It’s a messy business being liquefied, even if you get to fly at the end of it. – Philip Slater
I used to assert with disarming certainty that it is impossible to turn a motorcycle into a hang glider while you are riding in it. I was wrong. Mother Nature solved that problem long ago; I just wasn’t looking in the right places. There is a way after all to transform the failed Taker Thunderbolt into an elegant glider plane and bring it down for a safe landing! Or so it appears…?
Revolution has been the hope of the downtrodden ever since domination lodged itself like a tick in the sleek fur of civilization. It brings into power brand new people who soon capably and predictably fill the shoes of the old dominators. How else? When we climb to the top by out-dominating the current batch of dominators, we turn into dominators in the process. What we need is a transformation that does not involve the grab for power over others, but rather focuses on growing power-sharing social relations from within the grassroots, from the inside out.
John Holloway speaks eloquently on the “urgent impossibility of revolution.” He says: “For over a hundred years, the revolutionary enthusiasm of young people has been channelled into building the party or into learning to shoot guns, for over a hundred years the dreams of those who have wanted a world fit for humanity have been bureaucratised and militarised, all for the winning of state power by a government that could then be accused of “betraying” the movement that put it there. “Betrayal” has been a key word … over the last century as one government after another has been accused of “betraying” the ideals of its supporters, until now the notion of betrayal itself has become so tired that there is nothing left but a shrug of “of course”. Rather than look to so many betrayals for an explanation, perhaps we need to look at the very notion that society can be changed through the winning of state power.” In other words, we need to jettison the idea that replacing dominators with another set of “keep-your-fingers-crossed-less-bad” dominators is a solution.
Looking to the organic world for ideas, we notice a cluster of insects species, moths and butterflies and some others, who routinely transform from one organism to a completely different one, with miraculous subtlety and built-in intelligence. This process is called ‘complete metamorphosis.’ I present to you for your perusal the idea that metamorphosis provides the insight we have been looking for, and the model for transforming our plodding, overfed, decaying caterpillar of a civilization into the butterfly of a civilized commonwealth.
Let me end this series with a real-life story. The story of a moth (after all, butterflies get all the good publicity!). [Floating mouse pointer over pictures will reveal further information.]
When a caterpillar hatches, it already contains within itself ‘imaginal cells,’ distinct from the caterpillar cells. These cells are called imaginal because they hold within themselves the very beginnings of the adult creature, the imago. It may equally well be said that these cells imagine the moth while completely surrounded by the reality of the caterpillar. Imaginal cells remain undifferentiated (uncommitted to any particular path) and keep on dividing, forming clusters called imaginal disks. These disks will position themselves in strategic symmetrical ways that will eventually shape the body organization of the moth. The imaginal cell clusters remain hidden and protected deep inside the caterpillar.
As the caterpillar grows, certain organ cells revert to multipotent flexibility, regaining their ability to divide and turn into new imaginal cells. These then create the rudiments of the moth’s future organs. For example, certain neurons will begin dividing and forming the basis of the adult nervous system, carrying the memories and learning of the caterpillar with them. Many imaginal neurons perish, perhaps because the immune system surveillance destroys them, or perhaps only the most adaptive ones are meant to survive and reproduce further.
As the caterpillar nears the end of its time, it gorges itself on plants while building up the energy that will sustain the metamorphosis. Its immune system weakens. The imaginal cell clusters experience explosive growth, and begin to reach to one another, building new connections and remodeling their relationships into patterns that will serve the life of the moth. Hormones (chemical messengers) play an important role in coordinating the transformational process that is under way. The caterpillar still looks like a caterpillar on the outside, but is heavily spiked on the inside with growing networks of imaginal clusters and incipient imaginal organs.
Now the caterpillar stops eating and spins a cocoon that will provide a safe and camouflaged space for the most crucial part of the metamorphosis. At the same time, its digestive enzymes begin to take apart and eventually liquify its body. Basically, the caterpillar digests itself from the inside out. The resulting goo provides nutritive soup for the growth of the moth. By the time the caterpillar is being disassembled into recyclable nutrients, the interconnected clusters of imaginal cells have already created the foundation of the new organism.
The caterpillar dissolves, and the moth grows within the safety of the cocoon. The cocoon (or the chrysalis, for butterflies) is not an inert and defenseless shell; it is aware of its surroundings and capable through rattling noises to repel would be predators. The metallic color of the chrysalis is thought to repel via a startling reflective gleam.
Finally, the moth is ready to emerge. It splits open its protective cover, pumps fluids into its slowly unfurling wings, begins to practice flight, and accustoms itself to its surroundings. Then, this imago, this new wondrous creature, flies off to live a life as different from the caterpillar as can possibly be… imagined.