“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Against Lovelock 2

In the previous post I described Lovelock's rhetorical strategy as what I shall now call terra-ism. This strategy is not an optional extra. It comes bundled with the Lovelockian thought, as its mode of being thought.

Since Lovelock is fascinated by loops, and so am I, it seems appropriate now to examine the content of his thought.

Lovelock's favorite target is the positive feedback loop. Humans dump carbon compounds into the atmosphere, wash rinse repeat, end of the world. To fix this, humans dump chemicals or algae into the ocean, wash rinse repeat, end of the world.

There is a tension within Lovelock's work. This is his enthusiasm, or reluctance, to think that there are negative feedback loops (real or possible) that are powerful enough to bring down the malignant positive ones. In this respect his later work is far more pessimistic than his work about fifteen years ago.

In this sense Lovelock joins other Big Modernity thinkers such as Marx, who have an equally difficult time imagining that there are sufficient (or any) negative feedback loops out there.

This thought, that we are stuck in a loop, is part and parcel of Big Modernity. The end of the world is projected into the future. Big Modernity must be saved by Super Modernity, such as geoengineering, but this is probably bound to fail since it will be caught in the loop, imagines Lovelock. Thus resignation, as total as possible, is the only available response mode.

We are rapidly reaching a moment at which continuing to look to scientists for advice and philosophical consolation is quite evidently caught in the problem, which just is Big Modernity.

In Lovelock's instance, Big Modernity manifests as his tendency to see holistically: a system is bigger than its parts. Holism is a form of reductionism and mechanism. A machine is not reducible to its components. But a component is not irreducible. A component can be reduced upwards. I am really just a component of Gaia, and so is this trail of carbon dioxide. So is this polar bear.

On this view, humanity (not me, but the whole of which I am a part) has only one option: seize greater control of its destiny and geoengineer the heck out of Earth. We are Earth's pilots, Earth's nervous system, Earth's Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde). Alas, species will be wiped out, and we will end up crouching in a godforsaken corner of a toxic biosphere with the other survivors.

It is perfectly logical to see humanity in this way, just as it is perfectly logical to see no Gaia at all, but a series of totally discreet decisions, say to switch on the engine of my fossil fuel burning car. In both cases, I am trying to avoid contradiction and inconsistency. I am a metaphysician of presence: Gaia, or me turning the key in my engine, is more real than something else. And realness is a matter of constant presence. I have not yet come to terms with the nothingness inherent in the phenomenon–thing gap. Thus everything I say will be on the side of Big Modernity, including the way in which I prophesy that we must escape it.

Thus Lovelock's thought content cannot easily be peeled away from its noematic content, its phenomenological form.

Here are some thoughts outside of the Lovelockian style. I don't necessarily endorse them but it's interesting to see if you can think outside of Big Modernity:

1. Species are going extinct. But a species is not this particular lifeform, Freddie the polar bear. Freddie is drowning. What are you going to do about it?

2. I am already crouching in some godforsaken part of the biosphere with a bunch of other lifeforms huddled together in forced solidarity. Why is that horrible?

3. The end of the world qua neutral backdrop to human whatever has already occurred. This is the afterlife. I am already dead.


scott adam ALF said...

supports Lovelockian theory
to an existential extent.

scott adam ALF said...

there is no gender
for Love to Lock
perpetuates a myth
I've been running across the tide
with Mike JCohen PHd
but I'n not
prejudice against nature