to take place made him realize that a mere four years really meant nothing in the grand scheme of the earth's history and he hoped this would be some consolation to my friend, the disappointed Kerry supporter. So my friend hit him with a rock and felt much better.
- oriane (guest) 12-30-2004 1:41 am

"So my friend hit him with a rock and felt much better." ...lol! yeah, it's pretty escapist material.
- sally mckay 12-30-2004 1:49 am

atoms in an emotional world
- brent hallard 12-30-2004 3:29 am

Not exactly on point, but I'm a Libertarian who works with mostly Democrats and one Republican teacher. The Republican is the one who works his ass off in this job of public service, because he finds it very important to make the best of everyone's hard earned "tax dollars". I find this demonizing of Republicans to be ostentatious, eventhough I have never voted Republican.
- anonymous (guest) 12-30-2004 4:50 am

I'm sure he's a very nice man...who supports torturing people by turning dogs loose on them and administering electric shocks to their genitals. That's what he voted for back in November. I'd say the Bushvoters are effectively self-demonizing. No conscience or feeling whatsoever...
- tom moody 12-30-2004 5:45 am

Oh, I'm sure they have some bit of conscience or feeling. In fact, some relatives of mine are Republicans and in certain contexts they can be very nice people. But it seems that they're very selective with their compassion.

I'm with you, Tom. The only way the Abu Graib situation could happen is through a policy, not just a random occurence, of dehumanizing others. If the GOP can't take a little heat (in the form of a little joke), they should stay out of the torture kitchen. Not to mention all the other awful things they do...
- anonymous (guest) 12-30-2004 6:26 pm

Oops, that last post was me. Didn't mean to remain anonymous.
- oriane (guest) 12-30-2004 6:30 pm

Hmmm... I just don't think that kind of attitude builds dialogue. It's hard to have dialogue when one calls their opponent evil, or even jokingly, a Repugnican. Without dialogue it's harder to get what you want, and it's impossible to understand the honest fears of your opponent.

Really, no one has open ears when you are basically calling them an asshole idiot.

Also, this bias against "Repubnicans" is enhanced in a grotesque way when the rapes, murders and abuses by the UN and French forces seem to go unnoticed.

- anonymous (guest) 12-30-2004 7:52 pm

Whoa there, anonymous. You have a mighty thin skin and I think you're exagerrating a bit. I don't recall anyone here calling anyone else an asshole idiot. And I don't think rapes, murders and abuses by anyone have been condoned. Like they say, war is hell and there are usually abuses all around. That's one of the reasons to be anti-war in general, to only engage in violence in extreme situations, for instance in self-defense. Remember, the Iraqis didn't bomb us. (If memory serves, most of the 9/11 hijackers were Egyptians.) Yes, Saddam has done a lot of horrible things, but are we (the US) going to decide, without the agreement of the UN, to knock off all the leaders (and a whole bunch of civilians) that we think are bad? This could be a very long war.

You're right that name-calling is not very productive when trying to start a dialogue, but people who are angry and full of despair at the election results need to vent and let off steam. I guess I made an assumption that this was a place, a group of like-minded individuals, in which to do so. If I were speaking with an actual Bush-voter I would express myself differently, but frankly, right now I'm too angry and bitter to have a constructive dialogue with the opposition. Perhaps that's immature, but take it as an indication of the depth of feeling that this election has stirred up in people. It was a joke, a pun, but the term "repugnican" is fitting because I am truly repulsed, I find it repugnant, that so many Americans are following the Republican party line.
- oriane (guest) 12-31-2004 4:16 am

Oriane, this person or persons has been hanging around the page trying to goad people into arguments. I'm really sick of it and ask that commenters please try to stay on topic.
- tom moody 12-31-2004 5:05 am

Commenters looking to explain right wing positions to me might have more fun at this blog.
Power Line! Yeah!

- tom moody 1-03-2005 4:00 am

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