BOOK REVIEW: THE CIRCLE OF LIFE IS BROKEN
Highly recommended. Brendan Myers’ The Circle of Life is Broken (1) is subtitled “an eco-spiritual philosophy of the climate crisis”. Myers is a Pagan identified author and a professional philosopher who teaches at Heritage College, Gatineau, Quebec. His Paganism is naturalistically oriented, and animist in a sense that “the things of the natural world are in some hard-to-express manner alive and spiritually present”.
The book begins with an view of the Earth from outside, through the loving eyes and words of astronauts. “It is as if the Earth as a whole was only discovered in 1968, when Apollo-8 astronaut William Anders shot the famous Earthrise photograph; the image of the Earth coming out from behind the edge of the moon”. This ‘overview effect’ is balanced at the end of the book by an invitation to immerse ourselves more fully and awarely within the world, through the practices of a weekly green sabbatical and an annual ecological pilgrimage.
Between this beginning and ending there are three main sections, each addressing a ‘root question’. Each question is rigorously explored, before receiving a carefully formulated answer.
The first question asks: what is the circle of life? A key understanding is that ecologists today do not see the Earth as “an aggregate of individuals competing for resources and survival”. Rather, they “are teaching us to see the Earth as a complex system in which everything is directly or indirectly involved in all the life around it, and in which symbiosis and cooperation, across multiple levels, keep the system as a whole flourishing”. This is the circle of life that is now breaking down. “It isn’t simply changing form. It is also short-circuiting; it is falling apart”.
The second root question asks: who faces the circle of life? This concerns humans and how we deal with realities of a higher order than our own. The exploration includes a look at how people see the world at different life stages. Myers wants to know “what becomes of the human reality when cast in terms of the encounter with the Circle of Life as the ultimate reality?” He notes that the Circle goes almost unmentioned in the history of Western philosophy, and also explores a perceived a tension between our ‘being-ecological’ and our ‘being-free’.
The third root question asks: can the circle be healed? Myers quotes a saying of the philosopher Hegel: “the owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering”. When things are bad, new ideas and possibilities can emerge and philosophers especially are challenged to think big. Myers looks at the political and cultural obstacles to any healing process, with good sections on ‘eco-fascism’ and the ‘gatekeepers of human nature’. He also makes a number of specific positive proposals.
Although written in plain English as far as possible, The Circle is Broken is not a book to read in one sitting. Myers’ thinking is holistic, with room for scientific information, complex argument, deep feeling, contemplation and engagement. It is written with love and a sense of wonder, generously drawing on personal experience. I think of it as a long-term companion, a gift to anyone concerned with the climate crisis and creative responses to it.
(1) Brendan Myers The Circle of Life is Broken: An Eco-Spiritual Philosophy of the Climate Crisis Winchester UK & Washington USA: Moon Books 2022 (Earth Spirit series)
(2) For other posts about Brendan Myers’ work, see:
https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2015/05/22/the-worship-of-the-gods-is-not-what-matters/ (Reblog from Naturalistic Paganism)
BOOK REVIEW: THE EARTH, THE GODS AND THE SOUL
BOOK REVIEW: RECLAIMING CIVILIZATION
ETHICS AND ‘CIVILIZATION’
BRENDAN MYERS: A FOREST ENCOUNTER
I don’t usually read climate/eco books mostly as I choose other areas to read (I perhaps find it daunting and feel distressingly powerless) but obviously being a Druid it is a subject of huge importance – I may read this as your review intrigues me – I wonder (and won’t know until I’ve read the whole book) if there is a dimension that has been missed…? I’m currently reading around the gift economy particularly it’s maternal ‘roots’ (see Genevieve Vaughan) and matricentric feminism (for my academic studies). As a challenge to patriarchal capitalism a gift economy answers a multitude of problems and could ‘save humanity’ yes, but more importantly Mother Earth herself. Thought provoking – thank you for sharing.
Thanks for this comment. Myers does discuss patriarchal capitalism and its toxic assumptions, and includes a strong thread of reciprocity and sharing. But he doesn’t have anything specific about the the gift economy and its origins. It’s a personal book, drawing on a particular experience and skill set, and I couldn’t call it comprehensive. I enjoyed the way it showed someone else trying to face in to this almost overwhelming territory.
Thank you for this review. My reactions to discussions on climate change these days range from anger and despair to feelings of guilt that I am not able to do more to help. I have bought the book on kindle (failing eyesight means I can’t really cope with hard copy any more) and I shall take your advice and let it be my companion into the new year.
I hope you like it, Linda. I resonate with your moving ‘from anger and despair to feelings of guilt that I am not able to do more to help’. For me, the book provided an odd kind of comfort, by showing how someone else has coped with this almost overwhelming issue without letting it cloud their underlying love of the world and commitment to a flourishing life.