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“.