An altered version of this essay appears in Vol XV, No. 1 of The Chattahoochee Review. Copyright Madison Smartt Bell 1991


APOCALYPSE WHEN?

An essay by

Madison Smartt Bell

A couple of years ago, I was having a drink with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. I pulled a bottle of Stolichnaya out of the freezer and offered him a shot, which he accepted. He looked at the bottle for a minute or two and said, "I used to drink a fifth of this every day." I suggested that that was rather a lot and he agreed that it was. He had been depressed, he said. He had been in France, working for an antinuclear group which employed the somewhat unusual tactic of going door to door trying to convince whoever they met that they actually already believed that they were doomed to die in nuclear war but just weren't thinking about it-- that they had simply repressed this belief, refusing to acknowledge it consciously.

I agreed that it probably would depress a person to go around proselytizing such a concept full-time. "Yes," my friend said. He knocked back his shot and poured out another. "And it's true, too. But now I don't think about it."

We in America, in the West and perhaps the whole world over, have been drinking to the idea of unthinkablity for a long time now. The concrete possibility of nuclear annihilation has been one of the givens of life on this earth for two generations, and yet is almost by definition unthinkable. Certainly it is a thought which any mind is extremely reluctant to confront head-on. To deliberately ruminate on the prospect of the absolute end of all futures, to contemplate the destruction not of one's own life but of all human life and even of all organic life on the planet, is to be incapacitated by terror. Only a very few people, like Jonathan Schell, have been able to concentrate on this idea carefully, systematically, for a sustained period, long enough to make it clear not only that our power to eradicate our own lives and all others is doubly and triply assured but that such a result must also be completely divorced from any system of teleology that human beings can understand or imagine.

Though Schell and a few other likeminded people have managed to enunciate the eminent thinkability of the end of human life at its own hands, their work has done little to change the general current of thought. The infinitely more common response has been to resort to magical solutions of one kind or another, such as the military-industrial myth of Star Wars, or other mythologies less obviously relevant. If the prospect of doom has receded with thawing of the cold war, it's not because anyone confronted it directly, it is the result of various political accidents which, by comparison, must seem utterly trivial. One must also remember that the threat has only retreated, not gone away, and may still reappear at any moment, if not on the Middle Eastern front then on some other.

What would be the effect if this infinitely long and dark shadow were to be entirely removed? That situation may be even more unimaginable, for we all live in a world predicated, for the most part unknowingly, on the permanent proximity of the absolute end. This predicament has some interesting ramifications for a post-Christian society. The Christian myth shows each individual soul as standing always only an instant away from judgment. To be consciously aware that each instant is potentially that which will catapult the one into eternity has an extraordinary power to concentrate the mind and spirit. Although the possibility of total destruction admits of no religious solution, it does place each individual, and all individuals, in an analogous position, as the late Walker Percy put it, under the aspect of eternity-- literally, in reality, we all are always standing on the brink. It is strange and puzzling that this circumstance seems not to sharpen our awareness but to stupefy it.

In the first flush of euphoria over the relaxation of cold war politics with its implied threat of absolute sudden death, it appeared that whatever sense of apocalyptic urgency we are able to muster was about to be transferred to the health of the planet in general, to the cluster of environmental concerns which cohered, more or less, around Earth Day 1990. Briefly it seemed that these concerns were about to escape their usual minority venues and become genuinely national. At the moment, however, we are all distracted by the chance of a hot war with Iraq, blissfully distracted as it may be, for the national consciousness was about to stumble into an even darker and more dangerous area of unthinkablity.

The fact of the matter is that a speedy global suicide by means of nuclear weapons may have been rendered superfluous and irrelevant, because we are already irrevocably committed to global suicide by slow poisoning. Where the one threat can always, at any moment, be refused rather than embraced, the other is a gradual process which is already underway. Its consequences may already be inevitable. We don't know for certain, but it is very, very possible.

Try, as an experiment, to think about that. Try to imagine the end of your own life and of all others, of dogs and birds and bugs and paramecia and germs. All. You will know when you have succeeded because your breath will catch, your heart will stop, you will feel that the center of your being has been frozen.

No political action can remove this threat. It will be with us for generations to come, and it may very well prove to be our doom. This is the thought which the mind wants so desperately to refuse, and yet we know it, somehow we live with the knowledge,

and we do not think about it. This is the New Age.

Since the near proximity of annihiliation is a fact, and the most important fact of human existence at the present time, it follows that all other thought and action must in one way or another be related to it, though for the most part unconsciously. It follows that all the voices crying so incoherently in the wilderness that surrounds us are trying in one way or another to speak to this problem.

There are of course deliberate responses, direct actions which may range from neighborhood recycling of bottles, cans and newspapers, to the activities and campaigns of organizations like Greenpeace and Earth First. If something so peripheral in its entirety as the environmental movement can be said to have a lunatic fringe, Earth First, with its willingness to resort to semi-terrorist tactics, is it. And yet, to a mind conscious of itself as existing sub specie Šternitatis, the notion of setting oneself kneedeep in concrete in a trench dug across a logging road may not seem entirely quixotic after all.

Opposed to direct action is a response rather more frequently resorted to: direct denial. This is the posture assumed by heavy industry and its advocates, those who profit from it, or are in some way involved with its interests. We are all familiar with the continual insistence on the part of logging companies, oil companies, producers of fluorocarbons and the like that their activities are not harmful. This sort of point is said to be proved either by simple assertion or, at best, by corrupt scientific studies intended to alter "acceptable" levels of damage and contamination to fit whatever circumstances may occur. The strategy of direct denial depends for its credibility on the slow pace of global change, which proceeds at such a glacial rate as to be virtually below the threshold of human perception. Yet we do notice changes: the disappearance of a species here, a species there, the northward creep of the temperate zone, the evolution of forty-pound toads in Three-Mile Island vicinity, increasing frequency of disease episodes ß la Love Canal, the appearance among us of increasing numbers of sufferers from environmental illness, a devastating syndrome apparently precipitated by the body's refusal to absorb any more chemical toxins, be they ever so slight-- as slight, for example, as an odor of gasoline, or commercial perfume.

Between direct denial and direct action there is indifference, the refusal to think about the whole subject, the tendency to wrap it in a shroud of unthinkablity and roll it away. This, for many or most of us, is the most attractive alternative, because in truth we are all implicated, though not perhaps equally, in the processes of destruction that are now underway. It is not possible to withdraw from these processes simply by wishing to, or by taking the beer bottles back, or even by driving spikes into redwoods to break loggers' saws. The spike itself is a product of industry.... By the same token, I would be loathe to renounce the elaborate equipment I am now using to write. And even Wendell Berry uses paper. The hysteria of Earth Firsters may be explained by the suspicion that all renunciations are in effect merely symbolic. A total, radical renunciation would require a return to the Stone Age. No one, almost no one, can effect such a perfect disassociation. No external enemy can be demonized.

There is no innocence.

But the longing for innocence is still powerful. One feels a fraction purer for sorting the trash and hauling it off to the recycling center. To race around on a Greenpeace speedboat, or to fling oneself in the path of a nuclear waste train, might make one feel almost completely purged. Most people, though, won't go so far, but will instead remain vaguely and occasionally troubled by a sense of responsiblity for a lethal problem they can see no way to solve. In this latter circumstance, indirect action and indirect denial become attractive diversionary strategies.

For some, the escape hatch from the unthinkable situation of human beings at the end of our twentieth century is provided by New Age mysticism. This plexus of ideas and aspirations tends to coincide, meaningfully or not, with environmental interests: a good many of the one-shot publications that mushroomed everywhere during Earth Day 1990 were supported by advertising for all varieties of homeopathy, many varieties of philosophically oriented martial art, traditional eastern religion like Zen, a host of meditative methods under auspices of various swamis (some notorious and others unknown), along with astrology, numerology, feng shui, acupuncture, shiatsu, "whole-person dentistry," "women's full moon gatherings," tarot consultation, Reiki healing, crystals of all varieties (including but not limited to Chakra-Tuned Quartz Crystal Singing Bowls), Crystal Therapy and/or Healing, Rebirthing, Orgone Therapy, Past Life Therapy, Rolfing, Native American Spirituality... it goes on. These offerings were more or less equally interspersed with advertising for explicitly environmental concerns, ranging from committees to save the rainforests to environmentally sound auto repair and politically correct underwear-- woven by environmentally responsible manufacturers. One may well doubt whether all these interests and enterprises are connected by anything more than a common thread of preposterousness. One might argue that the ingredients of any typical New Age smorgasbord are as accidentally combined as a bowl of mixed nuts.

Accidental or not, the pairing of extreme enviromental concerns with extreme New Age looniness, New Age religious cults especially, is not new. It already obtained ten years ago when Shiva Naipaul visited San Francisco's "New Earth Exposition" in search of explanations for the Jonestown massacre. This New Age carnival was predicated, in Naipaul's words, on a recognition "that the resources of the earth were finite, that all human activities were interrelated, and that the balance between man and nature was fragile."1 Naipaul, however, did not give this seemingly reasonable proposition much consideration, but instead concentrated on its zaniest extrapolations. Finding himself in a satirist's playground, he had a merry time skewering the unlikely prophets he met with their own absurdity, an absurdity which in his final view was not at all harmless, but deeply sinister.

"It did not matter where one started or what the alleged problem was," Naipaul concluded: "you always ended up roughly the same place (space) and with the same solutions. The New Age, whatever the circumstances, whatever the hang-up that had to be rooted out, would produce the same printout. I came to understand that in the twenty-first century one was not dealing with the rigors of intellectual struggle but that the intellect was dead and its place taken by a set of shared pathological obsessions which, given the chance, would infect every department of life. Ideas had indeed become viruses."2 What Naipaul found most alarming was the notion of Holism common to many New Age doctrines: "Anything (I am using restructured, nonsexist language) that is Whole, Whole within itself and working in harmonious conjunction with all the components of its world, is, by definition, healthy."3 He perceived, correctly, that this apparently innocent formulation could be perverted to justify the surrender of individual responsibility, of self itself, to the sort of totalitarian group mind that operated so destructively at Jonestown, and that still operates, less obviously, among the Rajneeshies, the Moonies, the Hare Krishnas, and other New Age cults.

Naipaul was mistaken, though, in dismissing the initial problem which the various New Age manias attempt to address as being of no consequence. Because he saw so clearly how the New Age cults are most attractive to psychologically crippled individuals, he failed to consider that the Zeitgeist as a whole might be psychologically ailing, and that its shared obsessions in and of themselves might not be so pathological as he assumed.

Fringe alternatives to cultural orthodoxy are by no means unique to the twentieth century. During the European Middle Ages, the prevailing orthodoxy of Christianity was complemented (very much against its will to be sure) by the fringe phenomena of alchemy and Hermeticism. "The point is that alchemy is rather like an undercurrent to the Christianity that ruled on the surface," Jung wrote, suspecting that alchemy was less a scientific enterprise than a mystical one. "It is to this surface as the dream is to consciousness, and just as the dream compensates the conflicts of the conscious mind, so alchemy endeavors to fill the gaps left open by the Christian tension of opposites."4 Medieval alchemy did, in Jung's view, preserve some of the root material of modern science: "the classical spirit and classical feeling for nature"5 which the Age of Faith could not accommodate. But ultimately its more important function was to symbolically resolve the Christian dichotomy between sin and virtue, darkness and light, into a synthesis, a "seed of unity."6 It was a largely unconscious effort to remedy a great illness in the psyche of its age.

New Age religious cults have similar intentions, of which they are, for the most part, similarly unaware. In the Jungian paradigm, "the possessed identify themselves with the archetypal contents of their unconscious, and, because they do not realize that the role which is being thrust upon them is the effect of new contents still to be understood, they exemplify these concretely in their own lives, thus becoming prophets and reformers."7 But in the New Age the unconscious content is not archetypal but particular to the period. It is the same content that made my proselytizing friend drink all that vodka-- the overwhelming probability of our doom.

At bottom, most New Age phenomena may be explained as either indirect denial of that probability or as indirect action against it. Pessimistic millennialism crops up often enough; there are always a few sects who have set the date for Armageddon and reserved their own membership for the rapture. But more common than that is the optimistic millennialism which proposes "that after a dark, violent age, the Piscean, we are entering a millenium of love and light-- in the words of the popular song, `The Age of Aquarius....'"8 The problem for New Age prophets and believers is to weave a plausible relationship between this optimism and the real, actual threat of the fairly imminent end to human life on earth; they do so by proposing that the Apocalypse, however it is imagined, will not be a final termination, but a strait gate through which a radically reformed humankind may pass to enter a benign Aquarian Age. Here is a means, though probably an invalid means, for the consciousness of our time to evade the unthinkable.

It is extremely difficult to evaluate the New Age menu of magical solutions to the doomsday predicament as anything other than escapist fantasy. These hopeful stratagems cannot be taken any more seriously from the pragmatic point of view than alchemy can be taken seriously from the scientific point of view, and since the Enlightenment it has been a commonplace that the components of chemistry and physics in the alchemical tradition are specious, wrong and ridiculous. When the alchemists hit upon a chemical or physical fact they did so by accident. Their scientific method was not induction or deduction; it was wishful thinking.

The modern philosophical/ psychological defense of the alchemists is that their scientific pretension was merely a pose intended to mask their actual engagement with spiritual problems-- to deflect dangerous accusations of heresy. Though true in a sense, this argument misses the point that the alchemists would not have seen religion and science as separate disciplines: their scientia was an all-embracing unity, whose end was to discover not only the truths of the material world but also religious and philosophical truths, all of which were perceived as essentially indivisible from one another. This style of holism has since the eighteenth century so entirely vanished from the Western intellectual tradition that if some vestige of it reappears in modern culture it is likely to be denounced (as by Shiva Naipaul) as an ill-assimiliated plagiarism from Eastern ways of thought and belief.

Holism has its hazards, undoubtedly. If Jonestown was an exemplar of holism, so too were Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. In a different, less socially harmful context, the alchemists and magicians of the Middle Ages and the Rennaissance distorted scientific facts by trying to predict them on the basis of mystical assertions. Still there may have been something in their attitude and approach worth preserving.

The alchemical tradition goes hand and hand through the ages with Hermeticism, a more explicitly magico-mystical philosophy founded on first century Gnostic myths. Where alchemy sought to ground itself on its own brand of chemistry, Hermeticism tried to find a footing in practical magic. The array of craziness underwritten by Hermeticism has been encyclopedically catalogued by Umberto Eco in Foucault's Pendulum, and certainly it can easily match anything our own New Age has to offer.

The Hermeticists, like the alchemists, were vulnerable to charges of heresy; most operated in relative concealment, and also tried to reconcile their beliefs to official Church dogma. Among them was one, Giordano Bruno, a renegade Dominican monk of the sixteenth century, who with varying degrees of openness declared the Gnostic mythology at the heart of Hermeticism to be a suitable alternative to Christianity. In a period when radical divergence from orthodoxy was investigated by the Inquisition rather than by Phil or Oprah, Bruno was finally, predictably, burned at the stake.

The Hermetic heresy, covertly practised by many, to which Bruno became perhaps the only declared martyr, has a number of interesting assertions to make about the universe and the human place in it. Its starting assumption is universal animism, the theory that all objects on earth and in the universe are alive and in some way even sentient, engaged in a living relationship with one another. This idea is a reversal of the more familiar neoplatonic pessimism about matter as a dead linkage of chain that binds the human spirit and prevents it from realizing its divine potentiality. In the Hermetic schema, all material objects are really beings, each capable of pointing the way of return to the divine sphere, whence the human spirit first decended voluntarily; in this mythology the Fall is conceived less as a catastrophe than as a deliberate act of love, a sexual act between man and nature, motivated by an infatuation of the human spirit with the created world.

So far the Hermetic myth is a smiley-face story that does little enough to explain the wretchedness of actual human beings in the world we know. For Giordano Bruno the gap between the apparent and the ideal could be explained by insufficient knowledge and inadequate technique. He agreed with the neoplatonists that humanity suffered from forgetfulness of divine origin and divine possibility, but his optimism about the status of matter suggested that humans could work upon matter to rise above mere human nature, to enter into communication with the angels and demons, which, in the geocentric cosmogony of Hermeticism, are hidden beyond the zodiac, and finally to surpass this sphere as well, to achieve equivalency with the godhead itself.

The method for these transformations was magic, a sorcery founded on the belief that the complex hierarchies in which Hermeticism arranges all material objects expresses their sympathetic relationship not only with one another but with the force that first created them. The ability to manipulate this situation should depend only on knowledge and skill. In this scheme of things, the personage of Jesus Christ is no more the incarnation of the Divine Spirit than you or I might be, but only an extremely potent and successful magus. The mere possibility of such an extrapolation was more than sufficient to guarantee Bruno's execution once the Inquisition caught up with him.

Bruno's version of physical science, meanwhile, was even more completely than alchemy a science of wishful dreams. A typical example is the "wound-salve" which when applied to the edge that had cut someone was expected to heal the injury-- another, more extreme case of the fallacy of trying to use religious assumptions to predict physical results. However, Bruno believed in his sorceror's science quite literally; its importance for him was not as mere metaphor; his science was not supposed to be the less true for being an aspect of his religion. Here, it appears, he was utterly and hopelessly in error.

By the time of Bruno's execution the divorce of science from religion was already underway, and the subsequent scientific revolutions were to be mapped onto the Cartesian grid. The practical utility of the scientific methodology which the Enlightenment began to put in place is indisputable. Under the rigor of these methods a great many secrets of the material world have been opened to us -- for better or worse. But not all the consequences have been totally benign.

If religion fails utterly to predict scientific results, science has failed equally to sustain a religious vision of the world. Once science is no longer a branch of religion, and has generally ceased even to be a branch of humanism, the pursuit of knowledge, now assumed to mean exclusively knowledge of the material world, becomes a moral end in itself. In our day, as Walker Percy phrased it, "scientists know like the angels,"9 but as a priesthood they have not served us well enough. Not to say that scientists are an evil gang of cerebral white-robed demons; not to say that most scientists, as individuals, are amoral or necessarily even short-sighted. We know that Einstein and Stephen Hawking appear to be wise and good men-- capable of exiting their specialties to consider humanist and even religious questions in relation to scientific problems, as a whole. We also know that Adolf Eichmann was apparently able to avoid any thought of the moral ramifications of the Final Solution by concentrating exclusively on the scientific technique he had been given to implement; he was a dedicated specialist, in the worst possible sense.

At the end of the twentieth century we are still inclined to believe that knowledge is power. Giordano Bruno thought so too; and further believed that omniscience was attainable by the ordinary human individual and that once attained it would carry with it the absolute powers of God. His was an apotheosis of holistic knowledge; ours is an apotheosis of specialized knowledge. We too are gnostic fantasists, still devoted to the dangerous faith that scientific knowledge will ultimately translate into omnipotent power over matter.

However, the fracture of the general scientific enterprise into clusters of specialties profoundly out of touch with one another has, by allowing the right hand to operate in ignorance of the activities of the left, permitted irreversible damage to the world we depend on for life. In this respect the hazard of specialization may surpass the hazard of holism. Good as it may be, our version of science cannot serve as an ultimate good-in-itself. It makes a poor crippled deity, as religiously inadequate as religions often prove to be scientifically inadequate.

The hazardous onesidedness of our declared orthodoxy might be predicted to summon alternative ways of thought and belief out of the collective unconscious of our age. The alchemical and Hermetic systems evolved as responses to just such a summons; Bruno's particular handling of Hermeticism is simply a single specialized case. Like other alchemists and magicians, he hoped to find compensations for exclusions that orthodox Christianity had made from the collective psyche of his time. His particular perception was that the organized Church had misread the original Christian intention to deploy the forces of caritas and agape as a panacea for all human suffering. Bruno envisioned a cosmos animated by bonds of love; his brief against the conventional clergy from which he defected-- his heresy-- was that they had substituted force for love, an idea he could support well enough by pointing to the religious warfare which was the chronic condition of his age, for "all religious persecution and all war in the name of religion breaks the law of love."10 The destructive capability of the religious wars of the sixteenth century may seem inconsequential to us, as we face (or decline to face) the prospect of the annihilation of all life on earth, but to Bruno it seemed catastrophic enough to justify the most desperate countervailing measures. Therefore he travelled all over Europe trying to sell his plan for "reforming" Christianity by converting into a magical religion of the world to whatever political leaders whose attention he could attract-- an undertaking as foolhardy, as futile, as downright suicidal as... jumping in front of a nuclear waste train, for example.

Most of the phenomena of the New Age result from a haphazard, unconscious attempt to compensate for exclusions made from the psyche of our age by the deification of science. New Age mystico/magical anarchy reflects the magico/mystical confusions of the Middle Ages and the Rennaissance-- sometimes even in content. And if Giordano Bruno is an especially interesting example from earlier times, J. E. Lovelock has created a remarkable case for our own.

Where Bruno was a renegade monk, Lovelock is a renegade scientist. In the sixties, he worked as a consultant to a team of "space biologists," whose mission was to design biochemical tests to determine whether or not there is life on Mars. In a spinoff from this project, he began to try to design more fundamental tests for life detection here on earth. He then embarked on a series of wide-ranging studies, of the atmosphere and of the oceans in particular, which resulted in his "hypothesis that the entire range of living matter on Earth, from whales to viruses, and from oaks to algae, could be regarded as constituting a single living entity, capable of manipulating the Earth's atmosphere to suit its own needs and endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts"11-- or, for short, the Gaia hypothesis.

Responses to this proposition have been diverse, to say the least. It seems likely that Lovelock never had the least intention of becoming a New Age prophet, but the Gaia hypothesis makes an obvious appeal to the New Age zest for holism. In its author's own words, "it is an alternative to that pessimistic view which sees nature as a primitive force to be subdued and conquered. It is also an alternative to that equally depressing picture of our planet as a demented spaceship, forever traveling, driverless and purposeless, around an inner circle of the sun."12 In hope, perhaps, of a warmer reception from the scientific establishment than he actually encountered, Lovelock carefully stops short of "talking of Gaia as if she were known to be sentient;"13 however, this very language makes the animist intentions of his theory unmistakable.

Attractive as it is to New Age mystics, the Gaia hypothesis is equally embraceable by the environmentally engaged folk who are so often their fellow travelers, because like other conservationist theories it makes much of the subtle interdependencies within ecosystems, and also among them as they are combined in larger wholes. Rather less predictably, Lovelock's theory has also been adopted by some opponents of radical environmentalism-- as a means for debunking predictions of ecological doom. Because his theory describes the earth as a self-regulating organism with the power to adjust itself toward its goal of homeostasis, Lovelock is not a believer in ecological Armageddon either; on the contrary he downplays ecological bugaboos such as the ozone hole.

This aspect of the Gaia hypothesis has been joyously taken up by the apologists for the contaminators and pillagers of the earth. Their argument now runs that since we humans are part of a self-regulatory process, our activities, whatever they may be, are by definition harmless, in the long view. So long as we are merely a feature of a larger organism, we can do no irrevocable wrong; Gaia will always have the capability to compensate for our depredations. This camp of apologists can point to Lovelock's various assertions to the effect that life on earth would be almost impossibly difficult to exterminate completely.

Unfortunately this line of reasoning amounts to so much happy idiocy. For one thing it fails to consider that self-regulating organisms do sometimes fall ill and die. The environmental counterargument has been to suggest that if the earth is an animal, then human life is its disease, its cancer. The apologists meanwhile are pleased to ignore that when Lovelock speaks of the tenacity of life, he does so from rather an astral remove. "Life on this planet is a very tough, robust, and adaptable entity and we are but a small part of it.... Large plants and animals are relatively unimportant."14 The advent of oxygen into the atmosphere, so necessary for our existence, was as Lovelock points out a lethal catastrophe for anaerobic organisms. If similarly drastic changes occur in the future, "many species, including man, would be discomforted and some would be destroyed."15 Let human beings take whatever comfort from this line of reasoning they may discover.

Meanwhile, the reception of the Gaia hypothesis by the scientific establishment has tended to be rather frosty. Lovelock himself has been able to appreciate the irony of that chilliness: "Things have taken a strange turn in recent years; almost the full circle from Galileo's famous struggle with the theological establishment. It is the scientific establishment that makes itself esoteric and is the scourge of heresy."16 And it may very well be that the Gaia hypothesis is invalid from the standpoint of scientific orthodoxy. It may be as silly and irrelevant as alchemical propositions about physics or Hermetic propositions about the wound-salve. It does not matter, either way.

What the unconscious labors to discover is never a fact, but a vision. The Gaia hypothesis has been summoned up as a visionary solution to the fatal problem which our collective consciousness is virtually unable to acknowledge. If it is not viable as science, it may be perfectly viable as mythology. Indeed it is not a new myth, but an ancient one, a restatement of the Hermetic vision of universal animism in scientific terms. As myth, it comes complete with an implied morality and an implied ethics which suggest that any and all assaults on the biosphere should be taken as equivalent to murder. A myth that could justify such an ethics might become our way of salvation. At the very least it would be more salutary than the other gnostic myth we already believe: the tale of the omniscience and omnipotence of science.

To say that this solution is merely poetic is not reason enough to dismiss it. No solution can be enacted without having first been imagined. Still, it probably won't catch on. There are too many voices crying in the wilderness; they drown each other out. A pity, for this a myth one might live with, and without it, life may cease.