Personifying nature and our lovely little blue planet as “Mother Earth” is an old, old metaphor– perhaps as old as humanity itself, at least if the prehistoric existence of the Earth Mother or Mother Goddess concept is any indication.
If Rhea of the Greeks or Isis of the Egyptians seem to track the archetype into antiquity, just consider the “Venus of Willendorf” statuette, carved somewhere between 22,000 and 24,000 BC (that’s 10,000 years before the famous Lascaux, France cave paintings were created, by the way). Nude, with exaggerated breasts and hips, the image seems to be a celebration of motherhood or child-bearing traits.
And the image of the Magna Mater (Great Mother, for the Romans) remained, seemingly burned on the human psyche throughout history.
(Proof of that can be found, if nowhere else, in the extensive space early Christian leader St. Augustine devotes to condemnation of her worship in The City of God Against the Pagans.)
Maybe gilded shrines to the Earth Mother aren’t constructed with regularity in modern America, but don’t imagine Augustine eradicated the image for good: contemporary environmentalism and concern for the welfare of the planet seems to recall something of the ancient Mother Goddess…
What’s the foundation of contemporary environmentalism? It seems to me that there’s an underlying argument that Nature has rights of it (her?) own– humans are participants in, not the center of, the ecosystem, and shouldn’t sacrifice the health of the planet for industrial or other aims.
If that’s not personification of the planet, I don’t know what is.
But if we’re going to stick with the Mother Earth metaphor– and I don’t see why not, considering thousands of years of civilization rising and falling haven’t done much to shake the imagery– then why not extrapolate from it further?
If the planet Earth is a mother, then we, as her children, will necessarily continue to grow. Like any mother, she’ll provide us food, shelter clothing, all the basic necessities of life– for a while. After all, every child– if it survives long enough– becomes independent. That’s the point of parenthood, isn’t it? To raise autonomous, self-sufficient children.
Well, humans as a species are growing in that direction– what Mother Earth once gave us (food, shelter, clothing) naturally, we’re learning to develop ourselves: horticulture, genetic engineering, synthetic materials. We’re quickly becoming self-sufficient.
But that doesn’t mean we’ve yet become entirely independent: humanity is still (metaphorically) living with mom. Like a grown adult living at home could fast become a drain on his or her parents–taking from good-natured mom and dad long after it’s strictly necessary for survival– we as a species might be outstaying our welcome. It seems to be the belief held by the environmentalist movement, at least– considering our use of natural resources as parasitic.
Maybe it’s time to consider that humanity needs to move out of mom’s house.
As was pointed out to me by Dr. John Bossard (of BSRD LLC), the word “environmentalism” is a derivative of “environ”– in Old French, to turn (virer) inward (en):
Turning inward towards a mother figure is what a young child does for nourishment, for protection, for comfort. Turning outward is what we do when we’re grown, independent, moving out of the security of the house we’ve always known.
At this point in human history, when an increasing number of people seem to recognize the danger to Mother Earth, what needs to be done is not to limit the industry and technology which allows us to become more independent of reliance on depleted natural resources, but to give wider scope to what Dr. Bossard termed “exvironmentalism”: turning outward– beyond this planet and into space.
I can’t see another way to both continue to grow and develop without turning into a true parasite on our Mother Earth.
Dr. Bossard’s blog, the Plasma Wind, which focuses on propulsion, space exploration, and energy: http://plasmawind.typepad.com/plasma_wind/
For information on the “Venus of Willendorf” carving as well as women in prehistory generally: http://witcombe.sbc.edu/willendorf/willendorfdiscovery.html