T(t)ERRA: Introduction + Chapter II — Turning Point + Earth and Cities Based on Interdependence.
By Luïza Luz.
— TURNING POINT
Periods of crisis are constant in the history of humankind. As I compose this book, for example, we share globally a stormy and stimulating historical context at one and the same time. In my view, these are the main characteristics of the turning points — crisis — in which old structures are transmuted into ruins, and doubts assume the place of certainties.
In this case, we experience a systemic crisis, in which the established social organizations (political, economic, environmental, educational, cultural and subjective ones) no longer meet the needs raised by the current moment. They have become obsolete for a number of reasons, but all of them are probably motivated by the emergence of new ways of perceiving the universe within and around us.
For many centuries, for example, our behavioral and social structures have been established from conceptions based on separations and exclusions. However, over the last hundred years, discoveries in various fields have brought significant contributions to knowledge, allowing us to perceive and question the limits of these excluding premises. With them, we were exposed to unusual layers of reality, in which we could recognize the interdependence between the organisms that make up the cosmos, contrary to what it was imagined.
Today, although we are able to perceive reality from new, previously imperceptible dimensions that invite us to rethink how we relate and consolidate our relations, we are still immersed in paradigms and ways of life incapable of sustaining new patterns of interaction between us. This, in turn, is essential so that we can share a reality where the impermanence of our ideals is accepted as a power of movement, transformation, and connection.
Thus, in this study, I share theoretical and practical references — within the scope of philosophies, ecologies, arts, and pedagogies — that allow us to perceive the world we inhabit from a systemic awareness. In other words, in terms of interdependence between contexts and relations that are mutually developed in unpredictable ways.
Based on this principle, I believe we will be able to increasingly envision the possibility of proposing and experiencing life forms and social systems integrated in their multiple facets and dimensions.
For this purpose, we have the natural ecosystems and human beings as the central axis. How would our choices have transformed those relations? How do these changes affect us currently? Here we will have the chance to recognize that many of the beliefs we have created for ourselves over the years are responsible for the challenges we face today.
— EARTH AND CITIES BASED ON INTERDEPENDENCE
Terra / Earth
n. The third Planet in order of distance from the sun, between Venus and Mars; the world on which we live.
terra / soil
n. 1. Ground, soil. 2. The substance of the land surface. 3. Place of origin. 4. The solid part of the Earth. 5. Vacant lands.
T(t)ERRA* is like a giant rock that gently sustains our bodies as it floats in the immensity of the cosmos. T(t)ERRA* is our habitat, and by “we”, beyond the human species, I mean all beings that spontaneously arise from their womb: organizations of microorganisms, fungi, plants, minerals, and animals. These, in turn, constitute the natural ecosystems and keep them alive from their interaction.
Life on T(t)ERRA* is essentially based on relations of interdependence between the beings that compose it. That is, their systems are based on the dynamics of cooperation between their parts. Soil, atmospheric gases, water, sunlight, and heat are the fundamental aspects of this dimension and they keep all life forms alive, including us. We can attribute the life biosphere-sphere nomenclature to the set of these interdependent systems. In such nomenclature, there are indispensable elements for its constant development.
The sun provides energy to the plants; the oxygen, which is generated by this exchange, provides the energy for the animals; and the carbon dioxide emitted by them returns to the plants. From these organic relations, complex ecological communities flourish on T(t)ERRA* based on the biodiversity of their species. The more diverse they are, the more mechanisms of self-organization and defense will be available for the constant maintenance and preservation of each ecosystem.
We, human beings, are also parts and agents of the systems developed on T(t)ERRA*. In turn, T(t)ERRA* is solid and massive, sustains our gestures and supports our achievement desires. We extract our subsistence from T(t)ERRA*; we walk on and relate to other people on T(t)ERRA*. We cultivate and learn to cultivate. To this complex of dynamic, living, and autonomous relations, we attributed the name “nature”, or, as it is understood here, the reservoir of infinite possibilities. In this reservoir, everything is organic, impermanent, and is in constant transformation.
Based on this, we can say that “nature is smarter than we suppose. After all, it also produces the human brain, which we boast of being one of the most perfect instruments of the cosmos“ (WILBER, Ken. A Consciência Sem Fronteiras: Pontos de Vista do Oriente e do Ocidente Sobre o Crescimento Pessoal)
Through reason, we are "free" to choose before nature and its ecosystems, between preservation and deterioration, polyculture and monoculture, cooperation and competition, inclusion and exclusion. In other words, we are a species capable of creating bonds or boundaries between beings, expanding life forms or making them impossible to proliferate. But to what extent do we have this power? Would we be able to destroy nature or just ourselves? Do we exist without it? Are we anything different from it?
As mentioned in the last chapter, the conceptualization of T(t)ERRA* as a living and nutrient principle “disappeared completely when the scientific revolution sought to replace the organic conceptualization of nature with the metaphor of the world as a machine” (CAPRA, 1982, p.52 ). We then chose to recognize nature as the frontier, as something different from ourselves to be dominated and conquered by reason. Based on this choice, we categorized their organic systems in the form of denominations and meanings that did not predict the relevance of their dynamics to build human relation systems.
From them, several life forms extended in space and time, and gradually bounded imaginary frontiers over the once vacant T(t)ERRA*. According to Ken Wilber, Philosopher and Psychologist, this duality, in turn, gave rise to social and cultural paradigms based on principles of separation, comparison, competition, and exclusion unknown by nature:
"It seems nature is unaware of this world composed of opposite items in which people live. Nature does not produce true or false frogs, nor moral or immoral trees, nor right and wrong oceans. Nor are there traces in the nature of ethical and unethical mountains. […] According to Thoreau, nature never apologizes; apparently, because it does not know the opposite items of right and wrong, and thus does not recognize what humans judge being wrong." (WILBER, Ken. A Consciência Sem Fronteiras: Pontos de Vista do Oriente e do Ocidente Sobre o Crescimento Pessoal, free translation.)
In these terms, urban cities are a relevant and tangible evidence for the study of the boundaries we have created for ourselves. But why cities? In the logic of urban ecosystems, living T(t)ERRA* systems live under dead asphalt. We do not see them, we do not live with them, but we build things upon them while silencing their presence. Layer over layer, with bricks, concrete, rebars, and mortar, we raise and pave the forms of life that we have chosen for us.
In other words, nature, whether in the form of plants and minerals or in other organic manifestations of human being, besides reason (its feelings, spirit, intuition, and own body), was suppressed and/or became a merely resource. That is, the rise of modern urban life was and continues to be supported primarily by the analytical perspective. On the one hand, the rationality we believe to be independent and autonomous interacts on T(t)ERRA* from a self-proclaimed superiority. On the other hand, T(t)ERRA*, which is absorbed in its silent intelligence, impassively welcomes our choices and ways of relating to it.
In this case, we can conclude that the language games we choose to nurture are currently structured on linear and apparently immutable old foundations. And because “they” do not perceive T(t)ERRA* based on its natural complexity, these foundations end by denying the interdependence between its parts — including those that make up human beings. These choices ground the urban ecosystems that make up the cities, their everyday landscape, and the life forms developed in them. Finally, human interactions are expressed by predetermined and little-diversified paths, which contradict the relation principles of T(t)ERRA* that sustain them.
Regarding this, for example, in 1854, the wisdom of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes located in the current State of Washington, USA, alerted us to the impacts of the illusion that we dominate the free, multiple, and autonomous expressions of nature. At that time, the President of the United States, Franklin Pierce (1804–1869), wanted to buy T(t)ERRA*s inhabited by the natives, offering them a reservation in return. In response to that offer, Chief Seattle made a historic statement that continues to this day and represents a worldwide landmark of ecological awareness. Seattle emphasized:
T(t)ERRA* does not belong to man, but man belongs to T(t)ERRA* […]; all things are bound together like the blood that unites a family. There is a connection with everything. What happens with T(t)erra* will fall on their children. Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. (Chief Seattle. A Carta do Cacique Seattle, 1984, free translation.)
In this way, we can include a similar reference from the traditions and way of life millenarian nourished by Latin American Indigenous communities. In the Amazonian ancestral worldview, for example, T(t)ERRA* is conceived as a living territory, of which we are inextricable parts. According to these people’s traditions, language games are established from an integral and interdependent view, guided by the awareness that creating and cultivating are synonyms. That is, they constitute a reciprocal and uncertain action, in which the one who creates is simultaneously created within the scope of this uncertainty; communities create nature with the recognition that they are/will be created and sustained by it.
Based on these perspectives, unlike what Cartesian reason could suppose, we perceive that by alienating nature we do not injure and confine exclusively a foreign presence outside us, human natures, but also and especially ourselves, by denying our vital web with T(t)ERRA*, and our own organic structure of being humans. In this process, we can recognize an overly human attempt to distance our life forms from the uncertainties inherent in the dynamics of T(t)ERRA* and its systems. Reason has a tendency to conceive and construct reality from a straight and precise line that is in constant growth and progress. However, organic systems call attention to chaotic and unpredictable cycles, from which we cannot draw absolute conclusions. Would we be able to relate to this consciousness? What would change if we learned to embrace uncertainty and impermanence as our main characteristics?
Therefore, following the core of this research, I propose some questions that may help us to deepen our reflections: could we relate consciously and harmoniously if we raise our own structures from foundations inconsistent with our intentions? Are the ecosystems we create capable of sustaining the flowering of the interaction potentials between humans and nature? Is it possible to glimpse and propose new and more coherent forms of relationship in this context, in which, as we have seen, perceives the whole in a limited way? Could we transform established language games with the intention of stimulating the autonomy of our perceptions, deepening our freedom of choice and self-management? What is the learning that we fail to notice when we separate from the whole?
These inquiries are fundamental for our autonomy and freedom of choice to be fully exercised, allowing new patterns of interaction more coherent with our present consciousness to be proposed and lived. Yet it is possible to recognize that this process profoundly challenges the human will, for the ecosystems we have paved and inhabited today manifest themselves on monumental scales in many complex layers. Architectural constructions, for example, mostly built from processes that do not consider the impact on T(t)ERRA*, either by the excessive extraction of natural resources, the emission of toxic gases, or the enormous production of waste, not only do they try to control it, but also encompass our bodies and completely alter the forms of life that develop in them daily.
In this way, we can conclude that this three-dimensional facet that delimits our current reality can easily strengthen the illusion of the permanence and stability of obsolete language games and, along with them, the feeling that we are powerless in the imminent need to rethink them. However, although our current ecosystem provides us with a superficial and limited image of the whole, we can glimpse other possibilities of life from gaps produced by the very patterns of interaction that are nurtured within them. In the cities, for example, besides the monumental residences that silence T(t)ERRA* and determine relationships spaces, there are thousands of vacant, forgotten, and uninhabited lands, in which there are neither specific nor orderly activities and forms of life.
The Catalan architect Ignasi de Sola-Morales attributed the terrain vague term to these empty spaces. In French, terrain can be interpreted, in the first instance, as an extension of building land. However, according to Morales, “the French word terrain also refers to larger, perhaps less precise, extensions; it is linked to the physical idea ofa portion of land in its expectant condition” (MORALES, Ignasi de Sola. Terrain Vague, free translation.). If we interpret the second word that forms the expression terrain vague from its Latin roots, as derived from vacuus, we will have the sense of vacant, empty. At the same time these vacant lands denote absences, they invite us to appreciate the sense of freedom, the opening of new paths, and the possibility of experiencing other forms of relations that have not yet been established.
In such contexts, as human presence becomes absent, we have the chance to appreciate the impermanence of our constructions, as well as to understand more deeply the inherent life drive in T(t)ERRA*. After all, while abandoned buildings deteriorate, nature — fauna and flora — is as monumental as they are. In this process, roots break the ground and become confused with rebar, while huge blocks of concrete fragment and take on the form of ruins, which are gradually incorporated by the manifestations of living systems.
In uncertain and impermanent landscapes such as these, in which we can approach the authentic movement of T(t)ERRA* that sustains us, I glimpse the myriad of language games that have been built on it until today. How many of them remain between us? How many have simply been transmuted without a trace? The living structure of nature always offers us new spaces of learning, so that we can increasingly approach who we are now.
In these terms, I recall one of the first advice of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) offered to the young Franz Xaver Kappus (1883–1966), an invitation to a sincere approach of nature in search of itself: “turn towards nature, and try, like a first being, to say what you see and experience, love and lose.” (RILKE, Rainer Maria. Cartas a um Jovem Poeta. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Globo, 1984, 12ª edição, p. 23, free translation.). In other words, nature not only preserves and sustains living things by containing all the biological elements for that purpose, but also because it is this living space that invites us to reinvent life and ourselves at all times.
In this infinite now, I recognize the differences between organic and inorganic ways of life. On the one hand, when a leaf falls on the earth, in time, it transforms itself into the earth itself and contributes to other life forms to flourish next to it. On the other hand, when a plant falls on concrete or asphalt, there is no fertile soil to be nourished. In this assessment, it is important to remember that the basis underlying natural ecosystems is the interdependence between the parties that comprise them:
An [organic] ecosystem does not generate debris. The ecological principle that “debris is equal to food” means that — for a system […] to be sustainable — all manufactured products and materials, as well as the debris generated in the manufacturing process must end up providing food for something new. (CAPRA, 2006, p. 54, free translation.)
Therefore, we can conclude that the cycle of waste produced in them and by them is spontaneously converted into food to nourish the other living beings of each ecosystem. I do not say that this process happens in full harmony and equilibrium, but that in the very spontaneous and chaotic dynamics of nature “every struggle happens […] within a wider context of cooperation.” (CAPRA, 1982, p. 25, free translation.)
Based on this consciousness, finally, we can conclude that we have been prioritizing language games that interrupt cycles of interdependence, not being able to generate life forms that self-regulate systems, through the reception of their organic process of deterioration. In other words, we need to learn how to relate and make agreements from the awareness that ruins, uncertainties, and impermanence are inherent aspects of the reality we share. After all, how can we incorporate them into our lives and relations as potentials of nourishment, transformation and flourishing?
Once again, I emphasize that a closest relationship to T(t)ERRA* and its dynamics can act as a faithful ally in the process of recognizing and valuing impermanence, biodiversity, and interdependence in order to restructure our lifestyles from the new paradigms. However, in order for us to flourish in this awareness, we need to incorporate it into our daily lives. Therefore, in the next chapter, I intend to share and name real possibilities of experiencing our relations from these new perspectives, having as a point of support artistic and pedagogical practices.