“There are certain actions we can take now. It is important for each individual, community, and nation to take stock of what that means for the betterment of the whole. Technical solutions can never move forward without political will, and the necessary political will requires a shift in our most deeply held values, in our very definitions of what it means to be human, and in how humanity relates to the world. We recognize this shift as a spiritual imperative. “ – A Pagan Statement on the Environment
(Image from here)
Hello again folks!
Originally, what I wanted to write for this month was a follow up to my post from last month. I got a lot of really great feedback across several platforms, and there is certainly more to say there. But as I dug into the project, I realized there was a lot of ground to cover, and that it wasn’t…. quite what I wanted it to be. So I am going to put that project on the back burner and let it simmer a little longer.
Instead, this month I wanted to write about something that has been on my mind a lot recently. It is the convergence of several different sources. First, the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Second, I have been reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars (Part of the Mars Trilogy), a game called Space Engineers, and the new-ish literary genre called Solarpunk.
Each of these have put these weird inspirations in my head, and given me plenty of things to think about in a animistic and pagan context. These various inspirations make me wonder, what kind of future are we building? How does my animism influence the way I look at the future of our planet and our species?
Let me explore a little bit from each of these sources.
I watched the test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket on livestream. It was built by Elon Musk’s company Space X, and was an impressive launch. It was a marvel of science, technology, and engineering. I would be lying if I said the launch didn’t give me the best kind of goosebumps.
It was inspiring, and reminded me of all the reasons I love space exploration in the first place. I love the vision, the science, and the curiosity that goes into it. It is no coincidence I became a science fiction writer, because science and space travel has always held a special place in my heart. I cut my teeth on Star Trek and Star Wars, was inspired to write by Douglas Adams and Isaac Asimov. I have more than one shirt with the NASA logo on it.
I imagine a future where humanity reaches out to the stars, one step at a time. First to the Moon, to deep space, and then to Mars and beyond.
(Image from here
For all those reasons, I watched the Falcon Heavy launch with wonder and awe. I want to see humanity spread out into space, I want to see use become a interplanetary species. That is the long term goal of Falcon Heavy system, to colonize Mars.
NASA also has a similar idea with the Space Launch System. Though, the future of that system is unknown, considering the games Congress is playing with NASA’s budget and future missions.
Yet, I have to be honest and say the Falcon Heavy launch was also bittersweet from me. The Falcon Heavy was not a public project, nor an international collaboration, but the product of a private enterprise. It represents the first step in a new gold rush, a push to privatize a new frontier. The Falcon Heavy in short, represents capitalism’s rush towards outer space.
It leaves me really uncomfortable. For those that know me, and those of you that do not, I am not what you would call “pro-capitalism”. How I understand and practice animism stands against the exploitation of humans as well as environments. Our current economic system is antithetical to my beliefs across many different points. I don’t want to see greed and profit propel our species forward.
You cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet, this is a principle of sustainability. Yet, that idea runs counter to many tenets of capitalism; which is mostly profit and growth and all costs.
Space gives capitalism an out. A new virgin frontier to privatize and pursue for profit. A way to expand beyond all ecological limits. A new “Wild West”, without all those pesky regulations. A new place to enclose.
Of all the cooperative ways we have to pursue space exploration, those that are taking the lead are private companies. I’m pretty sure that is not the kind of future I want.
Robinson’s Red Mars
“So life adapts to conditions. And at the same time conditions are changed by life. That is one of the definitions of life: organism and environment change together in a reciprocal arrangement, as they are two manifestations of an ecology, two parts of a whole. “
Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson.
At the same time, I have been reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. It is wonderful and also very inspiring. A team of international colonists go to Mars and start to build a new society there. They engineer glorious colonies, factories, and mines in order to survive the harsh Martian environment. Muslims, Russians, Americans, Japanese…. and more. The science and technology is wonderful, but so is the sociology and anthropology. The colonists are building new ways of living.
One of the main character’s themes is the idea of a new indigenous religion on Mars. He wanders around the planet and sees parts of it taking shape all over the new world. From the Muslims, he sees dances in a windstorm that leave him in a spiritual trance. From the Japanese he sees forms of Shinto and Kami worship starting to form, reverence for the Spirits of Mars.
It makes me wonder a great deal. If we do indeed become an interplanetary species, how will our ideas change? More than this, it makes me wonder a great deal about how to “reindigenize” our beliefs.
I feel an odd sort of rootlessness living in America. My ancestors have been in the US for a long time, but they passed very little of the “Old World” on to me. I have had to learn about my ancestors through genealogy, genetics, and folklore, not from direct inheritance. Yet, I was born in Michigan, and I know that part of my body is of Michigan, but I am not a Native American.
Which makes me explore ideas in bioregionalism, and hybrid with forms of animism and folklore. I draw inspirations from my ancestors, but my practice is trying to root in the here and now. I am rebuilding from the ground up, just like the colonists on Mars.
I wonder what kind of world I am building for myself?
All of this has been in the back of my head while I have been putting a lot of hours into a game called Space Engineers. If you are anything like me, you have probably had Legos (or similar) since you were a child. I have always loved to build new things, and have been inspired by that kind of creation.
It should come as no surprise that I enjoy playing games such as Minecraft, Starmade, and now Space Engineers.
Space Engineers is a game that is based on building ships, rovers, and stations with what might be considered realistic physics and technology. I find there is a fun interplay between reading Red Mars and playing Space Engineers at the same time. In an interactive way, I can build and create new societies on new worlds. I haven’t gotten to Mars just yet, but I do have a base on the Moon. (Or Moon like body).
A big part of the game is designing infrastructure and equipment, as well as producing and mining the materials needed for that. It makes me reflect upon what it takes the build the civilizations we have now?
In order to build cities, you have to have concrete. That takes limestone. In order to build cars, you have to have oil and steel. That involves transportation, mining, and manufacturing. In order to write these words for you; plastic had to be made, silicon mined, and it all assembled and processed all around the globe. So many hands and materials made this writing possible.
Space Engineers really helps to bring that home, and animism makes me really seek to understand those relationships. In many ways those relationships are toxic to ourselves as well as the Earth. Noone in their right mind would claim plastics are a healthy relationship. For that matter, fossil fuels are pretty complicit in many of the eco-crises we face now and in the near future. Our transportation, mining, and manufacturing systems are major contributors to climate change. In the long run, we have to question honestly if those systems are sustainable.
Yet, if we accept a world that has any measure of space exploration in it; we are going to need metals and minerals. We are going to need factories and refineries. Even if we build a truly sustainable civilization, we will still need steel and electricity to build solar panels and wind turbines.
That leaves me a bit uncomfortable as well. The question then becomes, how do we do better for all our relation, human or not?
Now, there are a lot of possible futures. As a science fiction writer, I like to think I am in the business of speculating about the future. You might even say I do so professionally.
Paganism as a wide grouping offers or embraces a lots of different futures. Some go the anarcho-primitive/anti-civ route, suggesting that civilization as we know it might have been a mistake. Others go the Long Descent route, and are preparing themselves for a long decline through the collapse of industrial civilization. Some even go the straight up apocalyptic/dystopian route, and suggest that we should prepare for a dying world a Mad Max style future. Better get yours now, before someone else does.
I am not denying there are very real problems that we face, nor am I denying that there is some truth to most of these approaches. Civilizations can and do collapse, and we may well be in the midst of one now. Civilizations as we understand it may have well been a mistake, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that agricultural (especially industrial ag) is really bad for the environment and may make urban life unsustainable. Heck, the world may well just go to shit in a handbasket.
Which brings me to the “Solarpunk” literary genre. It is a fairly new genre, and the moment I heard of it, I realized there were plenty of “solarpunk” elements in parts of my own writing. There is certainly those elements in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars and his New York 2140 novel.
Solar gliders, solar dirigibles, entire flying skyvillages powered on renewables.
Adam Flynn says this about solarpunk;
“In short, solarpunk is a reaction to climate change, inequality, and our cultural obsession with dystopian futures. Its followers… want a world where people thrive through energy independence, local resilience, and sound infrastructure…The vision is not about back-to-the-earth survivalism… because solarpunks embrace the responsible use of new technologies like synthetic biology and sensor networks.
And it’s not utopian… because the solarpunk future is one that is both high-tech and gritty, and — more importantly — one that we can actually achieve.
“It’s post-apocalyptic, but it’s actually kind of nice — like, maybe (the future’s) not that bad. Maybe they just give it a bad rap by calling it an apocalypse.”
A lot of these ideas line up nicely with my values, as well as the values of many pagans. Solarpunk I think could be an important means of telling stories about the future we would like to see. I for one don’t want to see our world turn into Mad Max, and I certainly don’t want to live in a world like Wall-E, where everything is run by one giant corporation that (almost) killed the world.
Yeah, I think some of the aspects of this may well be radical. These ideas flow from the ground up, from the roots, and radically reform both our infrastructure. They would also retool the superstructures of our society.
“Solarpunk fiction is also about the fight to get there. It’s guerrilla gardening, it’s building community seed banks kept secret, it’s providing enough solar energy in the neighborhood that people can be taken off the grid without losing power “
(Paris 2050? Image from here)
This may well be the fight of our times, against those that seek to destroy the planet. It is also the fight for the world we want to create.
I find that the twilight of one civilization is the birth of another. Not only is another world possible, but we are already seeing its first few few breaths. Now begins the struggle to grow and flourish.
I for one think this chaotic time is a time of transition. The messy, bloody struggle that is involved in birthing new worlds and a new future.
I wonder what that future will look like?
And perhaps just as importantly, how we as pagans might shape that future?
Thanks for reading.