Perhaps sometimes I talk about organic natural environments in excessively positive terms. This is because I feel the increasing loss of such environments has led to the development of sensory distortion which has, in turn, had such a pernicious effect on human mental health and human behavior. Human beings are built for the configuration of stimuli that occurs in these organic environments, and have not evolved as fast as the living environments they have been transforming. The increasing evolution of human surroundings into our modern technological living environments has resulted in environments that are alternately understimulating and overstimulating for the human nervous system. In addition, through the screens of digital technology, the sensory configurations are such that, in their lack of organic blendable continual stimuli, they stimulate a person to behave in a robotic way.
In fairness, grounded environments have never been pure ground and have always had partially developed figure elements that violently try to establish their boundaries apart from the ground. This includes climactic figures like thunderstorms and hurricanes, geological figures like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and wild animals. Perishability does not just always mean gradual decay. Sometimes it stings. These aggressive modalities of perishability certainly acted as strong motivators to push people to build transcendent technological living environments to protect them against the dangers they perceived.
People have been developing increasing levels of what they perceive as technological environment protection. This has given them a sense of security, a feeling that they can withstand whatever aggressive expressions of nature that may present themselves as well as the fundamental decay that is a constant natural process. However, something has begun to happen in nature that was not present previously in human history and that could significantly upset the power balance between human technology and nature. I am talking about what has been variously called global warming and climate change. There has been a significant increase in aggressive climactic events as well as accelerated evolutionary climactic changes. More aggressive hurricanes. More aggressive tornadoes. The melting of the ice caps at the North and the South Poles. The rising of sea level such that many islands and shorelines are threatened. More heat waves and droughts. In general, a warming of the planet such that ecosystems are being greatly disturbed.
So how does this fit into the philosophical model that has been unfolding through all of my articles? On a most fundamental level, it means that the partially developed climactic figures in organic environments, like the hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, etc., are breaking away more completely from their attachments to organic grounding, from their participation in more conventional weather patterns, and becoming more free-floating figures, figures that wreak unusually terrible damage on human living environments. This results not only in the damaging of technological artifacts and technological living environments that have evolved and been superimposed over nature. It also means wreaking terrible havoc on those patches of organic natural grounding that remain. In other words, nature as well as those more organic traditional human communities that remain are significantly degraded as a result of the free-floating figures of very aggressive climactic phenomena.
In addition, organic grounding itself is changed as a result of climate change. In some ways, it begins to more aggressively move towards swallowing up the figures of humans and other organisms that live within its boundaries. The rise of water levels from the warming of the ocean water and from the melting of the ice caps threatens to swallow up the homes of people who live on islands in the oceans.
Furthermore, some organic grounded environments are turned into experiential vacuums for humans. Unusually severe droughts are impeding the growth of life on a lot of farmland. And the melting of the ice cap in the Arctic Circle means the destruction of a complex ecosytem that affects the food supply of Eskimos among others. So the new environment is a vacuum for Eskimos who are used to relating to a living environment that is covered with ice and that has animals that are intimately connected with such an environment and that provide food for humans.
As climates shift all over the planet, the organic grounding is destroyed, particularly for humans in traditional cultures and for most animals and vegetation. To the extent that traditional cultures have evolved for hundreds or even thousands of years in particular ecosystems, to the extent that climate change can drastically alter a particular ecosystem, the new ecosystem becomes an experiential vacuum for a traditional people. Of course, it is also true for other animals and plants that can’t survive easily outside of a particular ecosystem. So there is a loss of organic grounding for humans, other animals and plants, even if nature is simply significantly changed and not destroyed.
Traditional humans develop beliefs and myths based on relationships they have developed with particular ecosystems. When these ecosystems are drastically changed, the beliefs and myths are no longer based on natural referent points that actually occur in physical reality for these people. In effect, when modern technology creates such significant changes in natural environments, it is like nature is expelling humans from a strong grounded intimate connection. And then humans end up floating in a climactic experiential vacuum. It is a climactic experiential vacuum filled with the tension pockets of the catastrophic climactic events like super strong hurricanes, tornadoes, and storms.
Such dramatic climate change can act by itself as a significant factor in the destruction of traditional cultures that is occurring today, and although this climate change does not destroy modern cultures that are based to a great extent on modern technology, it does nevertheless have a significant effect on the people who inhabit modern technological living environments.
If nothing else, it creates a significant setback for the belief that humans can create totally transcendent living environments through modern technology that are truly impervious to the process of perishability that is part of the organic environments over which the modern technological environments are superimposed. The exploited and repressed organic environments are, in a sense, striking back and no longer acting so much like safe nurturing grounding.
One partial solution is to find a way of preserving those aspects and patches of organic living environments that remain and recreate more aspects and patches where possible. In particular, we should start developing more ways like alternative fuels that cultivate our relationship with organic grounding rather than simply exploit it in a damaging way. We can only hope that there is still time to undo some of the damage that has been done.
© 2012 Laurence Mesirow