While reading Thermocultures of Geological Media, I was attracted towards how Starosielski approached the subject of purity, using it as a reflection or metaphor for the concept of purity in human culture, and how human culture often desires that which is pure: “In the case of copper and quartz extraction, strategies of thermal manipulation are governed by a cultural imperative to achieve ‘purity.’” [1]

Starosielski continues on the subject of purity and its relation to pollution: “the definition of purity—the designation of one set of phenomena as clean (in this case, the copper or silicon communications circuit)—is integrally tied to the production of pollution.”[1]

These sections made me think about our cultural relationship with pollution. Pollution is often characterised as a concept in which humans have dirtied a clean, pure, green and natural world. Is it that the concept of pollution ties into the human cultural concept of purity? 

It seems that as the population becomes increasingly urban and separated from the natural world, we further lose cultural ties to the earth. Nostalgia for times of simplicity, agrarian tranquility, and  being at one with the nature is common. Is it that we see the earth as having human-like qualities? Do we miss our human connection with “mother earth”?  

There are many anthropomorphic representations of earth in mythology, with many earth goddesses existing throughout history suggesting a long and fruitful relationship between humans and the earth. These goddesses are commonly represented as a female, (as the suffix suggests), and as motherly figures. The fact that earth is commonly represented as female, and a mother is an interesting one, and joins with feminine tropes such as purity and innocence, and of care-giving as seen for example in the virgin mother, Mary, of christian tradition, a figure with a large influence on western culture. 

A painting of Gaia, the greek earth goddess [2]

“The passionate moral principles of the 1960s were turned in the 1970s to attack monstrous technological developments which endangered us. We became afraid of contamination of the air, water, oceans and food… …We showed that risk perception depends on shared culture, not on individual psychology. Dangers are manifold and omnipresent… …Arguments about risk are highly charged, morally and politically. Naming a risk amounts to an accusation. “[3]

The last part of that quote, about risk being an accusation, is something I think quite relevant in modern discourse on the topic of climate change and pollution and so on. The risk associated with it for our species, when raised, does often amount to an accusation, and that is an uncomfortable feeling to deal with. I wonder if the uncomfortable feeling not only comes from the feeling of risking the lives of others, but also towards the cultural vision of permanently hurting, or changing, the innocence and purity of our “mother”.

[1] Thermocultures of Geological Media – Nicole Starosielski

[2] Gaea (1875) – Anselm Feuerbach

[3] Purity and Danger –  Mary Douglas