Saturday, August 31, 2013

Homeland Earth 1 - the Planetary Era

This is the second essay about Edgar Morin’s brief “Homeland Earth” book and part of a series of essays on The Predicament and Hope of Mankind.

The Planetary Era began when humanity started to discover our round planet, a tiny part of the solar system and the rest of the cosmos; and simultaneously, when disperse civilizations began to communicate with each other on a global basis. This chapter of the book describes in 25 pages this seven centuries adventure until 1992 - an adventure framed by colonialism, independence, wars, industrialism, the birth of the nation state...;  and also framed by the gradual emergence of a planetary consciousness as humanity’s history oscillates between integration and autonomy of people and societies. I add some notes to update this history until 2013.

The violent part of the story of the previous chapter continues: civilizations, empires, countries in war with each other, conquering territories by force. Morin mentions Gengis Kahn and then Tamberlain ruling the Ottoman and Mogul empires from the Orient, reaching out until almost conquering Vienna. The relatively small European nations after discovering America and the Aztec and Inca civilizations, proceeded to destroy them almost immediately. After these nations distributed among themselves the rest of the globe during Colonialism (just the British empire at the beginning of the 20th century had 428 million royal subjects occupying one fifth of the Earth), there followed wars of independence of the conquered territories and the First and Second World wars which together destroyed cities and 60 million of human beings. Vietnam invaded Cambodia; the United States invaded Vietnam, Kuwait, Irak, Afghanistan; Japan invaded Manchuria, a part of Russia…  

There were also great voyages of discovery. Around 1500 Vasco Da Gamma navigating through the east coast of Africa rounded it and almost reached India. Later on Magellan in a grueling three year trip, started with 270 mariners in five ships. He died en route and the trip ended with 1 ship and 38 survivors after circumnavigating the whole globe. This saga is marvelously described in a Wikipedia article.

Outside of the Earth there were profound changes too - Copernico discovers the Earth as a “spinning top” circling the sun, not as the center of everything. It would take a century for humanity to fully accept this, as the Galileo vs the Inquisition trial demonstrates. In 1961 Yuri Gagarin also circumnavigates the Earth - from space. Earthlings land on the moon and our tiny blue globe is photographed from there.

Among beauty and disaster, there are rays of fellowship and the desire to form a united humanity. First considered underlings, “primitive” people are recognized worldwide as worthy human beings. Morin omits mentioning the foundation of the United Nations in 1945 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Television brings images of disaster, underdevelopment and hunger, awakening compassion on some people and indifference in others.

Morin describes the gradual westernization and homogenization of the world’s cultures that tend to be absorbed or disappear. Even as former colonies gained independence, “they did so following the norms and values of Western europe”; yet in his opinion, art and knowledge flourish with the diversity of points of view and cultural artifacts worldwide that syncretize with each other.
The economy became global, bringing international competition and conflicts. Politics also became globalized -no country can take certain political decisions without considering other countries. And unfortunately, globalization has also occurred through global wars.

Globalization of ideas included the wide acceptance of Darwin's theory of evolution, and the difficult, gradual acceptance of his conclusion that humans did not enjoy a special creation, but just descended from apes.

All of this complexity has created what Morin calls “The Hologram”: not only the world is influenced by each of its parts, but each part is affected by the world. Morin illustrates this with a couple of examples of  rich and poor people, where the products they use come from several different countries and their behavior from several cultures.  Not only individuals but organizations and countries as well can be affected by what happens elsewhere.

A gradual planetary consciousness is seen to be emerging, for instance the ecological consciousness brought about by the world-wide damage that we have brought to the planet; the universal fear of nuclear arms; the broadcasting of news everywhere; the globalization of cultures; the earth seen from space…

Morin’s book is written in the year 1 BW: 1993, about a year before the web. Instant globalization, economic and cultural, continues now through the internet. The global threat of climate warming brings about conference after conference about limiting humanity’s output of CO2 with hardly significant results. Poverty and global warming are revealed to be related, as the poor countries wish to increase their economic activity and therefore their output of CO2 while the rich countries do not wish to reduce theirs.

To the ancient bioanthropological substrate that constitutes the unity of the human species, is henceforth added a communicational, civilizational, cultural, economic, technological, intellectual and ideological fabric” - what Teilhard de Chardin called “the noosphere”, set up on top of the biosphere.

The human species henceforth takes the form of Humanity… from now on, Humanity and the planet can manifest themselves in their unity… that of the Planetary Era”. We must then become Citizens of the Earth - next essay.