Opinion

Can the Glasgow climate change summit save the world?

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“Confraternity of the living sun, make the embers of financial and industrial internationalism pale upon the hearth of the earth.

“We are unnaturally resisting our connection with the cosmos.”

     —DH Lawrence

The captains of the corporate elite are meeting in Glasgow. David Herbert Lawrence would have understood the international cabal holding the world for ransom about a century ago. He called his small, exquisite esoteric tract “APOCALYPSE.” In 1931. It feels not so much a commentary on Revelations as an inside look at a writer’s deep concerns with his civilization like nothing the Western civilization has ever produced. His father Arthur worked in the coal mines, the operative word being coal, because the rest of his very short life, David excoriated those parts of his culture that demeaned, reduced and undermined humans to mere pawns in the industrial juggernaut. Never has his message been more relevant and revelatory of humanity’s immense shortcomings than today.

His birthday was September 11th which if he had experienced it in 2001 would have substantiated his concerns for a humanity terribly out of sorts with itself. His was a prophetic voice perhaps more relevant to where we stand as a species than almost any other writer. He considered himself a pagan, a pantheist and it is from that perspective that we could garner the best understanding of a ‘pariah’ whose self imposed exile from the depredations of “Christian civilization” would serve us well today. His was the vision of a prophet.

His eyes and his soul opened up in New Mexico more than anywhere else. Lawrence could have learned as much from the Aboriginals in Australia but his journeys and his book “Kangaroo” (1923) never plumbed the enormous depths of a 60,000-year old consciousness. Too bad for him. Too bad for us. The indigenous presence made a huge impression on Lawrence when he was in Taos. “The cosmos became anathema to the Christians, though the early Catholic Church restored it somewhat after the crash of the Dark Ages,” he wrote. “Then again the cosmos became anathema to the Protestants after the Reformation. They substituted the non-vital universe of forces and mechanistic order, everything else became abstraction, and the long slow death of the human being set in. The slow death produced science and machinery, but both are death products.”

And there you have it. Almost everything David wrote came out of his testimony of the dehumanization of humanity. One can only wonder what he would say today. “Have we anything as good as the Egyptians of two or three thousand years before Christ as a people?” he wrote. “Culture and civilization are tested by vital consciousness. Are we more vitally conscious than an Egyptian 3000 years BC was? Are we? Probably we are less. Our conscious range is wide, but shallow as a sheet of paper. We have no depth to our consciousness.”

And there you have it. The passing of our civilization, its downward spiral stems from the lack of a vital cosmos behind it. “Civilization? It is revealed rather in sensitive life than in inventions,” he wrote. “From the point of view of sensitiveness we are no better than the Goths, The Druids, Hindus or the ancient Chinese. We have lost almost entirely the great and intricately developed sensual awareness, and sense-knowledge of the ancients. It was a great depth of knowledge arrived at direct, by instinct and intuition, as we say, not by reason. It was a knowledge based not on words but on images. The abstraction was not into generalizations or into qualities, but into symbols. And the connection was not logical but emotional. Men are far more fools today. For stripping themselves of their emotional and imaginative reactions and feeling nothing. The price we pay is boredom and deadness.” 

Now during cop26, we must decide whether we feel we even deserve to endure? What qualities, what great gift do we bring to the world, the other species of Earth? Do we honor the Earth more than our forebears? We have brought the biosphere to its knees. Almost. Now we will find out exactly how sophisticated and refined we really are, or if instead of the solar deity and the cosmos we only honor the dollar. What has our civilization done to the Earth? Will the bureaucrats at Glasgow finally come to their senses? Will we finally give in, not just rationally, to what we must do to avoid extinction, but emotionally?

Lawrence at the end of his exegesis, his last summation, before he lost his battle with tuberculosis wrote “What man most passionately wants is his living wholeness and his living unison, not his own isolate salvation of his ‘soul.’” Will the ‘leaders’ be capable of this vision at Glasgow? If they do not have this passionate need to transcend the obscure, dark, mechanistic and mercenary sickness that grips our world with the talons of the fossil fuel dinosaur will to power that consumes us, then we don’t make it to 2030.

“What we want is to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and the earth, with mankind and nations and family. Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen.” Lawrence wrote. Let’s hope that in that process we don’t destroy what we have left of the Earth. We say we want to cut down on fossil fuels and China and Russia don’t show up at the table. We say we want to decarbonize and we invest in ocean gouging equipment to drill for minerals at the bottom of the seas. We are profoundly schizophrenic as a species and DH Lawrence saw through the human veneer four generations ago.

Would that the ‘leaders’ at Glasgow finally become leaders, people with vision and not little people with tight picayune schedules making empty promises to the suffering hordes. The French Revolution showed us that doesn’t work. Now we need a Global Magna Carta for the survival of the world. Do it, not to prove your managerial skills, and presidential prowess and diplomatic distinctions. Do it because a revolution in the engine of technological civilization will not be enough if we do not change our behavior and our instinctual relationship to life which has been betrayed in favor of the banking system. DH knew better than most that while we were constructing a new society outwards, we had neglected something very essential within. Whether the “leaders” in Glasgow will be able to summon the necessary vision is very doubtful because there has been no signal that the top brass care enough about anything but the bottom line. It’s what Greta Thunberg calls the blah, blah, blah. It is beyond tragic. Our civilization is hollow and is fast becoming a planetary high tech slum. The enormous vacuity of empty promises …degeneracy and decadence will not foot the bill. Not anymore. The third planet from the sun is crying. 

Is Glasgow just fashion and platitudes? It could become what DH Lawrence feared so long ago. “The long evasion, whose only fruit is the machine.” And money. That’s what we sold out the planet for? Forests cut down, oceans lost, species eradicated. The future of childhood. For money? Is that truly the foundation of our civilization? Lawrence had prophesied the loss of humanity’s soul a century ago. We shall soon see if we can retrieve some of it. 

“Money is our madness, our vast collective madness.”

     —DH Lawrence  

“Behind this machine comes a century of maniacs and a heat which looks to consume the Earth.”                                 

      —”An American Dream,” Norman Mailer 

Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson’s work at their website.

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