|Recently, in a communication with UK artist Andrew Campbell, I suggested that if I were to be an artist it would be as a portraitist of miniatures, drawing something tiny enough (an aphid, the knuckle of one finger, a bird’s eye, a single thread of a spider’s web wet with rain reflected by the sun) you could actually hope to really capture the true essence (not in the photographic sense, but in the artistic/metaphysical sense) in the moment, of that instant of ‘Now Time’ I’ve written about when time stops and simultaneously expands to become eternal. I wondered whether if you did this to a sufficient degree you could actually create a “portrait that becomes so miniature that it becomes the truth”.
Andrew liked the phrase, and we dug deeper into this possibility. I wrote:
As a writer, the following comment by ee cummings is, I think, the equivalent to my belief in a “portrait that becomes so miniature that it becomes the truth”:
One line of one poem. Can’t get much more miniature than that. These lines are portraits of reality, not imitations, not figments, not representations. They are the truth.
I went on to say:
Man cannot grasp, and is intolerant of, complexity. As Watterson says (via Calvin & Hobbes) it offends us that nature, Gaia, is indifferent to us, that we humans cannot know and understand everything, reduce it to simplicity. Religions, I believe, are of two varieties: (a) humanist religions: those that attempt, absurdly, to oversimplify everything, and fiercely, stubbornly disregard everything that does not fit within that simple model, and (b) spiritualist religions: those that personify complexity by imposing on it something larger that is still uniquely human — transcendent supernatural ‘beings’ that represent and reinforce human ethics and behaviours, behaviours that are archetypally and invariably (like Star Trek aliens) simplistic and humanoid.
The first variety denigrates nature, ignores it, refuses it. The second variety worships supernature as ‘above nature’. Both types are not only un-natural, they are nature-hostile. They both rephrase the understanding of the universe as simple and unnatural, controlled by humans or human-types. Why are we so desperate to have someone in control, someone or someones who are infinitely wise and somehow like us?
My philosophy is not spiritual, and the Gaia that I believe self-manages all life on Earth is not human or human-type. Gaia is not to be revered or treated as sacred. Gaia just works, in both senses of the word. Gaia is all-of-us, connected, collectively, evolved and evolving to sustain all-of-us, connected, collectively. Gaia is massively complex. Far beyond our full understanding, just as the cells in my lungs lack a full understanding of the workings of my ‘whole’ body, of which they yet are an integral part. Gaia is real, not spiritual. A brief thirty millennia ago we acquired the insane conceit (based on some short-term modest success) that we could somehow self-manage ourselves, apart from Gaia, and could even control and master Gaia in our self-interest without destroying ‘us-all’ (I have occasionally called Gaia ‘she’, but that is blatant pandering to spiritualists and I’m trying to stop — the only appropriate way to describe Gaia is in the first person omni-plural, not the third person singular).
Gaia aspires not only to maximize the quanta, diversity and balance of life-forms on Earth, but their individual and collective joy and wonder. Why? Because the rules by which Gaia self-manages (rules over which ‘we-all’ have no control) are that creatures who are full of joy and wonder want to live more than those who are not, and therefore do. By contrast, creatures who are fierce, intelligent and/or prolific have a temporary evolutionary advantage over those who are not, but that advantage is not sustainable — fierce, intelligent, prolific creatures who have no joy or wonder have no felt purpose to stay alive, so they don’t. My evidence for this audacious assertion is my personal observation that, except for us dissociated humans, I see and feel joy and wonder everywhere in other species, from aphids to ravens to spring peeper frogs to whitetail deer.
Those creatures live in Now Time, and their lives are hence ‘eternal’, outside of (clock) time. You get closer and closer to these creatures, then just for an instant you become connected with them, with Gaia, and you look and — there, now — is reality, the truth, not the representation, not it, but us-all, Gaia. Our task, as artist, poet, philosopher, is to capture and convey that tiny, instant, eternal truth.
In ten or fifteen years of hard work, one line.
I met yesterday with Jeremy Heigh of Siftstar fame, and we talked a bit about complexity. We agreed that:
It seems to me, therefore, that the idea of great art becoming truth, becoming ‘real’, and the idea of children starting out as artists and appreciators of complexity, and then becoming inexorably neither, are connected. Also related is the acceptance, as we ‘mature’, of religions, either humanist or spiritual super-humanist, anti-natural moral codes that reject Gaia and the reality of the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. Perhaps these religions act as artificial, man-made ‘hearts’ to keep us going, to replace the natural ones that had to be removed because, in civilization culture, they wouldn’t stop bleeding.
What deranged madness grips (most of) us, what horrific violence so afflicts us, at some point in our young lives, that we lose our artistic capacity, our capacity for appreciating and embracing complexity, most of our capacity to imagine, and our ability to see and live a third way that is neither rational (scientific, logical, intellectual) nor moral (religious, emotional, spiritual), but rather natural (intuitive, sensual, perceptual)? Why don’t we even notice the resultant dissociation from reality? And how can we bear ‘realizing’ how much we have lost of what makes us ‘us’ (and ‘us-all’), to the point we have to fight every moment of our lives in the hopes of recapturing just ‘one line‘ of it?
Perhaps when Eliot said “human kind cannot bear very much reality”, he was telling us that, because we cannot conceive reality (it can only be perceived), we cannot, as we ‘mature’, understand it, and we therefore resent it, find it unbearable, intolerable, humiliating, terrifying.
A complex, conceptually unfathomable Gaia does not and cannot ‘fit’ within the rational and moral models that man has constructed in his brain to make sense of his world. In fact, no complex (unordered), adaptive, ‘unknowable’ system that manages itself and is indifferent to human intervention and even human existence, fits within our rational and moral models. For that reason, complexity (and Gaia specifically) is not only resented, but intolerable, in the same way that the mere concept of Earth not being the centre of the universe was intolerable at the dawn of the Renaissance. We have ‘reinvented’ prehistory as one of outrageous disorder full of cannibals, fights to the death for no purpose, constant deprivation and suffering, beasts ‘red in tooth and claw’. But as Jonas Salk said “If all the insects on earth disappeared, within fifty years all life on Earth would disappear. If all humans disappeared, within fifty years life on Earth would flourish as never before.” No matter how we try to destroy, rationalize or moralize it out of existence, Gaia, the real, natural universe all around us (and still, dormant, within us) continues to defy us, defy our understanding and attempts to control it.
You may have read my self-confessional article saying that I believe that I am damaged*, a shadow of my former self. Somehow (perhaps there is a bit of artist in me) I sensed this draining of capacity happening to me as it was occurring, and ever since I have been grieving its loss. Perhaps unlike most people I am just unable to get over this grief and get on with my new shallow life living inside my head. Perhaps I am romanticizing this loss — a butterfly lamenting the loss of those hundreds of caterpillar feet, when I should be rejoicing (re-Joyce-ing?) in the giving up of the ability to dance in favour of the ability to fly. But somehow I feel I have lost these capacities in return for nothing except an increased ability to cope with civilization, its demands and its restrictions. This draining of capacity, this detachment from Gaia, this dissociation from the instincts, from the senses, from the perceptions, from the reality of Now Time, this terrible loss, is what we call socialization.
I’m not angry about having been subjected to this process. We do what we must, and this is the price of maintaining, for a little while longer, our fragile, man-made, anti-nature civilization. Heretics must be converted or suppressed, because the very tenets of the society that 6.5 billion people now depend on are at stake. If we were to accept that self-contained human societies living as much as possible outside of nature, managed by human hierarchies as well as possible, borrowing massively from billions of years of stored resources, were non-viable, when there is now no other possible way to keep those 6.5 billion people alive for even a short period of time, we would have complete social collapse, anarchy, the chaos that our rational and moral belief systems so abhor. This is unthinkable.
Let the artists and the children perceive such realities and horrors, for awhile, if they must. We’ll get to them soon enough.
*(and perhaps everyone is, though I wouldn’t presume to say so — well, yes I would, but I suppose I shouldn’t)
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Derrick Jensen (US)
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Paul Heft (US)*
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
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Dying of Despair
Notes From the Rising Dark
What is Exponential Decay
Collapse: Slowly Then Suddenly
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Making Sense of Who We Are
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Post Collapse with Michael Dowd (video)
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
If We Had a Better Story...
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
A Short History of Progress
The Boiling Frog
Our Culture / Ourselves:
The Lab-Leak Hypothesis
The Right to Die
CoVid-19: Go for Zero
The Process of Self-Organization
The Tragic Spread of Misinformation
A Better Way to Work
Ask Yourself This
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
May I Ask a Question?
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
Learning From Nature
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
Republicans Slide Into Fascism
All the Things I Was Wrong About
Several Short Sentences About Sharks
How Change Happens
What's the Best Possible Outcome?
The Perpetual Growth Machine
We Make Zero
How Long We've Been Around (graphic)
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self, and Free Will:
Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark
Healing From Ourselves
The Entanglement Hypothesis
Nothing Needs to Happen
Nothing to Say About This
What I Wanted to Believe
A Continuous Reassemblage of Meaning
No Choice But to Misbehave
What's Apparently Happening
A Different Kind of Animal
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
Reminder (Short Story)
A Canadian Sorry (Satire)
Under No Illusions (Short Story)
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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