Friday, March 10, 2017


That this onslaught of chilling news about what used to be the Republican party should come in a Spring when night-snow alternates with sub-zero temps seems somehow connected, but I’m told that other places had an early Spring, as early as three weeks sooner than normal.  Lit crit folks sneer at writing that uses weather as a metaphorical background for emotions, particularly sexual emotions that aren’t supposed to be discussed openly, so that it rains on sadness and orgasm is an earthquake and insights happen with lightning striking nearby.

But this weather is not metaphorical.  It is causal, two-ways.  We have caused global warming and global warming is causing political impact in some places but in others devastating new droughts, wildfires, permafrost breakups, and antarctic shelf disintegration that will eventually drown Manhattan.  These things are not happening on a millennial or even century-long cycle.  They are quicker than a human lifetime.

The emotional impact on human beings is enormous.  Clearly, a lot of people are going to die, especially the coastal cultures on every continent but esp. the North Americans are the ones who have been rich, pleasure-seeking, and a little careless about relationships.  And facts.  They like the idea that there is no reality.  And politics is just preening.

“Ocean Motion” is a rhyming website (lit crits object to rhyming, but I like it) that comes from NASA, explaining and exploring the ocean gyres that take warm water along our land.

A sample:

Ocean circulation is comprised of a global network of interconnected currents, counter-currents, deepwater currents, and turbulent eddies. From this complex circulation, an underlying transport pattern emerges. Water cycles from surface currents to deepwater currents then back to the surface again in what scientists liken to a giant conveyor belt. Scientists call this global conveyor belt the meridional overturning circulation.

There are two major forces driving the meridional overturning circulation. First there is the wind. The wind, in combination with the Earth’s rotation, generates the gyres that circle the major ocean basins. Turbulent swirling packets of water called eddies, many of which are hundreds of kilometers in diameter, spin out of these wind-driven currents and carry the water trapped inside them to other parts of the ocean.

The second force is tied to differences in the density of water. Temperature and salinity independently affect water’s density. The colder and saltier the water, the denser it becomes. As water becomes denser, it sinks.

There’s no use grieving over the lack of this info in your original long-ago education, because no one knew this stuff then.  Even so, as soon as there were ocean-worthy wind-ships, they rode the water gyres and their accompanying winds around the planet.  Much, much earlier Denisovian sailors from SE Asia rode their much, much smaller outrigger canoes to the coast of South America, preceding the drowning of the plains of Bering, which was not a narrow strip, but (I fancy) like a very cold version of Bangladesh, so close to sea level.

Those who work with Deep Time and hominins know that the land, water, air, and living creatures make each other possible and forcing them to constantly change.  Evolution happens when there is variation in the genomic and developmental nature of the animals, which are then pressed to survive by circumstances.  If animals cannot respond to change, they cannot survive.  If they are all the same, they live or die as one.

So this is what the USA political systems are facing at the moment.  Too many have refused to change — or maybe just don’t have the ability — and are being extinguished.  And it appears that virtue, honesty, integrity and all that other meme-y stuff is not going to help survival.  In the short run.  Not politically.  In the end survival is defined by reality.  In the past it has helped to trust each other, help each other through the rough patches, and tell the truth.

These virtues are enshrined in stories, but many of our stories are broken: the Christian one about Papa watching from the sky; the creation one about how we’re the best there will ever be, the sex one enforced by fertility, the economic one about the land itself as as the source of wealth.  The stories have fizzled out.  Now we figure the good die young, plagues happen repeatedly, crime is inevitable, and money is wasted on the poor.

I was disappointed that seminary was about the past and that pre-existing religious institutions are rigid to the point of being self-destructive.  There was a kind of apology that amounted to fatalism.  I snuck off to take writing classes and that helped.  Richard Stern’s post-WWII interest in narrativity was leavened by his work as an interpreter, esp. an interpreter of poetry.  Norman Maclean wasn’t teaching anymore and his mind was beginning to slip, but his dignity and protectiveness was intact.

The real visionaries were sort of psych/anthro people and Lakoff was at the center.  I sort of knew about them, but had no idea that they had the potential to give us new hope about the vision of the world that we need now — though I hope it doesn’t get frozen into some institution.  At the time the Unitarian seminary of Meadville/Lombard was constructed to house the future leaders of the movement.  But almost right away it was crippled by the conflict between the two main geniuses who were supposed to be the prophets,  Recently the building was sold to the U of Chicago to house the Neubauer Collegium, a far-seeing visionary group.  The house where I lived is no longer “Fleck House” but now a Chabad Center for Jewish students.  The remnants of the formal seminary are housed in a Jewish space in the Chicago “loop”.  So institutions must follow the money — those are the human gyres.

Script-writers also follow the money but in the process of courting change and innovation — quite the opposite of a religious institution — they are constantly considering modern moral dilemmas, not in terms of rules but in terms of projected consequences.  So far their contribution to climate change has been apocalypse scenarios and fantasies about other planets.  But even “Bones” with its corny scenarios and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” premise, sometimes manages a pretty good insight.  So far there hasn’t been a lot about ocean gyres and hominin fossils, but I suspect there’s part of the writing team who’s reading up on it, looking for the dynamic human gyres that shape our fates: warm or cold, fresh or salty.

At the moment the weather forecast notes two inches of snow last night and reduces the estimated high temp of the day by ten degrees.


Whisky Prajer said...

Hi Mary. We tend to slum around the same info dumps, so you've probably seen this already. But just in case...

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Thanks, Darrell. I had not seen this though I do subscribe to Nautilus. Maybe I just don't remember, but it IS memorable. What strikes me is that we have come to actually SEE things like the planet as living, pulsing, breathing entities. The clouds, the lightning, the spots of volcanism or prairie fire, the big whirls of storm. . . The idea of a mapped globe with a 2-dimensional surface is obsolete.

Prairie Mary