Gaia Again

JT responded to my satire “The Gaia Hypotheses” along the lines that I did not accurately represent the theory, and that the Gaia Hypothesis wasn’t all bad and contains many good and optimistic features.

JT’s article “The Gaia Hypothesis: Another Interpretation” (Tableaus, March 1992) paints a rather less bleak picture of Gaia than my earlier article on the topic.

However, all she shows is that Lovelock limits himself to the “Weak” Gaia Hypothesis, at least in the passages quoted. Unfortunately, the mystical interpretations of Gaia – the “Strong” and “Real Muscles” hypotheses – are alive and well among the haters of humanity. This is not helped by Lovelock himself, who often has dabbled in the Strong Hypothesis both explicitly and implicitly.

My article was not intended as an attack on the Weak Hypothesis, but as a reductio ad absurdumfrom these mystical Gaia theories. Those who regard human beings as pests, who wish to preserve the most insignificant beetle at the expense of human happiness and well-being, find moral justification in such mysticism. In the name of a “higher good”, all manner of atrocities can be (and indeed have been) justified. Hence my interest in showing that a mystical Gaia as validly ends in the worst pillaging of the earth by us, as in the alternative: the pillaging of mankind for the alleged sake of the earth.

J’s question, “Why should self-destruction be the end of a system which is able to sustain and regulate itself?”, needs a reply, as it is relevant to the validity of my reductio ad absurdum. The answer, as implied in my article, is that this is what many (and to an extent all) species do , and for the same reason as a mystical Gaia would: the better to reproduce, as death is inevitable.

I certainly have no objection to the “positive” and “optimistic” aspects of Lovelock’s work. If it leads to new knowledge, that’s all to the good. It is solely the mystical overtones of Gaia, and their consequences, which I oppose.

I do wonder, however, whether we really need a concept of a non-mystical Gaia (as in the Weak Hypothesis): what does it add to the “conventional” knowledge and study of complex ecosystems? It is indeed interesting and valuable to study how and to what extent complex interactions between species, all seeking their own good (out of genetic necessity), can lead to overall system stability. However, I propose that the “Gaia” approach obscures, rather than enlightens, such investigations.

© 1992, 1996 Robin Craig: first published in TableAus.