Gaia and the Anthropocene
Gaia or the Anthropocene? Right here we have, I think, the key question of our times, and again an expression of the “double-movement” in the trends of the times identified by Jean Gebser. Two contending narratives of nature and the Earth, and how these play out is probably the decisive question of our era.
Both are, in some important respects, attempts to “humanise” nature and the planet. But, as you can gather, they proceed from very very different understandings of the meaning of “human”. Gaia is fully integralist, while the Anthropocene is assimilationist. They are, in effect, correlates to consciousness structures. Both are “hyperobjects” (in terms of the mental structure of consciousness), meaning they exceed the capacity of our rational minds to fully comprehend or conceptualise.
There are other points of contention between Gaia and the Anthropocene: Gaia is accentuated predominantly feminine, while the Anthropocene seems to be accentuated predominantly masculine. Gaia is nature understood as an interlocutor and co-respondent, while the Anthropocene is an automaton, a Juggernaut. In these terms, it’s not hard to see also the outputs of the “divided brain” of Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary.
I’m still trying to work out the meaning of this contention between Gaia and the Anthropocene as present-day “memes”, but I think it’s also further evidence of the soundness of Jean Gebser’s understanding of the “consciousness mutation” presently underway, for Gaia is an “aperspectival” understanding, while the Anthropocene is “perspectival“, in Gebser’s terms.
Working through the meaning of these two memes is really the key to the interpretation of the “human” and consciousness, for it is no longer one thing. For the interpretation of Gaia and the Anthropocene is really, fundamentally, a question of what it means to be human.
The question of Gaia or the Anthropocene is also the issue, writ large, of Jill Bolte-Taylor’s famous TED talk on the divided brain, reflecting also McGilchrist’s — two attentions — “Master” and the “Emissary”, corresponding to the mode of perception of the right-hemisphere of the brain and the mode of attention of the left-hemisphere of the brain (see, for example the interview with McGilchrist “Divided Brain, Divided World“). Here, at root, is the Gaia and Anthropocene issue, as well as the distinction that must be made between the whole and the mere totality, the integral and the merely assimilatory.
In the form of Gaia, man enters into a conscious relationship with nature and the planet, while the Anthropocene is blind mechanism (and most especially in the form of “geo-engineering”, inclusive of genetic modication and biotechnology). The Earth, considered as a singular sentience rather than as an amalgam of discrete, autonomous, mechanical “processes” (atomisation, fragmentation, fracture in Gebser’s terms) is the issue. And as this issue goes, so goes “mankind”.
Gaia, is in some sense, the ever-present “background” to the Anthropocene as “foreground”, and in some sense, too, Gaia is synonymous with Gebser’s “archaic structure of consciousness” or “origin”. The Anthropocene is the culmination of mankind’s attempt to remake the Earth and nature in his own image, but substituting man-made, technical processes for natural and organic ones. That image is Blake’s Urizen. So, if you understand the relationship between Gaia and the Anthropocene, you will perceive clearly, I think, the meaning of Blake’s “Urizen” and the Ulro — the shadow world of Urizenic Man as Urizen’s creation. So, it is quite important to appreciate that Gaia is the correlate to the incipient emergence of the arational-aperspectival “integral consciousness”, while the Anthropocene is really the endgame of the perspectival mental-rational consciousness, whose name is also “System”.
In grappling with the two discourses of Gaia or the Anthropocene, we are really grappling with ourselves and our perceptions equally – with the first and second attentions, in McGilchrist’s terms, and with the consciousness changes as anticipated by Gebser. And in the Gaia hypothesis we also discover the meaning of Nietzsche’s twin imperatives: “Be true to the Earth!” and “Become what you are!”.
It’s pretty clear-cut isn’t it? I’ll have more to say about Gaia and the Anthropocene as I work through it myself. With today’s post, I just wanted to draw that relation between Gaia and the Anthropocene to your attention as being quite decisive for the fate of the earth and of its human and non-human life. And it should be seen that the Anthropocene is really the realised form of human narcissism and anthropocentrism, or what Gebser calls “isolation” of the human in the narrowing ‘point-of-view’ consciousness structure.