Gaia Does Not Negotiate

Gaia Does Not Negotiate

A contribution to “The Situation Facing the Moderns After the Intrusion of Gaïa: A Philosophical Simulation”, the final evaluation conference of the project An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME)
Amphitheatre Caquot, Sciences Po, Paris, July 28-29, 2014
by one of Gaia’s Chargés d’Affaires invited to a diplomatic workshop.

Gaia does not negotiate; she has no need to. So anyone here presenting their credentials as a Chargé d’Affaires is either an imposer who has scammed their way into this hall or a trickster, a real representative of Gaia sent to confuse, to destabilize proceedings.

Inviting the Chargés to this diplomatic workshop presumes that Gaia’s intentions, her shape, contours, her strengths and weaknesses, can be known, can be ‘understood’. But (paraphrasing Heidegger): If Gaia exists, why would she debase herself to the level of human understanding?

So what are my credentials? Am I imposter, trickster, or deluded Chargé who still believes in the Modernist project of understanding all?

In his notes to us Bruno Latour describes Gaia as an intruder, a trespasser, a gate-crasher. Yes, she is certainly crashing the party, the party of Progress. It’s been a great party, with more and more arriving every moment.

It is true there are a few party-poopers muttering in the corner: “The music’s too loud”, “People are embarrassing themselves”, “They’ll all regret it in the morning”. There are some of those wet-blankets here today. As we have been asked, at this diplomatic workshop, to present our credentials as Chargés d’Affaires, I do so with my book Requiem for a Species, which also serves as the party-pooper’s handbook.

The Moderns are convinced it’s a party with no end. The eco-Moderns go further. “Yes, yes”, they agree, “we have entered the Anthropocene, but that is just another phase of the party, which can only get better”. They have a name for the next phase of the party, uniting two words we thought would never be put together, the “good Anthropocene”. Against this the non-Moderns, in Bruno’s words, “feel the wind, force and violence of what is coming”. They’ve had a disturbing presentiment, the one that has brought us here today.

Above all the Moderns take pride in their technology; it is the source of their power, their divinity; but also their fatal weakness. As Gaia becomes difficult and recalcitrant, as she “juts through” into their world, they know she can be pacified with technology. Geoengineering is the Modern’s answer to the Anthropocene. If the Earth’s climate system is getting out of hand, don’t worry, we can regulate it with sulphur particles in the stratosphere, managing the amount of solar radiation reaching the planet.

I wrote the book on geoengineering, Earthmasters (Les Apprentis Sorciers du Climat), and its message (could it be sent by Gaia?) is simple: “Beware”. But can the Moderns hear it? Their mistake is to believe they control technology, whereas in truth technology controls them. They have allowed this state of affairs because they are unwilling to control themselves. They will not turn down the music at the party of progress. So their technology has taken on an autonomous power. Now a titanic struggle brews. It is not, as the Moderns always imagined, Man versus Nature but Technology versus Gaia.

But what is Gaia? Bruno tells us what she is not. “Gaia is not Nature. … I am not your Mother, nor your protector. … So figure out the enigma of my presence”. We are here to solve the riddle, to think our way to Gaia, we who elevate thinking so high.

Yet to think Gaia is to miss Gaia. Thinking is what we do to prevent ourselves from understanding, because it is a barrier to experiencing Gaia. After all, thinking is what the deniers do to contain the horror, to keep themselves from the abyss of Gaia’s awesome power. Thinking is escapism. As the Taoists might say: “The Gaia that can be spoken is not the true Gaia”.

At best, peering at Gaia illuminated by the light of reason can reveal no more than Gaia’s silhouette. Her enigma is her essence. So he who says he has solved the enigma of Gaia is deluded or lying.

This conference is an exercise in diplomacy at which seven of Gaia’s Chargés d’Affaires open negotiations, set the terms for the dialogue. But the fact that we are talking diplomacy, working towards a peace deal, suggests it’s already too late. Garrett Mattingly, the great historian of European diplomacy, once wrote: “ambitious efforts to organise peace usually precede serious general wars”. The essay containing this observation was published in 1938.

So we can be sure war with Gaia is imminent because we are innocently talking peace.


Clive Hamilton

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© Copyright Clive Hamilton