Tag Archives: environmentalism

Verdict? Pale Boundaries, by Scott Cleveland

7 Jul

The jury’s in:

Pale Boundaries is a great example of how a creative author and strong writing can bring realism to a literally out-of-this-world concept.  Realistic characters live in a world of realistic technology–Cleveland’s description of Terson Reilly’s hydrojet made me feel I knew its propulsion systems inside and out, and I don’t even drive a car.

In fact, I don’t know that I’m even comfortable calling the novel science fiction: the adventure, detail, and high-seas action puts me more in mind of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt than any literary spaceman.

Reading time: One week at a leisurely summer pace (though maintaining that gets hard about halfway in, when the real action starts to build)

Recommendation: For general fiction readers, not just SF fans

Available: In both paperback and ebook form– and at the $0.99 Kindle price, readers get a major return on their money

For more commentary, see:

The more things change… (review 1)

Beyond the Pale (review 2)


Beyond the Pale (review 2: Pale Boundaries)

7 Jul

The universe is full of bastards, Terson Reilly tells his probation officer.  And in Scott Cleveland’s novel, we meet a lot of them: from the vigilante Reilly to the shady poacher Neil Sorenson to the Hal Tennison, head of the Nivian mafia, Pale Boundaries gives readers a cross-section of an alien world’s underworld.

The second half of the book brings to the fore a character who’s been, until now, perhaps the one reputable, law-abiding man in the novel: Maalan “by-the-book” Bragg (and that’s actually his nickname, albeit from probatee Reilly).  When Bragg becomes a material witness in the murder of Reilly’s wife (oops, did I give that away?), his entire world comes crashing down.  Nivia, remember, is the organized, ordered, regimented and squeaky-clean planet of environmental zealotry and strict population control.  Shiny happy people, all.  But Bragg quickly discovers that the world is not such a civilized place as he imagined–something Terson Reilly’s known his entire life.  Culture is a veneer, and it’s kill-or-be-killed in the Algran Asta bush once more.  Bragg has some trouble adjusting.  Shoot, he gets ill at the thought of possibly killing a man.

Halsor Tennison has no such qualms.  And before I say anything else, let’s get this straight: as much as I’m inclined to call him a badass (okay, fine, I already do), he’s definitely public enemy number one and Pale Boundaries‘s scariest bastard, period.  Terson Reilly might break the law for the sake of survival, but it’s Hal’s way of life–and his is the friggin’ creepiest sociopathic demeanor on Nivia.  Though Hal wins the reader to his side up to the dramatic climax build in the fourth quadrant of the book–convincing me at least that his Minzoku rival Den Tun must be the epitome of scheming evil–Hal’s pretty damn quick to use a needle beam.  The best Hal Tennison, Murderer scene?

“I think that’s all I need,” Hal growled as he raised his arm and put a needle beam through the back of [censored for spoilers]’s head.  The man’s skull vented its contents though his eye sockets, spraying chum across the surface of the pool.  His body fell into the pool next to his son.  Spasms shook his body as he sucked in water, lost buoyancy, and sank.

“You shouldn’t have done that!” Tamara gasped.

“The gaijin betrayed Hal-san,” Dayuki declared approvingly.

Right, Dayuki.  The culture and history of the Minzoku unfolds elegantly through the course of the novel (about halfway through, we get an interesting explanation of the causes of humankind’s “Exodus” to the stars–something a blogger named after Frank Herbert’s diaspora is always interested it) and makes Dayuki a believable character in all her cold counsel and religious fanaticism.  In sum, Dayuki’s a pretty impressive sociopath herself, which is great: no science fiction novel can succeed without a couple seriously creepy characters.

Clever criminal or cold-blooded killer (too much alliteration there?), loyal second to seriously disturbed consort… these are some of the lines that our heroes (and bastards) cross in Scott Cleveland’s Pale Boundaries.  Beta Continent is one of the gray areas on the borderlands of Nivia’s strict black-and-white morality.  But ambiguity is nowhere greater than in the person of our protagonist himself, Terson Reilly.  He uses the titular terminology in his thoughts about the clash of cultures he represents on Nivia:

Guilt stabbed Terson under the ribs with such ferocity that he flinched.  Ultimately no matter who did the deed or the degree that Virene willingly participated, her death was Terson’s responsibility.  He was the one who led her beyond the pale of her society, made her the target of criminals… he who didn’t protect her when she needed him most.

And it’s not just Terson personally–it’s the entire set of survival assumptions he brings with him that pushes him over a cultural boundary:

Commonwealth law held that self-preservation was insufficient excuse to hazard another vessel or habitat and that doing so subjected the offender to the possibility of capital punishment.  The concept of death through voluntary inaction went beyond the pale of human instinct, but it was pounded into the head of every ship’s crew until their ears bled.

I imagine the very thought made Terson Reilly’s ears threaten hemorrhage.  This is, remember, the frontier man who was shot in the head at such a young age that his skull plates hadn’t yet fused.

I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say that the resolution doesn’t disappoint.  But be aware: any book with a title like Pale Boundaries is bound to leave some ambiguity itself.

The More Things Change… (review 1: Pale Boundaries)

6 Jul

The year 2709 sounds a long ways away.  But in Scott Cleveland’s science fiction thriller, space colonization and interplanetary crime syndicates don’t seem so alien when they’re populated by the highly realistic characters of Pale Boundaries.

Although the first couple chapters and their in-depth explanations of the social hierarchy and political landscape of planet Nivia struck me as a bit expository, the pace picked up considerably when the story turned from introductory stage-setting to a more character-driven plot.

Pale Boundaries’s hero (maybe antihero’s a better word) Terson Reilly arrives on Nivia a rough man from a rough planet—Nivia proves nothing like the dangerous bush of Algran Asta, where Reilly risked life and limb as a smuggler (four men die in the prologue, for goodness’s sake).  But while Algran Asta shaped his character and gave him heightened self-preservation instincts—he’s the consummate survivor—this foreign world he’s been exiled to turns all that upside down.  Poaching, after all, ranks somewhere between incest and murder on this hyper-environmentally-conscious planet.

Reilly as the rugged individualist dropped down into a disapproving society strikes an interesting note in the cultural climate of 2010 America.  Pale Boundaries is by no means a political manifesto (even if the law enforcement/environmental law enforcement officers on Nivia are called the EPEA), but there’s an interesting premise here: what happens when “civilization” comes head to head with basic human nature?  One of the best examples is the environment-protecting policy that drives not only Reilly but his probation officer Captain Bragg completely crazy: mandatory contraception, pregnancy-by-application, and strict population control.

The colonists of Nivia has made a prize of the most basic biological drive and began fighting for their children’s lives before they’ve even been conceived.  Terson knew, without a doubt, that somewhere in the room was a person willing to destroy a friendship, betray a spouse, and perhaps even plot murder if they believed it could get them a child.

It’s Reilly’s realism confronted by the “naïve realism” of Nivia—best represented by another strong, fleshed-out character: Terson’s wife Virene.

Though they meet at Captain Bragg’s office (Virene’s not quite squeaky clean herself), the pretty dark-haired barmaid affecting the posture of a rebel (favorite pastime: taking up four spaces in a parking lot for her sports car), Virene’s a Nivia girl at heart—just as Reilly chafes under the strictures of this highly-ordered society, Virene blushes furiously when Reilly jokingly calls her “my horny little poacher.”  Virene can’t quite adapt to her husband’s criminal tendencies, however attractive she finds the bad boy archetype.

“Their world was certain, stable and uncomplicated,” Reilly thinks, “A condition that ran completely counter to the environment of rugged self-reliance that produced Terson’s pessimistic realism.”

It’s kind of a commentary on the values of a complacent, comfortable American culture today versus that heroic image of the frontiersman who tamed the West.  When Reilly comments on the “environmentally zealotry of youth,” I can’t help picturing the Go Green! posters plastered around my University’s residence halls every move-in day.

But let’s get back to the heart of Pale Boundaries.

Cleveland crafts a number more believable characters with their own engaging storylines.  There’s Halsor Tennison, legacy boss of a powerful criminal organization on Nivia’s Beta Continent—a rougher place than Nirene’s tame Saint Anatone.  Hal’s a sharp, enterprising thirty-something whose “only regret was not accomplishing as much as his predecessors.”  For him, that means crime, counterfeiting, and general villainy.

Pale Boundaries, you might have gathered, isn’t just a ride to the future, but to the future’s underworld—the rebels, criminals, and disenfranchised.  Surprisingly, they’re all sympathetic.  (My favorite so far?  Cormack MacLeod, the Scottish space hobo whose scenes are a guaranteed laugh out loud, every time).

Hal might plot the overthrow of a rival or destroy scientific research labs via arson, but he’s a good foil for Reilly: Halsor Tennison isn’t the most patient man in the Nivia Prime sector, but he’s not about to go on a shooting spree in a fit of rage (for the record, Reilly’s rage is pretty damn justified at the part I’m thinking of).  With the uber-rational—not to mention beautiful—Lieutenant Dayuki by his side, Hal’s going to pursue his self-interest just as determinedly as Reilly, but with a lot more subtle scheming and a lot less visits to a probation officer.  His cool encounters with Dayuki are parsecs away from the passionate Reilly and Virene, but the characterization of the Beta continent criminals is no less realistic.  In fact, Dayuki might be the most fleshed-out character of them all.

Early descriptions of Nivian culture were a little heavy, true, but the complex relationship of the Family and their until-now submissive Minzoku allies.  The honor-obsessed world of Dayuki is revealed through dialogue and plot, not blocks of explanation—and it makes the Beta Continent chapters some of my absolute favorites.  The Minzoku have a history, a language, and a distinct way of life that Cleveland reveals slowly and subtlely.  But once again, it’s believable because it’s not too foreign.  A Japanese-founded colony on a new world that preserves continuity from the Pacific islands of ancient Earth is a ton more believable than the my-name-is-a-number futures of so many science fiction books.

So here I am at the halfway point, enjoying the characterization and sensing a tension build as the unrelated story threads of Reilly and Virene, Hal and Dayuki, even Cormack and a fellow baffle-rider (kind of like a train-hopping hobo… in space) slash snotty rich kid named Philip Sorenson begin to weave together.

But best of all is the fact that even as the determinism of an author’s pen draws them together, nothing feels contrived.  The cultures are realistic, and the characters are real–even in 2709.

Just goes to show–the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Review part 2 on the way.  Just as soon as I figure out why the hell Hal’s crazy ex-girlfriend Tamara just order a hit on… never mind.  On to chapter 12!

Honor your Father and Mother (Earth)

30 Dec

It’s the 11th commandment of sorts for a radical group in Minnesota calling itself the Church of Deep Ecology—deep ecology being defined as “the idea that all life has the right to exist, that no species is more important than another.”

(I guess going green isn’t good enough anymore.)

Deep Ecology is a relatively recent branch of “ecophilosophy,” emphasizing—as the St. Paul church does—the principle that the environment as a whole has the same right as any human being to live, flourish, and thrive.  This differs from the more common form of environmentalism which focuses instead on conservation of the environment for human-driven purposes (the search for sustainable energy, after all, is just an attempt to preserve natural resources for our sake—not solely the planet’s).

For this reason, deep ecologists call the more mainstream “going green” movement “anthropocentric environmentalism”: it is not, apparently, as holistic as the ecosophists’ perspective (for the curious, this widening of outlook is known as “re-earthing.”  Very New Age).  In this light, non-secular environmentalism—the Christian emphasis on “stewardship,” for example—is just as culpable for anthropocentrism, and more than a little paternalistic.  Highly disrespectful, really, to imagine that we can tell our mother what to do.

But if the matriarchal position is already occupied by this third rock from the sun, it might be said that the “father” of Deep Ecology was Baruch de Spinoza, a 17th-century philosopher, who’s been called variously: a pantheist, a panentheist, and the “God-intoxicated man.”  To simplify very very greatly, Spinoza focused on the unity of all things, both the spiritual and natural worlds—for him, they were identical.  God and Nature: one and the same.

(It was Percy Shelley who called Spinoza the “God-intoxicated man,” by the way: Spinoza’s influence suggests why the Romantic poets and later Transcendentalists—see Walden—listed so heavily to the pastoral, anti-industrial side.)

As another side note: Science fiction readers might notice this resembles Isaac Asimov’s rather disturbing Foundation series—“Gaia,” the hive mind world, encompassed all planetary consciousness, from human beings to seemingly inanimate stones and sand.  And thanks to that damn Captain Trevize, the hive mind thing’s going to spread galaxy-wide in a couple thousand years, too.  Creepy.

Most interesting to me, however, is the connection between Deep Ecology and Animism, the philosophic/religious/spiritual view that souls or spirits reside not just in humans, but other natural phenomena (animals, plants, rocks, mountains, rivers, thunder, and so on).  Or maybe it’s more like Totemism, which posits a primary source for this life-filled environment, rather than distinct spirits for each facet of the natural environment.  For the last few millennia of human history, in many parts of the world, this sort of indigenous religion has given way to organized, revelatory faiths, but deep ecology promoters seems to be bringing it back with all the power of climate change “warm-mongering” behind them.

Even so long ago as the last millennium (all right, 1994), Carl Sagan addressed in Pale Blue Dot the spread of “animist attitudes.”  He cites past and recent American surveys:

In 1954, 75% of people polled were willing to state that the sun is not alive; in 1989, only 30% would support so rash a proposition.

And the 90% of people who denied your car’s tire had emotions in 1954 are down to 73% in 1989.  (Chances are, there’s a hierarchy of envy among automobiles in America today, with hybrids occupying the foremost places on the social register.)

“We can recognize here a shortcoming—in some cases serious—in our ability to understand the world [Sagan writes].  Characteristically, willy-nilly, we seem compelled to project our own nature on to Nature.  Although this may result in a consistently distorted view of the world, it does have one great virtue– projection is the essential precondition for compassion.”

Too bad it doesn’t make sense.  Anthropomorphizing Nature—as in “Mother” Earth—is, ironically, just as anthropocentric as the less radical environmentalism it excoriates.

No matter; contradiction is, after all, the lifeblood of postmodernism.

Conquering time and space with a Facebook app

28 Dec

This might surprise some people, but Farmville and Mafia Wars aren’t the only games on Facebook these days.

This winter break, I had the good fortune to visit with John Bergmans, a long-time friend of my aunt and uncle (Dr. John Bossard of Plasma Wind, by the way–see sidebar).  Along with being an engineer and entrepreneur, owner of Bergmans Mechatronics LLC, John Bergmans is also of late a Facebook app designer, the creator of the game EarthControl. According to the Facebook fan page:

EarthControl is a real-time, multi-player Facebook game in which players fly ships into space to pick up oil and bring it back to earth. Now includes sound effects and music, keyboard control, in-game chat support for Internet Explorer 7!

Here’s a short demo:

Bergmans describes the premise as a “cynical commentary” on our seemingly never-ending dependence on oil for energy; in his animated universe, oil barrels float around outside orbit and rival factions or space pirates can shoot your ship down with “plasma balls” to steal that precious black gold payload.

It’s surprisingly addictive—after a couple hours playing against some family members in a very intense competition filled with black looks shot across the room as we sat at our own laptops and opened fire on each other online, I was ranked 9th top player overall.  I do not intend to give up that position.  Ever.

Bergmans commented that working on the game put him in his own little world, and was pretty enjoyable.  But he seemed at no time more animated (pardon the pun) than when discussing the Kaazing Communications Gateway’s WebSockets, the web communication system that allows for real-time updates to the game.

WebSockets allows the game to “push data,” update the content without constantly pinging a server to resend data (in other words, no hitting the refresh button).  Earlier this month, EarthControl even hosted a transatlantic tournament, simultaneous with Peter Lubbers’s (of Kaazing Corp.) HTML5 Communication Systems seminar all the way across the pond, in London.

This is all the more impressive considering that every command sent to the game—shooting a plasma ball at my uncle’s ship to steal his payload, for example—gets routed through Bergman’s server in San Jose (that’s a pretty long way from England).  Even two months before the tournament, the technology was performing flawlessly at long distances.  Bergmans posted this on Facebook in early October:

I played the first-ever trans-Atlantic EarthControl game today with Peter Lubbers of Kaazing Corp. (Kaazing is the company which makes the WebSockets technology that enables web browsers to maintain continuous, real-time communications with servers.)

For this event, Peter was in Amsterdam, as part of a trip to Europe, while I was in Newport Beach, CA. Of particular significance is that, although the distance between Peter and the EarthControl server in San Jose, CA is about 5500 miles, Peter reported no apparent change in his ability to control his ship in real-time within the game. I noticed no difference either in my interactions with Peter from my location 340 miles south of San Jose. We were also able to easily carry on a conversation using the new in-game chat function of EarthControl.

This real-time, multi-player aspect is what makes EarthControl most fun—particular since the game has a Twitter account that tweets whenever a new player logs on (you’ll never have to play alone, and hey, that competitor could be halfway across the world).  Let the grudge matches begin.

So if you’re on Facebook and killing time (and let’s admit, that’s what Facebook’s all about), check out EarthControl: it’s a lot better than chasing lost cows.

“Benevolent Science Fiction”

20 Jul

Abroad, for a human being in an inhuman tyrannical social system, has a particular and rather radiant sort of definition.  In her article “The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy,” Ayn Rand defines the word as conceptualized by a person in Soviet Russia:

“The meaning of the word for a Soviet citizen is incommunicable to anyone who has not lived in that country: if you project what you would feel for a combination of Atlantis, the Promised Land and the most glorious civilization on another planet, as imagined by a benevolent kind of science fiction, you will have a pale approximation.”

Abroad, as in Europe or the United States, is both a utopia (Atlantis) and the land of opportunity (the Promised Land).  But the reference I found most interesting was her connection of advanced technology or high culture not only to science fiction, but in particular a “benevolent” kind.

She’s right to imply that a kindly, optimistic science fiction is a lot less common than the darker variety.  Just a few examples: Mervyn Peake’s Titus Alone is downright disturbing, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End is about as pessimistic as you can get, and while Isaac Asimov may be less dark his Foundation series is undoubtedly creepy.  Not to mention that absolutely nothing Philip K. Dick writes is ever pleasant.

Admittedly, I don’t read much hard science fiction (I’m a Humanities major, for God’s sake)– but “soft” science fiction (which deals often with social sciences such as psychology, economics, political science, anthropology, etc.) tends toward the distinctly dystopian.  Think 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451.  Paranthetically– Ayn Rand’s Anthem is a bit sci-fi itself, and not in the least “benevolent”… but then that’s the point, isn’t it?

In any case, science fiction which doesn’t involve human beings destroying the planet, the galaxy, the universe, the species, or alien species is a bit rare these days.  “Benevolent Science Fiction” would, on the other hand, present an optimistic vision of human ability and the future: freedom, not a security state, or technology as advancing the quality of life rather than enslaving its creators.

The Green Movement today tells us that industry and technology is killing the planet; that humans are hopelessly destructive and should be quarantined to their single globe and not cause any more damage.  Environmentalism isn’t, after all, opposed to pollution or killing baby seals– it’s opposed to technology.

Doubt me?  I was horrified a couple days ago to find a trailer for the upcoming documentary “No Impact Man” on the Apple Safari homepage.  I will not put the link to the trailer up here because it feel it would pollute my blog environment, but here is the description and summary provided:

“Author Colin Beavan, in research for his new book, began the No Impact Project in November 2006. A newly self-proclaimed environmentalist who could no longer avoid pointing the finger at himself, Colin leaves behind his liberal complacency for a vow to make as little environmental impact as possible for one year. No more automated transportation, no more electricity, no more non-local food, no more material consumption… no problem. That is, until his espresso-guzzling, retail-worshipping wife Michelle and their two year-old daughter are dragged into the fray. Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein’s film provides a front row seat into the familial strains and strengthened bonds that result from Colin’s and Michelle’s struggle with this radical lifestyle change.

Welcome to the Dark Ages, friend.  (And with no electricity, that’s quite more literal than flippant on my part.)

But let’s think about this– is electricity evil simply because it makes an “impact” on the environment?  Even the earliest humans used natural resources for tools, or altered the environment with agriculture.  We can only survive by making an impact on the environment.

So if technology is evil, so is what makes it– the human mind.  This movie sounds like science fiction to me, and more specifically, the malevolent kind.

Modern culture is telling us that progress is evil, so today, on the National Space Society’s “Space Settlement Blog Day,” the idea of a benevolent view of science, technology, and the future seems both relevant and important.  Space colonization and settlement still sounds like science fiction to most people, even when we had men walking on the moon forty years ago.

And honestly– at the rate that some fields of technology are advancing, how does the accomplishment of half a century ago still stand as the summit?  Looks like technology-haters are getting what they want.

Even today, and even in the West, the idea of going abroad (this time from the planet) seems like an improbability (if not an impossibility).  It’s an idea pulled from a genre of benevolent science fiction– except, now, with technology the new bogeyman, there’s no such thing.


For more information on Exvironmentalism and how conservation and space colonization can mesh, I direct you to Dr. John Bossard’s blog, the Plasma Wind.  He has posted a copy of the keynote speech at a recent Exvironmentalist conference, where I was happily in attendance.

Homo Sapien-itis

22 Jun

Re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, I was vaguely horrified to discover the second novel, Perelandra, become a rather explicit polemic against space travel.  The vast distances between stars, planets, or galaxies in space, he wrote, are simply: “God’s quarantine regulations.”

Or in other words, humankind is a disease.

From C.S. Lewis’s viewpoint, this makes a lot of sense—a devout Christian, he believed that the Fall of Adam and Eve tainted all men and women with Original Sin.  We’ve got the mark of Cain, brothers and sisters, and we will necessarily export that propensity to sin anywhere we travel.

What I find interesting is that this argument, today, isn’t even limited to the deeply religious.  The most fervent proponents of the depravity of mankind are probably the ones we’d least expect: the environmental movement.

Keeping our rivers clean or our air pure seem like goals intended to benefit human beings (or at least in terms of human health).  “Pollution,” after all, is defined as “the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has poisonous effects.”  Poison’s bad, sure.  We don’t want children playing in the waves at the beach and going home with a rash.  But “going green” means more now than making the environment safe for humans—it’s a decidedly anti-human attitude.

Pollution isn’t what’s sinful, but production—incandescent lightbulbs, running your dishwasher at “peak hours,” carrying your groceries home in a disposable bag.  These are the little things, the little comfort that modern technology allows us, but it’s not the little things the environmental movement targets: it’s the biggest thing of all, the human mind.

We don’t have claws or fangs or fur to help us survive—only the mind.  And from the earliest days of human evolution (or the earliest days after the Fall, if you’d like), humans have had to use that mind to shape the environment if they wanted to survive.  The means of shaping the environment to human needs is technology, whether it’s the wheel or the automobile.  Technology might not be “in harmony with nature,” and it might not always be “green,” but it has improved the quality of life of billions of people over thousands of years.

But it’s not the human standard of living the environmental movement hopes to improve: it’s nature for nature’s sake.  Plants, animals, and rock formations have the right to exist without interference—but human beings don’t.  It’s not Styrofoam cups in a landfill which poisons the environment, but the very fact that people use and want Styrofoam.  Filthy rivers pollute our water sources, but billboards “pollute” the landscape.

“And just think,” a classmate told me.  “If we go out into space, we’re just going to do the same thing to some other planet.”

Human beings themselves are the pollutants.

But if “doing the same thing” means making use of the natural resources of both the planet (whatever planet) and the natural resources of human mind, and if that’s the disease, then I very much hope we’re all infected.

Too Old to Be Living with Mother (Earth)

19 May

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.

The Venus of Willendorf statuette, carved over 20,000 years ago (Upper Paleolithic era)

The Venus of Willendorf statuette, carved over 20,000 years ago (Upper Paleolithic era)

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