Category Archives: Heathenism/Paganism

Towards an Animistic World

Hello again folks!

This is going to be the last post in my most recent series. We have come to the end, at least for the time being. It is time for me to move on to other projects, which you will certainly get to read about here!

This has been a big project, but the question becomes what does it leave us with? In no small words, we are definiately now in a time of transition, where all of our choices matter. We are up against the existential challenge of climate change, and up against a system that seems hell bent on making things so much worse for the sake of a buck. Not only do things need to change, but they have to. We have a few choices open to us, but it is vital we make the right ones, right now.

I have heard some call this a bottleneck, a transition, even an evolutionary precipice. The planet is warming, and a big part of that is our creation of a global energy intensive civilization. That part wasn’t entirely our fault, and might be a bottleneck any energy intensive civilization has to go through. However, doing nothing about it is our choice, and that choice may well be between decline, sustainability, and extinction. Without serious work on our part right now, we could go the way of the Dodo. That is truly an evolutionary precipice, and we are now finding out if we, as Homo sapiens, have what it takes to navigate this crucial time.

But that’s been the point of this whole series. What tools do we have at our disposal? What would it take to create a more sustainable, networked, democraticand planetary civilization?

Well, after all my explorations throughout this series, I can start to shape for you a vision of what that future might look like. The work I have done here is a synthesis of a lot of different sources, in order to create a vision, a speculation, of what our future could be. I can create a time line now, as a kind of road map. I probably will get it wrong in the long run, but it’s a start. After all, civilization is hardly the work of one man.

Near Future; 2020-2030’s

I think that the next couple of decades are going to be vital to mitigation. We have a lot of work to do across the board. This includes heavy deployment of renewable energy, creating sustainable cities, and creating democratic networks to share resources and work together. We also need to work towards the elimination of fossil fuels in our transportation and energy mix.

One of the big tools at our disposal are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These are expansive goals that allow us to reduce global carbon emissions, as well as create a more just and sustainable world. They cover everything from universal contraception coverage to universal healthcare, to renewable energy, and conservation of land and water resources.

But in a way, the SDGs are not enough, and do not go far enough. Those targets should definitely be met by the 2030s, but there is an aspect of the SDGs that is very “business as usual”. In that the SDGs do not tackle one of the biggest obstacles to creating a sustainable world; capitalism.

We will have to undermine and rebuild our current way of doing business. I don’t think this means we have to get rid of markets, trade, or industry. However, we definitely need to redistribute resources and wealth, and move towards more democratic and cooperative forms of economics. The Nordic Model of social democracy would be a good start for sure, but that’s still capitalism. We can go even further, and build networks of worker and community owned cooperatives. Over a billion people already belong to at least one co-op, so we are off to good start.

Our future could look more like this

The fact is, we are going to have to work together to face the challenges ahead. Competition might have some perks, sure, but if we have to build wind turbines, community resilience, and shelter climate refugees… It is better that we do these things together.

Mid Century; 2030-2050’s

While the SDGs have the 2030’s as their timeline, Drawdown bases it predictions on mid century. Drawdown gives us 100 solutions to combat climate change. Those solutions are everything from renewable energy, to forest conservation, to food systems, to women’s and indigenous peoples rights. We should deploy them to the greatest extent we can by 2050. Drawdown gives us three major trajectories;

Plausible Scenario: the case in which solutions on the Drawdown list are adopted at a realistically vigorous rate over the time period under investigation, adjusting for estimated economic and population growth.

Drawdown Scenario: the case in which the adoption of solutions is optimized to achieve drawdown by 2050.

Optimum Scenario: the case in which solutions achieve their maximum potential, fully replacing conventional technologies and practices within a limited, competitive market.

Drawdown is the point where our carbon emissions actually start to decrease. Being the optimist, I say shoot for the Optimum scenario. But even if we don’t make that, plausible solutions are better than none at all.

Aside from Drawdown, we also need to recreate our political, social, and economic systems. Technology alone will never be enough without other changes. Also, individual actions are necessary, but not sufficient without systemic and cultural change as well. A change in spirit, of who we are as a species.

Because the truth of the matter is, that our current systems cannot do what we need them to do. There is a good possibility that Nations will become less relevant. Our system of Nations is likely one of the least efficient ways to manage a planet, and that networks of cities, regions, and other organizations might be able to do this better.

The US system especially is ungovernable, and hierarchy overall is likely to breakdown and give rise to more networked and distributed means of governance. Ideally, these are cooperative and democratic networks, that give us the flexibility we need to adapt to a changing climate and world.

Renewable energy, Drawdown, SDGs, all give us means to create a less hierarchical, distributed and cooperative world. Local and regional powers can take the lead, and eventually build a new global system and planetary civilization.

Late Century; 2050’s – 2100

Alright, at this point I have to state that I will be in my mid 60’s by 2050, so anything too much beyond that is in all likelihood beyond my lifetime. But it will be in the lifetime of the next generation, and the one after that. It is definitely important to think beyond ourselves, and at least a couple of generations down the road.

Provided we have done what we must, and lain the foundations for a sustainable future, mitigated climate change as best we are able, and not blown ourselves up, the coming century could be really exciting for the future of our species.

It bears repeating that we are in a very crucial time right now. How that future looks depends on what we do right now. We don’t know the future. Whether we succeed or fail through the coming transition all hinges on what we do (and don’t do) in the next decade or two. But provided we manage to get through all that, we could be looking at a fully networked, democratic, and planetary civilization.

A world where there is fusion power, space elevators, and our growth as a space faring civilization. I find that really exciting, even if I won’t see it. To me, that is the foundation of a a truly animistic world.

An Animistic Vision

Because in all honesty, that is what we are facing right now. Not only an ecological crisis, but a spiritual one as well. My vision, my ideas for the future, are animistic at the core. As I’ve said so many times, my animism is a worldview as much a spiritual practice. It is how I relate to the world, to other humans, to nature, to civilization, and the planet.

The world I envision takes on the aspects of mutually beneficial relationships, of sharing, cooperation, and reciprocity. Democratic and cooperative economics are the outflow of this, as well as renewable energy and sustainability. We need to do the best we can for all peoples on Earth, human or non-human.

My vision is a world powered by wind turbines and solar panels; with little shrines to the Sun and winds at their base. Tiny little spirit houses at the entrances to great forests and mighty trees. Cities that look and function more like real jungles, not concrete ones. A world where worker-owned shops build our star ships. Small little altars could sit on those control panels, while astronauts pray that the Void doesn’t eat them.

The interaction of Science and Story, Matter and Meaning. That is my animistic world.

Thanks for reading!

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Towards a Democratic World

*Not talking about the political party here, but actual democracy.

“Do you believe in democracy and self-rule as the fundamental values that government ought to encourage?…

Very well. If democracy and self-rule are the fundamentals, then why should people give up these rights when they enter their workplace? In politics, we fight like tigers for freedom, for the right to elect our leaders, for freedom of movement, choice of residence, choice of what work to pursue – control of our lives, in short. ” -Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Hello again folks!

This is another post in my ongoing series, as there is certainly more that needs exploring. It should come as no surprise to anyone that reads this blog that I am a leftist. Yup, I am well to the left of the political center, as I think cooperative and ecological economic and social systems would probably be a lot better than what we have now.

More specifically, in terms of the political spectrum, I am probably best described as a democratic ecosocialist, with strong left-libertarian tendencies. I’m not quite an anarchist, but there is a great deal of overlap there. In terms of US politics, I am some sort of a combination between the Democratic Socialist of America, and the Green Party.

(Probably, Mostly, Me)

Overall, I’m probably a center-leftist (give or take), which makes me pretty boring as far as leftists go. Still, I think it is important that we break that all down a little bit more. My political views are reinforced and informed by how I understand animism. As I’ve said so many time before, my animism is the basic worldview that the world is full of people (human and non-human), and that life is lived in relation to others.

This comes with a strong commitment to human and ecological rights, and the inherent worth and dignity of all beings on this planet. It follows that any civilization and its social, political, cultural, and economic systems should be as equitable, sustainable, democratic, and just as possible. Humanity civilizations should be ecologically sustainable, and be self-regulated and self-organized. In short, civilization should look more like an ecosystem, and be integrated seamlessly into the environment.

In other words, I have red (socialist), green (ecological), and blue (democratic, labor) in the mix. That is why I want to talk about Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy today. I saw a lot of the world I want to build in those pages. But first, let’s explore some of the components in this world.

Democratic Socialism (Red/Blue)

Democratic socialism is a political philosophy that advocates political democracy alongside social ownership of the means of production with an emphasis on self-management and democratic management of economic institutions within a market socialist, participatory or decentralized planned economy. Democratic socialists hold that capitalism is inherently incompatible with what they hold to be the democratic values of liberty, equality and solidarity; and that these ideals can only be achieved through the realization of a socialist society.” (Wikipedia, Democratic Socialism)

This is a good part of my basic philosophy. I think capitalism as a economic system is exploitative of workers and the environment, and mostly just concentrates wealth (and political power) in fewer and fewer hands. Capitalism is one big factor in the rise of oligarchy and plutocracy in the US.

I have made no secret of my like of Nordic Model. It goes a long ways towards what a democratic socialism might look like, but it falls short. That is because the Nordic Model is social democracy, not democratic socialism. Social democracy is still capitalism. Suffice to say, I think it is a good start, but doesn’t go far enough. Another point along the transition, but not the end of the journey.

I would like to see it go farther, with greater democratic control given over to workplaces and community owned organizations. I would like to see much less State power, and a greater number of worker and community owned cooperatives. The Nordic Model has a lot of good points with egalitarianism, and ecological sustainability. But more needs to be done.

Ecosocialism (Green/Red)

Eco-socialism is an ideology merging aspects of socialism with that of green politics, ecology and alter-globalization… Eco-socialists generally believe that the expansion of the capitalist system is the cause of social exclusion, poverty, war and environmental degradation through globalization and imperialism, under the supervision of repressive states and transnational structures.

Eco-socialists advocate dismantling capitalism, focusing on common ownership of the means of production by freely associated producers, and restoring the commons.” (Wikipedia, Ecosocialism)

I think that capitalism is as exploitative of environments. It extracts natural resources for profit, and leaves barren and polluted wastelands in its wake. We can do better than that, and while there will still be a need for resources, there are far better ways to manage those resources in a sustainable way.

Alter-globalization is an important aspect here. I’m not opposed to global economic integration, but it MUST be done with a respect to human dignity, labor rights, environmental protection, and indigenous cultures. It is quite contrary to the neoliberal globalization we see in the world right now. It’s capitalism, stupid.

Along the lines of democratic socialism, I support the creation of worker and community owned spaces, and a more sustainable economic system.

Green Politics (Green/Blue)

Green politics is a political ideology that aims to create an ecologically sustainable society rooted in environmentalism, nonviolence, social justice and grassroots democracy.” (Wikipedia, Green Politics)

Democracy, sustainability, equality, solidarity. There is not much I can harp on here except the “non-violent” part. On the whole, I’m no warrior. Violent or militant actions aren’t really my cup of tea. I’m more of a builder than anything. That said, I think these things may have limited strategic uses.

However, that doesn’t mean being passive in the face of oppressive systems. Protest, direct action, and civil disobedience are all tactics for fighting unjust and exploitative systems.

Libertarian-socialism/Libertarian-Municipalism (Red/Green/Blue)

Libertarian socialists advocate for decentralized structures based on direct democracy and federal or confederal associations such as libertarian municipalism, citizens’ assemblies, trade unions, and workers’ councils.” (Wikipedia, Libertarian-Socialism)

Okay, so I don’t really like using the word “libertarian” anything due to how this idea has taken form in US political circles. To explain briefly, there are two versions of this idea, left-libertarianism, and right-libertarianism. While there is some amount of overlap between both schools of thought, as both of don’t really like centralized regulation/the State. The difference of course is one argues for cooperative economic systems, the other for unregulated and non-State capitalism.

With my general disdain for capitalism, I am a left-libertarian, in that I don’t think the Nation-State is necessary, especially versions that are far away and centralized. I like bottom up, democratic and decentralized solutions to problems. Not only is the Nation-State, and I’ve discussed in my End of Nations post, it’s probably not the best way to govern a planet. 

Short version, on the whole, I prefer distributed, networked, and democratic systems over centralized ones. Cities are the real heart of our civilizations, and I think a global network of cities might be a better global system than the Nation-State.

Mars Trilogy

You are probably wondering how all of this relates to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. You would be right to ask that question, as I have spent a lot more time talking about political ideology than I have about the fiction books in question. Robinson is generally considered to be and ecosocialist, and many of the ideas I have discussed translate directly into his books.

The short version being, that the fiction can serve as a vision of what the reality might look like. The Mars Trilogy, as it’s name implies, follows the stories of colonists and terraformers of Mars as they build a new society over about a century.

As the society of Mars develops, they run into all kinds of social and political problems. There are the nativist Reds, that want to keep the planet as natural as possible. They are in many ways opposed by the Greens, that want to terraform the planet. The first couple of books cover this struggle, and even result in the first aspects of a democratic and decentralized Martian society.

There is even multiple attempts at a global constitution, which finally culminates in the final book. By the time we reach Blue Mars, a kind of libertarian ecosocialism has taken root, and is embodied in the constitution of Mars. The entire organization of the planet is a kind of global-localism, in which there is both a global government, as well as the rights of individual cities. In short, there are no Nation-States. Mars is an experiment in Democratic Ecosocialism.

Because, on top of democratic structures of government (based on the constitutions of Earth, especially the Swiss), there are the rights of nature and the ecocourts. Here is an excerpt from KSR’s own site on the structure of the Martian government;

The Martian government was created following the Second Martian Revolution which insured Mars’s independence from Terra’s rule. Its form was established in the Martian constitution created in the Pavonis Mons Congress in 2128.

The global government was a confederation led by a seven-member executive council (inspired by the Swiss system), which was elected by two legislative branches:

  • the duma, consisting of drafted citizens
  • the senate, consisting of elected representatives from every town

Legislature was mostly left to towns. The judicial branch presented three courts:

  • a criminal court
  • a constitutional court (including an economic commission for eco-economics)
  • an environmental court (including a land commission for no private property), the Global Environmental Court (GEC):”

I could go on and on of course, as this has become one of my favorite book series. But for the sake of brevity, I want to leave this topic to talk even more broadly. When this is considered along with my first Synthesis of my recent work, a vision of the future starts to form.

It is a vision only, a speculation if you want to frame it that way. All the same, it gives me something to work towards. It gives us something to work towards, if you are of a similar mind as me. We could build an animistic, democratic, and ecosocialistic world.

The Mars trilogy gives us an idea of what that could look like, though of course such a world would vary in the details. Still, I think it is possible. We could build a world that is ecological and sustainable. We could build a world that is democratic, and not built on capitalism. Nation-States may not be the best way to govern a planet, and they will be less relevant in the future. Whether through collapse or deliberate integration, I think the future will be post-national.

We are already seeing what that might look like, and it is up to all of us to work towards a common vision of a global-localism. Think globally, act locally; in a very real way.

Our future awaits.

Thanks for reading!


A Forest Through the Trees

(World Tree Image from Here)

Hello again folks!

I hope you all have been doing well. I have been pretty busy lately, but this is a post that has been playing around in my mind for some time. In case my recent blogs have not been any indication, I’m kind of obsessed with looking at my animistic path through the lens of systems theory, and especially complex systems.

This method to me is all about seeing the relations between all things. It’s about how I as a human relate to the environment around me, as well as the systems of civilization I move through each and every day. How does these various systems interact and relate, and in what ways do we relate to those systems? Whether technological, cultural, or ecological, this is a question that is at the heart of the animistic path I practice.

I have been reading back through some books and older thoughts of mine. As I read them, I was struck with how I could now look at them through a new lens. I’ve never made any secret of the fact that my path is inspired by a lot of different sources; some ancestral, some modern, some fictional… ecetera ecetera. My path is really kind of my own synthesis of ideas, but it is best described as mostly animistic and shamanic. These are the best concepts I have for what I do, even though both are problematic in their own ways. I’m not going into that here either. I’m sure I’ve touched on it before.

The World Tree

What really struck me though was the idea of the World Tree, or shaman’s tree. This is a common symbol in the cosmology of a three-tiered world, that is common in shamanistic ideologies. There is the upper world, which is equated with the sky. The middle world, which is where we as humans dwell, the land. And the underworld, which is the underground, the water, and the world below us. Each culture that uses this idea has nuances of course, but I want to talk about how I use it in my own practice.

Trees have been a big part of my life forever. I spent my formative years in the woods; exploring, hiking, climbing, later hunting. There actually was a time I wanted to go into forestry as a profession, but alas I was blocked by higher math. Still, the imagery is still deeply set in my personality. And so the World Tree, as a concept, is something I revisit regularly.

The branches of the World Tree (such as Yggdrasil of Nordic myth), reach into the sky, and into the upper world. The trunk of the World Tree is in the middle world, and connects all three to the land. The roots go deep into the underworld, into water, and beneath the earth. As such for me, there are rough correspondences between sky/land/water, and upper/middle/lower respectively.

In addition, there is also a rough correspondence between the kinds of being that dwell in each world, and how they relate to myself. The upper world is generally, the realm of the “bigger” and/or “greater.” In Norse myth (and others), this is the realm of the gods. The middle world is the realm of the humans, and many others too. The underworld, is generally the realm of the dead and the ancestors.

There are also other useful correspondences when relating to nature. The upper world is the world above our head, of tree branches, but of birds and stars too. Of wind and clouds, and cosmic things. All the way up. The middle world is the world all around us, deer, animals, and plants that dwell on the land. The earth and the soil. And the lower world is the water, of fish and other marine life. Of water, lakes, rivers, and oceans.

But something else struck me as I was rereading through those materials. An aspect that I hadn’t seen before, and that has been rather interesting to explore. Systems theory also allows for a similar breakdown, that allows me to go even deeper into the idea of the World Tree.

System theories can talk about systems at all kinds of different scales. For example, a mesosystem is a mid-level scale system. A microsystem is a small scale system, and a marcosystem is a large scale one.

I bet you’re clever enough to see already where I am going with this. System theory allows me to look at the World Tree at different orders of magnitude, and explore the relationship there.

Upper World – Macrosystems – Sky

These are systems at the largest possible scales, and this allows me to relate myself to things so much bigger than myself in a very enmeshed kind of way. A way that connects me to human communities, cities, ecosystems, and eventually the planet, the stars, and the whole of the Cosmos. It is the systems that are “bigger” than myself, and that exceed the complexity and scale of my limited human existence.

This is where the World Tree meets the Cosmic Web, the Forest of all World Trees, and All Possible Worlds.

Middle World – Mesosystems – Land

These systems are the ones that relate to the world on approximately the same scale I do. The world between the mountain and the ant. These are the systems at a human scale, which is my immediate surroundings. My relationship to myself, and other people on an individual to individual level. It also includes individual critters, rocks, and plants too.

This is where I meet the Tree in the Forest, or the Deer on the Path.

Lower World – Microsystems – Water

Falling downs order of magnitude, this is where I relate to the things that are “deeper” or “beneath.” This is the scale of those that are dead and breaking down, and everything from the ant on down. It is the systems that make up my body, organs, cells, atoms. It is my DNA, and the very real connections to my past. This is my deep ancestry, that goes from humanity, to the origin of life on this planet. To the land and the planet itself as ancestor, and the very first particles that formed from the Big Bang.

The Place of Deep Roots, and Long Memories.

The Forest through the Trees

In a weird way, if you follow through the roots and branches of this idea, you kind of end up where you started. There is a circular and cyclical nature to all of this. If you go down deep into the roots, you end up at the quantum level, and the very beginning of our Universe as we know it. If you go up through the branches to a high enough scale, you are talking about our Cosmos as a whole… Which started at the Big Bang.

In that way, the concept of the World Tree, and the Cosmic Web are two closely related concepts. The World Tree is the metaphoric personal, and how I relate to the other scales of existence. The Cosmic Web is the forest full of World Trees, and the weblike network of roots and branches. Strangely, that idea starts to a look a lot like the cosmic web of our known universe.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_system

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_theory

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_tree


Towards Synthesis, Part 1

(Image from here.)

Hello folks,

Over the past few posts, I have set up some ideas that really need to be strung together. I know it has been a lot, and there is still more to cover. There is at least one more post that will come out in the near future, probably more, but for the moment I wanted to stop here and start bringing this all together. This is always a work in process, so all I can do this time around is start to point the way.

There have been several threads that have woven through the previous posts, and now I want to start tying those together. What is the end goal of all of this? It is an exercise in speculation, on just what the future might look like. It’s as much speculation as it is a vision. It could be very wrong, sure, but it could also help to point the way. With a vision, a plan, we can start setting goals. Like all speculation, it might be fruitless, but it gives me some idea of what to work towards.

I want to take a stab at it. How do I think the future might look? How would that future relate to my values and ideals? How, ultimately, might we create a world that is a bit better and more sustainable than we have now?

Let’s dig more deeply into that. First, let’s recap each of the posts so far.

Michio Kaku

“The transition between our current Type 0 civilization and a future Type 1 is perhaps the greatest transition in history. It will determine whether we will continue to thrive and flourish, or perish due to our own folly.” Michio Kaku, Physics of the Future.

The first post I wrote in this series concerned Michio Kaku’s book The Physics of the Future. In the book, he presented his version of the future. It was a progressive version; that with science and technology we could move towards a very Star Trek-esque future. We could move out to into the solar system, and continue to thrive as a species.

Kaku thinks we will move from a Type 0 to a Type 1 civilization on the Kardashev scale in the next century or two. A Type 1 is a truly planetary civilization, built on science, multiculturalism, pluralism, and greater global intregration. Nation-States will be less relevant, because they will likely give way to larger unions such as the US or the EU.

He also points out, like the quote above, that we are in a very crucial transition right now. We may succeed, or we may fail. Whether we survive or perish, that power is in our hands right now.

Y. Bar-Yam

“Like it or not, our societies may already be undergoing this transition. We cannot yet imagine there are no countries (Nations). But recognising that they were temporary solutions to specific historical situations can only help us manage a transition to whatever we need next. Whether or not our nations endure, the structures through which we govern our affairs are due for a change. Time to start imagining.” End of Nations

In the next post, Y. Bar-Yam put forward several important ideas that are important to focus on here. First, Bar-Yam also thinks that Nation-States will become less relevant, but perhaps not in the same way that Kaku does.

Bar-Yam thinks that the hierarchies that were built up during the Industrial Revolution will start to break down, and that includes Nation-States. As we move from a hierarchical social system, through a hybrid system, and towards a networked world… Nation-States won’t be as relevant.

Between Kaku and Bar-Yam, we have two clear paths that the future might take. On one hand, Nation-States may deliberately and intentionally integrate into more networked arrangements. On the other, Nation-States and other forms of hierarchy may break down and collapse, freeing up the opportunity for new systems of organization.

We are already in that transition, and again, how that plays out is up to us.

Adam Frank

As children of the Earth, we are also children of the stars…. Through the light of the stars, through what they teach us about other worlds and the possibilities of other civilizations, we can learn what path through adolescence we must take. And in that way, we can reach our maturity. We can reach our full promise and possibility.

We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars

You can find a lot of detail in my post about Adam Frank’s The Light of the Stars. It is a wonderful book that covers a lot of territory, and I have done my best to lay out the parts that were really great.

Frank takes some of the ideas in Kaku’s work, and goes a step farther with them. He ties together energy use on the Kardashev Scale, and the idea that any energy intensive civilization will trigger a Climate Change type process. As an emerging planetary civilization, of course our energy use has affected the planet. That is to be expected.

However, in agreement with Kaku and Bar-Yam, Frank thinks too that we are in a very crucial transition in our cosmic journey from adolescence to maturity. We have to deal with the crises that is Climate Change, and part of that is integrating our civilization as another part of the planet. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and regardless what we do, we will have an impact on the planet.

We may never reach a Type 1 civilization, but as Frank rightly points out, we are making those decisions right now. We need to enter into a cooperative relationship with our planets biosphere, and become just another part of Earth’s evolutionary processes. The planet is waking up, and now we need to bring it a vision and a plan.

According to Frank, a Class 5 planet is a truly awakened world.

Towards the Future

So, we cannot bring the world to heel. Instead, we must bring it a plan. Our project of civilization must become a way for the planet to think, to decide, and to guide its own future. Thus, we must become the agent by which the Earth wakes up to itself….

Science has given us a new perspective, a new vision, and a new story to help us find a way forward as we face the challenge of the Anthropocene. But this can only happen if we listen carefully and truly make this new story our own.

It is time to grow up.”

With all this in mind, it’s time to weave it all together. What does the tapestry laid out by these three authors look like? What does “growing up” really entail?

First, I would say that a networked, Type 1, Class 5 planet are all different versions of the same thing. A grown up planetary civilization would be networked, integrated, and sustainable. It will have most of the energy of a Type 1 civilization at it’s disposal, and it would utilize this energy in a sustainable way that had minimum impacts on the environment.

It would be a Class 5 awakened world, where human civilization becomes the agency of the planet. We can bring the Earth a plan, a plan that is cooperative and sustainable. We can live in balance with the biosphere, as well as build a sustainable civilization. We can reach for the stars, and still respect the earth.

That civilization would be post-national, either through deliberate integration and networking, or through building alternatives as old systems collapse. One way or the other (the the former is more preferable), we would have a truly global civilization built on networks of cities, regional governments, and other organizations.

This civilization would be scientific, multicultural, tolerant, and pluralistic. It would also be democratic, equitable, and sustainable. It would be cooperative and networked. It would respect human rights as well as ecological ones. It would be high energy and high tech, but in a way that doesn’t destroy the planet.

In no small sense, it would be an animistic world. A world and a civilization where humans and non-humans can thrive in ecological balance. All our relatives would be part of the same planetary system, and the Earth would be one big cybernetic organism.

A Type 1, Networked, Class 5 planet would be the awakening of a Cybernetic Gaia.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

Towards a Planetary Civilization

Towards a Networked World

Towards a Sustainable World

End of Nations


Towards a Sustainable World

As children of the Earth, we are also children of the stars…. Through the light of the stars, through what they teach us about other worlds and the possibilities of other civilizations, we can learn what path through adolescence we must take. And in that way, we can reach our maturity. We can reach our full promise and possibility.

We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars

I have had the book The Light of the Stars on preorder for months, authored by astrophysicist Adam Frank. I tore through this book in less than three days, and it has left my head spinning. I wanted to discuss my impressions. I really enjoyed this book!

More than that, it has been really relevant to the work I have been doing right now. I know it might not seem like it just yet, but I am working towards a synthesis of a lot of different ideas right now. These ideas cut across huge categories, and spin out from my understanding of animism. What I am working on now cuts across cosmology, ecology, science generally, as well as anthropology and animism. I am exploring many questions that cover our place in the Cosmos, the future of our civilization, and how science and animism are two complimentary ways to understand these topics.

Adam Frank’s book lands solidly across all of these ideas. If the quote at the top of this page is any indication, the scientific and animistic aspects of this book are very present. Even though this book is about science and not animism, there are plenty of implications for the latter. As I have written about many times before, my animism is scientific, and has implications for almost every discipline. While science tell me about the world, animism is how I relate to that world.

Which is why I was so struck by Frank’s book. I would recommend you pick up a copy, because I will not be able to cover even a portion of it here for length reasons. If you want a short version, there is a great Youtube video that outlines the basic ideas, and plenty of news articles are at the bottom of this post. Yet, in brief, the bulk of the book is about astrobiology, exo-civilizations (alien civilizations), and what we can learn from the fate of other worlds, and the possible civilizations that might dwell there.

A good portion of the book is about how an high-tech, high energy civilization would change the climate of the planet. In short, this book is about the Anthropocene, and the fate of our civilization when faced with realities such as Climate Change, and what, if anything, we can do about that?

Different Scenarios

But we should recognize that creating climate change wasn’t done with malevolence. We are not a plague on the planet. Instead, we are the planet. We are, at least, what the planet is doing right now. But that is no guarantee that we’ll still be what the planet is doing one thousand or ten thousand years from now.

…that Carl Sagan already understood, is that humanity and its project of civilization represents a kind of “cosmic teenager.”.. But like a teenager, we lack the maturity to take full responsibility for ourselves and our future.” – Light of the Stars

(Graphic from Here)

One of the great parts about this book, is that Frank and others have just started modeling the various trajectories our civilization could take. I have included a graphic that plots out each of these trajectories pretty clearly.

The first is the die off, which is in many ways similar to Greer’s Long Descent. It means that climate change starts to take a serious toll on our populations, and basically humans start dying off. It’s disturbing that Frank identified this as one of the most common scenarios. But that is not a pleasant future, nor one to be hoped for. It is hard for me to imagine 7 out of 10 people I know and love have perished. That I think is a future that is best avoided, if we have any control over the matter. Which, of course, I think we do in some measure.

The second scenario is my preferred trajectory, the sustainability curve. It means we have acted with enough forethought and wisdom to prevent either slow, or catastrophic collapse. I think we as a civilization and as a species still have the ability to carve out this future for ourselves. We have the technology today, what we need is the will, and as Frank points out, a better narrative on what we want that future to look like.

The last two scenarios are the full extinction scenarios. That means we so overshoot the capacities of the planet, that regardless if we change to renewables or not, that the collapse of our civilization and probably the extinction of our species is our fate. That is a grim future indeed, and one that also serves best as a warning.

Kardashev Scale

If we take the astrobiological view and start thinking like a planet, we see there’s no such thing as “no impact.” Civilizations are built by harvesting energy and using that energy to do work. That work can be anything from building buildings to transporting materials to harvesting more energy.” – Light of the Stars

I have talked a lot about the Kardashev Scale quite a bit on this blog before, and something Michio Kaku has explored in some depth. I’m not going to go into any real depth about that here, but Frank certainly uses it to build his central themes. For example, a Type 1 civilization can access all the energy resources of their home planet. Civilization as a project turns energy into the capacity to work, whether that work is building, farming, or exploring space.

Our civilization is not yet a Type 1, as we are about a type 0.7, with 100-200 years to go until we are Type 1. That means we have a fair bit of energy at the disposal of our civilization, but Frank makes a very important point about the Kardashev Scale. Energy use of a civilization must obey the second law of thermodynamics. There is no such thing as a free lunch, as the use of energy creates feedback, primarily in the form of waste, and especially heat.

As we know from the science of climate change, that waste heat can be trapped in the atmosphere by carbon and other greenhouse gases. Obviously, the carbon and the heat are both products of our fossil fuel driven civilization. As Frank points out, the greater the energy use of a civilization, the greater its entropy; mostly in the form of waste heat.

This does not mean we cannot, or should not, chart out a course towards a Type 1 Civilization. Only that, as Kaku and Frank seem to agree upon, is that we are navigating a very crucial bottleneck right now. How we chart that course has massive implications for our future.

That sounds pretty good. In just a couple of centuries, we are going to become a true Type 1 cosmic civilization. The problem, of course, is that we may never get there. Our project of civilization has a bottleneck to navigate right now, and our progress through it is anything but assured.” – Michio Kaku

There are nor guarantees about our future, but if we are to have a future at all, we must look a little beyond the Kardashev Scale. As Frank rightly points out, we need to consider our civilization against the capacities and limits of the planet. As such, Frank proposes another way of looking at our planet.

Planet Classifications

Sustainable Civilizations don’t “rise above” the biosphere, but must, in some way, enter into a long, cooperative relationship with their coupled planetary systems. But what does that look like?”

What Frank proposes, is another way to classify our civilization as part of the whole planetary system. We need to consider more than just the energy usage, but also how the feedback of energy use on our planetary system. We need another kind of map to a Type 1 civilization, a more long-term and sustainable vision.

Frank proposes a different means to classify planets and their energy use. He uses five Classes of planets, 1 through 5.

A Class 1 planet is similar in many ways to Mercury. The energy systems of the planet are fairly simple, so the planet as a whole limits work (energy use) and system complexity. It’s pretty much a dead planet. A Class 2 is a world with an atmosphere, but no life. Venus and Mars are great examples of a Class 2 planet. Sunlight and atmosphere allows for gas and water flows, and more work to be done in the energy system.

Class 3 planets have a thin biosphere. Life has gotten a start on these worlds, and life has an effect on the planetary systems of energy flow. But life does not dominate the planet. Earth during the early Archean was approximately a Class 3 planet. Frank also points out if life was present on early Mars, that too would be an example of a Class 3.

Frank describes a Class 4 planet as a planet that has been “hijacked by life”, with a thick biosphere. These are deep ecological networks that all feed into one another, and feedback into one another. Earth, up until the appearance of human civilization, has long been a Class 4 planet.

Across the first four classes, we see an increase in complexity and energy flow as Frank rightly points out. A Class 1 planet doesn’t do much work with the energy it received from the sun. By contrast, a Class 4 takes all that solar energy and puts it to use in the networks of life; growing, eating, dying, and back again. This relationship between complexity, work, and energy flows granted Frank and his collaborators the vision to speculate on what a Class 5 planet might look like.

Just as a Class 4 world channels more energy into work and complexity than a Class 3, a Class 5 would go beyond the energy capacities of a Class 4. A Class 5 planet is a world with a planetary civilization, that not only has more energy at its disposal, but also has the agency of a complex civilization. Frank calls a Class 5 world an “agency dominated” planet, a planet that has intelligence. A Class 5 is where the biosphere has become part a noosphere, an area of networked intelligence. It is the where a world starts to “wake up”, and becomes more like a single organism.

Class 5 Planets might be seen as worlds that have evolved a noosphere. The pervasive wireless mesh of connections that constitute today’s internet has already been held up as an initial version of a noosphere for Earth. Thus, we might already make out the contours of what a sustainable world will look like.”

An Awakened Planet, Towards a Class 5

So, we cannot bring the world to heel. Instead, we must bring it a plan. Our project of civilization must become a way for the planet to think, to decide, and to guide its own future. Thus, we must become the agent by which the Earth wakes up to itself….

Science has given us a new perspective, a new vision, and a new story to help us find a way forward as we face the challenge of the Anthropocene. But this can only happen if we listen carefully and truly make this new story our own.

It is time to grow up.”

If a Class 5 is an “awakened planet” Frank goes on to ask the question, where do we stand right now? Well, just like on the Kardashev scale, we are between a Type 0 and a Type 1 (Type 0.7), on Frank’s on classification system, we are between a Class 4 and a Class 5, a hybrid planet.

The planet has not fully “awoken” just yet, and that it contains a civilization that is not yet sustainable. We are a hybrid planet, clearly leaving a Class 4 as we move into the Anthropocene, but our civilization is not yet a fully integrated and sustainable part of the planetary system. It might never be, as failure is certainly an option. We not ever make it to a Class 5 Planet, just as Kaku said there is no guarantees of ever seeing a Type 1 civilization.

Our cybernetic (of life and machine) Gaia is stirring, but it is not yet out of the birth canal. The transition from Type 0 to Type 1, and from Class 4 to Class 5, is not yet assured, and we are still in the weeds as a species. Energy flow, complexity, and the work we do as part of the planet must be sustainable. A Type 1 civilization must be sustainable, a integrated, networked, extension of the planetary system. As Frank so eloquently puts it;

To truly come into a cooperative coevolution with a biosphere, a technological civilization must make technology – the fruit of its collective mind – serve as a web of awareness for the flourishing of both itself and the planet as a whole.”

It is time for our species to mature, as part of our planet. We are still in our adolescence, but we can see young adulthood in the distance. That is the next step in our planetary evolution, if we have the wisdom to make it through this transition.

In my next post for this series, I want to start filling in the details. I want to synthesize the ideas of Kaku, Bar-Yam, and Frank in a more unified way. From there, I want to continue refining this vision down to more specifics…

What does a cooperative, sustainable relationship with Earth actually look like?

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

Light of the Stars, by Adam Frank. 2018.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/opinion/earth-will-survive-we-may-not.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/05/how-do-aliens-solve-climate-change/561479/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoISn18qP_E

http://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/astrobiology-alien-apocalypse-can-any-civilization-make-it-through-climate-change-322232/


Towards a Networked World

We, each of us, are parts of a greater whole. Still, this relationship is shaping and will continue to shape much of our existence. It has implications for our lives as individuals and those of our children…

On a global scale, human civilization is a single organism capable of remarkable complex collective actions in response to environmental challenges.”

– Y. Bar-Yam

In the last part of this series, I left off with a quote by Harding that suggested that while science and technology has made us quite clever, these things alone have not made us wise. He went on to suggest that the fusion of animism with science would ask us to replace mechanistic understandings of the world, with more animate ones. In short, Harding asks of us to consider the planet as one whole being, a planetary organism.

This is an important place to start our discussion, as it will have huge implications to explore in the rest of this piece. More importantly, this is the point where animism (as I understand it), is going to be central to our understanding of the future of ourselves and the planet. It means, our civilization is in fact an extension of nature, and of the evolution of our planet. Civilization is the next step, an emergence out of cosmic physics and evolutionary biology. It emerges from our own nature, as social human beings enmeshed in the planetary systems of Earth.

Yet, just like evolutionary process, so too is our own unguided. Whether we succeed or fail as a civilization, and as a species, will be influenced by how well we are adapted to our environment. In other words, our fitness to be part of the planetary systems. If we are unfit to our environment, unable to find a balance, unable to adapt, we will perhaps go the way of countless extinct species.

One way to understand this is to look at Kaku’s planetary civilization, a Type 1 civilization that is truly global. By necessity, I think this would have to be a sustainable civilization, that has become well adapted to the planet as a whole. A Type 1 civilization, as I envision it, would have to adapt to to the planet, and become an integrated part of the whole. We are not there are the moment, and we may have a century or more before we get there.

So the question becomes, what might be some of the steps we need to take to be a more integrated and harmonic part of the planetary organism?

If you ask me, part of the answer will be to take our place as a kind of planetary “nervous system.” Our human civilization might become the “thinking” part of the planet, that integrates all the parts, and keeps them regulated. Just like our own bodies, the health of any individual system is vital to the health of the whole. The nervous system cannot survive without support of the bone and blood (geology), the respiratory system (forests, ecologies, weather), or the circulatory (oceans, waters) systems.

Going a step farther, this also includes our own selves, and the sociopolitical makeup of our societies. In short, how we organize ourselves matters. More importantly, there are likely better ways to manage a planet. Some time ago, I wrote about the End of Nations, in three parts. The gist of this all is, that Nation-States are the result of specific historical processes, but they may not be the best way to regulate a planet. There are plenty of thinkers, scholars, and scientists trying to come up with other ideas.

Which brings us to the article I want to discuss today. Our civilization, when compared with any other time in history, is much more complex. The article that highlight this fact is called Complexity Rising, by Y Bar-Yam. The quote at the top of this piece comes from the same article.

The article itself is very dense, and I will not have the space here to cover it all. Yet, if the quote at the top of this piece is any indication, what I want to explore today is the complexity of our current civilization, and what this might mean for our future.

In order to move this this conversation forward, I want to draw your attention to the above graphic. This image from the article speaks volumes about what I want to talk about, and in a way that allows me brevity. Bar-Yam lays out the case for the historical changes of our social structures. Moving from left to right, we can see the steady rise in complexity, from hunter-gatherers up to the Industrial Revolution. By the time we get to the last panel on the right, we see something very integrated, networked, and dare I say… organic.

Right in the middle there is a spike in hierarchy. This is the Industrial Revolution. During the industrial revolution, as I talked about in more depth in my End of Nations series, hierarchical and bureaucratic structures exploded. Part of the reason is because industrial economies are more complex, and need more actual governing. The rise of the Nation-State was connected to the rise of industrialization, as the graphic clearly shows.

We are still in the industrial mindset, somewhere around the peak of hierarchy on the graphic. (It could be we are going down the slope.) We are still living in the social and political structures that were created in the Industrial Revolution. But we are also moving towards a planetary civilization, a Type 1 civilization, and I think that is represented by the far right on the graphic. A truly networked civilization.

Also, I think that the graphic is very consistent with Kaku’s “birth pangs” of planetary civilization. Do you see the drop on the far right of the graphic? That indicates a breakdown of hierarchies, as we transition to more lateral and networked world. Those hierarchies are present in our governments and social institutions. That is the world as we know it, and I think it is already breaking down. But overall, I think that breakdown is a good thing in the long run, because the other side is a more equal, egalitarian, and networked world.

(The Transition, breakdown of hierarchy and rise of the more networked connections.)

There is a lot of talk in pagandom about long descents, storms a’ coming, late stage capitalism, rise of hierarchy, fascism, oligarchy, ect. I think there is some truth to these things. For instance, I think we are in a time of birth pangs, a new world awaits at the end of a messy process. It’s not going to be easy, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world either.

The drop after is the transition. That’s the storm. That’s late stage capitalism. That’s the birth pangs of transition. Like a cocoon of metamorphosis. We can already see some evidence of that transition. The EU is at least a prototype of a what a more networked world might look like. A post-nation kind of integration. .

Even so, the EU may point the way to what a post-nation-state world will look like.

.., further integration of Europe’s governing systems is needed as economies become more interdependent. But… Europe’s often-paralysed hierarchy cannot achieve this. Instead… the replacement of hierarchy by networks of cities, regions and even non-governmental organisations.” (From End of Nations)

I prefer ideas that are more democratic, more autonomous, but also deliberately networked. Networks of cities and regions could be all these things, as well as more flexible and adaptable to complex problems such as climate change. Nation-states have a real structural problem dealing with many of these challenges. They are centralized, and inflexible. They were not designed to handle these kind of challenges, and are often paralyzed in dealing with them. Nation-states, and even international institutions are often too hierarchical to deal with problems that require complex and nuanced solutions.

Type 0 Civ = Industrial Revolution

Type 1 Civ = Networked World

Blue Line = Approx current location

Kaku estimates 100 – 200 years to Type 1

But there is another thing that is important to point out here. As you can see from the graphic above, there is a long gap from the decline of hierarchy, to the rise of replacement hybrid lateral structures. I will be talking a lot more about what that looks like in a future post, but for now I can say that that transition will not be fun. The decline of hierarchy may well mean the decline of Nations, which on the whole may not be a bad thing in the long term, but it will be chaotic in the short term. This breakdown could also affect other massive hierarchies aside from governments; but also large corporations and international institutions. That could be bad news for a lot of people.

As such, I think it is important, while hierarchy declines, that we focus on building alternative hybrid and lateral structures. Things like cooperative workplaces, and community organizations that can help mitigate the gap. More on that in the future too.

The short version, is that I agree with aspects of both Kaku and Bam-Yam. A planetary civilization would be more networked, and less hierarchical. But how can we start the synthesize these two ideas?

Towards Synthesis

“Like it or not, our societies may already be undergoing this transition. We cannot yet imagine there are no countries (States). But recognising that they were temporary solutions to specific historical situations can only help us manage a transition to whatever we need next. Whether or not our nations endure, the structures through which we govern our affairs are due for a change. Time to start imagining.” End of Nations

It certainly is time that we start imagine what the future might look like, and this is a theme I will revisit in future posts. We need to imagine big, so that we can then use that big vision to create small, manageable goals. That way we can create a better tomorrow, after a bit of a slog through the transition.

With that all in mind, what does that vision look like? Well, at least for me, we can start bringing together all the various threads I’ve lain out in this post and the previous one.

From Kaku’s work, we can run with the idea that we are on the path towards a Type 1 Planetary Civilization. This civilization will be more integrated, more multicultural, more scientific, and more tolerant. The transition to a Type 1 civilization will take the next century or two, and we are already seeing the first aspects of that in things like the internet and the EU.

But Bar-Yam in this post, adds more onto this vision. The EU may be an early prototype for a Type 1 civilization, but it is also the prototype for a post-national world. A world that is more networked, more integrated, less hierarchical, as well as egalitarian and democratic. Bar-Yam also points out, that we are already undergoing this transition. The old world is breaking down, and the new one is on the way. But it is a not guaranteed and we are at a crucial juncture.

I think on top of all this, the new world will have to ecological and sustainable as well as democratic. With integrated and flexible networks of power, our civilization would be more adaptable and able to respond to climate change. As was pointed out by Bar-Yam in the very first quote at the top, our civilization, and our planet, function together like one large organism.

Any civilization that we build on a planetary scale must include human as well as non-human concerns, and this is at the heart of my animism. A future planetary civilization would be networked, democratic, egalitarian, multicultural, and sustainable. That is what a planetary civilization would truly look like to me.

In short, we need to “think like a planet”, and this is our bridge towards the next big author I want to discuss in tandem with this one. In a future post, I will talk about Adam Frank’s new book, The Light of the Stars.

It is my hope that it will help to pull all these assorted threads together, so that we can move towards a synthesized vision of the future.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://necsi.edu/projects/yaneer/Civilization.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_civilization

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/end-of-nations-part-1/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/end-of-nations-part-2/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/02/01/end-of-nations-part-3/


Complex Gods & Spirits

Gods are not separate disembodied ideals, but are instead the emergent agencies from the vast networks of ancient entanglements within which we are embedded…” – Mathieu Thiem, from “Interanimism”

(Image from Here)

Hello again folks!

I am working on a lot of different facets of a deeper dive into my animism right now. I apologize if it seems like I am all over the place, but I swear there will be a cohesion to all of this when I am done. My recent manuscript on animism has really got me thinking, and I want to dive deeper into all of complexity and nuance of how I understand animism. Who knows, it all may be the foundation of another book. *shifty eyes*

So, let’s jump right in it today. Some time ago, I wrote about all the various social and scientific theories I bring into my animism. Systems theory, complex systems, cybernetics, actor-network theory, and agential realism. There is a lot there if you care to (re)visit it.

But today, I want to dive a little deeper into how all that informs my animistic views of the world, and especially gods and spirits. My animism is built on relationships among persons. This can be be human persons, as well as non-human persons. My worldview is more than big enough for the beings we call spirits as well as gods.

You see, my animism is a complex one that allows me to look at ecological systems in the same way I look at civilizations and technological systems. It allows for a nuanced, systemic, and holistic view that covers ever aspect of the human and non-human beings on this planet, and off into the great Cosmos. Yes, it even allows me to contemplate those beings we might call gods.

It starts with the idea that the world is made up of complex systems. These systems make up our own bodies, with atoms in molecules, molecules in cells, cells in organs, and eventually the emergence that is ourselves. Emergence is a real foundation to my understanding of gods and spirits. The idea being that once you get enough “parts” in a network, new properties and characteristics emerge. We are more than the sum of our cells, more than our DNA, and the gods are more than just stories on a page.

They are emergent agencies that result from complex systems. Now, those systems can take a variety of forms, ecological as well as cultural. I will be exploring that all more in a moment, but for now there is a few other things I want to set up before we dive deeper.

There are complex systems around us all the time, from cities, to the human brain, and to the universe as a whole. Our cells are nested within our bodies, and we as human beings emerge from the relationships of trillions of cells. In the same way, are we the “cells” of the gods and spirits. To put this another way, we are the “components” that make up their complex systems. We are the cells in their collective agencies.

Now agency is a pretty simple concept, as it is the capacity of an actor to to act in a given environment. Atoms are agents, cells are agents, we are agents, and the gods are transpersonal agents. We are the cells in their multicellular being.

On top of this, complex systems (such as planets, cities, gods), have a form of what we might call a memory. Like an archaeologist digging into the layers of the Earth, the history of past civilizations are recorded in the memory of the planet. Layer by layer, we can see the story of what is remembered. The same is true in our own bodies, as our DNA contains layers and layers, some from our deep mammalian past, and deeper into the origin of life on this planet. If you dig even deeper, the elements in our DNA connects us to the very beginnings of the universe. That is what a complex memory looks like. Just as importantly, it gives us a sense of time. Systems can contain the history of past arrangements, a past, a present, and eventually a future.

If it is not clearly spelled out, this can happen at a variety of levels, and scales of being. That is why I think the basic concept behind orders of magnitude is a useful way to organize my thoughts on this.

Orders of Magnitude

(Order of Magnitude Image from here. It’s a huge and oblong image, please click on it.)

The image above is a big one, with a lot going on. This is a scale that considers the Order of Magnitude of the whole universe. In short, it is looking at reality from different levels of scale, grouped in powers of ten based on size. At the 1 meter scale we find a human being, in this case a small one. That is because this is the “center point” for this scale, one meter, or about 3 1/3 feet.

In orders of magnitude above and below humanity, we increase or decrease in scale. If we jump up a power of ten, we get to the 10 meter scale, which here is represented by a dinosaur. If we jump down by a power of ten, we arrive at the 10mm scale, or about the size of a human fingerprint.

This scale is useful because it allows us to consider the entire cosmos at a variety of different scales, from the quantum to the cosmic. I just finished reading a book called The Zoomable Universe, that explores everything we know through different orders of magnitude. It has been fascinating to think about this through an animistic lens, and how I understand where I stand in relation to everything else.

For example, we can consider gods on a very similar type of scale. I think of gods as emergences, arising out of complex systems of relationships. Some of these are solidly grounded in ecological (non-human) systems, and some are grounded in cultural (human) systems. It is useful to think of the ecological and the cultural as two points on a spectrum, and not as a dichotomy. Here, we can set up a whole range of god-like beings, from mountains to those like Odin, and anything in between. There is plenty of room for overlap here, or human – non-human combined systems. Gods in this way, can fall anywhere on the spectrum. More “wild” cultural gods like Skadi might fall somewhere in the middle or towards the ecological ends, where gods of civilization would be skewed more cultural. In this case, let’s use a god like Odin, who as chief of the Norse gods, is a pretty fair canidate for a “cultural” god. He embodies many aspects of Old Norse culture.

Why is this useful? Because on the whole it is all about the scale of a given system of relationship. Gods are generally considered as beings that are “greater” than ourselves, greater in scale and scope. That is where Orders of Magnitude become useful. Gods exist on “higher” scale than humanity, just like we as humans exist on a greater scale then the cells in our body. That is the principle of emergence, in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

So, if we jump up from humanity to the 10 meter scale, do we find gods here? This is the dinosaur level, and it might certainly be fair to consider dinosaurs as a type of gods. They are very dragon-esque, yes? That kind of scale comes with a certain kind of power.

At the same time, in a 10 meter space you can only fit a handful of (adult) humans. Maybe five to ten at the most, if they get cozy. Assuming around two meters of space per human, +/-. Yet, what might those ten humans do now that they have gotten cozy? Might they develop shared ideas and beliefs, common stories, and maybe even some sense of a small community? This is what a lot of pagans might consider a group spirit, which is fair to call a culture, even if a small one.

But what emerges from that tiny culture? Is the agential emergence of networked relationships of ten humans enough to make a god? Maybe, in the sense of egregores, a tiny one. The god of ten people in a complex system. A god at the scale of ten meters. Perhaps here, we can see the beginnings of what we would call apotheosis, in which a god is born. Obviously there is more complicated facets here, but let’s keep thing simple for now.

Cultural Gods & Spirits

(Social Network, from Wikipedia. Maybe our hypothetical village?)

Let’s go even bigger than that though. Let’s jump up another level, to the 1 kilometer level. How many humans can we fit in this kind of space? Well, if we figure two meters per adult human, we could probably fit up to five hundred people in this space. On the scale, this appears as the size of a meteor crater. Now, let’s assume a little bit less than five hundred people, so they have some space for things like houses and that kind of thing. So let’s halve the amount, and run with about 250 human people. A tribe shall we say?

Part of the reason I am using 250 is because this is the upper limit of Dunbar’s Number, which is the suggested cognitive limit of the number of stable relations a given human can maintain. In our little tribe, we are going to assume everyone knows everyone, and they get along reasonably well without being to factioned, and share a common set of beliefs and cultural ideas. They are, for our purposes, a fairly unified whole. Might be unrealistic, but stay with me.

Alright, so these people share a common culture; they have songs, stories, and dances. Shared works of art, and a common and language. They are also a pretty tight-knit community, and so they share meals together and sit around the fire at night weaving stories together. They also share rituals and ceremonies, and through all this they weave together the spirit of the village.

Or, shall we say a communal god at the scale of a kilometer? The god thus is the emergence of a complex series of networked relationships among the people of the village. Over time, this god changes and grows, and develops a history and set of stories associated with the people and their ancestors.

In even more time, those people continue to multiply and go on adventures to conquer new lands, or maybe even to convert people to the worship (and relational maintenance) of their god. In this way, we can scale this idea even further, to kingdoms, empires, and even nation-states. Yeah, I would suggest that things like cities as well as nations have collective spirits we might call gods.

Things like capitalism and socialism have communal god-spirits* of relationship too. The complex concepts might be considered incorporeal spirit-gods in their own right, as such ideas certainly have influence in our times.

Christianity for instance, has a billion people within it’s sphere. What kind of scale does God the Father, and Christ the son exist at in this context? It’s something certainly worth considering, and translates into a real social and cultural force. But that is well beyond the scope of this post. Let’s move on shall we?

Ecological Gods & Spirits

 

(Eco-cultural Island, my own design. Gods may be represented by the large colored circles. The small colored circles represent smaller scale beings in a network. Individual groves, water spirits, villages, that kind of thing.)

(Green = forest, Red = village, Blue = Water, Brown = Mountain. Notice the overlaps.)

As we jump up in scale, we come to the size of about 100km, or if we are following the scale about the size of a decent island. It is at this point that we have to consider all I have said in a wider animistic context. In previous sections, I talked about small groups of people, as well as a small village, but I confined myself to just human relationships.

As such, in an animistic worldview, I have left out a very important facet of the world; namely non-human persons. In the context of our small village, I have neglected the fact that these people are also in constant relationships with their environment; with the non-human and other-than-human world. They need food from the fields, timber from the forests, and waters from the river.

This expands greatly their web of relationships, and with the non-human persons of nature; plants, animals, rocks, waters, and air. These too, must be considered in an animistic context, because they are beings, spirits, and agencies in their own right. These persons, are also part of the same complex system and relational networks as the humans.

So while the god of the village is firmly planted in the cultural realm of the humans, the shaman of the village knows that other gods dwell just beyond the village as well. The shaman takes a deep trek into the woods, and here he finds the forest god. It emerges, just as the village god, from the complex networks of the forest. But this time, these are not human networks, but the complex ecosystem of fungi, bacteria, sun, air, water, trees, plants, and animals. This forest god, the shaman knows, is the god of an ecology.

Now, that may be an oversimplification on my part, but it sets up an example of the idea I have already discussed. That is, that some gods and spirits are the agencies of complex ecological systems and may well be distinct from cultural gods. Of course, there can be huge amounts of overlap. The idea of complex systems and animism more generally, is that we are connected to everything. At no point are ecological and cultural systems fully separated.

The reason I mention this is because it goes a long way towards explaining what in common parlance is often called Genius loci, or a spirit of place. Spirits are not necessarily dependent on the presence of humans to exist. They can be firmly grounded in ecosystems, whether or not humans are even in the area. Here we could further our distinction (as well as overlap) between ecological, and cultural god-spirits.

The collective, communal spirit of the tribe that lives on The Island is primarily a cultural god. It is the complex of human story telling, and human history. However, such a cultural god with also have strong overlaps with the ecology of The Island, and that too would become part of the spirit-system. Thereby we can see an enmeshed system at different scales, of human, ecological, and finally Island. At the scale of the Island, the Island spirit would thus include both the ecological as well as the cultural god-spirits at smaller scales. The whole, simply, is greater than the sum of the parts.

Global Gods & Spirits

Which means we can jump up another level, to the scale of 10,000 KM, which encompasses the scale of much of the planet. Here we are at the scale where all the ecological and cultural god-spirits start to blur together. While we can clearly see these beings at the scale of the village and even a bit at The Island, at the Planetary scale all ecological and cultural systems become part of the same whole. Which makes the Spirit of the Earth** something quite different in scale and scope.

It is fair I think to consider most pagan gods as cultural beings, and ones relatively small in scope. For example, when you consider that there are maybe a million or so pagans on the planet, and the Christian and Islamic gods alone can count a billion each towards their practice. Well, there is a noticeable difference in scale between Allah and Odin, if we consider worshippers as part of a given gods being/body/system. In this way, we are all part of the body of a god. We are all part of the complex community and system of worshippers that help to define those beings.

This is not to say that gods are “just” their worshippers, as they are greater than the sum of the parts. But just like in our own bodies, the parts matter, and contribute to the whole. That means, for say Odin, the complex mass of humans are part of that relationship. All the history, lore, UPG, SPG, and modern practices go into the “body” of Odin. The same is true of Christ and his Father.

In fact, with all the various traditions histories and (sometimes) conflicting narratives, we could ask the honest question of whether all Christs or Odins are the same, or if they are different beings with divergent systems? I mean, I have said before that I don’t think Comic Book Loki, MCU Hiddleston Loki, and Norse God Loki aren’t the same being, even if they share parts of a history and a name. Could there be a Baptist Christ, a Methodist Christ, and a Catholic Christ?

I don’t know, and that is well outside the scope of this piece. Less I get off on a tangent, I intend to stay on point. That point is, that Christ is probably bigger than Odin, as a measure of relative complexity and scale. At least when considered on human components of their being. Ecological non-human components would take a whole other essay.

But, in terms of collective complexity, the Planet exceeds them all, and indeed also contains them all within the complexity of the whole. Earth, as a god-spirit, is in this way “bigger” than all of our human gods, and bigger too than the forests, rivers, and oceans, that make it up. It is, in no small way, a whole organism.

Cosmic Gods & Spirits

But the scalability of complex systems does not end here. We can take it all the way up to the Cosmos as a whole. Such a being, made up of all cultures, all planets, all stars, and perhaps more than one universe, is similar in many ways to Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker. Such a being would be so far beyond my comprehension, I don’t even care to speculate. Perhaps a Cosmic Spirit, Great Spirit, Star Maker, might warrant the label of capital “G” God, and certainly there are those that would argue that point. Me, I don’t know.

Because after a certain level of complexity, it is beyond our cognitive capacities as individual humans to comprehend. I cannot fully understand the complex system that is my local city, much less that of the entire planet, and certainly not that of the entire cosmos. As much as I might try (and I will), I don’t have the faculties. It would take a being far greater than myself to be able to understand that kind of Cosmic Complexity. Maybe nothing short of a Cosmic spirit can understand such a thing.

I know this was a long one, and I applaud you for grinding through it. As I said at the beginning, this is part of a larger somewhat related series of posts, that is going to range from future worlds, to animism, to left-of-center politics. I’m working towards a synthesis of my animistic beliefs, and the future I would like to live in.

Thanks for reading!

Notes:

*I have used god and spirit somewhat interchangeably through this whole piece. That is because I view gods as basically “big spirits”, or spiritual beings at a higher level of complexity than humanity. Spirits, when I use the term, tends to refer to those at an approximately equal or “lower” scale of complexity. Gods are “greater”, spirits and ancestors are “equal to/less than”. It’s a matter of relative scale for me. IE, the spirit of an island I will probably call “god”. An individual oak tree, probably “spirit.”

** I personally prefer not to gender the planet, though it is often common for pagans and others to refer to the planet as “Mother Earth” “Gaia” or “Terra”. Even the name of Earth is actually a Anglo-germanic name for a goddess. I have trouble relating these concepts to the planet as a whole, because it is bigger and more complex than human genders, and includes countless species that don’t confine to these norms. Where I do use pronouns for the planet, I tend towards “they/them” because it is a complex pronoun that can speak of the planet in a singular way, a plural way, and a neutral way.

Sources/References;

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/a-cybernetic-animism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_system

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor%E2%80%93network_theory

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Barad

https://wovensong.com/2017/05/23/interanimism-on-the-mutual-inspiration-of-a-dreaming-earth/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence-part-2/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence-part-3/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agency_(philosophy)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_magnitude

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genius_loci