The Revenge of Gaia (Lovelock, 2000, 2006)
When a way of living is in the process of vanishing, people strive to hold on to it. What is disappearing finds more intense expression, like the supernova of a star in its last gasp of light. Examination of the shifting mentalities from a depth psychological perspective brings the core of narcissism (absolute masculine shame) created by the absence of the maternal feminine clearly into focus; and when one sees this, one can’t miss the fact that it is being psychotically enacted collectively. In Thompson’s (1981) words, “catastrophism is crystallizing” (p. 46).
Nature in the form of weather and the reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field are, at least at this point, beyond the management of science. Critical transformations of civilization are associated with profound climatic instability, and so it is an area where the invisible transfiguration of human culture is also taking place. Culture takes nature for granted, but when the weather changes, humankind is forced to change. We are forced into another ecological niche - and we are outgrowing the present one very quickly.
Such a difficult time is facing us now. During this period of transition, we deal with what scientists have named global warming, a phenomenon which is producing unprecedented climatic changes. I would be reaching far beyond my competence to discuss cellular evolution and atmospheric chemistry, but there is a new scientific imagination that provides a bridge to discuss these planetary changes in psychological terms. This is a necessity due to the collective psychic fact that great ages of transition, and their attendant climate changes, are psychologically difficult times; chaos erupts from the upsurges in the collective unconscious and can occupy the entire psychic energy of the people.
All planetary awakenings are invisible; yet the story of this kind of transformation is accessible through the patterns contained in myths - and the imagery of the collective unconscious is enduring. Mythological themes associated with the Maid of Desolation’s catastrophic revenge run parallel to the ideas in the award-winning “visionary scientist” James Lovelock’s (2000, 2006) narratives on global warming and its role in humanity’s future. Lovelock has linked the evolution of the planet with human evolution through the myth of Lilith. His theory is called the Gaia Hypothesis, named after the ancient Greek mother goddess of the earth (also known as Ge , the root word of geology and geography). Lovelock explains:
Unfortunately for me, the way forward splits at a cruel bifurcation. To establish Gaia as a fact I must take the first path, that of science. As a guide on the best way to live with the Earth, it will only be believed if it comes with the majority support from the scientific community - politicians and governmental agencies dare not act on myth - and demand scientific approval. To keep Gaia as something we all can understand I must take the second path, the one that goes to the postmodern world. Here science itself is questioned, but the Gaia of this book is acceptable even to statesmen and states- women.
(2000: p. xi)
His evolutionary theory of advanced science invokes the ancient Goddess of the Earth to explain the processes of global warming. Lovelock (2000) proposes that the Earth has been shaped by life, defined as one of those processes which are found whenever there is an abundant flow of energy. As I understand it, life is characterized by a tendency to shape or form itself as it consumes, but to do so it must always excrete low-grade products to the surroundings. Rather than viewing the Earth as a big rock that circles the sun and happens to host a thin, slim encrusted layer of life on the surface, the Earth is considered to be a living, self-regulating entity much like the human body: it can control the salinity of the seas, the temperature of the surface, and the level of oxygen in the atmosphere. Life began to “take charge” of the planet to regulate itself. Thompson (1989) summarizes the concept clearly, “the largest living thing on earth is the planet itself’ (pp. 48-49). In this holistic vision of the planet, the entire range of living matter on Earth, from whales to plagues, from redwoods to algae, all is regarded as constituting a single living entity capable of manipulating the Earth’s atmosphere to suit the balance of its needs overall. In the same way that a group of individuals becomes more than the mere sum of its parts, the Earth is endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts.
Gaia, however, is out for revenge. The Earth’s atmosphere, the metabolism of a complex organism, has been poisoned. Air is a gaseous fluid into which toxic substances have been dumped. Cities pull in huge amounts of water, goods, timber, metal and people, and export large amounts of toxins in the form of household and industrial waste, wastewater and gases that are linked to global warming. The fact that no one seems to have been noticing has transformed Gaia from the Great Mother of Life to a killing succubus out for revenge. Only as the results of pollution and ecological destruction become severe enough to threaten even urban humanity’s omnipotent powers of adaptability (a concept that reaches its pinnacle in the creation of Dubai from the desert) have we come to recognize the importance of ecological balance and the interdependence of the whole of life on our planet. And now our debt to life needs to be paid somehow.
The United Nations (UN) recently published a new environmental book of before and after satellite pictures illustrating the unmistakable disfigurement wrought by human hands of our once beautiful planet. The UN made the pictures available to the public “to serve as an early warning.” If there is any message in the book that comes across loud and clear, it is that we are all of part of the Earth’s destruction which will ultimately, if we continue the way we are going, render the planet unfit for life. The photos dramatically depict a world that is being taken over by cities - explosive urban sprawl, major deforestation and the sucking dry of inland seas over less than three decades - clear evidence of the devastating impact of our so-called civilization upon the Earth. We must transcend the patriarchal thinking that says it is only the good of civilization that matters, and realize that Gaia is alive. She has not been conquered by the matricidal hero, and she is not under mankind’s control. In the intersubjective terms of psychology, she is an autonomous subject, and her subjectivity and how mankind is impacting her must be recognized.
Lovelock has discovered that the mythopoetic has its role to play in opening our eyes to the effects of global warming, which he feels is crucial, and thereby creates a link between atmospheric science and depth psychology. He uses the ancient ways of seeing imaginally, and writes in a simple form of arcane language, to reach the masses. The Gaia Hypothesis is a fine example of scientific data transformed as it is linked up to the imagination, a synthesis of the masculine and the feminine, thinking and feeling, science and mythology. It is not unlike the way depth psychologists turn to myths for answers to their questions. Lovelock returns the Earth to the Great Mother, for contained in his hypothesis is the survival of the old goddess religion, an esoteric mystery school right in the midst of the new exoteric society of heroes.
In order to restore our health physically and mentally, symbiosis needs to be transfigured into a unity with the mother on both intrapsychic and collective levels. In Havel’s (1995) words
according to the Gaia hypothesis, we are parts of a greater whole. Our destiny is not dependent merely on what we do for ourselves, but also on what we do for Gaia as a whole. If we endanger her, she will dispense with us in the interests of a higher value - life itself.
If science proves that Gaia is a living entity the relationship between her and humankind, a dominant animal species in a complex living system, and the shifting balance of power between them, becomes a concern of obvious importance that falls within the domain of depth psychology. Conceptually, the relationship between the Earth and humankind is no different than the relationship that exists between mother and child.
Displaced from her position of equality, Lilith seeks revenge upon the children of humanity. In repressing her, mankind is acting with complicity towards our own extinction. On a collective level, this occurs when we take from, plunder, rape, dominate and act without conscience towards the natural world in which we live. The repression of shame can be a powerful corruption that warps things up to the point that now our collective relationship to the very Earth from which we derive our life is threatened. Global warming is a clear manifestation of mankind being subject to destructive forces it does not understand, cannot control and thinks to master (as is the collapse of our global economy).