we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it

The Journey Part 8 of 8 – Science Infected by Love of Nature: the Unstoppable Contagion

Gaia: the hypothesis that the living and nonliving components of earth
function as a single system in such a way that the living component
regulates and maintains conditions . . . so as to be suitable for life;
also: this system regarded as a single organism.
                    — Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary [1]

I began this journey with a challenge: “If it is also true, as indigenous cultures and this website take for granted, that our human relationship to the Natural world must be ‘personal’ … [and if] Love of Nature really has the power to save us, then I suggest we must start in the only way we can: from where we are. We must stand in the most passionate place, even if it’s a narrow place, that we can imagine, and then we must take a journey from here: a journey outward, until we can finally see the vast cosmic, biological, and cultural expanses whence we came. For only then can we let go of our self-serving assumptions. Only from this vantage point can we know what Nature is, who we truly are, and where we are going.”

So. Are we there yet?

This is an open question still I think. At the end of our mental “journey” have we really determined, after all our informal meditations on body-mind and intimacy, that it is in fact even possible for people to relate to evo-eco-‘systems’ on a personal basis? Let alone to relate in numbers that can fulfill our obligation to preserve a thriving Natural World? Our very existence implies an obligation not only to our children’s children’s children but, in the spirit of true intimacy, to the Natural World for it’s own sake. And yet, can any of us really ‘touch’ the creative heart of ‘Mother’ Earth?

I (Gaia revisited)
1 “Oh Pan-piped world, thy gilded crown: corpor-reality!
And so I’m called to serve up this choice declamation.
For plied drunk with festive bluster I must
Carve deep my incision to lessen the harm.
But is it not hard that a gravid iteration
Does the work of its boundless hardcore Synergy?
While this Manifold Flicker, on fiendish steed,
Rides reinless cruel Heaven in mortal form?
2 And if unborn, undying, Association
Of mortally programmed bodies, opposed,
Can be dubbed a body’s pelf itself,
If a Dreamweaver’s fancies trump its unity,
Then a mason, his bricks, might be supposed;
Love must fail — reduced to passions;
Its Knowing swallowed up in thought
That confusion rules with punishing impunity. [2]

Well, maybe some have “been there” all along; those at least who are so steeped in Natural history, in human history, and with insight practice, that the “vast expanses” which have brought us, and which now seem to hold us, to this moment of human and Natural dis-ease have been absorbed into the very fibres of their being. I do believe there are in fact many who can relate to the Living World as a single creative entity in this way: ‘personally’. But, as a proportion of the human ‘species’ as a whole, it must be said that they are still very few.

So, in the short window of time available to us to save Natural species, would it not be foolish to depend on a groundswell of love for Nature? Especially while Nature is fast receding from human horizons, which are at the same time shrinking within economic brackets and media bubbles? Even at the physical level, most of us now live in cities, and in many cases we may not even have the opportunities to look beyond our neighbourhoods. So, if an ecologist’s hopes for a once-again thriving Natural World are to be manifested on the ground, really, on what diminished patch of weedy wilderness can the whole of humanity’s love be trained? I mean the personal love of the system? The intimacy with Wild Nature as a unit? No, in the end I don’t believe evo-ecological systems can be ‘felt’ on the scale needed.

In Part 3 of The Journey we set out “to discover if we could apply our body-minds just as passionately not only to organisms like ourselves, but to ecological ‘systems’ — which are fundamentally conceptual.” What was the point? Is it really “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?” But, what of the staggering dimensions of that loss! For it’s not enough that we naturally love organisms that arise and pass away like our perceptions and thoughts do; not enough even that we look far beyond our own equally mortal organisms; but we reached out to love a pre-human Spirit — another ‘creative intelligence’! It’s not enough that our inner scientist is fascinated by the ontogenetic cycling of genetic programs or the reiteration of habitual motor-programs, but we wanted to become intimate with the ‘phylogeny’ of the undirected, cumulative, and uniquely surprising evolutionary process.

I hope you will forgive me when I restate again and again this pivotal under-standing of this analogy and this distinction: Whether the generation of ‘phyla’ shows up in organismic Nature or in the thinking mind, it is the generation itself that bespeaks a Creative Intelligence. In our desire to love and to make room for healing of the whole, we were hoping to touch the ‘personality’ (Gaia the goddess, not the hypothesis) in a Naturally-selecting system.

II (acknowledging an ancient ‘immortal’)    
3 Still, this young life would voice its primeval story
In characters grand, and real as mine
(Which isn’t saying much, yet such
Are the pretensions of this tongue I’m given),
Though the tale be deep with blood and time
And wholly innocent of power and glory
While in silence beyond dead kings Life rings
By timeless, outlandish laughter riven.

4 So prepare your heart, and your intellect,
To conjure a being transcendental,
And to love this spirit dear, for here
Is its gift in every human creature.
Envision a path called accidental,
Yet guiding, sure as art, each kin-step,                           
As the reticulating canopy of Life’s “Tree”
branches outward, our untaught teacher.
5 Unhurried, inward, lands each life-fall
Of bodies such as you and I treasure,
For blood drinks blood, or sap, and that
Has purchased a creator’s totality:
One hunger called ‘selection pressure’
Conceives flesh and blood by the tribeful,    
And arrays these genetic knots like the thoughts
Of impermanent personality.
6 No acorn grew Mike’s whole Sistine Ceiling  
Forking through mind-mist onto clay;             
And from a young world’s star-stung glow, not so
Branched eco-bouquets of tigers and roses.
But the rose took form for the bee, we say,
And tiger from the sambar’s eyes revealing, 
Thus owning neighbourhood their god,
Themselves, the strokes in Life’s still poses. [3]

I have taken this journey many times before, this inner excavation to discover the poetical tools that might reestablish a burgeoning humanity’s Personal Love of Nature. I will confess now that I always come back at the end to a loosely held but nevertheless persistent belief: that it must be the less personal matters of science — such as the climate scientists have recently established, and such, if they also can be established, as I have put forward on the rest of the website — that will initially forge the groundswell needed to not only manage global warming, but to save species. Science, after all, is the ultimate ‘contagion’ that has persistently spread through every human culture; and we can always depend on scientific ‘evolution’ to disrupt business-as-usual, whether this be the agricultural transformation of hunter-gatherer tribal groups, the industrialization of agricultural economies, or the anticipated decarbonization, and perhaps de-growth, of our current industrial economy.

But this time there’s a catch. This time, with the challenge of global warming and ecosystem collapse before us, we finally see that the technological “contagion” has all along been adversely infecting the much slower-paced older evolution that spawned it: a once-thriving system of species that we are dismantling so fast we might not see it’s revitalization for a thousand thousand generations! Our generation is ultimately responsible for a sixth mass extinction, and our children’s children’s children, for all those generations, will not forgive us if we fail to apply the necessary solutions our science has already bequeathed us! Can the persistent contagion of advancing science and technology really move fast enough this time, and in a true and clear direction, without a positive motivation? Is love, rather than fear or avarice, not also required?

III (an eco-evolutionary ethic)
7 So embrace this figure as your personal mirror,
‘Kindred spirit’ if you prefer, no less,
And behold how like it would, branch by branch,
Both split and reconcile roses and thorns      
By pruning out from entangledness
Out-reaching forms that by chance interfere
(And allowing some forms that choose to move,
All acts that don’t conform to forms,

8 But we’ll let that simmer). For now, let’s celebrate
The virtue of this branching Way
That in burning its bridges contains the Plagues
Of Sickness, Envy, Spite, and Revenge:
When hopes follow bodies that die in the fray
The roots of runaway hungers abate                                 
(The madness of whim, of tit for tat),
Then, tuned and partitioned, species arrange.
9 A flesh-cutting net holds Life’s Canopy
Through ever-now ages of spreading Arbor;
But while it catches, aborning, fleeter wishes than fishes,
It attends without dread their release or ascension.
Just so, through each gale to some magical harbour,
Deep lashings tie Psyche’s own Shared Tapestry,
Where no gesture can falter but lands in the span
Of Pure Love’s all-embracing Attention.
10 So I’ll apprentice not with ontogeny,
But I’ll sit at the root of Life’s Great Bush,
And witness the Way of Sacrifice.                                  
I would know the freedom of here, and now.
I would hear my symphony in the hush
Of Man’s mind raised to phylogeny.
No blood-seeking lust can saturate
My own non-seeding evolving Tao. [4]

What if humanity itself can be scientifically understood, as well as intimately under-stood, not only as having evolved FROM the Natural selection of species, but as having ‘escaped’ from evo-ecology’s genetic regulation in the process? What if it can be established, with population-evo-ecological evidence and statistical analysis that this ‘destabilizing’ speciation event could only have taken place, could only have been allowed, during the unrelenting ecological turbulence of the Pleistocene geological epoch: when coevolution was less important than selection for a shifting physical environment? And what if this means, in a strictly applied population-evo-ecology analysis, that the language-driven progressive technology that defines us is no longer fit to take part IN the Natural selection of coevolving species?

IV (Pandora’s Box: a true story)
11 Now closely observe, my listener bold:
From Learning’s root perched in the branches of Life
What genius can rise past the Will that kills
The boldest bents for imagination?
Only you can see a swift-limbed wolf
The honey-tree climbing with hungry hold,
Or great bear who treks after the leaping deer              
…and germ lines cut short by such machination.

12 For partitions opaque against Plagues known to Man
Shade also inapposite Curiosity      
When Knowledge close to its root can sprout,                              
But the means to fulfil its branching must stay.
Can you see the thin edge of catastrophe?
For it’s far too late if Nature can:
See an age of balance; see Selection intense;
See Attention diverted on tipping day;
13 And long days for the sport of Prometheus
To topple partitions with sticks and stones,
Having dodged its Gaze and torn away form
From the Spirit of Genealogy.
For the tale is deep with fiend-spasms and times
Without full council of Nature to ‘see to us’:                
Dreamers who can’t see beyond our own exploding hopes,
While accusing of teleology.
14 Yet Hope remained, while the lid was lifting
Through opportunist whimsy on plains long burdened
By drenchings or parchings in the heats of Afrique,
In roiling times, when the Hand was withdrawn:
That Spellbinder’s Grip on all means hardened;
That ‘selection pressure’ so fatefully drifting
While Learning-Acquired Structural Tools
Found a 'niche' unconstrained by Nature’s command.
15 Knowledge reached out from the Tree of Life        
In a time long ago as hands became bark,
As teeth became stone and laid hide upon hide;
And the walls were pulled down by arms you can’t kill;
And the twisting of fingers, and the twisting of heart,
Were doubled by tongues to add to the strife
This perfect behavioural layer to share                          
In the LAST Niche for bodies with dreamscapes to fill. [5]

But the work of ‘establishing’ a scientific principle within a larger lay culture has never been a direct consequence of new but inaccessible ideas. This has historically been accomplished through the infectious communications of scientifically educated writers, architects and technologists, and by the inter-personal transmissions of scientists themselves. And in any case, transmission to the maximally varied interests of a global human population is, in the end, made manifest simple by changes in the way we live: by our designed environment.

Like most experiments, material or mental, the process, the journey, is never really pointless. And if science alone can alter the course of global humanity in the long term, how might the few human beings who understand the science accelerate the process if they themselves are characteristically infected by, and if they resolve to be infectious with, the Love of Nature? Science advanced and infected by the Love of Nature, as embodied in those few who have already taken this journey of expanding love and ‘personhood’, is an unstoppable and fast-spreading contagion!

So, does this prospect of science infected with Love of Nature help us to see how we might engage a mostly urban human population in the restoration of a thriving Natural world? To see how this engagement can be truly aspirational? Can be positively motivational?

I think first we might ask, what are these fully civilized human aspirations? I would say they are equivalent to the ‘aspirations’ of the original Wild World of genetic evolution itself. For just as Natural Selection has always moved both ‘inward’ — to increasing diversity and interconnectivity — and ‘outward’ — from the seas to the continents, to the skies, to the frozen poles of the Earth — so humans reach for the depths and the heights of enlightenment and artistic expression, and for new social and material frontiers to cultivate. The “point” is, that this is actually a very familiar theme among urban visionaries, and so perhaps it can be reanimated and redirected when we begin a discussion about the inner and outer escape of civilized dreaming from the eco-evolutionary cradle. This discussion can only add to the human-natural momentum, while clearing its natural Evolutionary Way toward a broader interpretation and cultivation of intelligence. And all it might take is for those few scientifically minded Lovers of Nature to start making progressive and thorough re-wilding a ‘necessary’ part of an adaptive extremophile’s lovely dreaming.

V (manifesto for a new ‘immortal’ being)
16 Know that wishes, even humours piped up as the tools
For encompassing gene-shuffling God-Of-All-This,
Are props of the body that won’t bind this Mind
As it gleans the routines of the body’s desires:
That the ancient Green Bower of bodily bliss
Can sustain forms unfathomed is a sentiment which cools
As bodies grow harder, as dreams gather speed,
As Nature’s will stays and Man’s patience tires.
17 I would live below root, beyond branch, above breath.
I would touch Nature’s hem as a faithful student.                      
Though its primeval Light imparts to my heart
I’m opaque without part in the mutual feeding.
And feeding at all must be finally imprudent
when appetites change in the space of one death.
Oh the disparitive tearing; the obscuring word.                             
Oh to face the illusion and restore the bleeding.
18 I have walked on the moon, delved Earth’s stony towers;
I’ll not hang my burden on Nature’s green brow.
I will learn why immortals don’t need to set seed;
Why the fruits of the mind must not leave their branch:
Species take form as their Tree will allow,
And dreams are reborn while dying on ours
—Though they’re driven by Love from the Garden of Eden
To go beyond limbs which are torn by their dance.    
19 Might the dance take a turn astride this new figure,
With vision unclouded, and tread more versatile,
Not tied to a dancer out-stepped, over-swept,
But free in Love’s Silence ‘round ramification;
Then, not far from its twig, the LAST ‘extremophile’
With clever quick steps must shift as a beggar,                            
Must feed with ambition-lead vision averted,
That looks beyond kings in a ‘separate creation’. [6]


  1. Christenson, Ken. 2008 [revised Jan. 2010].  Darwin, Zen, and the LAST Niche. Extremophile Publishing. p. 1 (This entry for Gaia from Webster’s begins ‘The Last Niche’: a 5-part, 19-verse poem.)
  2. Ibid. p. 1
  3. Ibid. pp. 1-2
  4. Ibid. pp. 2-3
  5. Ibid. pp. 3-4
  6. Ibid. p. 5

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