This article begins with some ordinary observations about the ecological situation in the author's yard, and his struggles with his neighbors. It introduces the term "gardungle" -- garden + jungle, and defines ecological relationships in political terms. When the focus moves from the microcosm to the macrocosm, the need for radical, systemic change in highlighted.
Gardungle: An area within the ecosphere of the earth where the natural environment and the humanly engineered one interact to the benefit of both.
Etymology: from garden, an area of growing things dominated by human purposes and techniques and, jungle, the area of growing things that functions in accordance with dynamics that are independent of human technology.
First, though, perhaps I should define another word in the title to my article: Apocalypse.
Apocalypse: Where we are headed. The destruction of all that we know. Not with Jesus hovering in the heavens to rapture his followers. No. Just a lot of destruction. Perhaps the end of our species.
Etymololgy:from apo and kalipto which means an un-covering. That is to say, a disclosure of something hidden based on the interpretation of something that can be seen. Biblically it refers to the end times. Here the phenomenon that is being interpreted is not a dream or a vision, but my yard, and my neighbors.
Nobody knows exactly how the Apocalypse will look. It could come as a nuclear winter. It could come as a major ecological breakdown. An apocalypse could be the outcome of a humanly engineered virus. It could result from an economic meltdown, or a combination of all the above. As an abstraction, though, it's pretty simple to understand. It refers to destruction piled upon destruction. A great extinction.
You probably know what morning glories are so let's return to the first term. You won't find the definition of "gardungle" in the dictionary. The reason is that I just made it up. One of the slippery terms in my definition is "natural". From one perspective, all living things that exist, including human culture and inventions, are a part of "nature". However, in this essay we are using the term in another, more narrow sense -- the sense, I think, that the average person probably has in mind when he or she speaks of "nature" or "the natural order". It is that aspect of the ecological whole that is relatively unaltered by human activity. In this essay, I also refer to that as "jungle," as opposed to the part that is planned and controlled by humans, which I refer to as "garden."
Gardens and jungles are generally thought of as mutually exclusive. They garden depends upon the destruction of a jungle, and a jungle will be restored in a garden that is not adequately attended to. The gardungle, on the other hand, comes into existence when a garden and a jungle agree to coexist, to inter-penetrate, and to negotiate a mutually sustaining and enriching relationship. Neither overcomes the other. A new entity emerges out of this dialogue, and that's the gardungle.
Some examples might be help clarify the matter. Organic farming is based on an intuition of the gardungle concept. The natural order -- the jungle -- is not overcome. It is worked with -- cooperated with. Or think of a yard that invites wildflowers, shrubs, trees, and perhaps a few skunks, birds and squirrels to grow and interact together. Such a yard becomes a gardungle which is infinitely more interesting than a manicured lawn. Another example might be holistic health -- an approach to health that respects natural processes, and that does not see even death as an event to be overcome, but that also uses humanly created technology when it will truly enhance the quality of human interaction with the rest of creation. Perhaps we could even conceive of a gardungle approach to economics -- one that used natural resources sparingly and wisely, and did not rape the earth -- one that strove to meet everybody's needs for well-being and participation. On the macro level what is at issue is the relationship between the natural order and the humanly engineered one. When they interact creatively at their boundaries, with neither one conquering the other, gardungles emerge.
Let me tell you about my neighbor -- the one to the south of us. She requires a bit of interpretation. Her house and lawn are impeccable. Nary a weed in sight. Boo, my spouse, was in the habit of feeding an assortment of animals that frequented our neighborhood. These included pigeons, squirrels, skunks, and a gray fox. In addition I had a bulb of sugar-water for hummingbirds, and a few feeders for songbirds. When the pigeons that Boo fed roosted on our neighbor's roof and started sh*tting on it, our neighbor complained. Boo stopped feeding the pigeons but that was not enough. The songbirds spilled sunflower seed all over the ground beneath the feeders and for a while this kept the pigeons in the area, who continued to sh*t on our neighbor's roof. So I stopped feeding the songbirds. When Boo tried to point out how we were trying to meet her more than halfway, our neighbor was not satisfied. When Boo fed the squirrels, she said, it made the pigeons think that they too were going to be fed. So Boo stopped feeding the squirrels. But it was too late. Our neighbor stopped talking with us. We were afraid she would sue us. She believed that the pigeon sh*t was destroying her roof and lowering the value of her property.
I shudder to think what she would have done had she discovered that we were feeding skunks in our yard. Fortunately they came only late at night and I think she never noticed.
As I struggled to understand what was going wrong with our relationship to our neighbor, it occurred to me that this was not just annoying hassle between two neighbors with somewhat different tastes and agendas. This was a political issue. On a micro scale this was the struggle between the gardunglites and the capitalists. This little conflict of ours was replicated in a fractal-like way, on levels of increasing scale in till it reached a global level on which Gaea struggled against the dominion and ruthless exploitation of predatory capitalism. On the micro level we were surrounded. On the north side of our house a former marine spent a considerable amount of time in his yard trying to a kill each dandelion with an herbicide. Probably he used something from Monsanto. We were the only house on the block with a gardungle-like yard and attitude. As we were outnumbered on the micro level we are also at a disadvantage on the macro level where we seem to be outnumbered out-gunned and out-maneuvered.
Perhaps the matter can be further clarified by considering the manner in which two systems can interact at their boundaries. (It sometimes seems that everything of interest takes place at the boundaries between systems.) These interactions can be thought of as having two dimensions: the control system and the exchange system. The control system can be based on either domination or negotiation. The exchange system can be either parasitic or symbiotic. If we combine these two dimensions in a 2 x 2 grid, we find there are four possibilities as illustrated here. Inside the boxes I have defined the kinds of relationships that are represented there in political terminology.
The matter can best be clarified with some illustrations. In our backyard I had a garden last summer. I grew cucumbers, squash, pole beans, tomatoes, onions, beets, etc. I had a wild area in the center of the yard where I planted things I brought in from the woods. I also had an assortment of flowers arranged more or less randomly. In my gardungally sort of garden one could see a variety of relationships when analyzed in terms of the dimensions of dominion and exchange. I noticed one day, for example, that my morning glories had collected a lot of aphids, which were being protected by ants. Other insects that attempted to eat the aphids were chased off. Thus, in terms of exchange, the relationship between the ants and the aphids was symbiotic. However, in terms of control, their relationship was not a negotiated one. Clearly the ants were in charge. They carried the aphids to where they wanted them and plopped them down. It was a benevolent dictatorship. The relationship of the aphids and the morning glories, on the other hand, was parasitic in terms of exchange, and dominating in terms of control. As far as I know the morning glories gained nothing from this relationship, and in fact were somewhat weakened. They would have repelled the aphids had they been able to. This was an openly exploitative relationship.
One day I came out to the yard after having been away on a trip for two days, and I discovered that the ants had deserted the aphids. I have no idea why. Whatever the reason, it is was a disaster for the aphids. I watched an assortment of beetles and bugs devouring the fat and unhappy little aphids. It was an aphid apocalypse. They could not survive outside the benevolent dictatorship.
Deceptive relationships -- systems that are parasitic in their exchange dimension and negotiated in their control dimension -- are possible only by the means of deceit. In the natural order living systems generally act in their own interest, or at least in the interest of their species and social groups. In general they are not confused as to where their interests lie.
Sometimes this is not the case. The Portia spider is a good example. Its favorite food is other spiders. To begin with, the appearance of Portia spiders is deceptive. They can look like a bit of leaf detritus caught in a web, which enables them to deceive the owners of the web who recognize too late that they are dealing with a formidable predator. But it goes beyond this. Portias create a variety of vibrations on webs that mimic a trapped insect. And most diabolical of all, they will tap the species-correct courtship signals of a male spider on the web of a female. "Hey, Honey. I'm home." There are many other examples of deceit and trickery in a nature, but with the introduction of language deceit becomes much simpler and more pronounced. More pervasive. By the use of well-constructed language, people in social groups can be, and often are, misled as to what is in their interest.
The pigeons, songbirds, flowers, skunks, squirrels, and gray foxes that frequented our front yard were in a gardungle relationship with us. We enjoyed their presence and they enjoyed our food. They were not able to force us to give them more food than we wished to, and we were not able to force them to come to the yard. Thus our relationship was symbiotic and negotiated. It was democratic. However the relationship between the various visitors to our yard were not necessarily either negotiated or symbiotic. We often observed, for example, a large cat that roamed the neighborhood. He would come to our yard to stalk the pigeons. Perhaps he was hired by our neighbor -- the one with the roof. From a pigeon's point of view, the cat was not offering them a mutually enhancing relationship. Judging by a couple of piles of feathers that appeared on the lawn, it appeared that the cat was occasionally successful in imposing its own notion of a beneficial relationship.
Clearly not every relationship we observed among the various visitors was both negotiated and symbiotic. On the contrary a wide variety of relationships were in evidence. However, when one observed each individual animal or species in relationship to total ecological system of which they were part, this relationship was always both symbiotic and negotiated. Each individual animal, or plant, both contributed something to the larger order, and derived something from it. In this way symbiosis prevailed. Also, the individual animal was not able to force the system as a whole to provide its needs. Nor was the ecological system as a whole able to dominate the individual animals and species.
There is one outstanding exception to the principle that most individual animals or species have a relationship to the whole that is symbiotic and negotiated. That is the relationship that human beings have with the ecological order of the earth. They can dominate not only individual plants and animals, but whole ecologies, from the micro level to the macro level. With regard to my front and back yards, I was the only entity that was capable of deliberately and radically altering, or even be destroying, the entire order. I could at any time, if I wished, convert both my front and my back yard into dull monocultures. On the macro level we see the same thing. Human beings are the only species that is capable of deliberately modifying the ecological structure of the whole. It can adopt either a symbiotic or a parasitic relationship to the rest of the earth.
So this takes us from the microcosm to the macrocosm. Global capitalism is parasitic.
In relation to the ecological system as a whole, capitalism is openly exploitive. It takes a lot, and gives little of value back. Little or no deceit is necessary. Global capitalism simply overpowers any aspect of the system it wishes to exploit. In the process, it spreads huge amounts of its indigestible wastes on the ground, and pumps them into the water and air -- CO2, heavy metals, radiation, and poisonous chemicals of all kinds. Being able to take such a huge amount from the ecology while giving very little in return makes for a happy parasite in the short run, but it is not sustainable. Eventually such activity kills the host. The global elite seems to forget that the earth is the only host it has.
Global capitalism is also parasitic in relation to the majority of people who inhabit the earth. If all these people joined together, they would not be so easy to dominate as, say, a herd of buffaloes. So the ones in control resort to deceit, and use naked force only when people continue to see what is in their interest despite the propaganda. The elite is very good at deceit. They have made a science of it. People who want to make lots of money study the skills of deceit for many years, building on the information gained in the past. This kind of deceit goes by many names. Public relations. Slanting the news. Advertising. The elite are humanity's Portia spiders.
Some people have noticed how global capitalism is functioning, and they conclude that if they could just find a way to weed out the Portia spiders at the top, things would be all right. What they don't understand is that unregulated capitalism makes it inevitable that only Portia spiders rise to the top. Get rid of one spider, and another will take its place. If anything different is going to happen the system itself must be radically altered.
We need a gardungle. We need for the earth to become an ecosphere where the natural environment and the humanly engineered one interact to the benefit of both. Humanity's relationship to the rest of creation must become symbiotic -- mutually sustaining. And the relationships between people and between countries must become democratic in true sense of the term. Both resources and decision-making must be shared in an equitable manner. Humanity will not remain deceived forever by a relationship that is secretly exploitive in the extreme. Nor will they rest content with one that is openly exploitive. If we continue down the current path we will face a dying ecological system on the one hand and a uncontrollable revolution on the other. This is not a Scylla and Charybdis that even those clever capitalists are going to be able to successfully negotiate.
If we are not able to create a gardungle, there is little chance that the earth will continue to support humanity in an acceptable manner. Perhaps it will not support us at all. I think, at least on some level, most people know this. Why, then, is there such resistance to real change? That's not a hard question to answer when one is talking about the elite. They don't want to give up their privilege or their toys. But what about the rest of us? Well, many are still deceived as to what is really in their interest. But what about those of us who are not? Why do we go on voting for what we perceive to be the lesser of two evils on so many fronts, and not demand the kind of change we know we need?
Radical change is difficult to come by. It is unrealistic, we tell ourselves. Maybe it's already too late -- the key tipping points may already have passed us by. So we settle. Or we give up. Perhaps it really is unrealistic to unseat unregulated global capitalism at this point. Perhaps we are not sufficiently unified, or smart enough, or powerful enough.
But my point is simple. Only a gardungle will provide us with a life worth living. It is even possible that only a gardungle will allow for our survival. To say that we cannot achieve radical change in a short period of time is to say that the good life, and perhaps life itself, is not possible for our species. Perhaps that is true. Maybe humanity was just a tragic experiment -- a species with a fatal flaw. But we don't know that. So let's pretend that we still have time. It's possible. But if there is to be any hope at all we must revamp the system in a radical way. Now. So I'll meet you in the gardungle.
Write for Politics of Health and work with David Werner on issues of health. Worked in the field of "Mental Health" all my life. Am now retired.