Saturday, June 18, 2011

Water, Upon Which All Depends

Whilst researching material for two different-but-connected online projects I'm currently immersed in, I visited - not for the first time - the site of a remarkable online manuscript titled The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein.  
Here are a few excerpts from Chapter VII: The Age of Reunion: The Age of Water 
"The unsustainability of our present system derives at bottom from its linearity, its assumption of an infinite reservoir of inputs and limitless capacity for waste. A fitting metaphor for such a system is fire, which involves a one-way conversion of matter from one form to another, liberating energy—heat and light—in the process. Just as our economy is burning through all forms of stored cultural and natural wealth to liberate energy in the form of money, so also does our industry burn up stored fossil fuels to liberate the energy that powers our technology. Both generate heat for a while, but also increasing amounts of cold, dead, toxic ash, gunk, and pollution, whether the ash-heap of wasted human lives or the strip-mine pits and toxic waste dumps of industry."

". . . Underlying the future technological economy will be principles of interdependence, cyclicity, abundance, and the gift mentality. Can you think of a better simile for all four of these principles, than that they are like water? Water, upon which all depends. Water, which moves in cycles. Water, abundant to ubiquity. Water, bringing the gift of life.
Our dependence on water—the fact that we are made mostly of water—denies the primary conceit of civilization, that we are separate from nature or even nature's master. No more nature's master are we, than we are the master of water!
Yet for centuries we have tried to persuade ourselves otherwise. In science our pretense of mastery manifests most fundamentally in the supposition that water is a structureless jumble of identical molecules, a generic medium, any two drops the same. To a standard substance we can apply universal equations. That each part of the universe is unique is profoundly troubling to any science based on the general application of standard techniques. The same is true of technology. Only a universe constructed of generic building blocks is amenable to control. Just as the architectural engineer assumes that two steel beams of identical composition will have identical properties, so does the chemist believe the same of two samples of pure H2O.
That any two samples of H2O, or graphite, or ethanol, or any other pure chemical are identical is a dogma with enormous ramifications. It implies that the complexity and uniqueness of objects of our senses is an illusion, that they are mere permutations of the same standard building blocks. Such a view naturally corresponds to the objectification of the world, which makes of it a collection of things, masses.
The opposite view sees every piece of the universe as unique. No two drops of water, no two rocks, no two electrons are identical, but each has a unique individuality. This is essentially the view of animism, which assigned to each animate and inanimate object a spirit. To a Stone Age person, the idea that water from any source had a unique character or spirit would have seemed obvious. Modern chemistry denies it and says any apparent differences are merely due to impurities—the underlying water is the same. Animism says no—to have a spirit is to be unique, irreducibly and intrinsically unique. To have a spirit is to be special. . . "
Eisenstein continues. . . 
". . . A primitive hunter-gatherer would not find it difficult to believe that all water had a unique personality, that river water, lake water, rain water, spring water, and water taken from the ground would have differing effects on the body and emotions, and perhaps distinct ceremonial uses as well. I imagine some languages don't even use the same word for these different types of water. Similarly, a hunter-gatherer would find it easy to believe that beloved water would have different properties from despised water. That we believe all water to be a uniform, lifeless "substance" that can be made identical by removing its impurities is a reflection of our ideology of objectivity and mechanism. We once knew better, before we made of the world a thing, before we reduced the infinity of reality to a finitude of generic labels (like "water"). A future technology of water will recover this knowledge, and we will no longer treat water as anything less than sacred. . ."

Continue reading from - and about - this book here

In his introduction, Charles Eisenstein writes"I have put the entire text on line because I believe it is important for these ideas to circulate as widely as possible in the present time of crisis. In the book, I write of a coming shift from a profit-taking economy to a gift economy, from an economy of "how can I take the most?" to "how can I best give of my gifts?" This future, in which the anxiety of "making a living" no longer drives us, will arise out of the transformation in the human sense of self that is gathering today. But it is NOT ONLY A FUTURE. We can live it now too. It is in this spirit that I offer you The Ascent of Humanity on line. (You can also purchase the book from Amazon.)

Replenished - pastel on paper - CB

May we each day wake undaunted by the endless possibilities of colour. . . 


  1. I'm not familiar with his work, but while agree with much of what he says, there is a disconnect for me when he appears to propose something that is utopian for the human species.

    Ideal, yes, are we driving ourselves into mass extinction if we continue, yes, but when is everyone going to understand that we are part not apart from this ecosystem?

    I've been avoiding writing those posts....sigh.

  2. Claire- The Ascent of Humanity is intriguing. I looked at the website for a bit, and I'm going to go back to it. It's always a happy surprise to find someone with fresh, original thought and perspective. Someone who may have answers as to how we are to sustain ourselves in this slippery slope of a world.
    Your painting exudes that kind of hope. Beautiful. :)

  3. thanks for posting this, Claire - i couldn't agree more, and it's so beautifully put.

  4. Your pastel painting is breath-takingly beautiful Claire. Thanks for this fascinating post. We have become very aware of the preciousness of water here in our little town of Port Alfred on the Eastern Cape coast of South Africa. The water that comes out of the ground is brackish and so many of us have opted to be totally reliant on rain water.

  5. thanks, claire...i gave this a quick read, but was blessedly outside all weekend....some of it in/on the water, so will revisit when i have a spare moment to follow and absorb the links. your artwork, as always, is quietly breath-taking.

  6. Such fine work, Claire!

    I'm afraid it will take a world-wide catastrophe before there is change for the better. Of the two probable disasters scientists predict in the near future, I hope it will be a world-wide famine rather than a nuclear event.

    Yours for CO2 reduction . . .

  7. Good, very good!
    Vigorously nodding my head in agreement with Mim. :)

  8. Hi Ant. - I've been soooo sloooow getting back here, sorry. . . I hear - and share - your reservations (is that an okay word to use?) about Eisenstein's proposal for 'something utopian for the human species'. . . perhaps this would read differently in the wider context of his manuscript, however? Conflict and a certain amount of tension can = creative, productive stress. Like any energetic force, it's how it is approached/applied that determines its usefulness to us and our world?

    Have you read any of Lyn Margulis' books? One of my favourites is the volume she wrote with her son, Dorion Sagan (yes, son of Carl), titled 'What is Life?' Here's a quote I think speaks into your comment re; us being part of - not apart from - our earth's ecosystem. . .

    "Our destiny is joined to that of other species. When our lives touch those of different kingdoms – flowering and fruiting plants, recycling and sometimes hallucinogenic fungi, livestock and pet animals, healthful and weather-changing microbes – we most feel what it means to be alive. Survival seems always to require more networking, more interaction with members of other species, which integrates us further into global physiology…”

    I find these post really tricky, too - feel so often like a Bumble-y Bee. . . '

  9. Hi Jayne - your writing took me down to the water's edge this morning; thank you! The Ascent on Humanity is, I think, a remarkable document - content-wise as well as in its 'gift ethos'. In the midst of much of the current jolts and sharp-edged weirdness, Eisenstein offers a sturdy thread of optimism. There's courage in his writing, and heart, each of which is surely helpful to us as individuals and to us as global community looking for a way forward? I have many chapters still to go with it, but am savouring the hopefulness in these texts, the writer's frank love for humanity and our planet. Thank you for finding hope in my painting, too, Jayne. L, C

  10. Hi Kathleen - one of the blessings of being part of a community like this is that we introduce each other to new writers, thinkers, material, etc. . . I greatly appreciated being introduced to Eisenstein's writing a short while ago. It's exciting to be put in contact with people who are articulating things on behalf of us all. ; ).

  11. Dear Jane - here you are again, all the way from the SA coast. Seamus Heaney wrote
    'The sea is the land's edge also. . . ' emphasizing the connection between us all, a notion I find both comforting and sobering. Comforting because of the life-engendering/life-affirming potential this offers; sobering because it reminds us that the realities of Fukushima and Bluewater Horizon belong to all of us. Water is our great connector and most precious element. Lovely to think of you being able rely on rain water. . . long may it fall clean and clear. L, C

  12. Dear Susan - you were blessedly outside all weekend. . . something to celebrate! That was last weekend, wasn't it? I am so behind on so many things at the moment, computer-based especially. Life's been pressing in. I'd like to spend today outside, too -there's a watery sun, the harbour's like glass. . . Lush, high summer days to you. xx

  13. Dear Mim - seeing you write of CO2 here, reminded me of something a friend mentioned a day or two ago. . .
    she's taken to spelling HOPE as H2OPE, as if hope and water are synonymous. I think she's right. It all seems to begin and end with healthy water.

    A nuclear disaster or world-wide famine? There are already signs both are likely. We have to believe these processes are remediable, if not reversible. When we engage in these potentials constructively and pro-actively, perhaps the chance of miracles goes up exponentially? Let's H2OPE so. x

  14. Greetings, Tame Lion. 'Tis good to see you here. Thanks for coming. Your good-humoured blog made me smile. ; )