To be one with all that lives

We need a new religion: to reconnect with nature

The Fall can be dated exact­ly. It occur­red in 1637, the year in which the phi­lo­so­pher René Des­car­tes (1599–1650) publis­hed his Dis­cours de la Metho­de („Trea­tise on Method”). In the sixth sec­tion of this work, Des­car­tes found the for­mu­la for a new self-image that would rede­fi­ne human digni­ty and nobi­li­ty: As maît­re et pos­ses­seur de la natu­re („Lord and Mas­ter of Natu­re”) man was allo­wed to con­si­der hims­elf, yes, man should con­si­der hims­elf, sin­ce he was by his intel­lect or mind far supe­ri­or to the king­dom of natu­re. All phe­no­me­na of natu­re shared in his eyes the stig­ma of uncer­tain­ty and unre­lia­bi­li­ty, whe­re­as the self-con­scious mind alo­ne was sui­ta­ble as the unsha­ka­ble fun­da­men­tum incon­cussum of huma­ni­ty. Ratio­na­li­ty and intel­lect now beca­me the mas­ter tool of the human sub­ject – while the world out the­re, natu­re, was per­cei­ved only as a mere object, inde­ed as a resour­ce of human explo­ita­ti­on.

Longing for control

Surely it would be too much of an honour – or even a dis­grace – to appoint Mon­sieur Des­car­tes alo­ne as the aut­hor of the new mind­set that began to take hold in Euro­pe in the 17th cen­tu­ry. He too was the child of a time mar­ked by the cata­stro­phe of the Thir­ty Years’ War, a time which, more than other eras, cal­led for cer­tain­ty, sta­bi­li­ty and secu­ri­ty. This collec­ti­ve lon­ging to regain con­trol over life may well have been power­ful in Des­car­tes as well. And so his merit lies abo­ve all in the fact that he for­mu­la­ted it and ther­eby gave Euro­pe’s histo­ry a decisi­ve turn: towards the mind­set of Homo Faber, the man of power, who was now pre­pa­ring to take over the pla­net using sci­ence and tech­no­lo­gy. Not without suc­cess, as we all know. The tri­umph of tech­no­lo­gy and the mul­ti­tu­de of advan­ces it has achie­ved are unpre­ce­den­ted – as is the dest­ruc­tion of natu­re, nati­ve peo­p­les and bio­di­ver­si­ty.

In fact, the­re can be no doubt that the Wes­tern man of modern times has ali­enated and distanced from natu­re at bre­akneck speed. And not only him, becau­se as a result of the eco­no­mic colo­niz­a­ti­on of the ent­i­re glo­be, the West has imple­men­ted the matrix of its thin­king, sci­ence and eco­no­my far remo­ved from natu­re in the minds of peop­le all over the world. If you are loo­king for a rea­son why in the 21st cen­tu­ry we find it so dif­fi­cult to meet the chal­len­ges of cli­ma­te chan­ge, the poi­so­ning of the oce­ans and the mass extinc­tion of ent­i­re spe­ci­es, you will find it here: The fish stinks from the head; the matrix of our thin­king is mal­func­tio­n­ing; our brain is working with a defec­ti­ve ope­ra­ting sys­tem. Its name is, in a word coi­ned by the phi­lo­so­pher Mar­tin Hei­deg­ger, Ge-Stell.

The deformation of the world to a resource.

This sounds stran­ge, but on clo­ser inspec­tion it is very enligh­tening. What Hei­deg­ger wan­ted to express by the term Ge-Stell is the fact that con­tem­pora­ry man has sought to con­front (= stel­len) the world in which he lives – just as a com­mis­sio­ner con­fronts (= stellt) a cri­mi­nal. Modern sci­ence is the­re to deter­mi­ne facts (= fest­stel­len); our tech­no­lo­gy is the­re to pro­du­ce (her­stel­len) goods that are exhi­bi­ted (= aus­stel­len) on the mar­ket, pos­ted (= ein­stel­len) on the Inter­net, orde­red by cus­to­mers, deli­ve­r­ed by the post office and set up at home. In all of this, natu­re is con­ver­ted into a stock (= Bestand) – a resour­ce – which is sto­cked (= bestellt) and uti­li­zed by our machi­ne-desi­gned eco­no­my to achie­ve the supre­ma­cy and power sought sin­ce the days of Des­car­tes. The stra­te­gists at Goog­le, Ama­zon and Co. desi­re it to beco­me per­fect by con­ver­ting natu­re com­ple­te­ly into a pro­cess­able data stock (= Bestand) and thus making it obso­le­te. If the matrix of the Ge-Stell beco­mes abso­lu­te in the digi­tal age, this may well be the end of natu­re. And pos­si­b­ly also for us.

This con­cern was alrea­dy known to others, not just yes­ter­day, but more than 200 years ago. This sounds sur­pri­sing at first sight, if you think that the world was still well befo­re the indus­tri­al revo­lu­ti­on and that peop­le still had very litt­le rea­son to lament the loss of natu­re. True, but it was­n’t the loss of natu­re that natu­ral phi­lo­so­phers and roman­tic poets com­p­lai­ned about around 1800, but rather the dis­tur­bed rela­ti­ons­hip bet­ween man and natu­re, which at that time was suspec­ted to be harm­ful to man – even if one could not yet ima­gi­ne the dama­ge that natu­re its­elf would suf­fer one day.

One of tho­se who stood out in this respect was the poet Fried­rich Höl­der­lin, who­se 250th bir­th­day is being cele­bra­ted this year. He had an extre­me­ly sen­si­ti­ve fee­ling for the dis­astrous effects of modern man’s alie­na­ti­on from natu­re, which was only just begin­ning to reve­al its basic fea­tures. And he never tired of lamen­ting the loss of ali­veness, free­dom and huma­ni­ty that threa­tened to go hand in hand with the Car­te­si­an pro­gram of domi­na­ti­on and supre­ma­cy over natu­re. In his novel Hype­ri­on of 1796 he wro­te: „I tell you: the­re is not­hing sac­red that is not des­e­cra­ted, not degra­ded to a poor reme­dy in this peop­le, and what is most­ly pre­ser­ved divi­nely pure even among sava­ges, that is what the­se all-cal­cu­la­ting bar­ba­ri­ans do, how one does such a craft, and can­not do other­wi­se, for whe­re once a human being is dril­led, the­re it ser­ves its pur­po­se, the­re it seeks its use.” Uti­liz­a­ti­on, func­tio­n­al ratio­na­li­ty, cal­cu­la­bi­li­ty – it is the­se fetis­hes of today­’s digi­tal homo eco­no­mic­us that the poet pillories. For it is they who have defor­med what ” is most­ly pre­ser­ved divi­nely pure even among sava­ges, ” – natu­re – into a mere stock of mate­ri­al or data.

„You tear whe­re it tole­ra­tes you“

Thus it is the peop­le of moder­ni­ty, per­me­a­ted by the matrix of the Ge-Stell and their instru­men­tal rea­son, whom Höl­der­lin con­fronts: „You worry and think about esca­ping fate and do not under­stand if your child­ren’s art­work does not help; mean­while, the stars abo­ve are wan­de­ring harm­less­ly. You dis­grace, you tear apart whe­re it tole­ra­tes you, pati­ent natu­re, but it lives on, in infi­ni­te youth. O divi­ne she must be, becau­se you are allo­wed to des­troy, and yet she does not age and beau­ty remains beau­ti­ful in spi­te of you”. And fur­ther: „Or is not divi­ne that which you exalt and call soul­less? Is bet­ter, for your babb­ling, not the air that you drink? the sun­’s rays, are they not nobler, for all you who are wise? the springs of the earth and the morning dew refresh your gro­ve; can you do that too?”

The „pati­ent” natu­re deser­ves the pre­di­ca­te „divi­ne” becau­se it is more all-embra­cing and grea­ter than anything man has ever con­cei­ved – inclu­ding the most advan­ced arti­fi­cial intel­li­gen­ces. And the only appro­pria­te way to encoun­ter it is through devo­ti­on, rever­ence, shy­ness and love: qua­li­ties that we modern men too often smi­le at – and the­re­fo­re depri­ve us of the best that natu­re’s life (the­re is no other! ) offers us: its con­stant appeal and appro­val, which can streng­t­hen and empower us humans – yes, which grants the ful­film­ent for which we all yearn so much and for which we gene­ral­ly do not expect through tur­ning towards natu­re, but through con­sump­ti­on and com­mer­ce, or even through spi­ri­tua­li­sa­ti­on and spi­ri­tu­al with­dra­wal from the world. From this, howe­ver, we will never achie­ve the ful­film­ent that is bes­to­wed upon us by an open heart in rela­ti­ons­hip with natu­re.

The beloved in front of the beloved

Höl­der­lin also pro­c­laims this in his Hype­ri­on: „But you are still shi­ning, sun of hea­ven! You are still green, holy earth! The streams still rush into the sea, and shady trees whis­per at noon. The joy­ful song of spring chants my mor­tal thoughts to sleep. The full­ness of the living world nou­ris­hes and satia­tes my star­ving being with drun­ken­ness. Oh bles­sed natu­re! I do not know what will befall me when I lift my eyes befo­re thy beau­ty, but all the plea­su­res of hea­ven are in the tears I weep in front of thee, the beloved one in front of the beloved.” The­se words speak of a clear under­stan­ding that not­hing so ful­fills us human bein­gs as when we meet with natu­re or the ” all ali­ve world”, as Höl­der­lin calls it. He knows: „To be one with ever­ything ali­ve, to return in blissful self-for­get­ful­ness to the uni­ver­se of natu­re, that is the peak of all thoughts and joys.” And he descri­bes the bliss of this return to natu­re in pro­found­ly moving words: „My who­le being falls silent and lis­tens when the gent­le wave of air plays lovin­g­ly around my chest. Lost in the wide blue, I often look up to the ether and into the holy sea, and I feel as if a kind­red spi­rit is ope­ning its arms to me, as if the pain of soli­tu­de was dis­sol­ving into the life of the divi­ne.

One could dis­miss this as kind of pathe­tic exu­ber­an­ce by an eccentric poet – but this would only show how advan­ced the dena­tu­ra­ti­on of one’s own fee­lings has alrea­dy beco­me. For in truth, the­se words speak of a crys­tal-clear awa­reness of what is nee­ded in our dena­tu­red world alo­ne: a new recon­nec­tion to natu­re – a new reli­gio (from Latin: reli­ga­re – to recon­nect), which leads us humans to aban­don all fan­ta­sies of omni­po­tence and domi­nan­ce over natu­re, inclu­ding, or pre­cise­ly, the digi­tal Homo Deus fan­ta­sies (Juval Noah Hara­ri) from the spin­ning rooms of Sili­con Val­ley IT giants. It is not escape into vir­tu­al or ste­ri­le merely spir­tu­al worlds that will help huma­ni­ty advan­ce, but a radi­cal, even dis­rup­ti­ve depar­tu­re from the machi­ne matrix of Ge-Stell. Repla­cing it by a matrix of natu­ral ali­veness is the only way out of this dead-end street crea­ted by digi­tal homo eco­no­mic­us. And it is like­wi­se the path to what real­ly mat­ters and what is real­ly important for the life of humans: the path to love and the path to the very mea­ning of life, which con­sists sole­ly in gra­te­ful­ly and hum­bly accep­t­ing and affir­ming the life natu­re has given us; and by using words bor­ro­wed from Höl­der­lin’s novel Hype­ri­on to say: „To be, to live, that is enough“.