Human Sacrifice on the Altar of Gaia
NEW OXFORD REVIEW: http://www.newoxfordreview.org/reviews.jsp?did=0608-gardiner
By Anne Barbeau Gardiner
Anne Barbeau Gardiner, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York. She has published on Dryden, Milton, and Swift, as well as on Catholics of the 17th century.
The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back — and How We Can Still Save Humanity. By James Lovelock. Penguin Books. 222 pages. $15.95.
In the past thirty years, scientist James Lovelock, Fellow of the Royal Society in England and originator of the Gaia Theory, has published several books on Gaia. It was around 1970 that Lovelock first came up with the name “Gaia” for the Earth (he usually puts a capital E on Earth). In his latest outing, The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back — and How We Can Still Save Humanity, he assures us several times that he uses the name as a metaphor. But it turns out that for him a metaphor is not just a rhetorical device: He finds Gaia a “useful metaphor” because the present ecological crisis “requires us to know the true nature of the Earth and imagine it as the largest living thing in the solar system.” Here the metaphor Gaia turns out to be the way to know the true nature of the planet. Then Lovelock invites us to a change of “heart and mind” so that we may “instinctively sense” Gaia as a living planet. How can we instinctively sense a metaphor? Evidently, Gaia is for him far more than a trope. While he admits that the name offends the “scientifically correct,” he declares that he is “unrepentant” about using it because this metaphor is a “path to the primitive feelings of the unconscious part of our minds.” That’s the part he thinks we can use to contact Gaia.
Lovelock speaks of our planet’s evolution as the story of a female who has grown “old and has not very long to live.” In the last century, she was “enlightened” in her “seniority” when human beings let her see herself from outer space “while she was still beautiful.” The implication here is that our planet is alive and self-aware, and that she sees herself through our eyes. Lovelock remarks that when New Agers first took up his concept of Gaia and applied it to the “mythic goddess” he was surprised, but now he thinks they were “more prescient than the scientists” who objected to the name. For Gaia behaves just like those goddesses “Khali and Nemesis” in that she can be both “nurturing” and “ruthlessly cruel towards transgressors, even when they are her progeny.” Evidently, we are those transgressors, since Lovelock tells us that Gaia has turned into our “greatest enemy” and requires a “sacrifice” from us far greater than sustainable development and renewable energy — “as if these feeble offerings would be accepted by Gaia as an appropriate and affordable sacrifice.” Rather, she now requires a huge drop in our population. This comes as no surprise, for whereas in antiquity the God of Israel accepted animal sacrifices, the so-called goddess Earth required human sacrifice, often on a large scale.