EarthDance: Living Systems in Evolution by Elizabet Sahtouris
Review and commentary by Laurie Chisholm
Lessons from a Virus - Deep Connections
The relatively recent protest group “Extinction Rebellion” published a cartoon in a recent newsletter, depicting two white coated scientists observing a bump in the graph marking the rise and decline of coronavirus in the human population, while behind them, an enormous threatening wave in the graph is about to break over the whole scenario. It is labelled “climate change.”
Can this virus teach us that our lives are so intertwined that the idea of viewing ourselves as islands – whether as individuals, communities, nations, or a uniquely privileged species – should be understood as evidence of false consciousness? In truth, we were always bound together, part of a miraculous web of life on our planet and, beyond it, stardust in an unfathomably large and complex universe.
I’ve been re-reading a book that makes this connection very clear: “Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution” by the evolutionary biologist, Elizabet Sahtouris.
Her work builds on that of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, repudiating the Enlightenment view of an inanimate clockwork universe, in which life is created and evolves:
“Our planet never was a ready-made home, or habitat, in which living creatures developed and to which they adapted themselves. For not only does rock re-arrange itself into living creatures and back, but living creatures also re-arrange rock into habitats – into places comfortable enough for them to live in and multiply.” (location 864).
In being stripped of what we need most by the threat of contagion, we are reminded of how much we have taken our connection and community for granted, abused it, and over-exploited it. Hence the gathering tidal wave we have generated: global warming. Under its threat, even the coronavirus pales into insignificance. Yet most of the world’s idiot political and business leaders can hardly wait to get back to their global warming ways.
When death stalks us it is not bankers we turn to, or corporate executives, or hedge fund managers. Nonetheless, those are the people our societies have best rewarded. They are the people who, if salaries are a measure of value, are the most prized.
But they are not the people we need, as individuals, as societies, as nations. Rather, it will be scientists, doctors, nurses, public health workers, care-givers, social workers and check-out staff who will be battling to save lives, and serve essential needs, often risking their own.
During this health crisis we may indeed notice who and what is most important. But will we remember their sacrifice, their value, after the virus is no longer headline news? Or will we go back to business as usual as the wealthy want to – until the next crisis – rewarding the billionaire owners of huge corporates, fossil fuel companies, and the financial-services parasites feeding off other people’s money?
In short, Western capitalist societies are far from the most efficient ways of organising ourselves, as Naomi Klein made clear in her book “This changes Everything: Capitalism and the climate.” It is becoming even clearer as the coronavirus crisis evolves. We are still very much immersed in the ideological universe of Thatcherism and Reaganism, when we were told quite literally: “There is no such thing as society.” How will that political mantra stand the test of the coming weeks and months? Although somewhat softened here and there by the likes of the Helen Clark government, it still remains the basic style of our political and business world. We call it “neo-liberalism” although it is neither new nor liberal.
There is nothing unique about the coronavirus crisis. It is simply a foretaste of the longer term crisis we have wrought upon our world. As Britain sinks under floods each winter, as Australia burns each summer, as the southern states of the US are wrecked by hurricanes and its great plains become dustbowls, as atolls and coastal towns sink beneath the waves, as the climate emergency becomes ever more tangible, we will learn this truth slowly and painfully.
The naive may think the 2008 bank bailout was a one-off. But the failings of capitalism are inherent and structural, as the virus is already demonstrating, and the climate emergency will drive home with alarming ferocity in the coming years.
The shut-down of borders means the airlines are becoming insolvent. They didn’t save, they weren’t prudent. They are in a cut-throat world where they need to compete with rivals, to drive them out of business and make as much money as they can for shareholders. (Our government is one).
Now there is nowhere for the airlines to fly to – and they will have no means to make money for months. Like the banks, they are too big to fail – and like the banks they are demanding public money be spent to tide them over until they can once again rapaciously make profits for their shareholders. There will be many other corporations queuing up behind the airlines.
Sooner or later the public will be strong-armed once again to bail out these profit-driven corporations whose only efficiency is the central part they play in fuelling global warming and eradicating life on the planet. The airlines will be resuscitated until the inevitable next crisis arrives.
But it is not just that capitalism is economically self-destructive; it is morally vacant too. For example, in Britain, the National Health Service – once the envy of the world – is in terminal decline after decades of privatising and outsourcing its services. Now the same Conservative party that began the cannibalising of the NHS is pleading with businesses such as car makers to address a severe shortage of ventilators, needed to assist coronavirus patients. Survival rates will depend not on the common good, on our rallying to help those in need, on planning for the best outcome, but on the vagaries of the market.
Coronavirus has an important, urgent lesson to teach us. The one-dimensional capitalist consumerist culture that has evolved in a market driven world has brought blessings to many, but now threatens curses upon all. During the lock-down, we have had time and space to think about that other world: the world of spirituality, of compassion, of a broader sustaining mythology than the market. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?