The big ecological disasters of 2010 fit into the ancient cosmological model, in which the universe is made up of four basic elements: AIR, volcanic ash clouds from Iceland immobilizing airline traffic over Europe; EARTH, mudslides and earthquakes in China; FIRE, rendering Moscow almost unlivable; WATER, the tsunami in Indonesia, floods displacing millions in Pakistan.
Such recourse to traditional wisdom offers no true insight into the mysteries of our wild Mother Nature’s whims, however. It’s a consolation device, really, allowing us to avoid the question we all want to ask: Will more events of such magnitude turn up on nature’s agenda for 2011?
In our disenchanted, post-religious, ultra-technological era, catastrophes can no longer be rendered meaningful as part of a natural cycle or as an expression of divine wrath. Ecological catastrophes — which we can view continually and close-up, thanks to our 24/7 plugged-in world — become the meaningless intrusions of a blind, destructive rage. It’s as if we are witnessing the end of nature.
Today we look to scientific experts to know all. But they do not, and therein lies the problem. Science has transformed itself into specialized knowledge, offering an inconsistent array of conflicting explanations called “expert opinions.” But if we blame the scientific-technological civilization for many of our difficulties, we cannot do without that same science to fix the damage — only scientists, after all, can “see” the ozone hole. Or, as a line from Wagner’s “Parsifal” puts it, “The wound can only be healed by the spear that made it.” There is no way back to pre-scientific holistic wisdom, to the world of Earth, Wind, Air and Fire.
[Extract. Appeared in The New York Times, on December 2nd, 2010. (full text).]