Weathering Each Other

By guest blogger, Gary Horvitz.*

With each passing month now, the signs become stronger and more immediate that climate change is accelerating. To many, the sensation of being personally effected is almost enough to distract us from our screens. But while the distance is narrowing between an intellectual grasp of the issue and a direct intrusion of a destabilised climate into our lives, climate disruption remains an abstraction for many. Ho-hum. Even so, it is becoming more obvious that to remain distant from climate change is to remain utterly disembodied.

miamiVenetian Causeway, Miami

This article, Weathering:” Climate Change and the “Thick Time” of Transcorporeality by Astrida Neimanis and Rachel Loewen Walker (Hypatia, Vol. 29, no. 3, Summer, 2014) came across my view this week. The thesis is that our bodies, being in the natural world, are materialising just as the planet is materialising. The “weather” is not something happening “out there.” We are weathering each other.  We are fully entangled with the natural world; the inner processes of our bodies are not separate from the outer conditions in which we grow and change.

…the weather and climate are not phenomena “in” which we live at all–where climate would be some natural backdrop to our separate human dramas–but are rather of us, in us, through us…

We are weathering climate change in our bodies, our psyches, expanding our view of how we are connected: the trans-corporeal mind, the body that sees through its own skin to the migration patterns of fellow creatures, the crystallisation of water on rock walls, the curling toes of climbing animals, the subterranean conversations of wild plants, the stories archived in the weathered rings of trees. All is recorded, the entire collectively shared experience of emergence, in our own bodies.

Glacier

How is that so? What separates us as biological creatures, our skin, is far less solid and far more mutable than we normally imagine. The authors call us “viscous porosities,” neither solid nor liquid, but temporary aggregations of multiple life forms, structural elements (collagen), an energy interface (ATP), a replicative blueprint (DNA) and intra-communication networks, participating with the environment in the creation and exchange of sugars, temperature, moisture, evolution and extinction, even light transformed by chlorophyll. We are individual contractions of climate, “intra-acting” precariously with the planetary system, each according to our geography and culture, a fractal of a trans-corporeal “co-constitutive” reciprocal relationship between the macro-dynamics of planetary change, biology and the micro-relationships in which we live every day, relating to other life forms.

As trans-corporeal beings, we are each making the weather and the weather, created by our human and non-human partners, is making us. The externalised costs of climate change do not appear merely as respiratory disease, lost species or degraded atmosphere, but also as cellular deposits, tissue invasions, incipient mutations of our possible futures.

Smog

Weather has always been a fundamental factor of our relations. In industrialised societies as in much of the emerging world, we are mostly insulated from weather in our shingled, weather-resistant, secure, durable isolated domiciles. We want to keep the weather out! Being able to retreat into our vented and layered temperature-controlled shelters provides an illusion of control. We are distanced, psychically and emotionally, from the realities of those who live much closer to and experience more directly the subtle and constant nuances of weather such that disruption of the larger cycles of climate is more apparent.

To remain distant from climate change is to remain distant from our own bodies. Yet, the notion of being a weather-maker, creating enhanced cyclones, drought and flooding as well as the internal consequences for others by our daily actions throws the ethics of personal responsibility into sharp relief. I don’t know about you, but I notice simultaneous hyper and hypo-affective responses of my own, at times feeling urgency and at others wanting to distance myself from awareness of the impact of my decisions–like air travel, especially– that are surely making others’ weather. At times I feel acutely responsible for all life and am thus aware of the minute decisions I make throughout any given day. At others I want no part of that burden.

RubbishWhether we want to know or care makes no difference. The ways we each create weather have, at micro and macro levels, an effect on everyone else’s weather. How do we negotiate or respond to the weathering we are receiving from others? Do we just insulate the attic? Turn up the AC? When the Philippines calls out Western nations for balking at compensation for cyclone damage, when the Third world demands compensation for the weather they are receiving, Western nations treat the equation more as an abstraction than a contemplation of direct (though delayed) responsibility for the loss of island nations–or even our own coastal real estate.

Likewise, the objectification of nature permits us to release toxic chemicals into the environment in the belief that they will either be sufficiently diluted or that significant time will pass before any meaningful contact with humans will occur. Neither of these views account for a trans-corporeal planet. This is a circumstance not unlike the way we view the linkage between environmental pollution and cancer rates. It is all couched in hyper-legalistic terms that resist linear causality or the assignment of financial culpability. The political modelling we get–influenced by energy interests, of course– is that we can continue to create your weather while forgetting that it is also our own bodies that are changed by it. The ethic of individual responsibility is overrun by entitlement.

When Hurricane Sandy hits, a drilling platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico or parts of Bangladesh are submerged, it’s happening somewhere else to someone else. But when your house is consumed by a wildfire in California, all entitlement dissolves. It is no longer someone else’s problem. And you might become acutely aware of how your weather has been created by the collective action of your neighbours.

The line between “acts of God” and acts of men is increasingly blurred. When we ask “was that (climate catastrophe) caused by climate change,” we are weighing responsibility. On our trans-corporeal planet, how do we deal with knowing that as we retreat into our self-contained shelters and isolated thoughts, we are creating distant conditions that are driving others out of their own shelters? We are not doing well with this.

Greenland

How do we accept eating pesticides, depositing pharmaceuticals into each others’ water supplies, causing extinction among creatures that cannot adapt as fast as conditions are demanding? It’s all well and good to attribute agency to nature and to imagine the ways in which we are impinged. But the capacity of nature to act is constrained by time. Nature does not act as quickly as humans act – which is a demand that we slow down.

Transcorporeality is a denial of denialism. Denialism denies both human agency, non-human agency, and the collectivism at the heart of legislative remedies. Propagating the idea of human intra-action is slow. Yet it should not obstruct focused efforts to influence policy, which is to design instruments–like a carbon fee and dividend–that materialise collective responsibility, broaden and hasten abatement of the uncounted damage. A steadily rising carbon tax, because it is universal, holds everyone accountable for the ways we act upon each other. Short of a universal adoption of transcorporeality, it is the best means of materialising an accounting that has so far been lacking.

A generative collective response to the weather dilemma does not depend on a single social or political approach. We need multiple measures, even if they arise from within the paradigm that still objectifies nature. Living and acting in both Old Story and New Story simultaneously is a necessary human way of being there while getting there. Ultimately, getting there will require much more than policy. We need a healing view that reflects the true nature of our entanglement with the world.

* This post originally appeared on the author’s own blog here: https://spontaneouspresence.net/2016/08/08/climate-change-weathering-each-other/

One thought on “Weathering Each Other

  1. The White Swan: Beyond Occam’s Razor

    I.

    “What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

    ~ Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is – infinite”

    ~ William Blake

    The human race (Homo sapiens sapiens, as we like to call ourselves), is possibly the most extreme example of an invasive species the planet has ever experienced. Perhaps 200,000 years ago, an infinitesimal number of us diverged from our parent species (Homo sapiens) and now seven billion of us swarm every landmass on the Earth. The majority of this explosion in population occurred only in the last two centuries; from one billion individuals to seven billion individuals. Five billion people were added in the last hundred years alone. This geometry is a type signature of an invasive species, a species that has occupied an ecological niche in which it has no natural predators or other environmental checks to limit its growth.

    That we are no longer subject to any natural predation is self-evident; we have become the apex predator of the entire globe.

    How, then, have we evaded all other environmental checks to exponential growth, to the present tune of seven billion and accelerating ever further?

    That shift in paradigm, to my way of thinking actually came about a little earlier than two centuries ago, as expressed in the dawn of the Neolithic. . . a time beginning perhaps twelve thousand years ago. The popular view is that mankind settled down from ragged bands of opportunistic scavengers, “hunter-gatherers”, to far superior lives as herdsmen and farmers. We domesticated both plants and animals, mastered metallurgy and subsequently learned the arts of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare to manage the enormous richesse gained from exploiting our environment in these new ways. The first cities were built, and the first proto-nations were formed. Man had discovered the extractive economy, and assumed the power of life and death over all he surveyed. He became civilized.

    The hunter-gatherers, those who were left of them, faded into the darkness outside the firelight of civilization. They and their economy, the economy of symbiosis, withdrew into the hinterlands, the wilderness.

    Now, the fundament of the extractive economy is that it assumes that the resources from which it profits are limitless and effectively free for the taking. Oil, that geologic distillation of Carboniferous swamps, has no value and no price until we put a price upon it. The act of possession becomes singly material, rather than relational. The concept of abstract wealth as a mensuration of the material life enters here; two primary expressions of early metallurgy were weapons and currency; war and commerce. The very land itself becomes a commodity to be bought and sold, invaded and defended, as also do the people who live upon it.

    The economy of symbiosis has no currency. It lacks the initial and subsequent levels of separation in which the relational algorithm is separated into subject and object. Value can neither be accumulated or lost, as it cannot be differentiated from the act of living, which itself is intrinsically a zero-sum process. It is fractal in nature: “As above, so below.”

    The difference between these two economies is the result of something I can only identify as a cognitive mutation, a genetic fault line or discontinuity in the neural stratigraphy of the human mind. The new man, this invasive subspecies of Homo, rapidly overwhelmed the old and became the dominant feature in any ecosystem he colonized.

    And at the spiritual horizon, the symbiotic Shamanic worldview succumbed to the extractive Neolithic, the hierarchic imposition of Deity, Deified, and Profane. William Blake’s doors of perception were barred and nailed shut; for all practical purposes, forever.

    Or so we thought.

    Another characteristic of an invasive species is that its population crashes just as dramatically as it expanded when it has consumed the relative overabundance of resources that were available to it in the environments it colonized.

    To that species, this is a terminal Black Swan Event; conditions of life as they know it abruptly end, as do the lives of most – if not all – of the population.

    The world we are living in today, with its increasingly and violently erratic climate, ever more tenuous energy base and debased and poisoned lands, seas and atmosphere shows all the signs of a niche pushed past its limits of recovery by an invasive species.

    Concomitantly, the arts of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare – the flowers of the Neolithic mutation – have proved barren and seedless and are rotting on the stem. As William Yeats forewarned in The Second Coming:

    “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    Are full of passionate intensity.”

    The survivors will be the Shamans, those who have retained or re-learned the alphabet of symbiosis, both physical and spiritual. The doors of perception will be opened and cleansed; the wing song of the first, impossible white swans will fill the air.

    II.

    “What we call here a White Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is ex-stasis, as it begins within the realm of regular expectations, because something in the timestream – past, present and future – convincingly points to its possibility. Second, it carries an unconditional holistic resonance; it thrills the soul. Third, in spite of its ecstatic status, human nature makes us aware of its occurrence as a foreshadowing, making it intrinsic and desirable.”

    ~JSI

    “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

    ~ William Blake

    William of Ockham is said to have written “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem”, or, “Plurality must never be posited without necessity”, although the actual phrase has never been discovered in his writings. This has been used as an epigraph by thinkers since as a dictate to use the one to quantify the multitude rather than the multitudeaffirming the one. It is the basis of all modern scientific thought and, as such, the basis of Western culture.

    It is estimated that about one hundred billion neurons of several differing varieties and their accompanying axons, dendrites and synapses coexist in the human brain – an order of magnitude beyond our comprehension – and that each neuron is capable of firing every five milliseconds, also an order of magnitude beyond our comprehension. These numbers beggar any concept of plurality that wethink we are capable of, yet . . . . it is indisputable that they are present inside the vaults of our skulls and account, as an example, for the writing of this sentence.

    This leads me to deduce that we self-censor or redact very nearly all that we are aware of, or at least it would appearthat way, until I think about Aldo Leopold and his critique of flood control with respect to the natural rhythms of any given ecology. He wrote of the insanity (I use this word literally) of the Army Corps of Engineers and their program of straightening the sinuous curves of natural river channels to greatly improve the flow of – in the Corps’ opinion – an unneeded and unwanted abundance of water, then putting dams on those ruler straight channels to “control” the flow they just had created. “Flood Control”, they called it. “Prevents Erosion”, they intoned. That a river should be allowed to “flood” and run outside its banks was a very bad thing; a “good” river flowed exactly where the Corps told it to run, and when, and how. Leopold pointed out the obvious; that the Corps’ efforts did neither, and that they actually damaged the geomorphology and hydrology of the living organism of the land. In short, this infliction disrupted the land, the watershed, and the communities of life that lived there, sometimes terminally.

    As above, so below: the vault of our skull contains the watershed of awareness and the cognitive rivers that flow from it. To put it another way, the net of interactions of billions of neurons – if perceived as the billions of molecules of water residing in a geological watershed – becomes the cognitive watershed, and its resultant rivers of awareness, each singular as a sentence. That these rivers will flood and run outside their banks is the condition of ex-stasis, and, as I stated in the definition of a White Swan event, beginning “within the realm of regular expectations”.

    The cognitive discontinuity introduced during the Neolithic was the beginning of straightening the channels of our perception and as time went on, placing the dams of hierarchical thought along these new, linear constrictions. The monoliths of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare were imbedded in these straightened channels to control the flow even further. Perceptual stagnation set in – not only unnoticed for what it was, but pursued as a charismatic ideal of perfection – becoming the sine qua non of the human species. I recognize these forms of thought as the type specimens of what I’ll call Homo sapiens sapiens novus. Man had shuttered the doors of perception. Awareness had been civilized; all that remained were the narrowing “chinks of his cavern”. The rivers had been channeled, the flow multiply dammed.

    The celebration of pluralities, the seeingof one/ness in all/ness and all/ness in one/ness, and the renewal cycle of ex-stasis intrinsic to the previous two hundred thousand years of human cognition was deemed unnecessary. What was necessary was to straighten ever more cognitive channels, build more cognitive dams. Those populations of humans who persisted in the primal, unregulated cycle of cognition, and the renewal of ex-stasis,were driven out, marginalized or killed.

    This is nowhere more evident than in the contrast between the Neolithic extractive economies and the Shamanic symbiotic economies and the history of the Neolithic rise to dominance. Neolithic man, Homo sapiens sapiens novus became the apex predator of the entire planet in a geological nanosecond, the most successful invasive species we know of. What he did with his cognition, so did he to his physical environment. In human time, this did not take overnight but, as I said, over a dozen or so millenia; now, the last remnant fragments of the aboriginal Shamanic populations persist as a curiosity, an exhibit, on reservations set up for them by their keepers. Equally, the last remnant fragments of the uncut, unmined, unbulldozed, undammed, unharvested, unoccupied original landscape are set aside as “wilderness”, whether as a signal reminder – as decapitated heads of the enemy were impaled on pikes and displayed on castle walls – or as a bittersweet nostalgia, I do not know.

    And so we come to the forty third Hexagram of the I-Ching, Kuai (break-through or resoluteness), as expressed in the Wilhelm-Baynes translation of the I-Ching:

    The Image

    The lake has risen up to heaven:

    The image of BREAK-THROUGH.

    Thus the superior man

    Dispenses riches downward

    And refrains from resting on his virtue.

    Wilhelm and Baynes write, “The hexagramKuai actually means a break-through as when a river bursts its dams in seasons of flood. The five strong lines are thought of as mounting from below, resolutely forcing the weak upper line out of the hexagram.”

    For all the channeling and dam building done to our awareness and cognitive process, it must be realized that the original perceptual landscape is the bedrock of mythos upon which the Neolithic constructed its artifices oflogos. An irrevocable result of the straightened channels and dams of rivers subjected to flood control is that the water’s impoundments silt up until the channel is no longer a channel and the dam is no longer a dam. The water then finds its own way again, true to its nature no matter how long previously confined.

    This is true . . . . whether we speak of the watersheds and rivers of the planet or the watersheds and rivers within the vault of our skull, the cognitive universe; partly planet and partly person.

    In precisely this sense, the White Swan events of our lives herald the bursting of the dams erected to constrain our actual, original cognitive gifts and the recognition of the return of the Shamanic river of perpetual return.

    The One is forever the Other: As above, so below.

    Or, as William Blake put it: “Energy is eternal delight.”

    © Salskov Iversen

    3 December 2011

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