Sacred Activism Essay...
Discuss how story has informed the narrative of activism. With references to examples, indicate how story could inform our understanding of sacred activism.
In this essay I will firstly discuss humanist stories that the modern paradigm currently follows, including dominant environmentalist stories. Secondly I will review stories conceived by sacred activists, including The Universe Story, Ecological Ethics, and Gaia Theory. Thirdly I will consider the post-humanist views of Bayo Akomolafe and Karen Barad, who question whether too much emphasis is put on human language and whether human story can ever be at the centre of saving the world.
I will conclude that dominant modern and environmentalist stories, and even some sacred activists’ stories are perhaps limited through placing humanity at the centre of the story. Through the very act of telling stories, humanity puts its own agency at the centre. Therefore, there can be no perfect story for sacred activists, because this is not the end of the current paradigm, the dominant stories. Instead this may be the middle ground, between stories (Eisenstein 2013), and by grappling for one that satisfactorily informs our understanding of sacred activism, we meet paradoxes and contradictions.
Dominant Stories: Western and Environmentalist
Of the many definitions of ‘story’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, most appropriate for this discussion is: ‘A particular person's representation of the facts of a matter’ (OED website). Therefore a story is by definition subjective. I consider a story to be any attempt by humanity to make sense of the world, and to express it through language: oral or written. I incorporate into this definition: cosmologies, histories, sciences, religions, and ethics, using these words synonymously with ‘story’.
For over four centuries the dominant story has seen the world divided in two: the world of nature, and the world of culture. This dualism, may have started when Renes Descartes wrote ‘I think, therefore I am’, in a single stroke dividing mind from body, culture from nature, and creating many other binaries. This has shaped the knowledge, politics and ethics in the West, with ‘often debilitating consequences’ (Jones 2009: 294).
Alan Watts (1973-2015) recognises two dominant, western images of the world today. One he names the ‘Ceramic image’ (Watts: YouTube): that of God as technician, potter and architect with a plan, who made Adam out of dust. God is the governor who made humans as masters of the Earth. The second image is the ‘Fully Automatic model’ (Watts: YouTube), which western science also follows. This model is still based on the Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of the world of laws: they got rid of the law-maker (God) but kept the law. The universe became a machine, a clock-work mechanism.
One dominant environmentalist story considers that humans are the masters or stewards of Earth, above nature but working for it, essentially as God. Environmentalists may worry that as the disrespect of nature got the Earth into this mess in the first place, if humanity sees itself as intrinsically part of nature, they will not take on the responsibility of taking care of it. O. Jones (2009) disagrees that humanity is master or steward, thinking it is necessary to find ‘better ways of imagining nature and humanity’s relation to it’ (Jones 2009: 306). However, Jones may be moving within the current paradigm of dualism by implying that humanity can think its way out of the problem, and that by changing the constitution (Jones 2009: 296), the new story becomes reality.
Sacred Activist Stories: The Universe Story, Ecological Ethics, and Gaia Theory
These dominant stories are what Charles Eisenstein (2013) would call the Story of Separation. He advocates for the Story of Interbeing, or the ecological age. Humanity may be currently in the space of moving between these two stories, which Eisenstein calls sacred time. The new story says that we are inseparable from the universe, and all beings are intrinsically part of every other being. A human does not exist as a separate entity inside one’s own skin, but as part of the continuing process of the universal big-bang.
Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry (1997) created what they hope will be a new cosmology: The Universe Story. They concede the need for a new history (which is currently based solely on humans) and a new science (which currently ignores the human dimension of the universe, basing research solely on the physical). The time has gone for a ‘human story apart from the life story, or the Earth story, or the universe story’ (Swimme and Berry 1997: 2). They do not condemn science, but incorporate it into a fuller, richer knowledge of the universe. Perhaps ‘this story is the only way of providing, in our times, what the mythic stories of the universe provided for tribal peoples and for the earlier classical civilizations in their times’ (Swimme and Berry 1997: 3).
This new time is named the Ecozoic era. Swimme and Berry describe the ‘extended human role’, arguing that because humanity got the world into this mess, they must be the ones to change it, through changing ‘not only our sense of reality and value but also in the language whereby we give expression to these concerns’ (Swimme and Berry 1997: 4). ‘In the future the entire complex of life systems of the planet will be influenced by the human in a comprehensive manner’ (Swimme and Berry 1997: 4), and every phase of the Ecozoic era will involve the human.
This suggests placing human agency firmly in the centre of saving the world, which may come with many limitations. Swimme and Berry imply that for the Ecozoic period to be fully in progress, we need a human consensus in which the entire planet is considered a commons. They advocate for an ‘Earth-centred language’ (Swimme and Berry 1997: 258), extending our dictionary to incorporate new Earth-centred meaning into words such as society, good and evil, freedom and justice, and progress. However these words, and the words ‘consensus’ and ‘commons’, may be solely human concepts, not found anywhere outside the human race, and not necessarily universal to all human languages and paradigms. Therefore these human-centred ideas could be seen as similar to the current dominant paradigm they try to avoid.
Patrick Curry (2011) begins his Ecological Ethics story with the world at the centre, and humanity as part of the world. New metaphysical philosophy is centred on nature, of which it is impossible to be outside. Ethics help to decide which way is best to live or act, but are not separate from the rest of life. Human societies already have ethics, they are just not currently all ecocentric (centred on ecology), and many are anthropocentric (centred on humans).
The idea to create a new ethic is not new: Richard Routley suggested it in 1973. It could be argued that ecological ethics are ancient: many previous civilisations and modern indigenous peoples worldwide follow this way of thinking. These ethics need to be awakened to humanity as a whole. Curry does not hold the view that an ecocentric ethic is the only answer, but only that ethics without ecocentricity at the heart will not produce any lasting change. This indicates still holding human thought and agency at the centre, through choosing an ethic, even if humans do not consider themselves as central to the ethic.
Stephan Harding’s (2009) Animate Earth considers James Lovelocks’ (1960s) Gaia Theory, which tells the story of the world as a singular organism. Humanity has the freedom of choice, but has also awareness that Gaia is way beyond human control. It seems impossible to become masters or stewards of the Earth, as Swimme and Berry suggest. Contrary to their notion of a planetary ‘consensus’, Harding quotes Arne Naess (1912-2009), father of deep ecology, who says ‘each person must work out their own ecosophy based on their own deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment’ (Naess in Harding 2009: 269).
Far from a Universe Story, this is an Earth story that acknowledges that the real change must be an inner one, and actions come from a deep feeling of belonging to the community of organisms on the planet. Harding suggests ‘Right action requires us to live into the body of the Earth, so that we feel just as comfortable with the air, water, rocks and living beings that are the life of that wider body as we do in our human-made environments’ (Harding 2009: 274). This shifts the focus from human affairs to the wider perspective, an Earth-centred view ‘in which every breath we take and every decision we make is a pledge of service and allegiance to Gaia’ (Harding 2009: 274).
To me, this follows Harvey’s definition of Sacred Activism wonderfully. Far from Swimme and Berry’s human-wide consensus, instead ‘the summoned effect of billions of right actions by people across the planet… may eventually lead us into a genuinely fruitful relationship with Gaia, our animate Earth’ (Harding 2009: 274). Through deep feeling, intuition, and sensing, the story does not need to be written or spoken, because humanity is free ‘to forge a connection so deep that we no longer need to think of it’ (Harding 2009: 274). However, this still perhaps rings of humanity saving the world through human experience and ‘right action’.
Post-humanist Alternatives to Human Agency, Language and Story.
Moving through Swimme and Berry, to Curry, to Harding, we are potentially moving closer to a true post-humanist perspective, but to some extent they still put humanity at the centre by relying on human agency. Akomolafe (2015) considers that when one acts, it is not the human alone that acts, but the different choices of many agential beings: ‘The wave does not crash ashore, the ocean does’ (Akomolafe 2015). Akomolafe (2017) even questions whether the Earth needs to be saved by humans, or whether in fact it is the Earth that wants to save humanity. Humans are not necessarily the protagonists and heroes in the Earth’s story.
Barad says ‘We gave language too much power’ (Akomolafe 2017: 62). David Abram might agree with this, as he says that only ‘with the advent of phonetic writing did the rest of nature begin to lose its voice’ (Abram 1996: 138). He describes language as a code, a representation of the perceived world, and therefore separate from it. If language is what humanity must use to create story, then the story will always have limitations and be at some level separate from the ‘real’ world. Many activists believe that changing the story will change the world (Eisenstein 2013), but Akomolafe doubts whether all that matters is human language and stories. To Barad, ‘conceptions of materiality, social practice, nature, and discourse must change’ (Barad 2007: 25). Barad’s book Meeting the Universe Half Way aims to contribute to ‘the founding of a new ontology, epistemology, and ethics’ (Barad 2007: 25).
Barad proposes ‘agential realism’ as the framework for understanding the role of the human in rethinking binary concepts, including ‘notions of matter, discourse, causality, agency, power, identity, embodiment, objectivity, space, and time’ (Barad 2007: 26). Physicist Niels Bohr (1936) understood that we are part of the nature we seek to understand, but Barad sees him as humanist: he still places humanity at the centre of the story. Barad’s ‘post-humanist’ theories recognise ‘that nonhumans play an important role in naturalcultural practices’ (Barad 2007: 32), and acknowledge the inherent dichotomy of the notions of ‘human’ and ‘non-human’. Intra-action is the key element here: ‘distinct agencies do not precede, but rather emerge through, their intra-action’ (Barad 2007: 33).
This relates to story because Barad implies that humans do not create truth: at least not on their own. However, humans may ‘participate in bringing forth the world in its specificity, including ourselves’ (Barad 2007: 353), by Meeting the Universe Halfway: ‘All real living is meeting. And each meeting matters’ (Barad 2007: 353). Therefore only through intra-action can humanity use its ability to breathe life into new possibilities of living justly. In a sense Barad aims to create a new story, through the use of science, but not one based on human language or agency. Many indigenous peoples understand that stories are ‘given’ to them by the world: they do not necessarily come from the human mind. Akomolafe suggests: ‘life transcends story’ (Akomolafe 2017: 279), and humanity’s way of telling story ‘divest[s] the material world of its ‘’telling-ness’’’ (Akomolafe 2017: 279).
Barad’s example of brittlestars is an incredible leap forward for this notion. The brittlestar five-limbed starfish is capable of a myriad of seemingly inexplicable feats, including casting off limbs to distract predators, and changing its sexual performances and genders according to the situation, all without a brain or eyes. Barad proposes that ‘Bodies are not situated in the world; they are part of the world’ (Barad 2007: 376), and that nothing can be objective because nothing simply occupies a particular position in space and time. To quote Barad at length:
‘Brittlestars literally enact my agential realist ontoepistemological point about the entangled practices of knowing and being. They challenge our Cartesian habits of mind, breaking down the usual visual metaphors for knowing along with its optics of mediated sight. Knowledge making is not a mediated activity, despite the common refrain to the contrary. Knowing is a direct material engagement, a practice of intra-acting with the world as part of the world in its dynamic material configuring, its ongoing articulation. The entangled practices of knowing and being are material practices. The world is not merely an idea that exists in the human mind’ (Barad 2007: 379).
If ‘"I think, therefore I am" is not the brittlestar's credo’ (Barad 2007: 379), then perhaps it is not for humans either. Barad says ‘As inheritors of the Cartesian legacy, we would rather put our faith in representations instead of matter, believing that we have a kind of direct access to the content of our representations that we lack toward that which is represented’ (Barad 2007: 379). Therefore every representation, or story, is heavily laden with metaphor; assumes that the story-tellers see all from their individual vantage points; and that story-tellers have no physical relationship to that which they ‘story’.
If an ethical story is necessary, then incorporating an embodied view of the world may be advisable, as described by Ewa Plonowska Ziarek: the ‘ethical significance of the body is crystallized in the figure of touch and sensibility, in the quite simple attempt to touch the other, to feel the other' (Ziarek in Barad 2007: 391). Being in one’s skin means that no one can escape the responsibility of an ethic, simply because of the entanglement of all: ‘Before all reciprocity in the face of the other, I am responsible’ (Barad 2007: 392). Barad advocates for a post-humanist ethics: ‘an ethics of worlding’ (Barad 2007: 392).
This ‘ethics of worlding’ in which bodies are physically entangled may be very similar to Naess’ ecosophy of deep ecology, except that the former is even more embodied than the latter. The sacred activist theories of The Universe Story, Ecological Ethics, and Gaia Theory, suggest that the human still has prime agency to some extent, be it through moving within current paradigms (as with Swimme and Berry’s need for common consensus), through thought (as with Ecological Ethics), or through action (as in the human experience of deep ecology). Barad goes one step further: the human almost disappears as a singular entity from the story altogether.
Barad indicates that every human story will be told from an individualistic or human-communal vantage-point. Through the very act of telling a story, it becomes human-centred: ‘The world is not merely an idea that exists in the human mind’ (Barad 2007: 379). Building on environmentalist theories, Barad’s post-humanist view of realist agency, which advocates for an embodied experience of the world considering its various agencies, rather than a human-centred storied experience, is perhaps the closest anyone has come to fully understanding the concept of sacred activism.
However, as Barad still moves within human concepts of story through discussion of ethics and science, this is probably not the end. As Akomolafe says: there is only the middle. Therefore, grappling with the notion of story in this essay is perhaps in itself a symptom of Cartesian dualism: story (culture), or no story (nature)? To end this essay with any definite conclusion would be to do injustice to the numerous sacred activists who have contributed to its formation. Each of them, including myself, is full of contradictions and paradoxes, and therefore any would-be story-teller can only be seen as Akomolafe would say: a ‘Sacred Hypocrite’ (Akomolafe: lecture 2018).
 Definitions of humanist and post-humanist will follow.
 Andrew Harvey defines Sacred Activism as a ‘transforming force of compassion-in-action that is born of a fusion of deep spiritual knowledge, courage, love, and passion, with wise radical action in the world’ (Harvey 2013: website). The sacred activists I discuss in this essay are those who attempt to move away from a dominant story with humanity at the centre. These views could be seen as sacred because they involve humility, and a reverence for that which is beyond the human. They indicate spiritual knowledge, courage and love, and passionately advocate for ‘wise radical action’.
 Patrick Curry suggests that philosophers such as Descartes ’who helped create the modern world and were, in turn, created by it’ (Curry 2011: 36) had no intention to cause this divide. Original ideas about ’the importance of human initiative within divine and natural limits’ (Curry 2011: 36) got misunderstood, misused, and mutated into ’an arrogant techno-humanism’ (Curry 2011: 36), which recognises none of these limits. However, Descartes said: ’there exists nothing in the whole of nature that cannot be explained in terms of purely corporeal causes totally devoid of mind and thought’ (Descartes in Curry 2011: 37), placing human thought above God’s creation, and ‘humanism’ is born. This ‘epistemological shift encouraged actual observation of the world’ (Grim and Tucker 2014: 50), and led to revolutionary understandings of Earth and the cosmos. Undermining religious authority led to a freedom of thought, indicating that this shift is not entirely negative.
 The word ecosophy is created by Naess from eco: household and sophy: wisdom (Harding 2009).
 Akomolafe defines ontology as ‘what exists’, and epistemology is ‘how we know what exists’. Barad uses the word ontoepistemology to insist that there should be no separation between the two. Barad uses the word natureculture the same way, as the Cartesian dualism of nature and culture can no longer be considered plausible (Barad 2007).
Here is another essay from my MA in Ecology and Spirituality,
this time comparing and contrasting two movies
in which men get stuck on Mars!
One is from 1964 and the other from 2015...
a fascinating journey for me, which I hope you enjoy reading....
Compare and Contrast Assignment:
Robinson Crusoe on Mars 1964 and The Martian 2015.
Both movies Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) and The Martian (2015) involve a male astronaut who has suffered an unexpected disaster that leaves him stranded on the uninhabitable planet of Mars. He goes through many hardships, including solving the problems of breathable air, drinkable water, food shortages, dangerous terrain and fluctuations in temperature. Against all odds, both men survive and are rescued by their astronaut peers.
I will compare and contrast these two American-made movies in terms of the cultural and historical moment in which they were created. The main themes I will address are: the cultural hype of space travel; concepts of colonialism; and the significance of finding life on other planets. I will conclude that while details of these themes appear to have changed over the 51 years between these two movies being created, the underlying mentality of a world that sensationalises space travel, and in particular the potential for human habitation of Mars, remains the same.
Only twelve men have set foot on an extra-terrestrial body (the moon), so ‘popular understanding of outer space is chiefly a product of images and representations’ (Geppert 2012: 13), including these movies. I would like to explore what these representations mean about people’s mind-sets at the time they were created.
The Cultural Hype of Space Travel
Robinson Crusoe on Mars was created in 1964, the year after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Kennedy was instrumental in perpetuating the hype around Space Travel, when he announced in 1961 that America would send men to the moon and return them safely to Earth. This was realised in 1969, when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and ‘rekindled the excitement felt in the early 1960s’ (Launius 1999).
A huge aspect of Kennedy’s (1961) speech was to ensure that people all over the world would have access to television in order to witness America’s success. Alexander Geppert (2007) describes this as a ‘carefully orchestrated, global media event’ (Geppert 2007: 594), seen by 600 million people, in 49 countries, symbolising ‘the central role of space exploration in the process of globalization’ (Geppert 2007: 594).
The two movies show the contrast between mentalities before and after the lunar landings. In 1964 Robinson Crusoe was very much alone. He had zero contact with Earth, and the viewer had no way of knowing if his peers were coming for him, as the movie was set entirely on Mars.
The Martian, on the other hand, was alone for a while, but then he was able to make contact with Earth and sustained communications until his rescue. There are scenes within NASA’s headquarters, and of mass-audiences watching a ‘global media event’ (Geppert 2007: 594), as the rescue mission was attempted. People worldwide witnessed the event, which could not have been imagined by the creators of Robinson Crusoe, who had not yet seen men on the moon or witnessed the wider implications of the Space Race on communications and technology.
Kennedy’s dream of globally televising the moon landings could be seen as a stroke of genius if we consider the long-standing desire of humanity to view the Earth from space. Cicero touches upon this theme in his Dream of Scipio (in The Republic 51 BC). Scipio is asked, when observing the earth from outside it, how he can truly seek glory among men when only scattered parts of Earth are inhabited, and between the breaks ‘no communication can pass from one set to another’ (Pearman 1883).
Scipio’s glory will not spread far, and the men who talk of him will soon cease to talk. Kennedy found a way to bridge these communication breaks, so that even the most remote regions of the Earth could witness America’s success. Everybody was talking about Kennedy’s dream-come-true, and they still are, hence the scenes in The Martian that directly mirror the moon landings.
Concepts of Colonialism
Both Robinson Crusoe and The Martian include themes of colonialism. Robinson Crusoe says he feels like Columbus going to new lands, and erects an American flag outside his cave-home, and The Martian is told that he has colonised Mars by cultivating his potatoes: ‘in your face Neil Armstrong!’ These themes are reminiscent of Kennedy’s notion of the ‘mastery of space’ (Kennedy 1961).
‘Mastery of space’ (Kennedy 1961) could be synonymous with the concept of mastery of nature, inherent in many western mind-sets since the time of Descartes, who said I think, therefore I am, creating a split between mind and matter, man and nature, man and space, and man and woman. To see space as separate from oneself is to view it with fear or indifference; to seek to master it therefore breeds colonialism.
Nicholas Campion (2015) asks: ‘how is it possible to persuade people who see space as either empty or dangerous that it needs protecting?’ (Campion 2015: 1). Both protagonists, it could be said, see Mars as empty and dangerous, and neither is concerned with protecting it or consider that they have contaminated its environment simply by being there. This view appears not to have changed at all between 1964 and 2015.
Robinson Crusoe and The Martian both see Mars just as the Europeans saw Australia: empty and unknown. It has now been acknowledged that ‘Australia, when the Europeans arrived, was neither empty nor unknown, but occupied and known. By the same token, to regard outer space as empty and unknown will always raise the risk of an ethical blunder’ (Campion 2015: 7). Just like seeing the planet as an extension of the human body, without which the human could not live, we can also see space, including Mars, as an extension of Earth: the Cartesian split has caused this illusion of separation between all things. Even ‘environmentalists and ecologists generally have nothing to say about space, confining their theories to terrestrial nature’ (Campion 2015: 7).
Within ecology, the image of Earth from Space is used widely to promote a spiritual connection, unity and wonder at our planet Earth. This is known as the Overview Effect. I found it intriguing watching Robinson Crusoe, as he casually points out to his escaped-slave alien friend, whom he names Friday, the distant star that is his home. It is a simple conversation, almost devoid of emotion. In 1964, no images have been captured of Earth from beyond it, or none that were widely circulated, and so the Overview Effect would not have been in the public consciousness.
There is no mention of this in The Martian either, suggesting that this ecologist view is still not in the mainstream mind-set. The astronaut does not look out longingly at the planet he calls home, but he does show a huge respect for earthly life, shown by the respect and tenderness with which he treats his potato plants. The further we get into space exploration, the more the images come through of blurring Earth-life with Mars. Robinson Crusoe found Martian food he could digest, whereas The Martian grew Earth food on Mars.
The Earth exists in relation to other bodies, and so boundaries disappear. Both movies portray this: in Robinson Crusoe boundaries between humans and other space-beings are fluid, for example when Friday eventually starts speaking English. In The Martian it is the technology that melts boundaries. That he can communicate by email with Earth from Mars, a distance of 140 million miles (Space Website), is testimony to how this idea of separation is an illusion.
Another aspect of colonialism is that it was generally performed by heroic, explorer, masculine men. Dario Llinares (2011) considers how historically, astronauts take on a persona of idealised masculinity, while describing an excited man at a Buzz Aldrin audience and his less than enthusiastic wife. Llinares comments: ‘This moment, for me, encapsulated the implicit gendering that underpinned the perception of space history and specifically the social construction of astronauts themselves. Space exploration was a story by and about men to which women were only peripherally connected’ (Llinares 2011: 2).
Therefore ‘Space exploration is conceptualised as another milestone in the advancement of humanity, indicative of the innate need (of men) to explore and gain knowledge about the external world’ (Llinares 2011: 3). This idea is reflected in both these movies with their male protagonists. The 1964 movie is devoid of females, excepting a photograph of one of the astronaut’s wives. In The Martian there are female astronauts, including the captain, although the protagonist is male.
Llinares sees that in the 21st Century ‘space exploration is no longer a pioneering venture into the final frontier and the moon does not represent the gateway to an inevitable colonisation of the stars’ (Llinares 2011: 196), which it was seen to be in 1964. Space is now actually a ‘functional foundation for the global communications infrastructure, home to thousands of orbiting satellites, which facilitate our highly mediated interconnectivity’ (Llinares 2011: 196), which explains why The Martian is able to communicate with Earth, while Robinson Crusoe is not. ‘The awe of utopian futurism has been sucked out of space flight, and as a result, today’s astronauts no longer symbolise the idealised masculinity of the Mercury and Apollo era’ (Llinares 2011: 196), which may somewhat explain why there are female astronauts in 2015 but not in 1964.
The Significance of Finding Life on Other Planets
In 2020, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will be sent to seek for signs of life, an aspect of space travel prominent in both movies. Robinson Crusoe has no real mission on the surface of Mars: he is there accidentally. However, whilst there he continually records what he has found to enable him to survive and any signs of life. The Martian, in contrast, already has an established base on Mars, and his task as a biologist is to collect rocks and soil samples, which is described as ‘another aspect of the Mars 2020 rover mission’ (NASA Website).
What is not mentioned by NASA, or in The Martian, is the possibility of extra-terrestrial life currently living on or visiting Mars. Long before Sputnik (1957) the Space Age was dawning, and people spoke of a ‘“multi-planetary society” peopled by… “interplanetary man”,’ (Geppert 2007: 597). Discussions of whether life on Mars had evolved to the human level were portrayed in the War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898). For Robinson Crusoe viewers it was still a possibility that other life lived on or visited Mars, hence the arrival of aliens from another planet. For The Martian no such imagination existed, but he was still searching for signs of life.
While Robinson Crusoe’s alien is very humanoid, other movies created more elaborate conceptions. Shukaitis believes that ‘the rise of science fiction films in the 1950s with their imagery of bizarre alien races functioning by some sort of incomprehensible totalitarian collectivism, in many ways reflect the recoded and redirected imagery of communism’ (Shukaitis 2009: 99). Communism appears as a UFO, which may seem quite absurd to viewers of the 2015 movie.
‘Absolute deterritorialization can easily end in death, insanity, or absurdity’ (Shukaitis 2009: 100), which is very evident in both de-territorialised men Robinson Crusoe and The Martian. Robinson Crusoe could have died many times; he hallucinates due to loneliness; and there are absurd moments, mostly concerning his monkey companion, ‘Mona’. The Martian could have died many times; he has moments of insanity, for example when trekking across the Martian desert in a rover calling himself a pirate, while people on Earth are concerned about his mental health; and moments of absurdity, including frequent allusions that the only music available is terrible 80s disco. One of the main things these movies have in common is that they are both really funny, and could even be described as comedy.
Perhaps the absurdity of humanity leaving the planet, or of finding alien life, has always been there. Perhaps deep down everyone knows that we are supposed to be fully connected to our mother planet at all times, or face death or insanity. One cannot say that either Robinson Crusoe or The Martian lived on Mars: they suffered, and they survived, against all odds.
Many of the themes of Robinson Crusoe on Mars and The Martian are similar, including the main premise of the movies; the similar character and plights of the male astronaut protagonists; the adventurous, explorer, hero, colonialist mentality of the movies; the search for life beyond Earth; and the portrayal of the comic absurdity of the situation.
The differences include the increasing globalisation of hype around Space Travel, at its peak around the 1969 lunar landings; huge improvements in global technology and communication; changing attitude to women-astronauts: astronauts are no longer seen as masculine-heroes; belief in alien life has diminished in the mainstream mindset, as has the view that the moon is a gateway to colonising the solar system.
However, the simple idea of sending people to Mars, which NASA clearly still has their hearts set on, is becoming more and more of a reality. People today watching The Martian could perhaps see how all of this could really occur, while Robinson Crusoe would seem outdated and fanciful. Kennedy’s blatant colonialist expression about ‘the mastery of space’ is perhaps expressed more subtly now, but the underlying Cartesian dualist mentality is still there in the mainstream media, expressed in many ways in The Martian.
 I will henceforth refer to the movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars simply as ‘Robinson Crusoe‘. Although this is not the name of the main character, which is Christopher Draper, played by Paul Mantee, it is a theme on which he draws during the movie. I will use ‘Robinson Crusoe’ synonymously to refer to both the movie and the lead character. I will use ‘The Martian’ synonymously to refer to both the movie and the main character Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon.
 This is an ecofeminist viewpoint. See for example Merchant (1980) and Warren (in Curry 2011).
 Archibald MacLeish describes the Overview Effect as: ‘To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold—brothers who know now that they are truly brothers’ (MacLeish in Launius 1999). The modern ecology movement was spurred on by this image and the new perception it creates of the need to protect planet Earth.
 Friday is the character in Daniel Defoe’s (1719) Robinson Crusoe novel, whom the protagonist Robinson Crusoe meets and cannot communicate with at first. He names the stranger Friday because they meet on that day. A similar situation occurs in this movie, and the lead character refers to the original ‘Friday’ when he gives the escaped-slave alien a name.
 Buzz Aldrin was the second man on the moon.
Ecofeminism is the idea that both nature and women
are suppressed in a similar way by patriarchy.
The idea goes deeper, to say that all oppressions are linked,
including racism, homophobia and so on.
For many years, and onwards and onwards, we have been and will be
stuck in this state of 'duality'.
Everything is a contrast:
man/ nature, man/ woman, science/ nature, mind/ soul, soul/ body, man/ God, reason/ faith...
Many of us see Mother Nature, or Mother Earth as a feminine entity, which automatically points to the link between nature and women. Women and nature are both plundered, raped, put to work, penetrated. We say 'virgin' soil and 'dirty' woman. But perhaps what patriarchal society sees as 'mother' is in fact someone who feeds us, cleans up our waste, gives without taking. Perhaps this image of our Earth as mother is in fact the problem: we take, take, take and expect no retribution or need to give back. We can say that climate change is 'Earth being a pissed off bitch', or that the floods are her tears, but that personifies something that is not human. Earth is far more powerful, unpredictable and inescapable than any human being.
We see Earth as female, which disconnects men from our own planet. And so all male-centred religions (and I count science as a religion) say the same thing: Earth is a stop-gap, an entry point to a better place. Find God, reach Enlightenment, build the technology to take us to another planet when this one is so fucked we can't live on it any more! The problem is, everyone is trying to leave. If we stayed, if we saw the Earth as our permanent home, maybe we would take better care of it. So I want to say to you all: stay stay stay!!! And I disagree with those who say we are too many people, that some of us need to leave. We are nature! Would you say the same about ants, trees, water?? No, we can all live here very easily, the Earth is big enough, abundant enough, for every human AND all of nature (which are in fact the same thing- there's that dualism again).
Men are not further from nature and Earth than women: we are born of the same stuff, in the same place. Men are very present at the conception of their children! Men get broody, nurture their children, have their 'time-of-the-month', just as women do. So perhaps the solution is to bring up men who can find the balance between their masculinity and femininity, are not afraid of it, to own it, cherish it... and cherish their women because of their in-built understanding. We are so obsessed with fixing the wounded feminine: maybe it's the wounded masculine that needs fixing!
And the Earth doesn't need fixing: our planet is perfect as it is, a perfect balance of masculine and feminine energies. How else could everything be alive? We need both, equally. It is humanity that needs 'fixing', not the Earth: because humanity's masculine and feminine energies are not balanced at all. That causes the destruction of everything we know.
Modern medicine and science tells us that women's bodies are problems to be solved (by cosmetic surgery, IVF, the pill etc etc), that menopause is something to be dreaded, periods are something shameful to be hidden, women's bodies are to be covered up (but not the 'perfect' women's bodies in magazines and porn films), that women are indeed dirty animals.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation. Actually it is the thing that I would wake up thinking about every morning for over a year: the thing that churns my insides, that makes me the most angry, that out of all the atrocities humanity commits is, to me, the absolute worst. Deliberately cutting, slicing, sewing up millions of girls' vaginas (without anaesthetic usually), for why? Because women are 'unclean' if they don't. No reasons of religion, health, no reason at all, except that someone, at some point, decided that women's bodies needed to be put under control. Fear of the wild, fear of women's sexuality, fear of creativity, fear of chaos, fear of feminine power: which of course are all, very effectively, squashed when her genitals have been mutilated.
Wow that got a bit heavy, OK onward...
Another aspect of Ecofeminism is this idea of feminine spirituality. Bringing women's bodies back to nature, reconnecting with both, is a spiritual practice and one that will bring us closer to a balance within our bodies and our societies. But there is no 'other' entity out there that we can call on to do it for us (no dualism). Our own bodies and the Earth we live on are the only things we actually have. We want control of our bodies, sexuality, sensuality? Then we must reconnect with the Earth, and in the Universe that contains it, in its' divine balance of masculine and feminine. We must find that balance within ourselves.
In new spiritual settings the words 'masculine' and 'feminine' are spouted about so often, in so many ways, so before simply agreeing or disagreeing with my statements here... ask yourself... what do these words really mean TO YOU?
We in Glastonbury are very used to feminine spirituality, as we live in the Goddess centre of the world. The Goddess religion was rejuvenated as a response to the masculine ideals of science, reason and technology, to bring back some power to the feminine. I unabashedly say that Goddess worship is the same as God worship: it's still a religion, focusing on one particular energy (in this case the feminine) rituals are used, and the aim is to be 'closer to the divine'. Forgetting that we are divine, we live on the Earth, as animals, as nature, and WE ARE DIVINE. We are not Goddesses or Gods upon this Earth, we are not closer to God or Goddess than anything or anyone else, that is a delusion we tell ourselves to be 'above' nature and 'above' other people... everything that exists is divine because we are all made out of the same stuff.
Goddess worship, as God worship, is a wonderfully satisfying way to find that divinity within ourselves, and it works for many, but for me, it simply lacks something: something tangible, something real: it is still this idea of 'duality'. Woman/ Goddess, Man/ God, God/ Goddess, Man/ Woman... and I have been called a 'Goddess' and I have been told (as an insult) that I am not a 'Goddess', and I have read in a book that all women on Earth are Goddesses, even the toilet cleaners. We must look at this word and not get carried away... what does 'Goddess' really mean? The word has so much past history and hope for the future attached to it, that to me it is over-used, over-sought, over-thought, and it means very little now in my reality.
Others may disagree, but
I personally am very happy to be 'just' a woman,
living here, on Earth, in Earth's divine perfection
(what we call 'nature', as if it's outside ourselves, when actually
'nature' is just everything).
And I am not planning on leaving any time soon.
Stay with me?
The other day I went to a meeting for Frack Free Yeovil, and learned some incredibly interesting and disturbing things about the industry and what people are doing to stop it.
I was talking to a lady involved in another local anti-fracking group, who lives in Glastonbury.
I thought that being in Glastonbury would be a good place to be for anti-fracking,
as the people here must be conscious of what is going on in the world.
But she told me its actually the opposite, and people in Glastonbury are more interested in their spiritual lives and are more self-obsessed than conscious of helping the wider community.
What she said struck me so hard and fast, that I didn't stop thinking about this for 2 days.
In comes the article!
Now, on the one hand, of course, she is absolutely right: ''navel-gazing'' and self-obsessed spirituality are not going to stop Fracking happening in our local area, right now.
On the other hand, I believe she has completely failed to see the wider picture: that if everyone were practicing spirituality, we would not even be having this Fracking conversation.
If our world were truly awake, then no one would even consider it a possibility, it would not even enter people's minds to damage our earth.
I see the world today as being stretched further and further between ''good and bad''.
Much of humanity is of such a low vibration that something like Fracking (and any other environmental and human rights issue you care to mention) has somehow, unbelievably, become a reality. This can be said to be 'the bad'.
But I also see the opposite happening: more and more people are waking up to their own spirituality, their own sense of oneness with everyone and everything, and this is raising the vibration. The higher the vibration, the more ''good'' we see in the world, the less likely Fracking is to continue. Eventually these two polar vibrations will 'snap back' into balance, but it may take the destruction of more earth and life before that happens.
I see two types of people fighting the good fight.
The first are the 'activists', who are actively going out, spreading the message and getting involved, those who are active and angry and ''doing something about it''.
The second is the 'spiritualists', who believe the best way to change the world is through self-reflection, and ultimately doing what Ghandi famously said: ''being the change we wish to see in the world.''
These two groups may be at odds with each other, and misunderstand each other.
The 'activists' may see the 'spiritualists' as self-obsessed and not doing anything about what is happening here and now. But self-reflection is far from selfish, and is actually the quickest way to really feeling the oneness of humanity. It is the quickest and best way to raise the vibration of the entire planet. But should that still mean that they sit around on their asses and not get involved in helping their local area?
The 'spiritualists' may not want to get actively involved in these groups, because they know that in doing so they may be winning small skirmishes, but ultimately the 'war' is much larger, more widespread, and less easily stopped. And they may not want to get involved because these groups of people may live more in their minds and emotions, and to a sensitive spiritualist this is not an easy place to be.
So considering both these sides, which are both right in their own way,
I cannot say that one has it ''more sussed'' than the other, for ultimately both these groups are
FIGHTING THE SAME FIGHT.
So what if we combine these two aspects into one?
What if we create a group of ''spiritual activists''.
We can use spirituality in activism to help people to 'let go' of the ultimate outcome to what they are fighting. This does not mean that the goals change, or the actions they take are different, it simply means being aware of the whole picture. Being aware that whatever the outcome is, whether you 'win or lose', every small step you take towards a better future does send ripples throughout the planet. You have no idea what you have just achieved, even if you didn't achieve the outcome you hoped for.
We can use spirituality in activism by not allowing ourselves to get so consumed by the cause that the mind completely takes over and we forget to listen to our heart. By not allowing ourselves to get so angry about what you are fighting that violence enters your mind (in any form- physically, emotionally, verbally). All that does is perpetuate the low vibrations of the planet: actually adding to the problem you are trying to solve. Ghandi knew this: a spiritual man who never used anger or violence to voice his opinions, but was also actively 'doing something'.
We can use spirituality in activism by choosing not to identify with the 'victim' persona, and living life as if you are undamaged, free and NOT DEFINED BY YOUR PAST.
Consider carefully the words I just wrote, for this is exactly what Ghandi meant when he said ''be the change you wish to see''. Not ''make the change'', ''force the change'', ''fight for the change'', but BE IT. Chose not to be angry, be a victim, be damaged by the past, and this will become reality.
We can use ACTIVISM IN SPIRITUALITY by accepting what is, in every moment.
'Accepting' is not the same as 'ignoring'. You can care about a certain issue and cause, you can take action to stop it, you can do all the things activists do and use that as a spiritual practice. Feel yourself in all moments: notice when you get angry, when your mind is over-active, when you are run by your ego. Let it all be, accept it, and then let it go.
Truly 'accepting what is' can have profound effects on spiritual growth, and if it is something you are so passionate about, then see that as your next step to an enlightening moment.
Feel the peace that is underneath even the most horrific of events or issues.
I believe that we can use a lot more spiritually enlightened people in activism.
Those who know the ultimate truth of the planet and all that is on it, those who can calm and inspire people around them, those who act with their heart and soul
rather than with mind and negative emotion.
So let's change that paradigm of spiritualists being selfish and uncaring about the world,
for that simply isn't true. You can still stand up for what you believe in, fight the good fight, and be at peace at the same time.
Ghandi did it. So can you.
I have a friend who once said I am an anxious driver.
This is interesting because I have never thought of myself as an anxious driver.
Sometimes a little too relaxed, in fact.
So I had to ask myself, where does this perception come from?
The answer may be that the first time I was in the car with him we were in a really hilly place, and on a couple of occasions I had trouble with the hill starts.
So, yes I was a little anxious at that time, but does that make me an 'anxious driver'?
But what happened after that? He became anxious being with me in the car, because that one time I had shown some incompetency and was indeed, a little anxious.
So then his perception of me being an anxious driver became real-
because his anxiety was making me anxious!
This 'label' he had given me self-perpetuated
There are so many times I can think of when I have been labelled, judged, or told 'I am this way' by somebody (or by myself), and then after the fact it has become true.
This is how a bully operates: they know that by defining someone with a word, whatever it is, will have an impact because that person will start to believe it. Think about someone stuck in a cycle of domestic abuse: they may be called 'ugly', 'lazy', or told they don't do something right.
Because this is a perception of someone so close to you, you do believe it, and more and more examples manifest to prove that perception correct. The victim starts to behave this way because they think its 'just the way I am'.
But it's not just the bully: we do it to ourselves and to others all the time!
A friend said to me the other day: ''how can we judge someone for having an imperfection, simply because it's a different imperfection than our own?'' Wise words!
Next time someone calls you something, anything, good or bad, just consider it. REALLY consider it: are you actually that way? Why did the person say that? Is it actually just a reflection of the other person's emotion/ way of being? (For example- did my friend call me an anxious driver because in fact he was the one that was anxious?)
Have you noticed that I have used a few words in the passages above to describe other people, that could also self-perpetuate a person's reality? I would like to address these two words, because I think they are two of the most damaging words we can use.
The first one is 'bully'. While I absolutely 100% believe that 'bullying' should be stopped in its tracks (and that can include all forms- from the child calling another child names in the playground, to domestic violence), I think calling someone a 'bully' is the worst way to deal with the problem. All we are doing in that case is labelling the child, or the abuser, and giving them an identity. What we are talking about here is the ego. The ego loves an identity! The ego is the mind, the way we perceive the world around us: it is everything that we are NOT. Calling someone a bully will perpetuate into that person's reality by giving the ego an identity... it will cling on to the story and create a pattern out of it.
The second word I would like to address is 'victim'. This works in a very similar way in that the ego identifies with it. I am not talking about the 'EGO' like the big 'I' that thinks 'I am better than everyone else', I mean the ego that absorbs information and creates an identity for the person out of what it takes in. So by someone thinking of themselves as a victim: that is exactly what they become. And that will never disappear for as long as the story exists, because the ego loves a good story, even a painful one.
This is why I am currently very concerned about the new wave of the 'feminist' movement. While it is important to keep informed about the things that are happening to women, the more you know, the more angry you get, the more a woman can identify herself as a victim.
There was a time when I couldn't believe that anyone would say that they weren't a feminist.
I would think: but you have to be blind not to see that women are suppressed and 'second' to men. I would read about people who would quibble over the word 'feminist', saying things like 'I am not a feminist, I am an equalist' or a 'humanist', or whatever.
And I would think, yes, but its the women that need the help the most, that's why we call it feminist. All of this is true, of course, but only because women as a collective have derived an identity from it: we are the victims, the second class ones, we need to fight for our rights.
I came to realise that while a person can let go of the 'victim' personally, often they still hold this as a collective. And this is true for any minority: black people, LGBT, Jews... you name it.
They keep identifying with the collective 'victim', and keep being victimised.
I think me saying all this could ruffle a few feathers... so let me be clear:
I am not saying that it is the fault of these minorities for what they have been through, or that somehow they could have avoided it. Everything has happened already, and there is absolutely NOTHING we can do to change the past.
The question is: how do you want your future to look? Do you want to still be a victim?
Then keep believing that you are one, personally or collectively. If you do not want to be a victim: let that image of yourself go. Let go of the anger you hold against the person/ people that did it to you, and realise they hurt themselves as much as they hurt you.
Live your life as a whole, undamaged person, and that is what you will be.
Put simply: DO NOT LET A WORD DEFINE YOU.
By the way I have seen people/ NGOs that have realised this and have changed the word 'victim' to 'survivor': but this still sets these people apart from the perpetrators or other people, and still takes their identity from what happened to them in the past. To me it makes no difference which word is used: they are still made to feel somehow damaged or different to other people.
We can look at the government and media, as well, as using these 'victim' words to create fear in a country. We are told we should be scared of terrorist attacks, and lo and behold, there are increasingly more terrorist attacks. The recent Brexit issue can be used as an example: we are told 'Britain is divided', and from the looks of Facebook the next day that certainly became true, didn't it? We need to wake up to these tactics: if we are told, as a country, that we are 'victims' or 'divided', or whatever else: it will become true, because the collective believes it, speaks it, lives and breathes it.
I asked you the question above: do you still want to be a victim?
Now let's consider that for a second. While your mind may clearly be laughing saying: 'of course not, don't be so stupid!', really consider it. Do you tell stories to people about the ills that have been done to you/ the country or minority you are in? Do you complain about the government/ work/ whatever else? Do you secretly like these things, because they define you, give you a past, and allow you to keep doing things the way you are doing them?
''When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness.'' - Eckhart Tolle.
When it comes to being a victim/ feminist/ political activist or whatever else, I am not saying that you should ignore what happened to you or what you are fighting for, not to seek justice or stop it from happening again. What I am saying is not to seek your own identity from these things, not to be angry at what happened/ is happening to you, but to move forward in your goals in love for yourself and for everyone else involved. By getting sucked into these labels and identifying with them, we let our ego take over and lose ourselves. And...
We become less effective in our life goals.
Let's move away from the word 'victim' and think of a word that you have been called before, that you maybe identify personally with. One may have come up for you already, as you have been reading this. A childhood memory, or something someone said to you yesterday that still hurts.
Let's take the example that as a child I was called 'shy'. People have said to me that they are surprised that I chose a job where I would be constantly forced into interaction with people and have to stand up in front of them and give speeches. Why were they surprised? Because they defined me by how I was in the past, not how I am NOW.
During my training for that job, my 'shy' identity was extremely apparent: every time I got up to speak I would shake and stutter, and the trainers would point it out, which would make it worse: again a self-perpetuating cycle. But once I had done it, only one time, broken the cycle by proving to myself that I AM NOT SHY, then I haven't had any troubles since.
So you see, with any word you can think of that you have been called, that you identify with yourself, that you constantly 'bully' yourself with: simply un-believe it and THEN it will cease to be true. Whereas most people think it is the other way around: it ceases to be true and then you can give yourself a different identity.
This whole article I have just written came about during an enlightening moment whilst I was reading 'The Power of Now' by Eckhart Tolle. When I truly saw, for the first time, that I AM none of these things that I label myself, or other people label me, or I torture myself with for 'being that way'. None of us are any of it: the ego invents all of it. I AM not anxious, I AM not angry, I AM not shy. But equally I AM not the good things that people could say about me: relaxed, brave, a good leader.
I can show traits of all these things, at certain moments, and they are a small part of me. but they do not define me. So why do I identify so strongly with them?
The only thing that I AM is the feeling I found that day, reading that book and considering it's message: I let go of all these labels, and I found what I truly am, underneath it all, the only thing that is truly worth being: PEACE.
And now I can move forward in my life by flowing through it, not getting stuck on issues or the question 'who am I'? That famous Descartes phrase ''I think therefore I am'' has completely gone out the window for me now. Actually I AM not my mind, not what people think of me, not my past, not my future, not attached to any of it.
Jesus teaches ''If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions... then come, follow me.''' (Matthew 12: 21.) To me, he is really saying: ''If you want to be perfect, let go of those labels, judgments and negative emotions that your ego possesses. That's the way to God, that's the way to Peace.''
And PEACE is just another word isn't it?
And words, in the end, are transient, meaning different things to different people at different times. Words are really sounds, sounds are frequency, frequency is energy, so
all these 'labels' are just energy...
let the energy of words and labels move through you, not to get stuck in you, and you will find the PEACE within you.