Ecosophy: Guattari’s Eco-logic

“…no one is exempt from playing the game of the ecology of the imaginary!”
-Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies

The ecological crisis which we are in the throws of has no predecessor – it is without precedent. Floods, earthquakes, lightning bolts, and other disasters are found strewn all throughout human history and mythology but this one is of a completely different type that fails to register in the way a storm shocks one into self-preservation. The climate is heating up at a constant rate, the biosphere’s cohesion is deteriorating. Perhaps a disaster is not quite the right way to put it. What we are coming to terms with, when we are not preoccupied by scrambling in a mad race for money, is a doomsday clock whose rhythm cannot be deciphered (for it depends on our continued actions) but can be stopped. There is much anxiety to go around, along with plenty of finger-pointing and utter disbelief from deniers, but one should not pretend to be absolved from mutual catastrophe by attacking beliefs and pinning blame. The special thing about this looming threat is that all are implicated whether or not one believes this or that, lives on this or that continent, or is this or that country; at stake is the fate of our home… which is also *us* if viewed in a certain way. It’s an existential problem in at least two ways: physical existence will be radically and irreparably altered and it fills us with a dread we don’t understand. Placing a discomfort under a category brings relief, but this one is just so foreign and – in a way – so primal. Attuning ourselves to this problem requires a radical shift in our thinking as well as projects and processes – the way we move matter and energy around with consistency. ‘Radical shift’ doesn’t even begin to mark what is required from us nor does ‘Revolution’.

Philosophers can indeed have something to offer in this problem and if you fancy yourself an anti-philosophical critical theorist so much the better. In spite of the flippant dismissal of those ivory tower, arm-chair, head-in-the-clouds thinkers that is oh-so common here in America, I believe that the right books can drastically change our lives materially by inspiring, provoking, and reorganizing concepts that we have and, more importantly, allowing us to see the concepts *we didn’t know that we had*. An idea that sparks one into action can seem like it was there all along. There is a synergy that produces something extra (+1) in what we call philosophical discussion where the whole is more than the sum of its parts and we are pushed to acknowledge beliefs we haven’t attended to, and in turn push past them or stick with them. This does not happen high up in a baroque tower or in an office space (not only) but in our living rooms, dining rooms, and barrooms; though unfortunately it happens mostly in leisure time. There is a straightening in people vertically, a sharpening of focus, an intensity in the face when these matters come up, and after that it becomes difficult to end the conversation well lest there is some concerned effort for all parties to understand each other and reason patiently. It is in these games of competing beliefs where strikes, parries, maneuvers, and tricks are performed with (mostly verbal) gestures that conceptual clarity becomes one’s greatest weapon in opening up others to the effective critique and reexamination of which the great many of us are so deprived. This does not exclude oneself from the act of critique or immunize oneself with a reserve of arguments to wear around like magic armor (*arg*-garments); quite the contrary, dialoguing with an open mind, that is, allowing one’s beliefs to become vulnerable to outsiders and up for contestation provides a space where positions become exchangeable. Internal critique of oneself, auto-critique, not only fashions one’s abilities along with one’s friends but provides a scene of collaboration where something new might come into being.

This creation is desperately needed but cannot be given. There is no easy answer and no savior to fix us up: no messiahs leading the way. It needs to be earned – we are always playing games with tactics and strategies, wins and losses, good and bad players, and with great and small consequences. With a problem as big as the climate we need an effort to match it including a reevaluation of concepts that circulate through our minds quite beyond the control of our supposed “free will”. Viewed from the proper scope to match this problem, the experiences and encounters on a daily basis are systematically integrated with the utmost calculable precision we ever could have imagined. The techno-scientific character of modern life (as in what we’re living now) shows itself not just in the spreadsheets, statistics, and info-graphs but in the flickering lights of advertisements and splendid colors made to attract the interest of the great multitude. These clever designs fueled by the “findings” of psychology and other social sciences are intended to generate revenue for sure, but more important than an immediate cause and effect relationship is the correlation between suggestion and purchase. Statistical population reasoning is the tool to find out what will attract targeted subjects and produce the desired response. Once something makes its way into the spectacle, the hard work is already done.

It’s a battleground out there – for your attention.

An approach to changing our unsustainable state of affairs within these conditions cannot forget that the culture we are dealing with here is the most saturated culture in recorded history and a fairly recent development. This cannot be ignored by an ecological mobilization; ecology is not “Nature” as opposed to culture (thank you Tim Morton), ecology is about relationships and how external conditions and processes influence things. To get to the ecological level of thinking means relearning how to see the world. I am prepared to go all the way with this – so far as to question the idea of world, an idea like nature and God that has been able to cover itself over as thought and ascend into something (even more problematic) called ‘reality’. But before I get ahead of myself it’s time to bring in a work of philosophy by Felix Guattari related to the task.

A strategy that bypasses politics as usual is required of us if the biosphere is to survive; a strategy that isn’t reducible to social-environmental reforms but goes down deeper and spreads far wider than any party or player could take us. The object of concern turns out to be not an object at all but relationships held together by systemic interactions forming a field whose limits only seem to expand or shrink.

This field is precisely what needs to be put into question: the borders, the shape, the constitution of our setting are due for a rethinking. This problem has been creeping up on us for too long now and it is time to fashion the tools required to relate to our environment, society, others, and ourselves in non-destructive ways. The Three Ecologies by Felix Guattari provides a good place to start on this daunting task (though it is probably already underway on some level) for a number of reasons but uniquely because it is a short and accessible work of around 25 pages. The areas of concern in the project of transforming relationships at a fundamental level (crucially without falling into social utopian planning) are plainly laid out in three easy pieces:

1) The Environment
2) Social Relations
3) Human Subjectivity

The three form no particular shape nor does one stand atop the others in structure, organizing them as a transcendent authority. The division is a practical one and these categories will prove useful in sorting things out in our imagination. The tripartite grouping maintains the inter-connectivity demanded by a planetary ecological crisis, keeping in mind the inseparability of one’s personal and social symbols of attachment and the material environment. The three are linked together in a way that a change in one can only call for a revolutionary change including the others.

“The only true response to the ecological crisis is on a global scale, provided it brings about an authentic political, social, cultural revolution, reshaping the objectives of the production of both immaterial and material assets.” (p.20)

What Guattari and I are referencing by revolution cannot stop at forces pertaining to the states, nations, or federations for the forces of the earth could care less about the dynamics of political composition. A revolution fit for ecologically sustainable living must not get stuck fighting old targets and adapt like what it opposes: a globalized capitalist class (the 1%) which evades national laws in tax havens and spreads out to wherever it can exploit resources and labor cheaply, making our climate uninhabitable and most people impoverished. Zeroing in on any one of the three points (environment, society, subjectivity – self) to the exclusion of the others limits the potential for transforming our lives and restructuring material processes. The kind of change required to alter relations on a global scale must have a perspective relative to the challenge it faces.

Capitalism is no doubt incompatible with an ecologically responsible existence. The profit motive that quantifies value and captures desire has so successfully integrated with the great outpouring of technological innovations of the last century that the entire global infrastructure now depends on perpetual growth. The assumed good in-itself of “economic growth” has metastasized with the help of a very complex array of cold calculations, mostly done through computers. Growth is believed to be a constant variable by those at society’s helm regardless of the colossal extraction of resources and speedy transport needed to sustain it. This kind of growth is unsustainable on a finite planet and, not only that, it is ruining the lives of the animals inhabiting it presently. The biosphere itself may be damaged beyond repair (beyond repairing itself) by this not-nearly-questioned-enough project of regulated, steady capital growth. A post growth economy will have to be sensitive to the instruments that lock growth into a uniformed march of death: usury, interest-rates, debt-slavery.

Capitalism taps into desire to an even greater extent than desire could be manipulated in the rise of Nationalism, it encourages an expansion of creative outlets and produces subjectivities that may or may not be linked up with national identification. The boundaries always seemed to be pushed outward in the location and exposition of ever new “pop culture” genres and styles to be advertised to the population at large. But these new developments always face the prospect of integration into the social-cultural history in the same way that new technologies tap into resources and integrate them into a synchronized supply lines of economic exchange. The important point is that capitalism is now forced to grow into ever new territories that do not end with material objects or places but extend into the immaterial symbols of the imaginary. The rise of financial capitalism – where money creation by intermediary allocation, investment, and speculation – coincides with the infinite variety of imaginative subjectivities for sale, both have a fictitious element that produces wealth for some with immaterial processes. The demands of capitalist growth produces subjects and demands they be new and inspiring while at once conforming to economic and judicial standards of efficiency.

One must see how value/money and the individual/subject are processes in a much larger ecological game of which capitalism is thoroughly dominating.

“Integrated World Capitalism (IWC), tends to increasingly decenter its sites of power, moving away from structures producing goods and services towards structures producing signs, syntax, and – in particular, through the control which it exercises over the media, advertising, opinion polls, etc. – subjectivity.”

We ignore the subjective dimension at our peril. The individualism in euro-american culture that places the individual body of the person at the forefront of the freedom debate masks a more thoroughgoing control of subjects. There lies a comprehensive field of enticements and fantastic symbols with which one can identify with, and more and more are required to meet the demands of a hyper-s(t)imulated desire. The reactive gesture is to lament and dismiss the corruption of our dear traditional culture, and there is plenty of that to go around, but the opposite track which progressively applauds the diversification of cultural symbols (multi-culturalism) does the work of integration. Increasingly deviant subjectivities and the scenes that support them are acceptable so long as the whole to which they sprang from is not disturbed too much. Both reactive and progressive dimensions push and pull in such fierce polar opposition as to keep the social space for conceiving subjectivities edgy and expansive yet coherent and tame.

As a psychoanalyst, Guattari is sensitive to the subjectification of patients in the discourse of psychiatry. Here science meets subjectivity in a way that treats the subject as an object of study in an institutionalized practice legitimated by the authoritative stamp of the scientific method. The meaning of the subject-object relationship, a distinct understanding of each one without conflation, has never been easy to reach consensus on in any mode of discourse. More of a conceptual problem for philosophers, the distinction is often drawn for the sake of navigating the quandaries of human language, perception, and the external world. The rise of social science has allowed the conceptual difficulties of objectifying peoples to be passed over in light of the immense data and statistical regularity that it has produced. Again, here it is the standard of production and wealth of results that grants the discourse its institutional status. The respectable field of knowledge goes unchallenged when it produces – whether the products be careers, tuition revenue, or a normalized body of knowledge. In short, subjects are treated as objects of various kinds that have already crystallize, preventing a fluid development of newer subjectivities under the guise of scientific authority. But the authority that is invoked by making a science out of the social, and out of the subject, takes ready-made subjectivities for objects unquestioningly.

“I myself have come to regard the apprehension of a psychical fact as inseparable from the assemblage of enunciation that engenders it, both as a fact and as expressive process. There is a kind of relationship of uncertainty between the apprehension of the object and the apprehension of the subject; so that, to articulate them both, one is compelled to make a pseudo-narrative detour through the annals of myth and ritual or through supposedly scientific accounts… I am suggesting that this pseudo-narrative detour deploys repetitions that function, through an infinite variety of rhythms and refrains, as the very supports of existence… It is only through these repetitions that incorporeal Universes of reference, whose singular events punctuate the progress of individual and collective historicity, can be generated and regenerated.”

Combining the subjective dimension with the objective dimension has the strange effect of becoming extra-discursive – from within a discourse, a detour through narrative and into “the very supports of existence”. Guattari writes here of a transcendent authorization claiming to reach into discourse from outside but only first passing through “myth”, “ritual”, and “narrative” which then produce repetitions within discourse. The repetitions come by way of myth and discourse (people talking in a common symbolic frame of reference) whether they admit this narrative component or cover over it; these phantasmic repetitions perform the creation of subjects via cultural events, gatherings, or just things to talk about with one another. This process of repetition within discourse of an extra-discursive organizer from without is what the incorporeal Universe feeds off of, creating a ’world’ of symbols from which a subject can become a part of. The subject is integrated always within this world which at least passes through myth and forms the background of fantasies to which it can repeat: “I am… I am…”.

Guattari is seeking a logic and analysis that will allow for the awakening of new subjectivities by remaining open to singularities that transform material processes attached to the three ecologies. This logic would not be over-concerned with the objects under study, either ignoring the subjective compliment or reducing it to a prefixed, coherent object and dismissing its malleability – the objective scientific attitude. He writes:

“While the logic of discursive sets endeavours to completely delimit its objects, the logic of intensities, or eco-logic, is concerned only with the movement and intensity of evolutive processes. Process, which I oppose here to system or to structure, strives to capture existence in the very act of its constitution, definition, and deterritorialization.”

The eco-logic of intensities is sensitive to ruptures in the three ecological spheres (mental, social, environmental) that show signs of

“expressive subsets that have broken their totalizing frame and have begun to work on their own account… Ecological praxes strive to scout out the potential vectors of subjectification and singularization at each partial existential locus.” (p.30).

The eco-logic or ecology deals with the singularities and intensities reorganizing a raw matter that cannot be treated as objects (raising the problem of excluded subjectivities and where to draw the boundaries of the objects). Singularities are the processes by which matter becomes reconfigured, how stuff is morphed into a completely new and unforeseen orientation. The singularity itself evades representation being a kind of environmental organizer that cannot be found occupying a determinate position, though it is localizable. The singularity does show itself in the way matter and energy flows and interlocks various functions together; emerging narrative worlds are formed in Guattari’s pragmatic categories outlined in three ecologies, complimenting the swirling natural “stuff”. Examples of emergent subjectivities would be found in ’the Proletariat’, ’Brazilian’, or ’Punk’, all formed by singular developments in matter/energy but producing common incorporeal signs of attachment which in turn shape the organization of matter/energy in the potency of those signs.

Eco-logic takes matter as unformed, embracing the changes that matter is constantly undergoing however subtly while giving its expression a chance to *form itself*. Guattari is trying to elaborate a different logic than the one that traditionally passes for a rigorous, objective scientific discourse where objects interact dynamically and fit models of study (natural laws, equations, algorithms, a thorough quantification, etc.), but do not promote the emergent formation of new environmental relationships, social objects, and subjectivities, only reacting to them in detached inquiry. Respecting the singularity would entail allowing for an autonomous self-expression without an immediate interpretation from without. Recent developments that seem to come from “nowhere”, since an explanation was not ready-made to account for them, are most definitely the outcome of these material processes of singularity; but for the singularity to come to fruition in the incorporeal, expressive domains, a discipline carrying along with it an ordered world and a history of its own must not be taken at face-value with regard to this sudden event. Such are the forces that could potentially ’explain away’ a budding singularity, barring the expression required for the formation of an assemblage.

“At the heart of all ecological praxes there is an a-signifying rupture, in which the catalysts of existential change are close at hand, but lack expressive support from the assemblage of enunciation; they therefore remain passive and are in danger of losing their consistency – here are to be found the roots of anxiety, guilt and more generally, psychopathological repetitions.” (P. 30)

Tying this back up with the capitalist organization of matter/energy, Guattari repeatedly emphasizes how global capitalism has spread itself out not just by supply lines, markets, and debt but by monopolizing our imagination – the modes of expression from which one can articulate oneself within discourse.

“Social ecology will have to work towards rebuilding human relations at every level of the socius. It should never lose sight of the fact that capitalist power has become delocalized and deterritorilized, both in extension, by extending its influence over the whole social, economic and cultural life of the planet, and in ’intension’, by infiltrating the most unconscious subjective strata.” (p.33)

Speaking of a globalized capitalism invading every real or imagined territory can make its logic feel like a basic fact of life or an inescapable totality one can only adjust to, rather than a unique logic at work and working very well at self-perpetuation. The point that Guattari is trying to get at and doing his darnedest to make us understand is a different logic (eco-logic) welcoming to a break with dominant systems and cultivating the means to creative expression within a another not-yet-system in the process of generation. These uncultivated potentials are organized by capitalism’s specific organizational power into “tried-and-true” productions found all across the cultural landscape at a personal and social level. Mass-media at the finger-tips of every household via television and, lately, pocket via mobile internet devices grants access to an expanding field of consumer-subjects that fit nicely into the capitalist paradigm. The prevalence of capitalist logic is here represented as one force among many other forces but one that extended itself through contingent historical developments and geostrategic victories.

Alternatives pushing hard against the capitalist logic from within yet unable to stop the advancing onslaught should not be interpreted as the contradictions of that logic converting it into the next stage of the process of history. This Hegelian-Marxist interpretation treats the process history as a science, and a linear one at that. Guattari is giving us an alternative notion of process as a line of flight shooting away from a logic or territory that has not yet become articulate or expressed adequately enough to challenge that which it came from and is trying to oppose. Such an articulation or expression would first need a period of germination – to cultivate a novel form of expression a certain unfolding from within and without interference is necessary to establish the possibility of autonomy. Capitalist logic is well practiced at recycling fringe movements and lines of flight back into itself through the process of accommodation. To counter this process, the content of the flows seeking escape must be allowed to form themselves with aesthetic significance in the social, subjective and environmental domains if a material arrangement is to achieve a clean break in its processual rhythm and flow. “I repeat: the essential thing here is the break-bifurcation, which it is impossible to represent as such, but which nevertheless exudes a phantasm attic of origins…” (p.37).

Capitalist logic is one of perpetual growth accommodating everything that distances itself from it. Guattari is trying to elaborate an eco-logic that operates by detecting intensities as they escalate and allow them to continue escalating in material content by imposing no formal interpretation on the apparently spontaneous surge. Such a intense outgrowth is capable of self-expression, and the three ecological categories Guattari makes use of are not timeless formal constraints but different lenses from which to view shifts and resonances within a complex cultural field.
Scientific practices share with religious dogma an air of authority and certainty (though they differ in many other regards of course!) that satisfies the need to respond to recent unsettling anomalies. However,

“This new ecosophical logic – and I want to emphasize this point – resembles the manner in which an artist may be led to alter his work after the intrusion of some accidental detail, an event-incident that suddenly makes his initial project bifurcate, making it drift far from its previous path, however certain it had once appeared to be.” (p.35).

This is the logic that will inspire a mobilization that will put up a direct challenge to a capitalist logic laying waste to the biosphere. This can be stated because it makes no predictions and gives no guarantees but leaves the practitioner open to transformations on multiple fronts.

“ – a nascent subjectivity
– a constantly mutating socius
– an environment in the process of being reinvented” (p.45)

This eco-logic’s openness to singularities and withholding of preconceptions puts one in the position of uncomfortable bafflement, lest finding oneself immersed in the process of singularization and so profoundly morphing relations with the social, subjective and environment. Far from being indecipherable, the rift, crack, break, bifurcation, or singularity is given expression in active involvement as the actor changes along with it.



Reasoning with Tyranny

Jon Stewart made a remarkable statement a few days ago on the issue of gun violence and gun control:

“Now I see what’s happening. So this is what it is. Their paranoid fear of a possible dystopic future prevents us from addressing our actual dystopic present.”

He was responding to the fears of media reporters, pundits, and angry citizens over gun control, but he and his team of writers view this as a paranoid and irrational fixation on a possible future apocalypse or some other fantastic threat. Instead of worrying ourselves about the rise of tyranny or power concentration that may some day occur, Stewart and his staff coach us to focus on the present. His practical advice on solving the problems pressing right now is to have a reasonable debate on guns in our society. But what would that debate look like? File that question away for a moment.

Alex Jones went on Piers Morgan’s show and ripped him apart through sheer ranting. He repeatedly talked over Morgan, mocked him with phony rhetorical questions in response to what Jones called his “factoids”, and turned his show into a mouthpiece for Jones’ opinions. This was not a cool, calm, and collected rational debate. Piers Morgan had been shouting about his own native Britain’s success in controlling gun violence through strict laws and Alex Jones arrived to give him a taste of how an American libertarian can rant.

Jon Stewart used footage from this… uh… “conversation” to help him paint a picture of gun nuts obsessed with imaginary dystopian apocalypse scenarios where they can become heroic, antigovernment freedom fighters. Is this characterization so accurate and do these gun-carrying patriots deserve it? Moreover, and this is the crucial part, what would it take to move a more rational and deliberate person into action after recognizing that we all are living in an “actual dystopic present” (like Stewart said)?

What is a citizen, or a patriot, or an anti-capitalist, or a socialist, or a libertarian, or a student of history who hates ideological labels suppose to do when they come to terms with the understanding that they are living in an authoritarian-tyrannical-fascist state? What role would reason, wit, or irony play after reaching this understanding?

Jon Stewart’s ingenuous call for a rational debate in the toxic space where these national debates usually take place seems like the soft, joking, friendly, and intelligent voice amidst a sea of inflammatory rhetoric. I admire Jon Stewart for his witty and hilarious mockings of the mainstream media’s stupidity and demagoguery as I have since the 90’s (and by the way I had never even heard Alex Jones speak before the Piers Morgan thing). Mixing comedic satire with vital issues of the day has always been The Daily Shows genius. But I depart from the opinions expressed here about the role of reason when tyranny has entered our “actual dystopic present”; though whether or not we are at that phase is very much a matter for reasoned debate. When a power grab has occurred and a very small number of people hold absolute power over the rest, the only reasoning left is how most effectively to resist: debate becomes strategy. We can and should always use our reasoned arguments to convince people that what we believe is right given the opportunity. But the moment tyranny is upon us, the moment one is left with a choice between domination and resistance, all conversation breaks off, the diplomats are sent home, the embassies burns their papers. The only reason that a fascist government serving the very few and enslaving the rest deserves is the tactical reasoning that strategizing against it.

This not a Left vs. Right, Liberal vs. Conservative, Progressive vs.(?) Libertarian matter, this is a matter of the utmost importance polarizing everyone with any inkling of a political consciousness: the possibility of a Revolution, a coup d’état (past or future), a Civil War. The debate on gun control and our American culture of violence has brought us here.

There is little to suggest that banning assault weapons would prevent mass shootings like the one in Newton which the nation is still grieving about. The thought of a person shooting up a classroom of children with a giant military-grade rifle is so stirring and awful that a collective wave of emotion will inevitably grip a nation addicted to sensational news stories for the duration of the news-cycle. To have a reasonable debate debate about gun violence and gun control would mean to wait for this collective outrage to pass, but then, in a double standard, proponents of gun control would see this as letting their moment to take action slip away. Banning assault weapons in fact would do little to save lives as almost all gun deaths are from handguns and nearly all of those deaths are gang-related. [Link] If we were serious and calculated rational human beings about lessening violent crime and homicide, we would end the drug war and legalize marijuana. Clinics could be set up to help those addicted to hard drugs and gang violence would decrease.

But popular rage is not with that issue at the moment, so the spectacle is concentrated now on guns and mass shootings. It is very likely that these massacres are done for the media publicity and the perverse “fame” that these suicidal gunmen receive posthumously. Blasting his mug-shot on the nightly news for a week and making a household name out the person probably does more to encourage these atrocities than anything else. These unexpected massacres deserve a much more thorough look into the violence of American culture.

Violence is very much a central part of American culture, and I’m not talking Hollywood and video games (of which there is no evidence that either make people more violent). The USA is the by far and away the biggest military superpower today and maybe even for all of history. The war technology far surpasses anything that’s ever been seen on Earth and continues to advance. Drone warfare allows our executive to kill whomever he wishes on the planet. There is no congressional oversight, the president has the authority to wage micro-war whenever and wherever he pleases. The former president George Bush initiated two wars that have killed hundreds of thousands, scaring congress with blatant lies into giving him executive authority to wage war. There is a war on drugs, a war on crime, along with the war on terror; all with no end in sight. The Patroit Act allows for wiretapping of Americans by the recently formed Department of Homland Security and data mining whatever information it wants with no oversight. Barack Obama has continued the war on “terror” (which would sound like ‘an attack on fear’ to the newcomer) with even broader authority than the much reviled-by-leftists Bush. His signing into law of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 (NDAA) grants him the power to indefinitely detain any American anywhere in the world without due process of law, holding them in prison conditions that harken back to the 18th century. This allows for the military detention of any “associated forces” of terrorist groups who commit “belligerent acts” in a dangerously vague wording. The statute for total control over the freedom of the citizens of America by the executive has been set in law. Torture has been proven to be used repeatedly as a tactic against alleged “insurgents”. Soldiers go on killing sprees in a fit of adrenaline fueled rage. Children and their villages are wiped out at the press of a button by drone strikes for being nearby someone on Obama’s hand-picked kill-list. And when these war atrocities are made public they shoot the messenger, taking more action against whistle-blowers than any presidential administration ever. Secrecy, death, and total war define most aptly our global state of affaires, together with maintaining a social order to contain people’s anger from coalescing. Protesters exercising their rights to assemble and redress grievances are haphazardly labeled terrorists. And I haven’t even started to talk about the financial sector’s ransacking of the wealth that pushes most people into crippling debt-slavery, or the back-door bailout (after already using the front door) that siphons money to mega-banks leaving the great many in the cold.

These are all reasons to fight back. But in the face of this reality and the thought of gun seizure from this government, how can one demand a state of cool, calm, collectedness necessary for rational debate? A level head is always the first choice in relating to another, but what I will never do is try to reason with a dictator, or a police officer tackling and beating me with a nightstick for expressing my anger in public. No, I like many Americans feel the need to rant and rave and light a fire under people’s asses until I know which side people are on and then reason with those on my side. The tension produced by the proverbial ‘drawing a line in the sand’ flies in the face of the value the American mainstream media places on a civilized bipartisan agreement. The rancorous national debate between neoconservatives and progressives has far too long been a matter of finding some tiny island of common ground between two evils. Imperialism, plutocracy, military-police surveillance, and spectacle worship are on both of *these* sides. The task then becomes drawing different lines and making it easier to determine who is willing to fight and who is content with continuing the way things are.

We may not be in a dystopian present, but the very utterance of that possibility and the popular fascination of post-apocalyptic stories and scenarios (where violence is normal and always upon you, basically the environment) attests to its nearness in our imagination. This is not some aberration but a fear that was anticipated by the very same people that established the federal government in the beginning. They understood the necessity of checks and balances and civil liberties to protect the people from a potentially tyrannical rule. The crafters of the American Constitution and instigators of the American Revolution were very much afraid of the colonial empire subjecting them to intolerable rule: their actions were moved by fear and anger as well as a free and just society. When the protections they outlined in the Bill of Rights are systematically undermined, there is every reason to be angry and afraid.

As David Hume wrote: “reason is the slave of passion”, but there are still good reasons – one is justified reasonably – to be emotional. There are so many levels of injustice that it is difficult to piece it all together and decide how to change it effectively. When the time comes to defend one’s anger and fear, many draw blanks and simply can’t find the words to defend the intensified emotion. Others rant and shout (and there is a time and place for that mode of discourse). To demand a reasonable debate that will in theory convince anyone to believe the correct argument often kills the mood needed to follow through and take the right action – even if that action is reasonably justified.

With all of the recent political developments written above, it is not hard to make a case that America is on the march toward tyranny. But whether or not totalitarian plutocracy is imminent, I would not insist that all willing to defend their freedom state an air-tight, logically sound explanation for why they must resist. A general feeling that something is terribly wrong, seeing people suffering, and experiencing unnecessary plight is enough to take action. Getting screwed should not require an essay.

But my open question still is: what more would it take to convince people rationally that the government claiming to represent them is tyrannical? What *could* one do without the means to fight it?


Nausicaa: Eco-Warrior of Life

Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa: Of the Valley of the Wind is a cautionary tale of environmental devastation and mass death set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. But it is much more than that. Nausicaa herself wrestles with some of the traps of nihilism in hallucinatory dream sequences on her quest to foster the will to live in a world of crisis. She is a quick and assertive warrior princess in battle, but her concerns call out much farther than the battle at hand and point towards the lives of non-human creatures and the greater environment which she admires and has a deep connection to.

Human folly is in full display on this manga adventure, and Nausicaa’s ultimate task is to fight a mystical order of thought plaguing humans and preventing a ecological social existence affirming life. There are god-warriors, telepathy, and weird spirit battles in dream-space, but the real demon in this fantasy story is a bad mixture of despotism, technological abuse, and misplaced hope in a ‘pure world’ coming from imperial human societies. Nausicaa instinctively feels that the greatest danger lies not with the enemy on the battlefield or any single environmental threat to civilization (as many in the story do) but a certain kind of morality carried over from the past clouding our judgement in times of war, crisis, and rapid environmental change. Intuition factors in heavily in moving her adventure along, but there is much that she learns from recalling her bio-lab experiments, applying them with the latest developments in the unfolding story. With much to learn at the outset, Nausicaa’s bid to rid her world of tyranny and mass death will depend on courage and conviction, but also an open-minded curiosity. Nausicaa’s is a life-affirming tale that is ultimately an attack on sickly values of the past clinging to the present and spreading death to the lives lived now.

Nausicaa is Hayao Miyazaki’s first story and was his most painful to write. It took him 12 years on and off to finish the manga, struggling to find a path to take for the characters to fit into. The manga was wildly popular in Japan but, due to the success of his other movies, has been largely and unfortunately overlooked in America. The Nausicaa movie debuted in 1984 setting off a long movie career with Studio Ghibli that has made him famous around the world. But the Nausicaa manga, completed in the ten years that followed the movie’s release, contains such dense and profound ideas that are barely scratched in the movie, let alone his other movies. Certain questions became troubling to him upon hearing the environmentalist response to the movie and he couldn’t find the words to express them. In a telling interview he says:

“So, after the movie, I told myself that I would approach the problem more seriously to continue the manga, but once I started, there were so many things I couldn’t understand. From the beginning to the end, I ended up writing with a whole lot of things I couldn’t understand.”

The story started writing itself as Miyazaki brought himself to the limits of religious and conceptual problems he didn’t really want to get into. He didn’t feel adequately equipped to deal with them, but did feel compelled to continue the story and finish it with more depth than the movie could handle.

“(I was disgusted with) not only environmental problems, but also where humans were going. Mostly, the way Japan was. And I was most disgusted with the way I was at that time.”

This unplanned and scattered writing exercise in Nausicaa led Miyazaki into some very perplexing scenarios between mythological creatures and imagined technologies centered around the idea of life at scales large and small. The story is of such grandeur that religious concepts found their way in but without any dogma moving it forward besides the simple maxim that ’life is good and should thrive’. Life’s mutilation comes by way of ideas here – ideas belied by ancient technology, which, in this imagined future, are plaguing the individual lives struggling to thrive on a weakened planet. These ideas are relics of a past age that have crossed a vast historical distance and do the most to keep society subjugated as if under the spell of another world. The will to live is kept in check by the empires and their priests spreading needless death but also weakening the environment, further catalyzing death and despair.

Miyazaki’s reflections on the work will factor in later on, but let’s venture into the story first.

We are put on a continent controlled by two unfriendly empires (the theocratic Dorok Empire and the ruthless Torumekia Empire) warring over the remaining territories of a land besieged by ‘the sea of corruption’. The sea of corruption is actually a gigantic forest that humans cannot breathe inside of without masks due to a toxic mist called the ‘miasma’, and even then there are ill-tempered insects that will attack at the slightest provokation. The flora and fauna of these forests are drawn beautifully by Miyazaki and the biodiversity is staggering. The general human consensus is that these forests sprang up as a punishment to human corruption or for disobeying the teachings of the various religions we glimpse in the story. The doctrines of these peoples are mostly obstacles in Nausicaa’s quest and she will always judge their merit by their capacity to foster life and its prosperity. The priestly class reinforces the notion of original sin and human hubris to keep the populace fixated on the afterlife. Hope is directed outward and into the future to counter balance the despair felt in the present, but also to capture the minds of the masses and control territories for the respective empires. In the grips of a world on the brink of collapse, the religious teachings reflect the distress of the people and that distress makes them vulnerable to whatever will bring security and hope, no matter the oppression and death it brings along with it.

The original intuition of the elders from the valley of the wind and Nausicaa herself (thanks to her own personal bio-chemistry experiments) is that the forests are actually a response by the ecosystem to the acceleration of changes to the soil, climate, etc. from previous ages of rapid human industrial-technological production. They are thought to be a cleansing force of nature in a kind of quick response to the rise of technological innovation and resource exploitation from the ancient civilizations of old (or, the 20th century to today). The earth became a wasteland in a very short span as did the forests appear so suddenly, so they seem to be an ecological balancing response to the sudden change in the landscape of the earth. The sprawling activity of life in the forests lends to this hypothesis, as well as the different levels of the forest where matter is transformed from toxic for humans to breathable without masks, but by the end we are in a much more tangled web of nature-human-civilization inter-activity.

The forests are the home to giant hard-shelled worms called “Ohmus” which protect the forests. They attack entire cities and civilizations in a fit of rage during great events called the “daikaisho”, where the Ohmu corpses emit spores that eventually become the beginnings of a new forest or the colloquial ’sea of corruption’. Naturally, these Ohmus are feared by the people trying to eek out a living in the world that remains and the emperors play on those plebeian fears to further their imperial expansion. Nausicaa stands in stark contrast as a princess from an autonomous peripheral state that only wishes to survive near the forest without disturbing its ecosystem. She has a deep respect for the giant Ohmus of destruction, often attacking with a blind rage compared to them and even communicating with them telepathically. According to the initial intuition of Nausicaa and her adventurous companions she meets up with but always eventually departs from, the Ohmus fulfill a role of spreading the forest and annihilating human settlements in their path to rewrite the wrongs of human exploitation of resources for the sake of the greater planet’s well-being. As the legend goes, these purges have been happening for the past few thousand years, but people’s memories are short and they do not see the big picture while they continue to try and regrow their civilizations after each cyclical “daikaisho”. The Ohmus are then merely performing their age old part in the continual cleansing of the pure earth from the impure humans.


This world-view turns out to be wrong. But Nausicaa’s instinctual appreciation for all forms of life and grief for the death of all living beings beyond the respective purity or corruption of any particular living being puts her in a disposition essentially beyond good and evil or purity and corruption. Her care for all living things, to the point of joining the massing Ohmus on a campaign to sprout up another society-crushing forest, situates her in a favorable position (being a venerated princess helps too) to be an ecological mediator. The spectacular event of the daikaisho brings forth the most intensified spawning of life in this world, and Nausicaa’s intuition disposes her to merge with this outburst of biological migration. This is not done in the name of a grand “harmony” or “balance” of Nature; it is done in the name life. Life not in general or as a whole, but life in each particular instance of its assertion in struggle, mutation, and survival. She says of an especially powerful telepathic friend:

“But you have placed yourself within the flow of life… whereas I find myself involved with every individual living thing.” (V.3, 241)

Her compassion, which can only be called ecological, is pre-human (or post-human if you must) but very much involved with human affairs so as to fight the hegemonic royal families from leading the masses into slaughter. The power-lust of these death-defying, eternity obsessed rulers produces not just human suffering but massive and abrupt changes in the ecosystem which cause devastation to existing life-forms.

Taking up her quest in the name of all life regardless of the class or species will run Nausicaa up against the necessity of death and the cycles of destruction and rebirth, potentially thwarting the very purpose of her project. The goal of eradicting ancient values with a flavor of eternity and purism that are still clinging to civilization eventually emerges from Nausicaa’s love of all living things in their particularity. The specters of the past haunt the present by claiming to hold the technological key to a purified planet, without the hazardous forests or daikaishos, instilling a false hope and keeping people in the grips of dogmatism and empire.

Nausicaa’s adventure is one of war (she kills people in the heat of battle), but it is also one of education: she must learn the secrets of history from the different elders, priests, and monks she comes in contact with to understand the current situation. The wisdom she gains along the way is often at odds with her intuitions and she must decide what ancient teachings to absorb and which to resist. Nausicaa always begins with the immediacy of preserving life and stopping bloodshed, from there the complexities of death, nothingness, hope, and despair are consistently hurled at her by spirits and the preserved wisdom of the “holy ones”. The sentimental connection to every individual life is here not one argument among many but the vehicle moving Nausicaa into the middle of great conflicts as a sometimes warrior, sometimes mediator. As she learns about history and witnesses these great events, her baseline will to live is sharpened to detect the subtle resignations and resentments of the dated wisdoms plaguing humanity. Some of the passed on wisdom helps her understand the situation better and some must be casted off for being “covered in sarcomata and filth” (V.4, 248); so her intuition guides her in selecting the healthy lessons from the decrepit. The eventuality of death in all life is a persistent argument pushed on Nausicaa to get her to stop her quest, and how she deals with non-being, nothingness, and chaos is her mode of overcoming the master-ideas of the past making slaves out of the present (via a fixation on a pure future).

Now that we’re sufficiently primed for the heady (or, rather, heavy) weight of the themes and ideas in Nausicaa, we can get a bit more into the details of the story. This is such a good story that I feel like I need to retell it, giving pause for these profound ideas we so urgently need to sink in in our world.

In the ancient days of old, humanity flourished with technologies since lost to the current period. Suddenly “god-warriors” appeared and razed everything in what is commonly referred to as ’the seven days of fire’; in a sort of reversal of the seven days it took God to create the world in the Judeo-Christian tradition. This time it was to end it. The preface to the book reads:

“Plundering the soil of its riches, fouling the air, and remolding life-forms at its will, this gargantuan industrial society had already peaked one-thousand years after its foundation: ahead lay abrupt and violent decline… The complex and sophisticated technological superstructure was lost; almost all of the earth was transformed into a sterile wasteland. Industrial civilization was never rebuilt…”


After the seven days of fire the toxic forests emerged thwarting the attempts to rebuild a more complex civilization, repeatedly triggering the daikaisho that sends the Ohmus and other fearsome insects into human settlements expanding the forest. The war between the Doroks and the Torumekians is where we begin the story after three daikaisho tidal waves have already taken place (4X post-apocalypse!), and Nausicaa’s autonomous nation of the Valley of the Wind must go to war on the side of the Torumekians to honor a treaty. The great battles on the front never really go into full swing though, members of the Torumekian royal family are perpetually plotting against each other (the “viper’s den”) and the Doroks bring on environmental catastrophe in an attempt to harness the Ohmus rage as a weapon. This of course creates more problems for both sides, crippling their militaries and displacing most civilians. The Dorok scientists have conducted experiments growing their own mold and Ohmus artificially from the miasma. The proposed biological weapon soon grows out of control triggering another daikaisho bringing death and despair to all of the nations and cities. The scale of death is hard to overstate, the casualties the war would have inflicted are dwarfed by the mutated mold spreading out across the settled lands.

The insects of the forest sense the artificial mold’s threat to the planet and perform their “role” of eating it. This kills the insects along with the mold (they eat each other) as the two symbiotically form the beginnings of the next forest. Nausicaa laments the death of the insects wondering why they have to die to pay for the folly of human bio-chemical meddling. Since the mold was grown by the human Doroks, she believes that the insects are sacrificing themselves to stop the out-of-control experiment from contaminating the Earth. In her grief, Nausicaa is led to believe (by a demon of nothingness no less) that this big scene was preordained by greater forces to cleanse the Earth in the purposefully recurring cycle of the daikaisho. The figure of the corpse demon speaks to Nausicaa of the necessity of death and the futility of becoming attached to a particular life that will die someday anyways. The dark thoughts that bear down on Nausicaa are of the seemingly inevitable death of great creatures at the service of a cursed humanity. The sacrifice is not being shared equally.

Her guilt over the sacrifice of the Ohmu for her own species’ impurity is intensified by her commitment to all living things. As a human she feels partially responsible for the fate of the Ohmus, after all, they died to protect the Earth from the wildly mutating mold – the brash technological manipulation of bio-weapons. But it is the thought of the necessity of such acts and the necessity of a purging force that sends her into despair: is human sin forever in need of a cleansing sacrifice from other more beautiful creatures? Is the unending cycle of death and violence a fact of human nature whose effects on the planet and other beings can only be mitigated by Malthusian catastrophes?

An alternative interpretation does not come around for a few hundred pages, and Nausicaa, under the spell of the demon of nothingness and despair, plunges herself into the charge of the Ohmus to become a part of the renewal process. Luckily she is preserved and uncovered by her friends, or else the purity-corruption paradigm would persist and the end of her story would be a Christ-like sacrifice! Instead we are treated to some trippy dream sequences on the edge of the abyss, a vibrant, breathable miasma forest, and even catching a glimpse of the way the world “should” be (as it was in the days before the seven days of fire). After a long talk, she decides to come back and resume her journey. The clincher comes when looking at the ’pure world’ but then retreating from it: she knows that it would become corrupted all the same if it was inhabited.

“How wonderful it would be to live here with everyone, free of the miasma. But if people found out now, they would begin to believe that they are the masters of the world. They would eat up this newly born, fragile land and do the same thing all over again. In a thousand years or more, you’ll spread and grow. And if we can survive, become a little smarter, then maybe we can come join you here.” (V.3 near the end)

What she rejects is the ’quick fix’: no distant land is going to save us and no single event can purify us. Both world and humanity, when either is seen as strictly pure or corrupt, lead us into a kind of vicious circle where the sins of people need to be corrected in a pure world, and when a world becomes foul from the contact with the immortals a sweeping destruction is all that can fix it. The playing out of the humans-world distinction logically with absolute valuations (good/evil) brings us into a kind of nihilistic despair: the cycles, loops, and pulses of life start to look like a contamination, a parasite, a disease. As humanity pushes the boundaries beyond the limits of its world, the disparity takes on a moral standard where disproportionate growth necessitates repentance and shame. This standard polarizes the relationship world/humanity into one of a struggle where when one gains the other must lose. Can such a problem be avoided with coexistence of the two, or is it by virtue of the split into world/human that such a will to dominate arises?

Life always evolves in relation and with respect to its food source, explorable geography and terrain, energy inputs, and long history of evolution. An acceleration of growth, a surge of technological creativity in an isolated species will become proud and treat itself as the center of the world. A firm place of certitude is asserted and a supreme confidence makes one an exemplar: human concern becomes the center of the universe. From this place of positivity, the ergo sum – “therefore I am”, of Descartes, everything else can be clumped into, well, everything else: the world. Preserving the supreme importance of humanity and the individual while technological progress spikes ends up limiting the engagement people could have with other non-human beings. Marveling at our own accomplishments tends to limit our relatability to other forms of life and the processes from which we came as well as live alongside presently. The growth of one class or one species in isolation will look like the spreading of a contagion across a map made to represent the world. The world will look like an empty space to be filled by the imperial expansion of an individual force covering it over. Worlds labeled either good or bad, here or there, past, present, or future are in congruence with a will to dominate. ’The World’ and ’Nature’ can surely be invoked to inspire this being-with quality of life, but the almost universally overlooked effect of setting up an omnipresent whole is in the contrasting observant subject. A cosmic-mystical convolution involving a play of ’within-outside’ between man and Nature ensues. These matters of belief and existence warrant much more detail. For now let’s continue along like Miyazaki: unsure where the journey will take us but with a committed sense that something is very wrong with the wanton slaughter and extinction of lives and life-forms.

Somewhere in-between an ecological improvement of humanity and an acceptance of the Earths limits lies Nausicaa’s newfound sensibility: a world, the planet cannot be mastered. Progress necessarily comes via integration, not domination. This is the ecological ethos problematizing the conception of world as an empty background on which to populate, occupy, colonize. Even the impulse to conquer and subsume itself fits into a scheme of checks and balances involving other entities and impulses colliding, resisting, or swerving themselves. The difficult task is to identify which impulses and their modes promote life and which degenerate. Life proceeds by its own volition, neither pure nor corrupt and from neither inside nor outside the world. In one of the more mystical lines of the story, Nausicaa says: “Every life-form, no matter how small, contains the outside universe within its internal universe”, (V.4, 181) making havoc on our security of inner self and problematizing the world as a thing outside us.

Setting her sights on the two crippled empires still trying to battle it out for supremacy after the daikaisho, Nausicaa embarks again to convince the Doroks not to invade Torumekia. She flies off on her glider-jet which allows for her to travel alone riding the wind even as she has been gaining quite the following. A tribe of people have begun calling her their goddess and doing whatever she asks of them! A similar thing happens when she confronts the Dorok emperor and learns of the secret weapon they have been incubating: the god-warrior. A remnant from the initial seven days of fire that enflamed the world and destroyed the advanced technological civilization, the god-warrior has massively destructive powers. It wakes up to Nausicaa battling the Dorok emperor on an airship and promptly believes her to be his mother. She seems to have this infectious influence on everything and her reputation is starting grow as a savior. With the emperor dead with partial thanks to a coup d’état, the Dorok people come to believe Nausicaa to be there new great leader who will show them the way to the promised land and away from this land of suffering.

Miyazaki here expressed his own feeling of being propped up as a intellectual-spiritual leader especially by the environmentalists after gaining immense fame across Japan:

“If we take the (existence of) god as a premise, we can explain the world by that. But I can’t do that. And yet, I stepped into the area I didn’t want to get into, such as humans and life.
I can manage to understand the world as conflicts and contradictions among humans, but I find myself not being satisfied with that level (of explanation).
Then I have nothing I can say with confidence.
My head gets dizzy by just thinking what would you do if you are called “mama” by a God Warrior with such a destructive power. So, Nausicaa’s perplexity is just my own perplexity.”

After much success, Miyazaki still felt obliged to continue the story of Nausicaa, but he had written himself into a corner. The simple but pervasive environmentalist interpretation of harmony with corrupt(able) humans and sacred nature which many took home from the Nausicaa movie did not satisfy him, so he continued the story along lines he could not plan ahead of. The religious undertones in the story were unexplored territory but seemed the only way to explain the difficulties confronting so many displaced and routinely repressed people now functioning without their royal head of state. So suddenly Nausicaa is an icon of hope that is expected to lead the people to prosperity. She is treated as a holy leader but has little concern for religion herself, she merely wants to put an end to the war and death threatening human societies but also the Earth and its ability to produce life. This lead Miyazaki into the treacherous land of religion, but insofar as life can be considered sacred without doctrine, he treats religion in a negative way, as an impediment to life and its flourishing.

The life-affirming ethos of Nausicaa can easily be misinterpreted as a crusade gaining followers, and Miyazaki wrote this into the story. The basic will to live that Miyazaki is trying to express can be obscured and deified by falling into religious traps of puritanical values or in the divine right of persistent rulership. In elevating a value into eternity, the immortalization of an ethical commitment, we are led astray, but not without leaving a detrimental footprint on the “impure world of appearances” during lift-off. These desires for transcendence can come right back down into the grounded things of phenomenal experience, but then things get really confusing:

“Many things in a human’s mind which are said to be meaningful, you might call them attributes such as various thoughts or beliefs, I think they might actually exist in nature…
We get confused because we get various worldly desires. But I’m afraid that I feel if we want to go beyond such desires and go somewhere pure, we might reach somewhere such as an ordinary stone or water drops. But in the moment we put these kinds of thoughts into words, everything becomes a disreputable religion. I can not possibly write (these kinds of thoughts), I haven’t reached such a stage or anything…”

Not having achieved a high enough stage is I think a blessing rather than a curse when considering the result of Miyazaki’s labors in the Nausicaa storyline. Struggling mightily with concepts life, humans, and god in a fantasy world without “enlightenment” has given us a tale of ecological appreciation with cautionary note on its possible dogmatic capture. Going beyond worldly desires, transcending the ordinary, and reaching out to the pure leads (as an uncomfortable Miyazaki reminds us) right back to the objects we act with – the things that both compose us and are all around us. Communicating these paradoxical thoughts between each other always runs the risk of establishing a hierarchy of belief where super-worldly values create subjects out of lives. So the last parts of Nausicaa go into some very foreign territory that must pay very close attention to the shadows of life: death and nihilism.

Rejecting both the all powerful god and the human conflict explanations of history, Miyazaki/Nausicaa is left with a strange hybrid ’god-warrior’ obeying his/her every command wreaking havoc when not attended to. A perplexing problem indeed.

Moreover, this god-warrior is a representation of what becomes Nausicaa’s next self-appointed task: eliminating technologies, accompanied by their out-dated values, that do not belong in this world. Wielding a fire-power unseen for thousands of years she now travels off to the Dorok capital of Shuwa where a single “crypt” stores the technologies of the ancients. The crypt is guarded and preserved by loyal servants who hold it as the last shining hope to recreate the world as it once was in its grandeur; an idealized past free of suffering that will come back so long as its technologies are kept hidden from danger, sealed away and waiting for the perfect moment. The god-warrior itself is of that lost world still lingering on and trying to control the course of history. Nausicaa being the warm life-lover she is bonds with her giant monster-child, awakening in him his role as an “arbitrator”. They will fly off to Shuwa city and the crypt to bury these trans-world technologies and “return them to the darkness from which they came.”

Nausicaa takes two trips inside the crypt, but the first is a mirage paradise land housing all of the things worth preserving from the old world: art, science, philosophy, and all of the splendors humans created in the days before the seven days of fire. Here she squares off with an eternal, shape-shifting machine being (a “heedra”) of the old world in a sort of dialogue battle. This creature lords over the plantation equipped with servants and workers, convinced that this place must be maintained for the sake of all things humanly good. The cunning heedra nearly breaks Nausicaa’s conviction, using an argument regarding the purity-pollution of worlds and/or people to convince her to give up. It says:

“Everyone believes they alone will not err. Yet none can escape from the cycle wherein karma gives birth to karma, sorrow to sorrow. This garden is a place where all chains can be severed.”

This purified zone, where all the greatest achievements of mankind are stored is outside of the unceasing cycle of violence. The heedra makes the case that since the humans currently inhabiting the planet cannot tolerate the purity of this zone, having become accustomed to the toxic world with its miasma forests and daikaisho, any plan of Nausicaa’s to will fail for the uncorrectable flaws of human exposure to the polluted world. The fatalistic notion of the cyclical repetition of history within in the binaries of good and evil is used as a weapon to deter her, but in a flash of insight she says: “Tell me more!! I’ve always felt that we blind ourselves by looking at the world simply in terms of “purity” and “corruption.”” It is in the middle of this battle of wits that she comes to realize the most vital piece of the historical puzzle: the forests (seas of corruption) are neither a punishment from god nor a environmental response to the fouling of the planet but a synthetic creation of scientists from the old world. In the grips of despair and near extinction, scientists tampered with organisms to spawn the rapid-growth forests in a bid to replenish the earth and recreate human civilization as it once was. They fitted out people and the other animals to endure the toxic air as well, allowing for a transitional period from which a new world purified from the toxicity by the artificial forests could develop. In the grips of despair at the future prospects for humanity, the grand plan of the ancients was to remake their own world, which they knew was becoming fouled, with the artificial ecosystem of the miasma forests. It’s a more rapid way of transitioning from the undesired (corrupt) state to the pure one by meticulous intervention in the ecosystem to give those people hope for the future.

Nausicaa will reject this project for its purism; going farther than disagreement and choosing to fight back. The ancients have tampered with the future and bought along with them their values no longer fit for the present. That these lives have been artificially manipulated by ancients does not make them any less precious, but they must be able to exist autonomously and by their own volition. Nausicaa says on p.181-2 (V.4): “Our lives are like the wind… or like sounds. We came into being, resonate with each other… then fade away… A life is a life, regardless of how it comes into being.” The designs of the past, the traditional goals and purpose-generating projects might outlive their world and obscure the tasks of those living. Life must be allowed to die for its next evolution to flourish. A way of life that crystalizes, preserving itself in the purity of eternity (thereby breaching the life-death evolutionary cycle and persisting unchanged through history) will inevitably go against life – resisting change, it will shed the biological need to adapt. The hope that made the old world bearable can be a source of death and despair in this world when their conditions contrast so greatly.

Setting her sights on the container of the ancient technology spewing out, Nausicaa brings the god-warrior to the crypt who blasts a hole open for her. Inside she speaks with the voices of the ancients through the “holy text” that entire lineages of clerics spend deciphering and guarding. In one of the greatest dialogues ever written, Miyazaki lays it all out. Nausicaa’s debate-battle with the crypt stands out in my mind as one of the greatest elucidations of the problem of the value of civilization/humanity and its implications for an ecological ethos. The crypt comes out in the form of a crowd of holographic people who speak of “purification”, “atonement”, and “despair”. They ask for the continued preservation of their crypt with its ancient knowledge and technology until the world becomes “pure” enough for them to live in. Nausicaa shuts off their illusion with a loud “NAY!” (bold). “Why!?” she goes on,

“Because no matter how much knowledge and technology you have, you will still need slaves to do the work for you the morning you replace the world!?
Our bodies may have been artificially transformed, but our lives will always be our own! Life survives by the power of life…
To live is to change… But you[emphasis] cannot change You have only the plan that was built into you. Because you deny death.” (V.4, p.246)

The crypt then takes its counter-shot. It possesses the body of a fool (tagging along with the emperor of Torumekia) and paints a grave picture of the ancient time when the planet was being polluted:

“Poisoned air. Punishing sunlight. Parched earth. New illnesses coming into being every day. Death was everywhere… We decided to trust everything to the future.”

“I do not doubt,” replies Nausicaa,

“that you were created out of idealism and a sense of purpose in an age of despair. Why didn’t those men realize that both purity and corruption are the very stuff of life? Suffering and tragedy and folly will not disappear in a purified world. They are a part of humanity… Because you were created as an artificial god of purity, you have become the ugliest creature of all, never knowing what it means to be alive.” (V.4, p.247)

The crypt that represents the ancient civilization in its splendor brought all of its religions sprouting up in that desperate time – when the world was seemingly attacking humanity and driving it to extinction – into one place, under one plan. To give themselves hope, they took everything most valued and formed the crypt while bio-engineering all the animals to withstand the pollution until their pure world returned after the miasma forests fulfilled their role. On the brink of collapse, humanity saved itself by scientifically manipulating the organisms and the ecosystem. Nausicaa does not feel hatred for that gasp for survival, the people then were merely doing what they must do to continue living into the future; the problem is that the values of this civilization, this desire for hope was born out of a time of despair that tainted it. Their desire grasped onto survival and, with the help of the technological advances of that era, they did survive in a cocoon. But the desperation traveled along with them, closed off from the environment and the integration that would have altered the people’s disposition. The values and temperament of those people were sealed away in the crypt along with all of the stored knowledge of science, art, and philosophy and could not undergo any change, which, as Nausicaa reminds us, is necessary for life. The over-valuation of hope and a focus on a ideal picture of the future became solidified and static: like a corpse on life-support staying alive until heaven is realized on Earth.

This trans-world ’valuation’ as I have been broadly calling it, along with some technologies has seeped out of the crypt and has been put into use by the Dorok empire as a means to keep the royal family alive indefinitely and pacify the populace. Nausicaa breaks the curse by sicing the god-warrior on the crypt and ends its dream of rebuilding the world according to the wishes of the ancients (who, to remind you, are really more like us in the 21st century). From now on, humanity will have to manage its own survival in a hostile world without the assurance of the ancient’s carefully crafted plan controlling the environment. But does this seal humanity’s fate to extinction?

The crypt responds to Nausicaa with a stern and fearsome “you cannot escape the hardening disease. You have no future. Without me, humanity will surely become extinct.” To which Nausicaa replies: “That is for the planet to decide.” This is a conundrum from Miyazaki that is worth a long pause, where does the ultimate value of life reside: the species, the singular living body, or the planet it evolved on? Will it ever come to this demanding choice or is the question wrong? We humans evolved into this species and became so through conditions allowing for reproductive isolation, one mode of life branched off and held together. But would it be against life to not do everything in our power to continue our existence? Even if that existence required life-denying purism that blocks change (and so a necessary force of life itself: mutation) and a relationship to things ecologically, alive or otherwise? Just how vital is preservation when life cannot actualize its potential in struggle, joy, and flux?

Nausicaa leaves the fate of humans up to the planet in the name of the lives living now, in the present, vs. the certitude of keeping humanity alive indefinitely – into the future. The crypt repsponds in bold: “That is nihilism!! Nothingness!!” Nausicaa affirms again the oft repeated statement in the story: “All things are born from darkness and all things return to darkness” (V.4, p.249-250). Death being essential to life is the paradox that the ancients tried to overcome in creating the crypt. They sought to extend the light that is the life of humanity forever and not lose the great accomplishments compiled over their generations. Nausicaa is seen by them as a nihilist for actively destroying such feats of civilization. It’s not that she doesn’t care about anything, or that she believes that their is no meaningful anchor to existence; Nausicaa sentiment is misunderstood by focusing only on her willingness to destroy. She most definitely has an ethics but not a human morality (interpreting people, their souls, or the world as essentially good or bad): her belief is in the preciousness of life – the will-to-live in every instance.

This ethics of life goes beyond humans and their societies but does not exclude them. A foreign belief that flies in the face of received wisdom will appear to the devout as a cancer, a terror, evil – a dangerous nothingness. But there comes a time to think bigger, Nausicaa has merely broadened the scope. Humans and their preserved history should not survive at all costs, rearranging and “enhancing” the world to fit their needs or “progressing” into societies more ideal than before. In this self-congratulatory, narrow-mindedness, we could be changing the planet – the biosphere – into a place where life can no longer thrive, where living things do not excel and relate with one another in an ecosystem but are pulled along by mechanisms extraneous to life. The maxim repeated throughout Nausicaa forming the bedrock of its ethical statement is “life survives by the power of life”, or, life is essentially self-generating. All living beings are born and all living things die and this inescapable death, the riskiness of living, must be affirmed – lest one being in its unchecked expansion ruin it for the rest.

Nausicaa’s personality is quite contagious. Nearly everyone she comes into contact with begins to adopt her advice and admire her will. By the end of the series, she is communicating telepathically with the masses of dispossessed people as she flies over them alone in her wind-riding jet-glider. She speaks for something common to us all but going beyond us as well; a beyond that does not eternalize or transcend life but a striving-beyond that recognizes the limits death and nothingness give it. Life is a good thing and should fly as far as it can in the fullness of its endeavoring, but it must be by its own power autonomously. There is no contradiction in being of an ecosystem respectfully and proceeding under one’s own power: not when one’s finitude is a precondition for one’s excellence and other lives may continue under their own power.

We are all living creatures born of the raw materials of the planet and organized by certain processes that we only are beginning to understand. Though science, Philosophy, and Art are in a sense pinnacles of human achievement, Nausicaa’s intuition for life is accessible to anyone and everyone so long as they are alive.

Though I tried to write this piece without a definitive plan as Miyazaki wrote Nauiscaa, certain influences where crucial to forming this interpretation:

Nietzsche’s reevaluation of all values, especially Deleuze’s commentary in ’Nietzsche and Philosophy’

James Lovelock’s Gaia Theory

Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers’ ’Order Out of Chaos’

I used the Viz Communications four volume publication of Hayao Miyazaki’s ’Nausicaa: Of the Valley of the Wind’, Perfect Collection.

Here is the interview that Miyazaki did with Yom.