William Irwin Thompson
- 1 Bio
- 2 Publications
- 3 Discussion
- 4 Excerpts
From the Wikipedia:
"Thompson was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Los Angeles, California. Thompson received his B.A. at Pomona College and his Ph.D. at Cornell University. He was a professor of humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then at York University in Toronto, Ontario. He has held visiting appointments at Syracuse University (in 1973 - where he taught "Resacralization and the Emergence of a Planetary Culture"), the University of Hawaii, the University of Toronto and the California Institute of Integral Studies (1992).
In 1973, he left academia to found the Lindisfarne Association. The Association, which he led from 1972 to 2012, was a group of scientists, poets, and religious scholars who met in order to discuss and to participate in the emerging planetary culture. Thompson lived in Switzerland for 17 years. He describes a recent work, Canticum Turicum in his 2009 book, Still Travels: Three Long Poems, as "a long poem on Western Civilization that begins with folktales and traces of Charlemagne in Zurich and ends with the completion of Western Civilization as expressed in Finnegans Wake and the traces of James Joyce in Zurich."
Thompson was a Founding Mentor to the private K-12 Ross School in East Hampton, New York. In 1995, with mathematician Ralph Abraham, he designed a new type of cultural history curriculum based on their theories about the evolution of consciousness. Thompson lived his retired years in Portland, Maine."
1. Grant Schuyler:
"What is important about the career of Thompson is twofold.
First, like Abbé Marin Mersenne in 17th century France, Thompson has been a bringer-together and facilitator of the intellectual transmission of some of his time's important ideas. Second, his own thought and writing, his own style of mind, is poetic, far-reaching and fascinating.
What has Thompson been writing about all these years?
Thompson has been popularizing and extending large-scale ideas about our time in history and the direction of culture. In At the Edge of History (1971) he wrote eloquently of feeling he stood at the birth of a new planetary civilization. In Passages About Earth (1973) he discussed and criticized original thinkers like the Italian architect and habitat designer Paolo Soleri. Soleri spent decades of his life attempting to build an "arcology," a one-building tower in the Arizona desert, to model an ideal city/civilization.
In later works, Thompson popularized and used as ingredients of his thought innovative biological concepts, such as those of American bacteriologist Lynn Margulis (1940?- ), author of Symbiosis and Cell Evolution (1981), and her sometime co-author, the English biologist James E. Lovelock, creator of the "Gaia Hypothesis." (The Gaia Hypothesis models planetary and cellular dynamics.)"
2. From the Wikipedia:
The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light
"In his acclaimed 1981 work The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality and the Origins of Culture, Thompson criticized what he considers the hubristic pretensions of E. O. Wilson's sociobiology, which attempted to subsume the humanities to evolutionary biology. Thompson then reviewed and critiqued the scholarship on the emergence of civilization from the Paleolithic to the historical period. He analyzed the assumptions and prejudices of the various anthropologists and historians who have written on the subject, and attempted to paint a more balanced picture. He described the task of the historian as closer to that of the artist and poet than to that of the scientist.
Because we have separated humanity from nature, subject from object, values from analysis, knowledge from myth, and universities from the universe, it is enormously difficult for anyone but a poet or a mystic to understand what is going on in the holistic and mythopoeic thought of Ice Age humanity. The very language we use to discuss the past speaks of tools, hunters, and men, when every statue and painting we discover cries out to us that this Ice Age humanity was a culture of art, the love of animals, and women.
Thompson sees the Stone Age religion expressed in the Venus figurines, Lascaux cave paintings, Çatal Hüyük, and other artifacts to be an early form of shamanism. He believes that as humanity spread across the globe and was divided into separate cultures, this universal shamanistic Mother Goddess religion became the various esoteric traditions and religions of the world. Using this model, he analyzed Egyptian mythology, Sumerian hymns, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the cult of Quetzalcoatl, and many other stories, myths, and traditions. Thompson often refers to Kriya yoga and Yoga Nidra throughout these analyses, and this seems to be the spiritual tradition with which he is most comfortable.
In his 1996 work Coming into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness, Thompson applied an approach that was similar to his 1981 book to many other artifacts, cultures and historical periods. A notable difference, however, is that the 1996 work was influenced by the work of cultural phenomenologist Jean Gebser. Works and authors analyzed include the Enuma Elish, Homer, Hesiod, Sappho, the Book of Judges, the Rig Veda, Ramayana, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the Tao Te Ching. Thompson analyzed these works using the vocabulary of contemporary cognitive theory and chaos theory, as well as theories of history. An expanded paperback version was released in 1998.
The phrase "Coming into being" is a translation of the Greek term gignesthai, from which the word genesis is derived.
Self and Society
In his 2004 book Self and Society: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness, and in collaboration with the mathematician Ralph Abraham, Thompson related Gebser's structures to periods in the development of mathematics (arithmetic, geometric, algebraic, dynamical, chaotic) and in the history of music."
"In an ironic twist that is consonant with Thompson’s own frequent invocation of enantiodromia (an ancient Greek term that refers to the tendency of many phenomena to turn into an opposite condition or flip-flop over time), by the early 1980s the conductor of Lindisfarne was beginning to change the downbeat of his organization in three fundamental ways, moving from an emphasis on the humanities to a focus on science, from a preoccupation with the posthistoric future to a growing concern with prehistorical perspectives and an unprecedented engagement of Thompson’s fertile imagination with contemporary politics. The primary catalyst for these sweeping changes was a 1981 Lindisfarne Fellows meeting that included the atmospheric chemist James Lovelock and the microbiologist Lynn Margulis, the co-formulators of the Gaia hypothesis. Gaia, named after the ancient Greek goddess, refers to what is now a reasonably respected scientific theory which hypothesizes that the organic and inorganic systems of the entire earth work together to enable the planet to function as a self-regulating entity and thereby maintain conditions more or less optimal for most of the life that inhabits the planet. So oxygen, for example, is chemically an unstable element but largely through the work of microorganisms, has remained a relatively stable component of the atmosphere over millions of years at roughly a 21% level. A few percentage point variations in either direction would create planetary havoc with vertebrate forms of life. Other important sources of stimulation to Thompson at this time were the late Paris-based Chilean proponent of cognitive biology, Francisco Varela and the California-based chaos mathematician, Ralph Abraham. Abraham’s work on the evolution of mathematical mentalities in particular ignited Thompson’s reimagination of history in terms suitable for a "Gaian politics" of the 1990s.
With the election of Ronald Reagan and George Bush in 1980, the ensuing TV success of Dallas and Dynasty and the rise of Michael Jackson and Madonna as the top pop musical artists of the decade, it appeared that the "wealth generation and sexual stimulation" direction of American culture would be as incompatible with Lindisfarne’s aspirations as possible. Even though the energy crisis of the ‘70s impacted Lindisfarne’s ability to become economically self-sufficient, at least the cultural atmosphere made the spiritual quest of Lindisfarne plausible, if not respectable in at least some circles. The Lindisfarne of the ‘70s received its climactic recognition when Thompson was featured on the March 26, 1979 edition of Bill Moyers’ Journal and when Maurice Strong, the Canadian businessman who played a vital organizing role in both the 1972 and 1992 U.N. conferences on the environment, helped to arrange the geographical transfer of Lindisfarne central from what is now Limelight in Manhattan to Crestone, Colorado. The early phase of Lindisfarne received its intellectual consummation in what is perhaps Thompson’s most elegant book, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light, a study of the primary role of the feminine in prehistory, her displacement during the course of Western civilization and her current return to cultural equality.
But after a few years of male-dominated work on the Lindisfarne Chapel and the "metaindustrial/solar village" in Crestone, the internal contradictions of being part of a New Age movement increasingly beholden to rigid and regressive "old age" mentalities and group-destructive behavior would compel Thompson to reconsider the whole Lindisfarne enterprise up until that point. It appeared that no humanities-oriented, meditation-centered organization was going to survive in the science-driven, wealth-acquiring world of the 1980s without being reimagined and then reinvented. In this potentially lethal cultural environment, Thompson, newly remarried, spent part of the 1980s living in Switzerland, all the while recreating his own role by assimilating various paradigm-shifting developments in science, writing a novel about the legendary Atlantis and award-winning poetry about ancient Mexico. By the mid-1980s, Thompson had succeeded in redefining Lindisfarne as an association of fellows in periodic intellectual exchange rather than an intentional community living and working together at the same geographical location.
By 1982 Thompson had worked out a sketch of "four cultural ecologies" which would become the basis for his Gaian work for the remainder of the decade. Intrigued by the possibilities for remythologizing Planet Earth as "Planet Water" based on the NASA image of the predominantly water-blue earth as photographed by "mythical" Apollo spaceships from on high, Thompson would recast the conventional political, economic, military and territorial dominated narratives of "Western civilization" as a series of water-related cultural ecologies. So ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, dependent as they were on the Nile and the Tigris/Euphrates rivers respectively, become "Riverine" cultural ecologies. Similarly, classical Greco-Roman civilization now becomes a "Mediterranean" cultural ecology. England and America, the initial great developers of industrial civilization become an "Atlantic" cultural ecology. The information culture of the last two decades, driven by California’s Silicon Valley and in the 1980s by Japan as well, becomes a "Pacific" cultural ecology. Since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, we have for the first time in human history a shared nascent awareness among virtually all the major politicians of the world of a biospheric or planetary cultural ecology. But Thompson does not just outline the structure of the different cultural ecologies, he brilliantly fills in the content too. In what is without a doubt his best essay, "The Four Cultural Ecologies of the West" which constitutes chapter 3 from his 1985 book, Pacific Shift, Thompson insightfully demonstrates how the arithmetic-geometric-dynamic-chaotic mathematical mentalities correspond to each of the shifts in cultural ecologies. He goes on to show how literature, religion, economics, pollution, communications and polities are all describable and classifiable in terms of the four cultural ecologies. The centrality of this essay for Thompson’s later thought is suggested by the fact that it appears once again as chapter 1 in his most recent book published last year, Transforming History.
The subtitle of the 1987 volume edited by Thompson, Gaia: A Way of Knowing, is the "Political Implications of the New Biology". It announced an explicit political emphasis coming to the fore in Thompson’s work. In that volume Thompson follows up on the last chapter of Pacific Shift entitled "Gaia Politique" with both a recapitulation of the general principles characteristic of a Gaian polity and some specific policy recommendations. Let us look at some highlights of the general principles.
The most important general principle of a Gaian polity is to begin to think in terms of an ecology of consciousness rather than one-sided ideologies. In an ideological political culture, it is generally assumed by the majority that the Truth can be known completely and absolutely, wholly contained in a single system of ideas and ideals. Either capitalism or communism, Christianity or Islam is right but not elements of both or both in their entirety. The good then consists of an elite knowing the Truth accurately and thoroughly and keeping it "pure" as it is administered to the less enlightened masses, no matter how much violence, subtle or blatant, this process of transmission may entail. In a Gaian political culture characterized by ecological thinking, it is assumed that the Truth can only be expressed in the context of relationships of interacting opposites and therefore the Truth overlights those conflicts and is not necessarily wholly reducible to one pole of a conflict or the other; a corollary is that every ideological truth is partial at best and is at its most incomplete when stated in its purest and most extreme form. As Jesus or the Bhagavad-Gita teaches, you need your "enemy" for a more adequate revelation of the fullness of Truth.
Somewhat related is the principle of enantiodromia, well illustrated by the outcomes of so many modern revolutions, whether democratic or Marxist in their intentions: the optimistic romanticism of Rousseau which helped provoke the French revolution rather quickly turns into the dark terrorism of Robespierre; Stalin, the successor to Lenin in the Russian revolution, behaves much worse than the inhumane Czar he and Lenin struggled so much to replace; Chairman Mao is as brutal a ruler as any ruthless Chinese emperor that preceded him and so on. There are many examples from the last fifty years of American culture as well. Martin Luther King, Jr. led and expanded the civil rights movement through the discipline of nonviolence but Stokely Carmichael helped to shrink and destroy the movement as key elements of it flipped over into "black power". LBJ took us a long way down the road towards a "Great Society" of equality and compassion, but then "crashed and burned" politically speaking by escalating the Vietnam War. Dick Nixon promised to bring us together in response but instead severely divided the country over Watergate and eventually resigned. Bill Clinton aspired to be like Kennedy, perhaps succeeded too well and almost ended up like Nixon.
Thompson’s conclusion: "good" conscious intentions are no longer adequate motivational bases to guide revolutionary movements or political programs. If we are to reduce the relentless frequency and powerful aftermaths of these enantiodromias in the future, then we must be able to discern and integrate what is underneath conscious motivation and that is the full spectrum of unconscious motivations. We must now begin to take into account not just the historical unconscious of Hegel, the socioeconomic unconscious of Marx, the biological unconscious of Freud, the mythic unconscious of Jung and the political unconscious of Foucault but also the ecological unconscious of Gregory Bateson which became transmuted into Gaia in the 1980s. The disowned waste generated and accumulated by our civilization along all these dimensions is an informational signal and a type of self-communication that we are ready to evolve from one cultural ecology to the next. Yet in the final analysis Thompson affirms the wisdom of the mystic that we cannot in principle know everything and even trying to reduce all unconscious information to conscious systems notation is a sure formula for an even bigger unconsciously generated disaster.
Thirdly, the atmosphere should supersede the territorial nation-state in our political thinking and become the new global commons. The atmosphere freely moves across political boundaries even as land and to some extent water remains defined and confined by those same boundaries. No one owns it in the way we claim to own the land and the earth’s waters. The oxygen in the atmosphere that we are so immediately dependent on is derived from our inherent interdependence on other life forms. Every breath we take is therefore a gift from fellow inhabitants of our planet. It can be easily figured out that it is in the interest of all humans and many other species to protect the quality and maintain the current composition of the atmosphere. And if we don’t and do sufficient damage, then we all suffer a common catastrophe. Either way, positively or negatively, it appears that our relationship with Gaia’s atmosphere is bound to bring us together sooner or later.
Finally, the images and values implicit in the Gaia theory have the potential of turning the cultural effects of Darwinism inside out. Where Darwin and his interpreters viewed nature one-sidedly as an evolving tragedy with only the fittest surviving to the bitter end, Margulis rounds out the picture by seeing cell evolution proceeding in large part through symbiosis. In the evolution revolution of Margulis, the aggressive competition of Darwin’s world is circumscribed and contextualized by the greater forces of cooperation and mutuality. Where Darwin once viewed life as needing to adapt or die in relation to the world as it was, no matter how harsh the preexisting conditions, now Lovelock is revisioning the role of life in evolution, as having the power to co-create or at least fine-tune some of the conditions that it needs for its own perpetuation. These new, post-Darwinian images of evolution could have a dramatically positive and beneficial effect on contemporary culture, once they are disseminated widely enough and comprehended deeply enough. In the same manner that the propaganda effectiveness of old Soviet Union was effectively undermined by the informational flow made possible by electronic technologies, so the old Darwinian ethic of "kill and survive" may rapidly dissolve as an international norm once the "sharing and caring" implications of the new biology are assimilated by a critical mass of humanity. To imagine one concrete example of how different the world could be if revisioned in terms of the new biology in a planetary culture, Jerusalem could become the first planetary city, jointly shared and collectively honored by all humanity as part of our common heritage in regard to the universally recognized value of the prophetic character of the Abrahamic religions. Both the stateless Palestinians and the once stateless Jews already understand, at least negatively, what it is like to have an identity not tied to a particular territory. What they need to do now is convert their negative perception of being rootless and unwanted peoples to a positive perception of being in an historically given position to pioneer what a planetary identity rather than a parochial identity practically means. In any case it may still take a prophet to help us make the transition from the current tragic impasse in the Middle East to the realization of such a planetary vision.
The hope for such rapid and thoroughgoing cultural transformations is now more possible than ever because we presently live in a "noetic polity" based on the continuous exchange of ideas and instantaneous flow of information crisscrossing virtually the entire planet. We must finally bring the freedom of our imagination to bear on what the shape of things to come may yet turn out to be because only the imagination is really big enough and wild enough to entertain the unthinkable possibilities beyond the ideas and information that currently rule and define our world. Who would have thought that the Soviet Union would disappear in 1991 from the perspective of 1981? From the perspective of 1961, who really thought that man would successfully land on the moon by 1969 and, from a more mundane and parochial New York viewpoint, that the underdog Jets and Mets would win sports championships in the very same year? History is full of events that were widely regarded as being not even remotely possible shortly before they actually happened and so we can imagine that the future may hold still more incredible surprises well beyond the horizon of what we now think is reasonably probable.
Now in "retirement" but still actively writing, working with the Ross school as an educational consultant and back in Southampton again where it all began, William Irwin Thompson can look back at his Lindisfarne experiment with the satisfaction that it does make him appear more than ever as a man ahead of his time. Quite a few people, among them the "cultural creatives" as they have been recently been dubbed, have collectively gone a considerable way toward the revisioning of nature, self and society that Thompson called for at the very inception of Lindisfarne. The 1990s did see the revival of Celtic culture move from the margins to the mainstream with, for example, the best-selling status of Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, the Broadway smash Riverdance and the pop culture prominence of Irish bands from U-2 to the Corrs. His early concern about bringing science and religion together on behalf of the global environment was taken up in 1990 by the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders with some 32 leading scientists joining 270 spiritual and religious leaders calling for complementary understandings and joint actions on the environment.
His hope that art becomes more attuned to science and spirituality is fulfilled in the work of Alex Grey, who is an example of a widely recognized artist attempting to combine the science of human anatomy with the spirituality of the "subtle bodies". Clearly the whole alternative or complementary medicine movement went mainstream in the 1990s and has helped to bring our dissociated bodies and minds back together again in the interest of healing and health. Earth was named "Planet of the Year" by Time in 1989. The author of Earth in the Balance, Al Gore, became Vice President for eight years and was nearly elected to be our sitting president. Thompson’s call for a policy to establish "Gaian Colleges" somewhat similar to our program of nineteenth century land grant colleges has been responded to by David Orr at Oberlin. William McDonough is widely known and highly regarded among those who are very much in the mainstream as "green" architects. Many more examples could be cited but these few should make it clear that Thompson’s Celtic-inspired efforts at seeding a life-promoting planetary culture in the 1970s are still in the process of sprouting in many and various ways as we enter the twentieth-first century, in spite of the recent nasty turn in the political weather."
William Irwin Thompson:
"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."
William Irwin Thompson on the Chaotic Role of Science on Nature
"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."
William Irwin Thompson on the Three Simultaneous Disintegrations of the Body, the Nation-State and the Planet
William Irwin Thompson:
"McLuhan not only commented on fads and trends, he also made a prophesy on the future evolution of humanity. Ironically, good Catholic that he was, in his Playboy interview in the 1960s, McLuhan went back to Dante and prophesied a time when the broken fragments of a retribalized humanity would be gathered up into the mystical body of Christ.
What McLuhan recognized, but did not explicitly state, was that our new highly advanced electronic media if used by evolutionarily unadvanced mortals will lead to cultural annihilation. These new media that work with the speed of light require a new spiritual consciousness of Light. They are so fantastically efficient that they cannot work to the good unless we are good; they only can be safely used if we tell the truth and live in the Truth. If we try to check and control them for lesser purposes, such as power, gain, misrepresentation, and the accumulation of wealth for private property in cyberspace, then blockages in the flow will generate distortions, noise, and a generalized cultural entropy in which no human relationships are possible. We end up in caricatures of religion in the form of demonic states of possession or William Gibson's dystopian nightmares of corporate dis incarnation. Only now, thanks to cyberspace, these states of possession are not simply psychic states, they have become virtual states that are not restricted to virtual reality. Nothing less than truth, goodness, and a Buddhist universal compassion are going to get us through this transition from industrialization to planetization. Our level of consciousness has now be come the biggest obstruction to the continuity of human existence. We have made normalcy nonviable, so we have opted for an "up or out" scenario in cultural evolution. We either shift upward to a new^ culture of a higher spirituality to turn our electronic technologies into cathedrals of light, or we slide downward to darkness and entropy in a war of each against all.
What the news should be reporting is the way in which three cultural transformations are so interlocking that the feedback of each on all is creating a condition that is not easily responsive to government control.
The first transformation is the disintegration of our atmosphere.
Because of massive industrial production of new gases, we are experiencing an increase in global warming and a thinning of the ozone layer. The increase in heat affects the currents in the ocean and the virulence of storms, and so hundred-year floods become annual events. The increased frequency of tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes means that government emergency funds and insurance companies become exhausted right at the time that industrial deforestation is kicking up new airborne viruses and causing an increase in plagues that also draw down on medical insurance funds.
The invisible polity is really the atmosphere, and its globally chaotic system sweeps over all the boundaries of the territorial industrial nation states. So American acid rain destroys the Canadian forests on which the New York Times depends for its paper stock. To the south, in Mexico, the exported television images of wealth stimulate a repatriation as armies of the poor try to take back the land the United States took with armies of wealth. Meanwhile, in offshore strongholds and Monaco penthouses, currency traders shift dollars back and forth into yen and deutsche marks, making money only from "the difference that makes a difference" in seconds of time. These traders are beyond the control of any president, and so the fluctuations of dollars and pesos are as unstable and chaotic as the weather. As the industrial marketplace expands to planetary dimensions, and as the time of a transaction contracts to microseconds, a singularity is created in which the global marketplace, like a black hole sucking up a star, devours entire nation-states. As the currents of the biosphere interact with the currencies of the 'world economy, we get not an international politique, but a Gaia Politique in which an enantiomorphic polity emerges. Enantiomorphic means the shape of opposites, so this polity is like the atmosphere that emerges in the opposing but coupled systems of the ocean and the continent. The result is a shifting, chaotic, complex dynamical system that we call the weather. Climate may be predictable, but the weather is not. The state of the weather is much more than a territorial state of land: as a chaotic system, it is more of an archetypal image of our contemporary condition than the fixed earth of farmland and pastoral landscape. No longer is it a question of identity through Blut und Boden, the blood and soil of the Fascist's patriotic state, it has become the archetypal image of light and air. Political states are now much more like clouds than clods of dirt, for we have so sped up time with our nano-second electronic technologies that nations can now come and go in decades rather than centuries. Psychotics and paranoids sense this destabilizing shift and see their chance to make a state of being out of their obsession, and so cult tries to become culture in organizations like the Aryan nation. Since the Bible is the book of choice for these political extremists, the Bible provides the imagery through which they can think of themselves as the new Hebrews who will be led out of another mighty Egypt into their own promised land.
The third transformation that is interlocking with the disintegration of the atmosphere and the disintegration of the territorial nation-state is the disintegration of the body, especially the immune system's ability to identify the body in the chaotic flux of blood and air. We live in an invisible ocean of electromagnetic and chemical noise. With industrial gases everywhere, television transmission towers, microwave ovens, electronic watches, and cellular phones, the old evolutionary body has become chunks of meat floating in a planetary Mulligan stew of radiation and noise. Allergies abound, autoimmune diseases proliferate, and plague viruses take red-eye rides on jumbo jets. Now, as these three systems of meltdown interact with one another, they have a bootstrapping effect that enables them to magnify their influence in a runaway or positive feedback fashion. No American president can simply go on television to give a speech to tell reality in no uncertain terms to stop and return to normal.
So now we can see why this shift from industrialization to planetization involves a meltdown and disintegration of the literate, civilized, middle-class culture of the past. In the shift from the territorial nation-state to the noetic polity, there is a breakdown of bourgeois society that results in a shift to a new variant of medievalism. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. The citizen-soldier is gone; replaced by SWAT antiterrorist professionals.
Noetic polities are not territorial; they are nonlocal. So the increase in omnipresent environments of noise indicates a shift from mental solitude and reflection to gnostic lattices of network connectiveness. Inevitably, in any transition to a new level of organization, there is loss.
Indeed, the fertility crisis within the populace of the technological world may signal just such a shift to larger forms of organization. As the biologist John Maynard Smith has pointed out about the major transitions of evolution:
- "Entities that were capable of independent replication before the transition can only replicate as parts of a larger unit after it.' The disintegration of the body is, therefore, one signal that evolution is no longer taking place at the level of the single organism. Evolution is now multi-organismic just as once it was multicellular. Once the cell enclosed molecules, then organisms enclosed cells, and now something else is enclosing us in distributive lattices of light. Christian mystics would call it the mystical body of Christ, Buddhists would call it the jeweled net of Indra, and fundamentalists would call it Satanic possession. Clearly, some new kind of religious knowledge and discrimination is called for, one not easily gained in our materialistic, techno logically focused society."