Life in Communion
Learning about the work of Lynn Margulis in the film, Symbiotic Earth, was a profound experience of disorientation and reorientation as I witnessed the confidence of one woman who learned to live in competition and cooperation and intimate relationship with the living systems of the planet and with the humans with whom she communicated, shared, and lived.
Her curiosity and wonder and determination and intelligence and humour are inspiring.
I came away from the film wondering how I could become a biologist. However, I recognize that I lack the knowledge, skill, and experience of a woman who had been able to adapt over many years to the hostile, male dominated environment of microbiology and was able to demonstrate that her observations of reality were significantly different from her contemporaries. She learned to communicate with the people around her through her deep connection to the life that she was able to witness at scales that most of us are not accustomed.
Perspective and perception are the areas in which I have expertise. In this way, I am negotiating relationships with my contemporaries in design and communications with a sense of disorientation and reorientation.
We use metaphors to understand our world, but metaphors can be deceiving. Similarities with very different forms of physical reality are helpful for human cognition as a means of describing those realities through language. However, those realities actually bear no actual similarities beyond the common molecular structures and biochemical processes that facilitate the processes of life.
The film, Symbiotic Earth, opens with the words of Lynn Margulis, “We must reevaluate our entrenched ideas and preconceived notions.”
The film opens with views of the built environment of the human species in New York City and the narration of the producer, John Feldman, “This is a film about the natural world.” The scene transitions to the movement of humans in Grand Central Station in New York City, then to the movement of microorganisms observed through a microscope. The editorial decisions of the film communicate the differences and similarities of living systems through comparison, creating a visual metaphor through the illusion of motion conveyed by still frames of video played in quick succession over time. These two-dimensional frames have been captured through the lens of a camera in such a way that the visual data can be stored as digital files and replayed through Vimeo, a web-based platform for online video, created as part of a neoliberal, capitalist economic system devised by humans for control and domination of large populations of people through monetary incentives.
“And a film about a scientist, Lynn Margulis. Fiesty, rebellious, and brilliant, she tirelessly challenged conventional theories and ushered in a scientific revolution for the 21st century, turning upside down our ideas about evolution, the environment, and life itself.”
“Ridiculed at first, Margulis’s radical theories are providing the opportunity for a shift in global thinking. This may prove helpful as we tackle environmental and social problems caused by the old way of thinking.”
“What I want to share with you is why a biologist interested in genetics and microbiology, which is certainly my training, is interested in NASA and is interested in the Earth as a planet. And I want to give you a sense of a massive revolution in our thinking that has come across during the last about 20 years.”
Cut to Mary Catherine Bateson, Cultural Anthropologist, Professor Emeritus, George Mason University.
“We’ve got Lynn, doing scientific work that shakes people up, that they resist, because it’s not the way they’re used to thinking.”
Cut to Frederico Mayor Zaragoza, President, Fundación Cultura de Paz, Madrid, Director-General of UNESCO (1978 - 1999).
“…for example to explain evolution. Normally we say evolution is the result of competition, and then she said, ‘No, is the result of cooperation.’”
For my whole life, I have been learning to work within a system that is at odds with my values to better understand how to communicate effectively with those who work to build and maintain the social, economic, political, and religious systems that perpetuate the status quo.
“Canada’s past and current policies, omissions, and actions towards First Nations Peoples, Inuit and Métis amount to genocide, in breach of Canada’s international obligations, triggering its responsibility under international law.” #CanadianGenocide
- Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
As a result of my attempts to hold our municipal, provincial, and federal governments accountable for the Canadian genocide through my engagement on Twitter, I was asked to participate in some courses being offered by the Buckminster Fuller Institute. On February 18, 2020, a person I had never met before reached out to me through a direct message on Twitter to ask about my interest in the 2 RowFlow Cultural Commons.
“Hi Stephen. I see you are a UX designer. Would you have some time to chat about an opportunity to help out with this commons?”
We conversed over Zoom and my new friend asked if I would be interested in participating in a Holochain Hackathon. The course would take place in Seattle, so I arranged for an Airbnb.
Then, because of the news of COVID infections spreading in Seattle, I needed to cancel and decide whether to travel to Portland.
“We’re no longer holding the event at REI’s headquarters in Seattle due to Covid-19, so we’ve moved the event to Portland!”
I booked another Airbnb, but eventually had to cancel that trip as well because of a declaration of a state of emergency in Portland as news of COVID-19 infections led to a lockdown. So, I arranged to attend the hackathon remotely.
At my new friend’s recommendation, I also enrolled in the Trimtab Space Camp Mesosphere course offered by the Buckminster Fuller Institute. I subsequently became a member of BFI, continued taking courses, applied for the Design Science Studio on the day of the deadline with my idea for a builders collective, a digital network and education platform supporting local initiatives to reimagine our social architecture, and submitted a proposal for the Living Systems Art + Design Collaboratory.
After Trimbtab Space Camp Stratosphere, featuring a presentation on world building by Tony Patrick, a group of us decided to launch an experiment in intentional community and regenerative projects, Regenerative Ventures.
As part of Trimtab Space Camp Thermosphere, I expanded the idea of the builders collective to a learning community—a creative, collaborative, self-organizing learning community.
The Design Science Studio started collaborating in September and the Living Systems Collaboratory began in November.
“The certainties of the twentieth century are now crumbling.”
I was raised in a religious community that believes in absolute truth, doctrinal certainty, and the authority of scripture.
I was also raised in a secular society that believes in the absolute truth of capitalism, economic scarcity, and the authority of the market.
They call it democracy, but it is actually an apartheid system built on authoritarian state capitalism that serves the global economic domination of transnational corporate power.
As an individual, I may be powerless against these systems. However, in collaboration with others who are engaged in this shift in mindset and culture, we are able to use the tools that have been fashioned as weapons of social control and refashion them as models of the future that will render the old models obsolete.
To navigate metaphysical gravity will require an understanding of complex nested systems in order to ensure that our actions are expressed through hospice of the dying systems and the midwifing of a new way of knowing, doing, and being with nature.
If, as Bucky said, love is metaphysical gravity, we must be sure that we do not leave people in a worse condition by our actions.
“Creators in the studio apply their whole systems knowledge to create (r)Evolutionary art, experiences and messages for a regenerative future that works for 100% of life.”
“The belief that the world is made for man and that nature is out there to be exploited and that man is somehow—evolution has stopped because we have gotten here—a lot of people believe that, that there’s no evolution after man, because we’re already here, and we are the pinnacle, we are the top, we are the summit. This kind of notion, which is prevailing in fact even, I am sad to say, amongst biological colleagues, has obviously got to be debunked.”
— Lynn Margulis, 1989
“We are very anthropocentric.”
“The biosphere is entirely dominated by the microbial world, and animals and plants find themselves embedded in that world and dramatically affected by that world.”
I continue to hold the powers and authorities accountable for creating systems of competition, dominance, and oppression. They have been deluded by a false perception of the world that they inhabit, assuming that they are imitating the natural order of the world.
The idea of the “thought collective” fascinated Margulis because it reminded her that whenever we look at and study nature, we see through the lens of our culture.
In fact, Lynn Margulis was very careful to avoid using metaphors that could lead us to the wrong conclusions about our relationship to the Earth.
The film reframed my relationship to my own body as a sort of god-like responsibility to the maintenance of a body that is composed of cells and microorganisms that depend on my thoughts, motivations, and behaviours for the health and well-being of the whole. I am a microcosm of the symbiotic Earth.
Through symbiosis with the Earth, I am turning the energy of the sun into perception, cognition, emotion, and action that supports the growth and well-being of a body that has gained awareness, intelligence, intention, influence, capacity, and agency to explore the next frontier, by learning, through collaboration and relationship to my human and more-than-human neighbours, how to navigate metaphysical gravity.