All forms of life are linked to each other as interconnected elements of an ecosystem. When life is threatened in one part of the system, it retreats from all parts of that system – from the environment, from communities, from houses and cities and works of art – like the sea which retreats uniformly from every bay as the tide goes out. Restoring life requires doing the same in reverse: bringing it back simultaneously to all parts of the system, like the rising tide.
But we can’t bring life back using the same technological means that drove it away in the first place. That can only be achieved by appealing to life itself, for only “life creates the conditions that lead to life,” as Paul Hawken writes in Blessed Unrest1, quoting biologist Janine Benyus. This observation is central to Hawken’s thinking. The German biologist Rudolf Virchow demonstrated, more than a century ago, that spontaneous generation does not exist: life cannot emerge from inanimate matter. As a reminder, he left us a formula whose full import we have yet to realize: omnis cellula e cellula. Every cell comes from another cell. In other words: only life can give life. This law applies to all forms of life, including the life of symbols. As Goethe2 put it: “Intelligence can manufacture things, but being lifeless, it cannot give them a soul. Life can only emerge from the living.”
Nor can we consciously control life without distorting it, adds Hawken. “If we try to do it, we will die, just as the planet is dying. We do not manage our bodies, because we cannot. We can, however, protect them, nourish them, listen to them and take care of them through food, sleep, prayer, friendship, laughter and exercise.”3
1 Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest, Viking Press, New York, 2007
2 Goethe, Zahme Xenien
3 Paul Hawken, op.cit., p.177