Author: Theodore Roszak
Funny how psychiatrists are absolutely inspired when it comes to mapping sexual dysfunction, but fail to chart the strong emotional bond we have with the natural habitat. It’s time for an environmentally based definition of mental health. So the next time you’re feeling down, take yourself off to the woods for a few days.
I recently attended a meeting of the International Rivers Network, a San Francisco-area environmental group. The featured speaker was Dan Beard, head of the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation. After detailing the ways in which big dams have devastated natural watersheds and riverine cultures, he ended with an appeal: “Somehow we have got to convince people that projects like this are crazy.” There was applause all around.
“Crazy” . . . In the presence of environmental horrors, the word leaps to mind. Depleting the ozone is “crazy,” killing off the rhinos is “crazy,” destroying rain forests is “crazy.” Our gut feeling is immediate, the judgment made with vehemence. “Crazy” is a word freighted with strong emotion.
Inflicting irreversible damage on the biosphere might seem to be the most obvious kind of craziness. But when we turn to the psychiatric literature of the modern Western world, we find no such category as ecological madness.
The American Psychiatric Association lists more than 300 mental diseases in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Among the largest of DSM categories is sex. In mapping sexual dysfunction, therapists have been absolutely inspired. We have sexual aversion disorder, female sexual arousal disorder, hypoactive sexual desire disorder (male and female), gender identity disorder, transient stress-related cross-dressing behavior, androgen insensitivity syndrome, fetishism, transvestic fetishism, transvestic fetishism with gender dysphoria, voyeurism, frotteurism, pedophilia (six varieties), and paraphiliac telephone scatologia.
Granted, the DSM bears about the same relationship to psychology as a building code bears to architecture. It is nonetheless revealing that the volume contains only one listing remotely connected to nature: seasonal affective disorder, a depressive mood swing occasioned by seasonal changes. Even here, nature comes in second: If the mood swing reflects seasonal unemployment, economics takes precedence as a cause.
Psychotherapists have exhaustively analyzed every form of dysfunctional family and social relations, but “dysfunctional environmental relations” does not exist even as a concept. Since its beginning, mainstream Western psychology has limited the definition of mental health to the interpersonal context of an urban industrial society: marriage, family, work, school, community. All that lies beyond the citified psyche has seemed of no human relevance–or perhaps too frightening to think about. “Nature,” Freud dismally concluded, “is eternally remote. She destroys us–coldly, cruelly, relentlessly.” Whatever else has been revised and rejected in Freud’s theories, this tragic sense of estrangement from nature continues to haunt psychology, making the natural world seem remote and hostile.
Now all is changing. In the past 10 years, a growing number of psychologists have begun to place their theory and practice in an ecological context. Already ecopsychology has yielded insights of great value.
For one thing, it has called into question the standard strategy of scaring, shaming, and blaming that environmentalists have used in addressing the public since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. There is evidence this approach does more harm than good–especially if, as ecopsychologists suggest, some environmentally destructive behavior bears the earmarks of addiction.
Take consumption habits. In ecopsychology workshops, people frequently admit their need to shop is “crazy.” Why do they buy what they do not need? A common answer is: “I shop when I’m depressed. I go to the mall to be among happy people.” Buying things is strictly secondary–and in fact does little to relieve the depression.
Some ecopsychologists believe that, as with compulsive gamblers, the depression that drives people to consume stems not from greed but from a sense of emptiness. This void usually traces back to childhood experiences of inadequacy and rejection; it may have much to do with the typically middle-class need for competitive success. The insecurity born of that drive may grow into a hunger for acquisition that cannot be satisfied even when people have consumed so much that they themselves recognize they are behaving irrationally.
If the addiction diagnosis of over consumption is accurate, then guilt-tripping the public is worse than futile. Faced with scolding, addicts often resort to denial–or hostility. That makes them prey for anti-environmentalist groups like the Wise Use Movement, which then persuade an aggravated public to stop paying attention to “grieving greenies” and “ecofascists” who demand too much change too quickly.
As every therapist knows, addictive behavior cannot be cured by shame, because addicts are already deeply ashamed. Something affirmative and environmentally benign must be found to fill the inner void. Some ecopsychologists believe the joy and solace of the natural world can itself provide that emotional sustenance. Some, therefore, use wilderness, restoration projects, or gardens as a new “outdoor office.”
“Nature heals” is one of the oldest therapeutic dicta. Ecopsychologists are finding new ways to apply that ancient insight. Over a century ago, Emerson lamented that “few adult persons can see nature.” If they could, they would know that “in the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, no disgrace or calamity . . . which nature cannot repair.”
Why have therapists made so little of this obvious resource? When highly stressed people are asked to visualize a soothing scene, nobody imagines a freeway or a shopping mall. Rather, images of wilderness, forest, seascape, and starry skies invariably emerge. In taking such experiences seriously, ecopsychologists are broadening the context of mental health to include the natural environment. They are hastening the day when calling our bad environmental habits “crazy” will be more than a rhetorical outburst. The word will have behind it the full weight of considered professional consensus.
This, in turn, could be of enormous value in opening people to our spiritual, as well as physical, dependence upon nature. The time may not be far off when environmental policy-makers will have something more emotionally engaging to work with than the Endangered Species Act. They will be able to defend the beauties and biodiversity of nature by invoking an environmentally based definition of mental health. We might then see an assault upon endangered species or old-growth forest as an assault upon the sanity of a community, upon children, or upon our species as a whole.
In devastating the natural environment, we may be undermining a basic requirement of sanity: our sense of moral reciprocity with the nonhuman environment. Yet ecopsychology also offers hope. As ecocidal as our behavior may have become, our bond with the planet endures; something within us voices a warning.
Ecopsychologists have begun to detect in people evidence of an unspoken grieving for the great environmental losses the world is suffering. Sometimes, indeed, clients themselves demand to have that sense of loss taken seriously in their therapy. In a letter to Ecopsychology Newsletter, one reader reports how she confessed her anxiety for our environmental condition to her psychiatrist. “I felt depressed that things had gotten so bad I could no longer drink tap water safely”‘ Her therapist, all too typically, dismissed her feelings as an “obsession with the environment.” That judgment eventually drove the client to seek help elsewhere and finally toward a commitment to the environmental movement.
Denying the relevance of nature to our deepest emotional needs is still the rule in mainstream therapy, as in the culture generally. It is apt to remain so until psychologists expand our paradigm of the self to include the natural habitat–as was always the case in indigenous cultures, whose methods of healing troubled souls included the trees and rivers, the sun and stars.
At a conference titled “Psychology As If the Whole Earth Mattered,” at Harvard’s Center for Psychology and Social Change, psychologists concluded that “if the self is expanded to include the natural world, behavior leading to destruction of this world will be experienced as self-destruction.”
Such an intimate connection with the earth means taking our evolutionary heritage seriously and putting it in an ecological framework. Ecopsychology reinforces insights from naturalists like E. O. Wilson, who suggests that we possess “an innately emotional affiliation with all living organisms”–biophilia–that inclines us toward fostering biodiversity.
If our culture is out of balance with nature, everything about our lives is affected; family, workplace, school, community–all take on a crazy shape. For this reason, ecopsychology does not seek to create new categories of pathology, but to show how our ecological disconnection plays into all existing ones. For example, the DSM defines “separation anxiety disorder” as “excessive anxiety concerning separation from home and from those to whom the individual is attached.” But no separation is more pervasive in this Age of Anxiety than our disconnection from the natural world.
Freud coined the term reality principle to designate that objective order of things to which the healthy psyche must adapt if it is to qualify as “sane.” Writing in a pre-ecological era, he failed to include the biosphere. Ecopsychology is seeking to rectify that failure by expanding the definition of sanity to embrace the love for the living planet that is reborn in every child.
Source: Psychology Today, Jan/Feb96, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p22; , 3p
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By Fred W. Allendorf
Conservation Biology 11(5):1045-1046
To study the Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.
To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others. (Dogen)
It is a century now since Darwin gave us the first glimpse of the origin of species. We know now what was unknown to all the previous caravan of generations: that men are only fellow voyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution. This new knowledge should have given us, by this time, a sense of kinship with other creatures; a wish to live and let live; a sense of wonder over the magnitude and duration of the biotic enterprise. (Aldo Leopold, A Sand CountyAlmanac)
David Barash published an article in 1973 entitled “The Ecologist as Zen Master” in which he discussed what he considered the remarkable parallels between Zen Buddhism and the then emerging public concept of ecology. He felt that the interdependence and unity of all things was fundamental to both Zen practice and the science of ecology. In addition, both share a common non-dualistic view of the fundamental identity of subject and surroundings. A bison cannot be understood in isolation from the prairie; understanding requires study of the bison-prairie unit. He concluded that “the very study of ecology is the elaboration of Zen’s nondualistic thinking”.
Barash also discussed how the environmental problems the public was then just becoming aware of resulted from the Western view of the human-nature dichotomy. The exploitation of nature as something external and separate from humans has had disastrous consequences in both ancient and modern times.
A primary problem is that we behave in a way we believe benefits ourselves at the expense of nature. This is true both at a collective level (jobs versus the environment) and an individual level (driving a car versus riding a bike). However, this perception of a “choice” is incorrect because humans are not separate from nature.
Conservation biology has emerged since 1973 out of the public and scientific concern with ecology. Zen has a lot to offer the practicing conservation biologist. I depart in one central way from the approach of Barash, who was largely concerned with world views and ideas. Zen is not about concepts or ideas; Zen is about how we live our lives. Zen can play a practical role in providing guidance for the conservation biologist in his or her life. Many of the principles considered here are found in most Buddhist teachings, not just Zen.
The goal of the Society for Conservation Biology, as stated in every issue of this journal, is “to help develop the scientific and technical means for the protection, maintenance, and restoration of life on this planet”. However, one lesson of Zen is that knowledge alone of what needs to be done is not sufficient.
“Knowing” what is good for us is not enough to change our behavior.
We need to develop a deeper level of understanding so that we can act out of “feeling” or experience, rather than intellectual knowledge. David Orr (1994) discusses the importance of “feeling” the truth in the final chapter to his wonderful book, Earth in Mind. He concludes that the objective of environmental education should be to draw out our affinity for life. We cannot act wisely without knowledge; we will not act wisely without feeling.
Zen acts to develop the realization that self and world are not separate through meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness. Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh offers the following guidance. “If we want to continue to enjoy our rivers—to swim in them, walk beside them, even drink their water—we have to adopt the non-dual perspective. We have to meditate on being the rivers so that we can experience within ourselves the fears and hopes of the river. If we cannot feel the rivers, the mountains, the air, the animals, and other people from within their own perspective, the rivers will die and we will lose our chance for peace” (Nhat Hanh 1991;105).
The cultivation of mindfulness is a time honored Buddhist method to develop such feelings. Mindfulness is a sharpened awareness of the immediate present in which we strive to look deeply into our every action. “It is precisely the lack of mindfulness that is responsible for so much of the violence and suffering in the world today. … The aware person sees the indivisibility of existence, the deep complexity and interrelationship of all life, and this creates in him a deep respect for the absolute value of things” (Kapleau 1995).
For example, we turn light-switches on many times throughout our daily life without awareness. Mindfully performing this act requires awareness of the physical sensation of touching and moving the switch. In addition, we become aware of the effects of this action. I live in a power-grid connected to the power generating dams of the Columbia River. The connection made when I turned the switch in my office this morning connected my computer with electrical power generated by dams on the Columbia River. These dams and the long pools behind them have blocked or hindered the return of salmon to their spawning grounds. I try to be aware of that connection every time I turn on a light switch; I usually fail.
Gathas, short verses used to bring the energy of mindfulness to each act of daily life, are a traditional form of Zen practice used to increase our awareness (Nhat Hanh 1992; 104). The following gatha, written by Thich Nhat Hanh, can be used before every meal:
In this food,
I see clearly the existence
of the entire universe,
supporting my existence.
We can see the entire universe in our breakfast cereal if we take just a moment to reflect. The ocean is there; the rain that watered the grain was carried from the ocean by clouds. The sun is there; the grain could not grow without energy from the sun. The Jurassic ecosystem in which the dinosaurs dwelled is there; plants that fed the dinosaurs 200 million years ago were transformed into the fossil fuel that was used to harvest the grain and to carry it to the table. Gregor Mendel is there, along with the plant breeders who developed the strains of grain. Such moments of reflection strengthen our appreciation of our interdependence to countless beings, past and present, near and far.
Cultivating such constant awareness of our actions is a powerful method to transform our behavior so that we can act in a way that will protect, maintain, and restore life on this planet. I was disturbed to see hundreds of styrofoam cups thrown away during every coffee break at the Society for Conservation Biology annual meeting in Fort Collins in 1995. This seemed especially unnecessary because every registrant was given a plastic coffee mug at registration. Many fewer styrofoam cups would have been used if attendees had recited the following gatha to themselves every time they threw a styrofoam cup away at a coffee break:
Throwing a styrofoam cup into the trash, I am aware that I am throwing a styrofoam cup into the trash.
This is not a criticism of the meeting organizers. They provided us with the choice of using our own reusable cup or a disposable styrofoam cup.
Our stated goal as the Society for Conservation Biology is to save “life on this planet”. However, Zen teaches that we cannot save others; at best, we can save ourselves by transforming our own unskillful ways. However, Zen also teaches that our identity is not limited to our ego-self. Our identity includes all living beings. Humans act in a way that they feel is in their own self interest. We will act to save “life on this planet” only if we recognize at a deep level that our “self” includes all beings.
John Seed, director of the Rainforest Information Center in Australia, gave the following answer to the question of how he deals with the despair of difficulties associated with saving the remaining rainforest: “I try to remember that it’s not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather I’m part of the rainforest protecting myself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking” (Macy 1991; 184).
We need to recognize and feel at a deep level that ultimately we are not conservation biologists trying to save other species. Rather, we are one emergence of life on this planet trying to save itself.
I thank many people who made helpful comments on this comment: D. Barash, E. Grumbine, P. Lesica, E. P. Pister, and two anonymous reviewers. I offer special thanks to B. Byers and E. Kiera for their guidance.
Barash, D.P. 1973. The ecologist as Zen master. American Midland Naturalist 89:214-215.
Kapleau, P. 1995. Introduction. Pages 1-19 in Thich Nhat Hanh. Zen keys: a guide to Zen practice. Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.
Macy, J. 1991. World as lover, world as self. Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.
Nhat Hanh, Thich. 1991. Peace is every step. Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.
Nhat Hanh, Thich. 1992. Look deep and smile: the thoughts and experiences of a Vietnamese monk. Pages 100-109 in M. Batchelor an d K. Brown. Buddhism and ecology. Cassell Publishers, London.
Orr, D. 1994. Earth in mind: on education, environment, and the human prospect. Island Press, Covelo, California.
By Craig Chalquist, M.S.
Animae Mundi Colendae Gratia
(“For the Sake of Tending the Soul of the World”)
–school motto, Pacifica Graduate Institute
Historically, depth psychology, from a German term (Tiefenpsychologie) coined by Eugen Bleuler, has come to refer to the ongoing development of theories and therapies pioneered by C. G. Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Alfred Adler. The modern version of this tripod is:
- Psychoanalytic (includes object relations and Kohut’s Self Psychology)
- Adlerian (from Adler’s Individual Psychology)
- Jungian (includes Jung’s Analytical Psychology and Hillman’s Archetypal Psychology)
I would also emphasize the influence of transpersonal psychology (which itself includes humanistic and Far Eastern currents), although not all depth-oriented practitioners would agree, and existentialism, which has worked its way into the psychotherapy world primarily via Rollo May and his protege Stephen Diamond.
Broadly speaking, depth psychology operates according to the following working assumptions:
- The psyche is a process–one could say: a verb rather than a noun–that is partly conscious and partly unconscious. The unconscious in turn contains repressed experiences and other personal-level issues in its “upper” layers and “transpersonal” (i.e. collective, non-I, archetypal) forces in its depths.
- The psyche is irreducible to either neurochemistry or some “higher” spiritual reality: it is a “third” between matter and spirit that must be taken on its own terms. This principle is known as “psychic objectivity” (Jung, Edinger). (Archetypalists, who represent an offshoot of classical Jungian psychology, refer to the psyche’s in-between quality as “liminal” or “imaginal.”)
- The psyche spontaneously generates mythico-religious symbolism and is therefore spiritual as well as instinctive in nature. A clinical implication of this is that the choice of whether to be a spiritual person or not doesn’t exist; the only question is exactly where we put our spirituality: do we live it consciously or unknowingly invest it in nonspiritual aspirations (perfectionism, addictions, greed, fame) that eventually possess us by virtue of their ignored but frightfully potent numinous power?
- Symptoms represent important unconscious messages to oneself and should be managed—if necessary, through psychotherapy or pharmacology or both—but not indiscriminately silenced. (“The gods have become diseases,” as Jung wrote.) Symptom is one way by which the psyche tells us that we’re not listening to its deeper voices.
- There is a “seat of meaningful experience” (Corbett) where the psyche’s personal and transpersonal poles meet; this seat is referred to as soul. One of depth psychology’s aims is to bring discussion of soul back into psychology. (See the work of Hillman, Moore, Sardello, and Watkins.)
- Soulfulness (my way of putting it) is considered a subjectivity that extends everywhere; everything has a “within,” as Schopenhauer and Teilhard de Chardin believed. The depth practitioner’s mission is to enrich the depth of life by being a witness to this subjectivity.
- Depth psychology rejects as philosophically archaic the absolute Cartesian split between self and other and instead posits a shifting interactive field of subjective and objective activities. A projection, for instance, is seen as dancing imaginally in the space between the “sender” and the “receiver” of it.
- An implication of interactivity is that “objective” research when applied to the psyche is limited and even fictionalized by the fact that we change whatever we study. Whereas empirical investigation uncovers only those facets of the psyche that are easily quantified, depth psychology deconstructs this would-be empiricism by envisioning the psyche studying itself as a “hall of mirrors” (Romanyshyn) in which a consciousness sensitized to its own relativity participates in perpetually reflected realities.
- Traditional depth-psychological thought carried all the sexist misinformation and cultural biases of the nineteenth century. The depth psychology of today critiques the equation of gender with sex (because there are indeed two sexes, but in some cultures as many as seven genders), dispenses with theoretical constructs that reinforce old stereotypes about women and men (e.g., mothers as the primary source of psychopathology; women = passively yin and men = actively yang, etc.), and investigates the psyche in its personal, biological, cultural, and archetypal context.
- All minds, all lives, are ultimately embedded in some sort of myth-making. Mythology is not a series of old explanations for natural events; it is rather the richness and wisdom of humanity played out in a wondrous symbolical storytelling. No story, no myth, and no humanness either.
- For the depth practitioner, goals of health or wholeness have less significance than the cultivation of soulfulness (or “eudaimonism,” as Stephen Diamond terms the conscious relationship to the daimonic life within). What may be risky, painful, confusing, or even disastrous for a person’s conscious life might well be enriching to that person’s soul.
- Personal symptoms, conflicts, and stucknesses contain a mythic or transpersonal/archetypal core that when interpreted can reintroduce the client to the meaning of his struggles (e.g., the pain of leaving home can be reimagined as the ageless adventure of the wanderer setting out into the unknown). The danger in tending only to the transpersonal is inflation of the ego (e.g., pie-in-the-sky New Ageism); the danger in reductively focusing only on the personal is narcissistic devaluation of spiritual experiences.
- Work on the personal level is a prelude to work on the transpersonal level; for that reason, one must undergo various sorts of psychological initiations into adulthood—ideally, with the help of wiser and more mature adults–in order to attain the maturity to stand later encounters with those numinous (Otto), or highly charged, manifestations of the transpersonal psyche which in aboriginal cultures have always been considered signs of normality and vitality.
- Because we have a psychical share in all that surrounds us, we are sane and whole only to the degree that we care for our environment and tend responsibly to the world in which we live.
By Carl Golden
March 16, 2006
Once upon a snow-covered mount in the front range of the Rockies (just outside of Boulder, Colorado), I followed the tracks of an Elk buck for half a day, and then lost them in the thickets of a wide ravine. I scoured the area for half an hour, peering into bush clumps and listening for any unusual “twiggy” snaps. Nothing. I knew he was close because his tracks were very fresh, perhaps 15 minutes, but, without further sign, the buck might as well have been on Mars. I decided to head home along the creek bed of the ravine. Walking a hundred yards (or so), I noticed a tree stump move out of the corner of my eye. I stopped to look more closely. It took me a full minute to see the stump for what it was – the head and racks of an immense Elk peering at me over an abandoned fence of fieldstones. Slowly, I moved up the hill to a position just ten feet to the right of the buck.
I was amazed to be able to get so close to the animal without spooking him, and even more surprised to discover that he was sitting on his haunches with his legs tucked under. His head rose so high above the fence that I had assumed he was standing. I found a place to sit, as well. We sat within spitting distance of each other for 45 minutes without a flinch.
It was quiet, and the air was still. I could hear him breathing. I tried to match the rhythm of his breaths – long draws followed by short, intense exhalations. His chest would slowly rise then effortlessly collapse. It was like watching a tree breathe. I meditated upon our breathing, as if I was back in the Zen dojo. I don’t know what he meditated upon, although I suspect it was my unusually close proximity.
I felt to be in the presence of greatness itself – a Buddha. In this communion, there was no separation of man and beast. I did not feel his better; in truth, I did not feel his equal. He was the master and I was the neophyte – a young buck sitting at the feet of a wise, great and hoary elder. Nothing escaped his attention. When I first climbed up to my seat next to him, I thought that I had managed to trick him into believing that I did not see him, but I realized that he knew that I knew. It was he that allowed me to get close.
Sitting on that mountain, I meditated upon the buck and clearly saw the beauty and magnificence of what is wildness. Contrary to the popular notion, it is not chaotic and mindless; in fact, it is the penultimate expression of order and mindfulness in exquisite harmony with itself and its environs. Wildness is a divine order. God was no less present in this splendid Elk than in Jesus the Christ, Buddha, Krishna, or any other holy man or woman. Every part of this Elk attended to its environs – nothing taken for granted. I was reminded of the Northwest Coastal Indian totem poles, where the animals carved into the poles are painted with eyes on their paws, wings and torsos, signifying the pervasive quality of awareness – radical attention.
This quality of attention is not found in modern society in general, nor is it found in most “civilized” cultures, both eastern and western. I suspect the reasons for the lack of radical attention in modern civilizations are many – social, economic, and political stress, meaningless employment, urbanization, etceteras. In short, the many things that contrive to distract us from the Now.
The root of it all, though, is the denial or avoidance of suffering. At the time of this extraordinary encounter with the Elk, my life had become miserably clouded by a recent break of a marital engagement that had occurred months prior to my sojourn into the mountains. My fiancée’s departure from my life was like the loss of my brother, Chris, in death years before. I had been absorbed in pain, not knowing one day from the next. I knew that I needed to move on, but had lost the will to do so.
As I meditated upon that wintry mountain, I considered my extraordinary companion’s life – the yearly cycles of feast and famine, the uncertainty of daily existence, the annual threat of hunters bearing rifles, the need to attend to everything. It struck me that the threat of death and pain was ever present for this Elk, and he knew it. Death and pain rooted him in attention to life, rather than becoming reasons to seek distractions from life. Living so had conferred greatness upon his presence.
Whereas, I reflected, the “death” of a relationship and the concomitant pain I had experienced had become reasons for distraction – I had lost months of vital living to distracted self-absorption in the avoidance of suffering. The practical and soulful importance of this insight struck me like a thunderbolt. In that moment, I embraced my pain and found the clarity and courage to start living again.
Without ritual or circumstance – as if on queue – my teacher stood, turned and slowly walked away. The grace of his departure surprised me as much as seeing a tree stump move. I had expected the effort of raising his immense torso and head to be somewhat awkward, but it was no more cumbersome than raising one’s arm.
I was (and remain) in awe of this teacher, to whom I am the ignorant beast in comparison. I had drained my cup to drink his tea, and once I had drunk deeply, he left.
By Hank Wesselman PhD.
November 26th, 2010
My recent series of essays posted on sharedwisdom.com have been focused upon the growing interest in the New Mysteries that are taking form in the Western world once again, and with this in mind, I have been exploring the issue of re-enchantment — the re-enchantment of ourselves as well as the world in which we live.
I have observed, for example, that this re-enchantment will bring us back into the awareness that “Mother Nature” is none other than the Great Wisdom Goddess and Planetary Earth Mother Sophia/Gaia, whose physical embodiment is our beautiful planet and whose spiritual essence is the organic white light with a voice that expresses a vast intelligence with which authentic mystics across time have sought connection.
This reveals that the re-enchantment involves the expansion of our consciousness through the experience of our spiritual unfolding and that this includes a return to the Nature-focused spirituality of our ancestors.
A Confirmation from an Unlikely Direction
When we step onto the shaman’s path of direct revelation, we pay closer attention to everything that is going on around us, both in the outer world in which we live as well as in the inner worlds in which we think, feel and dream. And when we are paying attention, it is not unusual for something to approach us — a seemingly spontaneous event in our outer world that “just happens” yet one that confirms that place, state, or current concern of our focused attention in our inner world. Allow me to share one such experience from my own life.
Recently, I happened to read a research paper written by a distinguished professor of anthropology named Peggy Barlett. It was published in a peer-reviewed academic journal in 2008 (Current Anthropology 49: 10771098) and titled, “Reason and Re-enchantment in Cultural Change: Sustainability in Higher Education.”
I was startled when this word re-enchantment suddenly appeared on the printed page in an anthropology journal no less, and so with her permission, allow me to offer some of her shared wisdom to you as it hinges directly on our consideration of the New Mysteries.
Dr. Barlett leads off by observing that in most of the social institutions that make up contemporary Western society, the given is that science is the secure route to knowledge. She goes on to affirm that one of the hallmarks of modernity is the dominance of reason and logic over emotion and intuition. In response, the objective study of natural phenomena has become valued over and above the enhanced understanding of these phenomena made possible through subjective spiritual perception. In this sense, the term “subjective spiritual perception” implies “gnosis” which means “derived from direct experience or knowing.”
This dominance of rational reason over intuitive understanding, she proclaims in her paper, reveals the existence of “a profound disenchantment within us and within our world.” Dr. Barlett goes on to affirm that this disenchantment is an expression of a long term cultural suppression of our collective relationship with Nature. She also states that this “spiritual divorce” has resulted in the complete removal from our lives of any form of real connection with authentic divinity.
This is quite a statement for a mainstream social scientist to make, don’t you think?
She then cautions us by inviting each of us to consider that our re-enchantment will require the collective and individual tension of “discipline, routine, and the regimen of learning” to keep us from fracturing into the traps of escapism, nostaligia, and sentimentality.
In other words, Mother Nature requires that we “get real” without any romanticism, pretense, or self-promoting schemes. I would add the importance of staying in the positive polarity because histrionic proclamations and pontifications in the negative polarity are unlikely to bring us into the direct mystical connection with the heart of the world herself.
Dr. Barlett’s paper goes on to propose that: “We cannot urge each other to care about the environment unless we (each) have a sense of our primal at-one-ment with the created world.” This thought is confirmed by her sparse (and irrefutable) observation that, “Reverence for the Earth produces both good farmers and good citizens.”
No escape from this woman.
At the heart of her paper lies a carefully crafted experiment — a project that she designed in “expanded systems thinking and personal and community action” with which a large clutch of fellow faculty members at her university were invited to participate.
This project was essentially an extended workshop that involved occasional two-day gatherings, accompanied by ongoing lunchtime Nature walks across the wild areas of the university campus that included the guidance and explanation of what was encountered by environmental experts from the Biology department. The follow up involved more in-depth field trips into Nature-at-large with both lunch and dinner meetings in which the participants were encouraged to reflect on their experiences.
The project was designed for highly-mental academics and drew upon the foundation stones of the academy itself — intellectual curiosity and the satisfaction derived from learning.
To cut to the results, what the re-enchantment project revealed most significantly was the need to think about our human connections and shared responsibilities and to link them with the participants’ direct experiences of the living environment of Nature.
The Seven Aspects of Re-enchantment
Here are some of the reflections reported by the participants in Dr. Barlett’s study that provide us with seven aspects of the re-enchantment experience:
1) Moments of sensory expansion: Many participants reported experiencing a deep, non-rational experience, accompanied by a quiet joy as well as a profound connection to the sensual, alive, wide awake world of Nature, including their own bodies. Some felt a deeper connection to moral goodness as well as to the awareness that goodness and beauty are intrinsic values that exist within us — that they are among our birthrights.
2) Being lost in wonder and awe: Another layer of the re-enchantment experience reported was a sense of the participants being outside themselves, of being caught up or “lost in wonder.” Many experienced a profound “sense of the mysterious” in which everything around them, including their relationships, was more intensely felt and more richly lived after their reconnection with Nature.
3) Peace, Serenity, and Restoration: Some reported that their time spent in Nature and their connections to wild places had an important positive mental or physical health aspect on themselves. They shared that they felt more serene, more at peace, with an increased sense that all of their faculties had been restored.
4) Attachment to Life, and Identification with Living Systems: After their experiences in Nature, a new context for the self often emerged, a shift in identity in which Earth becomes Home and one feels an enhanced sense of belonging to larger systems of living things. People reported a feeling of at-one-ness with the Earth, a sense of being part of the web of life, and this was deeply reassuring to them.
5) Connection to Childhood Experiences: These first four aspects of re-enchantment took on a deeper meaning for the participants when they remembered childhood memories of similar experiences that had happened in relationship with Nature. As adults, most of the experiencers called up positive, memorable, and important experiences from a formative phase of their growing up. They felt delight in making these reconnections, and both their memories and their current experiences of Nature were mutually enhanced, creating expanded dimensions of meaning.
6) Connection to Religious, Moral or Ethical Commitments: For some, the experience of Nature connected them directly with moral precepts for living, personal commitments, or ethical guidelines that they now saw as implicated with the reality of the living world in a new way. A few reported that their Nature experiences reconnected them to prior commitments to social-justice issues from earlier in their lives.
7) Deepened Sense of Care: For many, an experience of re-enchanted Nature and the subsequent re-enchantment of themselves created a breakthrough in their sense of empathy that was transferred to a deeply felt ethic of care for and action on behalf of living things.
Summary and Conclusions
Dr. Barlett’s project reveals that the experience of re-enchantment begins with moments of “sensory and aesthetic expansion, the experience of being outside oneself or caught up in wonder, and a positive mental or physical effect described as peacefulness, serenity or joy.” These experiences then progress toward “a different context for the self, an identity as part of a web of living things. Their power comes from echoes, not only from childhood experiences in Nature, but also of moral precepts, religious commitments, and personal ethics.”
She found that re-enchantment fosters “imagination, playfulness and creativity that can in turn offer new discoveries and new alignments for action.” And she has suggested that “these kinds of experiences strengthen the foundation for the emergence of coalitions to create policies (mechanisms of restraint) that may constrain unsustainable and undesirable economic and political forces at large in our society.”
Subsequent interviews of the 90 faculty members involved in the project revealed that the experiment resulted in heightened systems thinking among most, creating a transition in their lives that translated into changed daily habits for many and new political action for some, both at home and in the workplace.
Finally, evidence from the project revealed that those who described their experience of Nature as re-enchanted were more likely to have stronger, sustainability-related household habits, to become more responsive to the natural world, and to become better able to enact the minimization of harm and suffering.
This is part of what I mean by our re-enchantment. I have come to understand and accept that in all probability, this alone holds the guarantee of our continued survival as well as our thriving in the millennia to come.
The questions then arise: What else do we truly need? Is there anything else that will truly sustain us in the long term? And given the state of our world today, how do we accomplish this?
I sense that this will ultimately require a redefinition of our selves and our humanity. But what does this mean? Each of us would do well to consider this during the up-coming holiday season — for the shift is almost upon us. This means that the decisions we make in the here and now will create a foundation that will effect the life ways of us all for the next several thousand years. This is not a small thing.
© COPYRIGHT SHARED WISDOM
Excerpts of “Shamanism and Eco-Psychology: Ancient Answers for Contemporary Concerns,” Leslie Gray’s CUUPS Keynote Address given at the 1995 General Assembly in Spokane, Washington. Of Oneida and Seminole heritage, Leslie Gray practices as a clinical psychologist and shamanic counselor.
My purpose tonight in speaking is to suggest that the re-inclusion of the ancient world view expressed in the American Indian statement “all my relations” is precisely our greatest hope for the future, ecologically and psychologically. I’ll say a little bit about the situation we are in. I would describe it as nothing less than imminent global catastrophe. Ecocide if you will. As a species we are destroying our life support systems. The air is becoming increasingly unbreathable. The hole in the ozone grows larger. Water becomes undrinkable, the oceans are dying, the soil is eroded and turning non-arable. Toxic nuclear waste is leaking into all three elements just mentioned from unthinking, short sighted attempts to harness the fourth element, fire.No one escapes the daily recitation of the facts of planetary destruction in the media. They are voluminous. But whether it is the loss of a hundred species to our ecosystem a day or the destruction of old growth forests equal to the area of Pennsylvania each year or even the information that due to pesticides sperm counts of American males today are 50% that of their grandfathers, we seem to respond to these facts with denial, repression or despair rather than conscious action.
Although planetary restoration is still possible, no one expects modern science or conventional state religions to turn this situation around. Indeed, many leading edge thinkers are coming to the conclusion that it is only through the formation of an empathic relationship with the Earth that we will survive. This is what eco-psychologists are saying.
This points to the main problem of the ecology movement. Ecologists don’t know much about changing human behavior. They have been relying primarily on fear and guilt tactics for almost thirty years now. And they don’t work. We’re all scared to death. But the tactics haven’t worked. I actually saw in a recent advertisement that I think was meant to encourage you to join the Sierra Club a large black and white picture of the face of an owl with piercing yellow eyes and underneath it said in bold letters, “Make my day.” I found myself saying what’s the image here? The natural world as Clint Eastwood?
Intimidation doesn’t work either. Psychologists know that reality is dependent on our perception of it. Therefore we must appeal to people compassionately and positively or they won’t change. But the field of psychology has its own tragic flaw. It has remained exclusively focused on human beings and their relations with one another. Regardless of theoretical orientation-psychoanalytic, behaviorist, humanist, or transpersonal the focus has been on human beings. The consequences of this anthropomorphism for psychology have been at the very least that it seems to have made itself irrelevant to the central question of our time, whether life itself will remain sustainable.
Another consequence is that there is no model of mental health which includes the natural world. If visitors from another planet came here and were to read the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Four, the one that has the diagnostic categories required, where you pick the particular flavor of disturbance that you diagnose someone with if you are a psychologist (and which is required by all insurance companies, even if you are going for just a couple of visits), they would possibly conclude that you could raise a human being in a broom closet as long as there was a mother and a father inside there. The DSM-IV has exactly two references to the natural world-seasonal-affective disorder and the other is bestiality.
I really see both these problems of ecology and of psychology as world-view problems. Both fields are acting as if they are not related to each other. Indeed the slogan of the eco-psychology movement has become ecology needs psychology and psychology needs ecology. I think at its best, eco-psychology says that you can’t have sanity without a sane relationship with the natural world. Eco-psychology proposes a shift of consciousness from the atomistic to the synergistic. For example, Theodore Roszak says in his book, Voices of the Earth, “Eco-psychology holds that there is a synergistic interplay between planetary and personal well-being. The term synergy is chosen deliberately. The contemporary ecological translation of the term might be that the needs of the planet are the needs of the person, the rights of the person are the rights of the planet.” And I say that’s a good start, Doctor Roszak, but what’s missing from this picture? Spirituality.
And that I should say right away is my greatest fear about the eco-psychology movement, that it will become merely the combination of environmentalism with academic psychology. Right now the field is so nascent that whether or not that happens hasn’t been determined. There are many people introducing ideas of Earth-based spirituality into eco-psychology and there are many who say there is no place for spirituality in eco-psychology.
Eco-psychology can be described as an attempt to bring the rest of the social sciences into line with the insights of modern physics about interconnectedness. These insights are often described as a new paradigm. A new paradigm? It seems to me that this paradigm is the paradigm of the oldest psycho-spiritual cosmological system there is-shamanism.
The shamanic world view is perennial. It has been acknowledged continuously for forty thousand years and continues to be so by the more than three hundred million indigenous peoples in the world today. This perennial indigenous world view is powerfully stated in the Chuckchee saying, “Everything that is, is alive.” In a universe of living things intimately related the biosphere is our family. In this family are ourselves, the two-legged, the four-legged, the creepers, crawlers, rock people, the plant people, the tall-straight people, the rolling hills, the grasses, the cloud people, planets, starry nation, galaxies, all my relations. And this family has values, family values.
Let’s just look at the traditional family values of this land, Turtle Island. The traditional family values of America have been held for thousands of years. They are respect for life, harmony with nature’s cycles, gratitude, balance, and above all, reciprocity. Don’t take anything without giving something back. The spiritual tradition of Native America is one of reciprocal relations with the Earth. I have no doubt that the failure to honor this American tradition will result in our destruction. Just as the re-inclusion of our Earth-based spiritual tradition is the key to restoring our land and our sanity.
So I would say dominate the Earth or treat the Earth as sacred. This is the central spiritual question of our time.
The following is a conversation between Theodore Roszak and Jeffrey Mishlove about ecopsychology. It is posted in it entirety.
Conversations On The Leading Edge
Of Knowledge and Discovery
With Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove
Hello and welcome. I’m Jeffrey Mishlove. Today we are going to explore echo-psychology. With me for the first of a three part series is Dr. Theodore Roszak, a professor of history at California State University at Hayward, a leading social critic and an author of numerous books including The Making of a Counterculture, Where the Wasteland Ends, Person, Planet, and most recently, The Voice of the Earth. Welcome Ted.
TR: Good to be here Jeff.
JM: It’s a pleasure to be with you. In your book The Voice of the Earth, you outline what hopefully will become an entirely new discipline that you call eco-psychology. I think the best way to introduce our viewers to this subject is to talk about what psychology has been up until now. And I think maybe the best place to start would be with Freud himself who was the founder of psychotherapy.
TR: That’s where I decided to start the examination of the psychiatric mainstream. It provides a good baseline. As Freud, whatever else has to be questioned and revised his work as most of the important questions. And even though I disagree with many answers he came up with, I thought the questions where well worth addressing. And so I used Freud and his influence on later figures, positive or negative, as a starting point for a reexamination and a re-envisioning of the psychiatric tradition in the modern Western world.
JM: Well, one of the issues that Freud did address was the environment itself in some very limited sense wasn’t it?
TR: Freud asked a question that was a pregnant question, an important one: What is the relationship of the human psyche to nature in general and to the universe at large? The question you would think every psychiatrist would want to address at some point. It’s the big question– how does the psyche connect with anything outside of the psyche in nature. Freud thought of himself as a scientist examining a scientific material called the human psyche, even though others in psychology think that he indulged in a lot of abstractions about the id and the ego and the super ego and so on. Freud himself thought he was a good solid materialistic scientist studying quite objectively a material called the psyche. When he asked the question “How does the psyche connects with nature at large,” he came up with a very negative assessment. That is, he was convinced the human mind, the psyche, and life in general was a freakish development in the universe. And that decision on Freud’s part haunts the practice of psychiatry and psychotherapy down to the present day. And it has led to the assumption that you can treat the psyche in isolation from the natural environment because there’s no significant, meaningful, human connection. Freud went so far as to regard the human mind as freakish, as purely accidental and perhaps not natural in the sense that it would someday give a return to the unconscious state, to the inert state. Now the problem with that is that it has left us with a severely under-dimensioned psychology, a psychology in which the human mind does not connect with the natural environment. And it is therefore treated wholly within a social context, a family context, perhaps a very personal context but without any outreach to the world beyond — the non-human world — that surrounds us out of which we evolved.
JM: And I suppose the larger significance of this is that it’s not just Freud. But he was in fact representing what was a mainstream opinion at the time he wrote at the end of the last century, one that was widely shared and is still influential in our culture.
TR: Well, I concluded that Freud’s influence in this respect has been absolutely decisive. Jung, his great disciple tried to find his way around this position Freud had adopted and tried to find a more religious, a more spiritual interpretation of the psyche, which is one of the reasons Freud and Jung fell out with one another. Most other followers of Freud and the schools that followed the post-Freudians simply assumed that Freud was correct about the connection between the psyche and the natural environment. The result of this has been is that if you look at psychiatric literature as a whole, there’s almost no mention in it of the non-human world, as if it just doesn’t matter. Indeed you find extreme examples of this in a development following World War 2– existential therapy for example– it is simply assumed that human beings exist in the condition of alienation from nature. Indeed that’s the key problem that you have to address yourself too: Our profound alienation as human being in an alien universe. Well, I decided to go back beyond Freud and then to place his work within a larger framework of spiritual healing, psychotherapy in the most general sense of the term because if you look beyond the modern, Western schools of psychiatry, you find that in traditional societies among primary people, the people we once used to call primitives, that it is understood that sanity and madness have to be defined always in relationship to the natural habitat; and that indeed to a very large extent, madness is understood to be an imbalance between the individual and the natural environment or between an entire tribe or a people and its natural environment. That’s a much larger conception of what sanity and madness are. And so my feeling is that the indigenous cultures have a lot to offer our understanding of sanity and madness in this one significant respect—there has to be a balance between the psyche and the natural world around us. That I think has profound ecological implications.
JM: Well, one of the controversial issues of modern psychiatry and psychology is the whole issue of the social system itself: What happens when the social system is mad or insane?
TR: Yes, Freud also addressed himself to this issue asking the question, how do we define madness? If we decide, if we suspect that an entire culture may be embedded in what he called “collusive madness” or “communal neurosis.” Where does the therapist then look for a baseline to define sanity and madness? Freud raised this issue, but he never came up with a successful answer to it. Later schools like radical therapists have. They have called into question the existing social definition of madness and sanity in ways that have profound social implications. Perhaps an entire society is mad, in which case you don’t simply want to adjust people back into another condition of madness. The way in which I take this issue up is to suggest that there is a madness involved in urban industrial society that has to do with our lack of balance and integration with the natural environment and that this might be an interesting baseline to use for the definition of sanity as we move into the next century. That is, we need to recapture of being embedded in nature, being in the condition of reciprocity with nature that you do find in traditional forms of healing. I don’t think we can simply adopt any other culture’s conception of sanity and madness. We have to work out our own. And that I want to suggest is as much a job of the ecologist as it is of the therapist. So eco-psychology is the term I’ve used to try to define a common ground between two fields that have so far not been on speaking terms—psychologists on the one side and ecologists on the other. Psychology needs ecology; ecology needs psychology. Ideally, you know, someday we wouldn’t use a term like eco-psychology. Psychology would be understood to have an ecological framework. But at this point, that is still to be worked out.
JM: At this point we have ecologists are like profits in the wilderness, warning us that the course our civilization on a global basis is madness, that we’re headed for self-destruction, and that we are fowling our habitats.
TR: I’ve been concerned about the fact that many environmentalists have been sounding out very few notes on appealing to the public. They use fear and guilt because they seek to shock and shame us. I understand why. The problems are urgent, and I accept the urgency of these problems. I don’t question that at all. But it maybe important to ask at some point whether we’ve done too much of that in the environmental movement, which I consider myself to be a part of? And that perhaps we have to find other themes to introduce, other notes to sound that are more positive and more affirmative. At a certain point this becomes a challenge to the environmental movement. Do we believe that human beings are bonded to this planet in a way that would allow us to invoke trust, love, respect and reciprocity as positive motivations for becoming good environmental citizens? Or do we believe there’s nothing more to fall back on than duty based upon guilt, based upon shame? Guilt and shame have their place. But an appeal that is exclusively related to guilt or to shame is, I think, at a certain point going to have detrimental effects. It’s going to turn people off and it’s going to sound terribly negative and challenging in that bad sense in which you confront people with a problem greater than they can take hold of. I would like to see the environmental movement ask it’s self this question: Are we not bonded to this planet by something which is life enhancing and life affirming and which we can appeal to people to find within themselves a voice of the earth which speaks to them with a sense of love, respect and trust?
JM: I suppose ultimately the question is, which will be more effective. The environmentalists see that there’s a job to be done and they’re probably using the means that they believe to be the most effective right now. And I hear you challenging them.
TR: Well, one way to decide this is to simply recognize the truth for us to be told. To begin with we’re dealing with problems that are urgent and life threatening and threatening the lives of other species beyond our own. You simply have to say that if it’s true, it’s true. Now in many cases we’re not sure that it’s true. We’re troubled perhaps because of the uncertainty of the problem and we have to invoke prudence more than certainty in the matter. But in addition to that, even if the problem is an urgent one, you still at some point, I feel, connect with something more positive and affirmative in people. And I believe it’s there. I wouldn’t be saying this if I didn’t believe it was there. So my article of faith is that at a very deep level the human psyche is grafted to the planet out of which we evolve, that there is what I call an ecological unconscious. Now whenever we invoke the unconscious, the depths of the unconscious, what we’re essentially doing is pursuing a philosophical discussion of human nature. We’re asking what makes people tick, what are the foundations of human behavior?
And there’s been of course a lot of speculation about that throughout psychiatric tradition. Some people find sexuality there; others find the archetypes of the high religious traditions there. I’m suggesting that at a certain level of the unconscious mind, what we find is ecological wisdom. And indeed, if that were not there, our species could not have survived and evolved as it has. Exactly what the ecological unconscious is and how it asserts itself and makes itself known, that’s perhaps yet to be discovered once we attend to the problem. But I have floated this phrase, suggested this phrase as a hypothesis– that at the lowest level, the deepest of the unconscious mind, we find a ecological unconscious deeper down even than Freud’s ideas about sexuality or Jung’s ideas about religious archetypes It’s something that connects us intimately, companionably with the flora and fauna, mountains, rivers, the natural world around us.
JM: Well, it would seem to be a pretty logical and sensible thing when you think that we each carry within our bodies, the genetic codes that have evolved over billions of years on this planet and are applicable to all other living systems.
TR: Well, I think that’s one way to look at it, you know, that we carry within ourselves this heritage that takes the form of a genetic code. And then the question is to what degree that affects the psyche. Is the psyche not itself an evolutionary phenomenon? I believe that it is. For that matter, even Freud believed that it was. In fact one of the things that made Freud feel most scientific was the degree to which he could rely uponDarwinand evolution. But Freud had a very skewed idea aboutDarwinand evolution. Freud was very much of a socialDarwin. His image of early humanity was a primal horde made up of rapacious, savage, people, perhaps rather the Victorian vision of primitive people in darkestAfrica. There’s a lot more personal projection in that than real science. So Freud’s use ofDarwin, his use of evolution was kinked, it was distorted. But if we take the same tact that he did– that the human psyche must have evolved out of that kind of a background and that it has behind it thousands of years of evolutionary development– then it’s reasonable to assume that it does connect in intimate and significant ways with the natural environment out of which we evolved; that that’s there to be found; and that the essence of sanity in this case and all cases is tapping the deep unconscious. But the question is what do you find there? And in eco-psychology what you’re looking for is our bond with the natural world.
JM: Well, of course Freud’s idea of the horrors of the id, the aggressive and sexual instincts that we must protect ourselves from, might be thought of as a restatement of the theological notion of original sin that separated us from nature.
TR: There is a lot more religion, crypto religion, lingering in Freud than he himself might have admitted. Psychoanalysis is after all a kind of right of confession. Some people have said that psychoanalysis is a confessional for Protestants. And similarly his vision of the primal horde where the Oedipus complex was established comes very close to being another version of original sin.
JM: Now let’s define for our viewers the Oedipus complex.
TR: Oh, it’s Freud’s conception that once upon a time, he thought of this quite historically he was very literal about this, the sons of the primal horde in some original caveman community rose up against a heavy father that dominated the clan and killed him and then lived in a condition of guilt and that condition is visited down through the ages and is repeated in the life history of every individual human being. It has to do with children.
As Freud saw it there’s always lust for the mother being punished by the father. It’s almost an article of folklore now to talk about it because it’s been called so much into question. But it’s interesting that the imagery here is all sexual and it’s all very negative. It has to do with the foundations of the human mind being filled with guilt, with shame. And psychoanalysis, like confession in the Catholic Church, is a matter of confessing your guilty secrets. And this is pretty much what psychiatry has become for many people. What I’m talking about is the possibility that deeper down than that… but deeper down than that there may be a reservoir of joyous, trusting, and loving connections with the natural world that can also be tapped and brought to the surface. And if we draw upon that, if we find ways to enliven that, to make that vital within the lives of people, then it may then be possible for them to become good environmental citizens in a way that is rewarding and is joyous. And that I think is a possibility the environmental movement could use for good political purposes.
JM: One of the fundamental points you seem to be making is that much of the damage that we human being are doing to our environment, to our habitat, is the result of some sort of an impulsive and obsessive need to cover some bad feelings and some guilt that has been drummed into us unnecessarily; that we don’t understand that we’re basically okay.
TR: Well, we’re not basically okay within an urban industrial society. I mean that I think the environmental movement is exactly right. We have invented a culture that is deeply toxic in many ways. No, I’m not sure we have to strip the whole of that culture, but a lot about it has to change–has to change rapidly and radically. In fact, the amount of change that the environmental movement is demanding of all of us, that we’re demanding of ourselves, makes it urgently important to find the right approach—the right way to address peoples so that they will bring about that. I don’t think fear and guilt alone will do the job. What I’m calling an eco-psychology, and incidentally it’s now becoming a movement of some importance in the therapeutic community, is a matter of asking quite honestly why people do what they do when they are behaving in an ecologically united or backward or destructive way. Ask that question quite seriously. If we are not good environmental citizens, why not? Why do we do the things we do? And eco-psychology would pay attention to that as an important way of understanding human nature. We are out of balance, out of harmony with the natural environment, why? What are the reasons for that? Too often environmentalists will identify some of these habits as simply wicked or greedy in an entirely negative. Then I suppose the approach we take is to scold people and try to talk them out of these bad habits, or lecture them or hector them or bully them out of these bad habits.
I’m suggesting that there might be another approach. And that is to find out why people are doing what they are doing. That is, if you start with a basic principle that there is an ecological unconscious that binds us or bonds us to this planet in a thoroughly, natural way. And if we are not in effect responding to that bond, then there must be a reason why. And we should ask in all sincerity why people are doing what they’re doing that’s ecologically negative. And then listen to their answers. With the same therapeutic sensitivity that a therapists listen when he asks a question about imbalance say in a family or a relationship. This is a relationship. It’s a relationship between people and the natural environment. Why is it out of harmony? And listen closely to the answer. I think the answers might often be quite interesting.
JM: One of the things that you suggest is that Freud may have almost gotten it backwards when he talks about a primal crime against the father that perhaps the crime was against mother– nature.
TR: Well, that’s a rather lyrical way of putting it. But it’s true. I mean usually we think of the earth as a mother figure. And what if the foundations of human madness have more to do with a crime against that mother than they have to do with any transgression against a hypothetical primordial father. At least that’s what I’m suggesting might be the deepest rout of madness and that madness is most highly emphasized most crucially in a society that is becoming more and more urban and industrial and growing further and further away from the mother earth that bore us into life in the first place. So it’s an interesting new image to use for understanding human nature, the nature of madness, the nature of sanity.
JM: It also raises many questions that possibly tie in these ecological issues that you raised with other injustices in our society, for example sexism. And I think many symbolic psycholinguists also view the unconscious itself– the great water– as being feminine.
TR: Well, there are elements here of deep sexual psychology, sexual stereotypes that have to be questioned as well. And again these are issues that did not arise prominently in the psychiatric mainstream until very recently when a feminist critique of standard psychiatry came into prominence. And that’s only been very recently. That also has to be included because they are in any assessment of psychiatry and in the creation of eco-psychology because sexual ballads between the genders is an important aspect of the way in which we address the natural world.
JM: Well, I suppose one of the fundamental issues here is that psychology and psychiatry as we know them today are the products of this very same society which is damaging the planet.
JM: Yes, that’s a problem you see. And I’ve talked with some fledgling eco-psychologists who have developed very strong reservations about the possibility of treating problems of neurosis within a urban framework. That is what if the city is itself shot through with a kind of madness. And I’m talking about something that’s so apparent in the pace and tempo of our daily life that I think it’s almost taken for granted that we are living a kind of crazy life. And all we have to do is be caught on the freeway in a traffic jam you know to recognize the madness of the way we’ve constructed the world around us. The amount of waste and the amount of stress and the amount of tension that we inflict upon ourselves. There’s something crazy about that. Now my problem is, and this is what I observe in my book,
The Voice of the Earth, that when we say we are crazy with what we’re doing in this urban environment, this quite simply has no professional meaning. Because psychiatrists who are themselves products of an urban culture and practice within a urban context are often not prepared to call into question a context that they themselves are tied to. But the madness of cities is an important consideration in eco-psychology. And cities are becoming the only way of life left in the modern world. There’s very little that’s outside of the city. Now if the city is a crazy context in which people live, then there would also be a crazy context in which to carry on psychotherapy. I’m not saying there’s any easy answer to that but again the question is basic. If this is true, then we have to confront that truth and make something of it.
JM: Well, I’m sure virtually every school of psychology would agree that one of the fundamental problems that people have that causes unhappiness has to do with the conflict between the social roles that we are placed in our jobs and in other artificial context that we create as oppose to you know the natural person underneath.
TR: Well, I would think so; you know urban culture is very recent; it’s a very recent development. The first urban society, which wasEngland, is no more than about a century and a half old. So we’re talking about something very recent in human affairs that may not connect very sensibly with our evolutionary heritage. Eco-psychology has to take that historical context into account, that we are talking about a culture that is very new, very come lately. And to which human beings may not be well adapted. The fact that we’re trapped in it simply means that we’re capable of creating a culture that can rise up against us like a Frankenstein’s monster and perhaps destroy us. While before that happens what we need is to get a grip on that culture and subject to it a sort of deep critique that I think only eco-psychology, as opposed to a mainstream psychology, could carry out.
JM: Theodore Roszak, it’s been a pleasure talking to you in this first part of a three part series. We’ve had a chance now to identify some of the fundamental problems of culture as a whole and of the ecology movement and of psychotherapy.
TR: Good to talk with you Jeff.
JM: Yes. And thanks for being with me. And thank you for being with us. I hope that you’ll stay tuned for parts two and three of this series in which we’ll begin to explore further some of the anecdotes to the problems that we have described today. We’ll begin to look at movements in cosmology and in psychotherapy and in culture that offer us a new ecological vision.
ECO-PSYCHOLOGY, PART II
With THEODORE ROSZAK
JM: Welcome back Ted.
TR: Good to be with you Jeff.
JM: In our earlier segment we discussed contemporary psychiatry and psychology. And in a nut shell what we mainly addressed were the deficiencies in psychology as it has developed to date in addressing the connection of the human being with the world of nature at large and I think it is appropriate in this segment to look at the contribution that systems theory and cosmology can play to a larger and a deeper understanding of those ecological and psychological relationships.
TR: I introduce cosmology and some science into the discussion of eco-psychology in a very specific way. And I introduce it primarily because I am trying to follow in the footsteps of Sigmund Freud, who asked the great question how does the psyche connect with the rest of nature. Now I find myself very much in disagreement with Freud’s answer to that question because he sought to answer it within a world view that I think we would now call the old scientific paradigm. The universe scene is a cold, alien, remote machine, which is a mechanistic view of nature. And within that model of nature, Freud could find no significant connection between life and mind and the rest of the cosmos. So he came to a very negative and despairing conclusion. At the turn into the twentieth century there was indeed an entire cult of what might be called entropy, the cult of entropy, which saw the universe as running down towards a bleak dead end. It was called the heat death of the universe. Many intellectuals of that period subscribed to the idea that the universe was destined to simply become a void filled with cold centers. A very despairing conclusion. And Freud subscribed to that.
JM: Based on Newtonian physics.
TR: Based on Newtonian physics and based above all on the great idea of nineteenth century physics which was the second law of thermo-dynamics– entropy. The inevitable, inexorable increase of entropy in the universe. Freud subscribed to that and within that context he saw life and mind as an exception, as an accident, as freakish and doomed to a dead end. And so Freud developed his psychiatry within that framework. Indeed the basis of Freud’s idea of death instinct is entropy. The idea that the universe is naturally a cold dead place. And the death instinct, which he called the most conservative of the instincts, has as its goal returning life to the inert state. That’s the way he described it. That’s what the death instinct is within us. This gave Freud psychology a dark, stoical character. And I think that has haunted psychiatry, psychiatric theory all the way through the twentieth century. It has been sometimes been put even more dramatically by the existentialist schools, which sees human life as inevitably alienated. Deeply alienated with the universe, which is on friendly, remote, distant and holly other. Now I decided to question that deeply in my approach to eco-psychology primarily because within just the last generation, I would say since about the 1950s the last thirty to forty years, there have been profound changes in modern, scientific thought. And most significantly a growing appreciation of the importance of systems in nature. The study of systems in nature is pretty much what science has become in our time. We have come to recognize that at the foundations of the physical universe we are dealing not with atoms that are small indivisible billiard balls that simply stick together in some convenient way, but even the very foundations of matter are deeply systematic, made of particles and forces that are highly complex. The universe as a whole is a hierarchy of systems building up from the very foundations of matter to the great galactic clusters of outer space. And somewhere in the middle of that we have the biological complexity of life on at least one planet, this planet. Where the systems have taken on vitality, life and have evolved toward mind. Our appreciation of this has become profound especially within the last generation. We have come to see the universe as an evolving hierarchy of systems within which we find our place as one of the most complex of systems in the universe. Within that worldview I think Freud would have to come to a very different conclusion. Life and mind far from being freakish and exceptional, are the out growth, the natural and harmonious outgrowth of a lengthy process of evolution that takes us back to the very beginning of cosmic time and what we call the big bang. Over a period of fifteen to twenty billion years since the Big Bang, all of these systems have grown out of one another in a hierarchical way, which means that they are positioned as less complex and more complex systems with lower and higher meaning. And life and mind are part of that process. They are not alien from it; rather, they are part of it. They are layered upon system after system after system in a way that gives us a entirely different vision of nature. In the late twentieth century we know that time and matter have a history. And it is an evolutionary history, an unfolding toward greater and greater net complexity in the universe, and that we find our as thinking, living creatures. And indeed all life on this planet finds its place within that evolutionary process in a way that is graceful and natural. So far from seeing life and mind as something freakish and accidental in the universe, we can know see it as having a natural, evolutionary place, a continuity with the rest of nature. I think there are deep ecological implications in that and if it is integrated with a psychology that does justice to our contemporary scientific vision of nature, the result of that would be a eco-psychology, which is deeply grounded in modern science and can treat life and mind, the psyche, as a natural part of the continuum of nature.
JM: There are growing numbers of profound thinkers in science, philosophy and cosmology who are saying we can longer view the universe as lifeless. And a God or a divine intelligence is somehow outside and apart from the universe. For example, the anthropic principle in cosmology suggests that there are some, at least in one of its strongest forms, suggests there’s an intelligence that created the universe so that we could exist in it, that if any one of a number of physical variables were modified ever so slightly human life would have been impossible.
TR: I draw upon this very speculative line of thought in my book Voice of the Earth primarily because while the anthropic principle which you mentioned is a highly controversial point in contemporary physics and cosmology. It is never the less the sign of the times, some scientists have introduced this idea. Let me try to explain it to you. What is the anthropic principle? The anthropic principle briefly put has to do with the proper place of thinking creatures in a universe. Now there are many interpretations of this principle. One of which is almost a low level and non-controversial totality. The reason things are as they are in the universe is because it is only within such a universe that thinking beings could have come into existence. Here we are as thinking beings and so everything that led up to us must have happened the way it did and could it could have happened on a purely gratuitous or chance or random basis. Nothing is remarkable about that. However, there is another use of the anthropic principle that is deeply controversial. And it contends that life and mind were intended by the universe and are the inevitable outcome of that universe, that there is a purpose within the universe to produce life and mind at some point in the evolution of time. Now, I want to underscore the fact the that most physicist do not accept this because it smacks too much of religion and theology. And we can come back to that later on. But I want to underscore the fact that I’m not defending that idea; I’m not endorsing that idea, I’m simply observing the fact that in contemporary science there respectable figures in cosmology, physical theory that are at least toying with ideas of that kind as the only way to understand as something as complex as life and mind could have come into existence within a life span that is limited– fifteen to twenty billion years. Can that have happened by pure chance? Well, you could never say it couldn’t happen by pure chance. But there are those who can’t believe that it did. And I’m talking about figures as significant as say the astronomer Fred Hoyle, who in many of his writings came to feel that there must be other principles involved that are very different than the mechanistic principles of the old paradigm. I simply observe that there scientists thinking like that, trying to make sense of highly complex systems like living creatures and thinking creatures like ourselves within a universe that has a fixed time span. And some of them are prepared to speculate that the anthropic principle may indeed the idea of a purpose to the universe as a hole. Now most scientists do not accept that, but I think interesting that the idea has appeared within scientific literature at all.
JM: Well, science as it grew out of the nineteenth century was based on I guess what might be called a mechanistic paradigm and that whole paradigm is breaking down. I think it was in the 1930s that Sir James Jeans said that the universe appears to him to be more like a great thought than like a great machine.
TR: This is an intriguing aspect of systems in nature. We now recognize that the universe can be described as an evolving hierarchy of systems. And scientists find it hard to talk about systems without introducing the language of purpose and intention. If you ask why anything in the system does what it does, it impossible to avoid saying in order to. But where does that purpose reside? Where in the system, in a purely physical system, can you find that purpose? And that’s a great problem for scientists. Now many of them will simply say well, this is just a convenient linguistic device. But if you eliminate the convenient linguistic device, it turns out that they’re tongue-tied. There’s no other way to talk about these systems. It’s amazing to me, I’ve collected quite a file of literature in science that uses the language the language of purpose and intention to describe systems, even systems of a tiny organic kind like why an enzyme behaves the way it does or how it describes the behavior of an enzyme or some part of the genetic material. And it always turns out to be the language of consciousness, that there is recognition taking place, there is a purpose, there is information transfer. All of things are much more mental images than mechanistic images. So I think one of the things we may find happening is science as we move into another millennium is that we will find scientists using metaphor of mind more frequently than metaphors of machinery in order to describe how nature acts. And I would take things like the anthropic principle simply to be early, perhaps very tentative assertions of the idea that purpose and intention are deeply engraved in the nature of things so that even if we find they don’t accept the anthropic principle, as I suspect that will happen it will be rejected as an inadequate formulation for various reasons it will never find its way into the textbooks. Systems with their inherent purposes and attentions will become more and more what scientists study, they will become more and more used to the idea of using the language of purpose and there is no way to use that language without invoking metaphors of the mind.
JM: You yourself, I think, point out that even if a scientist chooses to be very strictly mechanistic to describe a human being as nothing more than a machine, there hasn’t been a machine yet that didn’t have a purpose.
TR: Well, there has always been lurking in the background of every mechanistic explanation an element of purpose and intention because there is no such thing as a machine that doesn’t serve a purpose. However, scientists you see have simply gotten used to the idea of using words like mechanism as an element in nature. Now there are no mechanisms in nature, mechanism is imported in from the world of technology. But we have come to associate mechanism with science so deeply that we forget that it came from outside of science. I suspect the same thing might happen with words like idea, purpose, goal, intention, recognition, and language of that kind. I mean already every use of the word information in science, information transfer, in genetics for example, is imbued with elements of mentality. Aldous Huxley once said we must begin to see the universe as mind at large. And I think that maybe something that scientists will find themselves more and more drawn to. The assumption that the universe is much more like an idea, much more like a thinking mind than it is like some kind of a dead machine or simply dancing billiard balls, atoms that are nothing more than little balls of matter than simply bounce off one another and simply somehow shake into or distribute themselves into the universe as we no it.
JM: I know your wife Betty Roszak has been very eloquent in creating poetry that describes for example how our very existence is dependent upon the death of stars that took place eons ago across the galaxy.
TR: Yes, you know there’s a lot more lyricisms in poetry in science these days and many scientists may recognize themselves, though many do. For example, the fact that we refer to stars as having a life span—that they are born and they die. It’s coming to be more and more natural to us to see organic and mental images in nature. And Betty who’s a poetry has drawn upon this to find the lyricisms poetry inherent in the new vision of science, the new cosmology. Some scientists find that actually much more appealing than they’re willing to admit in public.
JM: Well, I very much enjoyed her image of a star sacrificing its self that we might live.
TR: You know, it’s not so farfetched. I mean there is a kind of sacrificial death of a star. Scientist themselves refer to the death in a supernova. You know, it’s not too farfetched to see this as a sacrificial acts that creates the very matter, the heavy matter carbon for example out of which our bodies living things are made. There’s a great deal of poetry to that. And yes it’s an intriguing new way to see poetry in the universe.
JM: Well, one of the other more poetical aspects of eco-psychology, which is very closely linked to modern science, is the Gaia hypothesis.
TR: The Gaia hypothesis, which is again a highly controversial hypothesis in science, is deeply poetic because it uses a mythological reference. Gaia was the Greek earth Goddess. And the Gaia formulated by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. They looked around for a name to give this hypothesis. They might have chosen anything I suppose, but they finally came up with a reference to Gaia. Now the Gaia hypothesis tells us that the earth can only be understood as a total system within which living things life– the biomass of the planet, plays a central role in controlling. So it’s very basic aspects of life on earth as the atmosphere, carbon cycle a number of things of this sort have to be understood against the background of an evolving and proliferating life upon this planet. The way in which they decided to package this idea was to imagine that the earth was a living organ, a total system, and they gave it a name– the name was Gaia. No sooner did they do this then this idea, which was meant to be a matter of biochemistry, got out into the culture at large and became deeply evocative. It was a deeply poetic image of the role of life on this planet. And then again you find science perhaps almost in spite of itself bridging over into poetry and to lyrical and rhapsodic expressions. But once again, I would emphasis that at the foundation of the Gaia hypothesis is a deep insight into the systemic character of life on this planet. The fact that it is an extremely complex system that has to be understood as a whole. And within which things are doing what they’re doing presumably with the purpose of preserving and enhancing life on this planet.
JM: When I think of the Gaia hypothesis I think of a statement that you made which is something like this. I believe you said that the central problem of eco-psychology is not what we will do about the earth, but what the earth will do about us.
TR: That’s a good way to put it I think because it challenges us to see that the earth within the terms of the Gaia hypothesis, maybe another player and the most important player in the environmental crisis of our time. If indeed the gaia hypothesis is correct, that the planet seeks to control and to enhance the conditions of life, then in a condition of ecological that we find ourselves in the twentieth century then it maybe to ask whether the planet may not itself be asserting certain influences upon all the life forms upon it, but most importantly us as its principle challenge or irritant. Exerting an influence upon us that will transform our habits and our ways is that a possibility? Well, I think eco-psychology has to ponder the very real possibility that there is a bond that links the human psyche to the Gaia hypothesis. To the intention of the planet as a global system, to preserve and enhance life. In which case we have something to draw upon in our ecological problems that is more than simply social duty. We have deep biological necessity.
JM: Yes, one of the statements and I think many other people in the ecology movement have been quoting a lot is the statement attributed to Chief Seattle who said that one thing he knew when his people knew for certain is that we don’t own the earth. The earth owns us.
TR: Chief Seattle is a bit of a problem Jeff. I’ve gotten a lot of mail about that quote. I didn’t need it because I already that it’s apocryphal.
TR: However, while Chief Seattle may never have said that, somebody said it. And it’s a noble sentiment that I think has a lot of ecological relevance behind it. It’s a deep insight into the systematic nature of life on earth as, well why not, a living organism. And that therefore the role we have to play in the late twentieth century early twenty-first century will be to try to recognize the effect of the call of the voice of the earth upon us, to change our ways and ecological habits. And my feeling is that if we hear that voice clearly and strongly, if it comes through to us aesthetically as well as biologically and many different levels, that we will rather gracefully move to do what is ecologically right and balanced.
JM: We’ve been discussing for the last twenty-five minutes the questions of cosmology, systems theory, the Gaia hypothesis, and the anthropic principle as they apply to eco-psychology. I get the impression that what you’re trying to build here is an intellectual framework which points in one direction and that is that the human mind is very deeply linked to every aspect of nature from the furthest galaxies to the tiniest single cell organisms at the bottom of the sea.
TR: Well, this is I find a powerfully evocative vision of nature to see the world the universe at large as an evolving hierarchy of systems within which life and mind find their place. It means that in some sense, which is as poetic as it is scientific, life and mind were inherent in that universe from the very beginning. They have matured–they have evolved–out of it. You know like the fruit appearing on a tree. Alan Watts, I remembered once said you know the universe at a certain point– people. In the same way in which a tree bares fruit. And that’s to see life and mind as having a very different in the heavens. Deeply rooted all the way back to the beginning. It means that the universe is more of a home for us than we may have realized. Now, I’ll just mention one point, ever since I was aware enough to be studying science, one of the issues that has always come up is the issue of the size of the universe. How vast it is and the vastness, the size of the universe has often been used as a measure of how lonely and alienated and puny and unimportant we are. We now know that it is only within a universe of a certain age and a certain size that life could have come into existence.
JM: That’s the anthropic principle.
TR: That’s right. And that therefore that universe of that size is appropriately our home. We could not have come into existence in any smaller universe in a younger universe. It had to happen in just that universe.
JM: And this is not the controversial aspect of…
TR: No, that part of it is widely accepted. That it’s only after a certain period of evolution and cooling, at which point the universe reaches a certain size, that a planet like Earth could come into existence bearing life upon it. So, rather than the size of the universe being something that dwarfs us, that intimidates us, that overwhelms us, we should recognize—and this is for me a deep insight into the nature of the universe at large—that it is only within that universe that we could be here, that our home has to be of that size, which gives that size, that dimension of things and that magnitude of things more of a nurturing quality than I would’ve ever guessed I could have found.
JM: I gather you’re also, though we don’t have time to cover it, very interested and perhaps impressed by the work of people in the area of physics and consciousness who are suggesting, for example that there are properties of sub-atomic particles photons for example that exhibit qualities that might be the rudiments of consciousness itself.
TR: Well, insofar as any system holds together and all the parts are cooperating in a sense. Let me take the word cooperation. It already implies some type of mentality at work. The parts aware of one another and holding together in certain way. In so far as any of that is perceived in the universe we may be perceiving evidence of mind. And may be what we have to get over is the idea that minds can only be only located in heads. Again, I would invoke Huxley’s phrase that mind at large is the nature of the universe. In the same way as that we’ve gotten used to the idea that a wave does not have to be embodied as it once originally was for us in a mound of water moving through the sea. We can manage waves being liberated from a physical context and appearing as pure energy in a very ethereal way in the universe at large. So it maybe important at some point to recognize that mentality does not have to reside within a skull, within a Brian, within a head.
JM: Theodore Roszak, thank you so much for being with me. And thank you very much for being with us in part two of this three part series. Please tune in again for part three in which we’ll discuss further the principles of eco-psychology.
ECO-PSYCHOLOGY, PART III
With THEODORE ROSZAK
JM: Welcome again Ted.
TR: Good to be with you Jeff.
JM: In parts one and two of this series, we talked about the deficiencies of modern psychology and psychiatry in addressing ecological issues. And we looked at systems theory and cosmology, the Gaia hypothesis, and the anthropic principle as providing a scientific context for an eco-psychology. Let’s begin to look at other cultural elements. I think one of those elements that impressed a great deal is the tradition of nature mysticism that you drew upon, which has actually been a very rich tradition in Western culture.
TR: You know there’s a whole wing of the environmental movement called deep ecology. And deep ecology draws many of its insights from nature mysticism, which is incidentally one of the reasons why standard environmentalists view it with perhaps some suspicion. I don’t. I tend to feel deep ecology draws upon a valid perception of nature as seen from an aesthetic and religious point of view. And that perception of nature is a real one. It’s had tremendous cultural influence in order for it to be honored and integrated into an environmental framework. The deep ecologists are prepared to adopt the insights of great nature mystics, poets like Wordsworth, Saint Francis and the Asian traditions like Taoism, which are very close to the natural world. My feeling is that this is again one of those sources of inspiration that eco-psychology, when it is fully matured, will have to draw upon in addressing the natural world around us. That there’s a wealth of insight about the human continuity with the natural world to be found there that can be translated into therapeutic terms and into ecological terms.
JM: What is nature mysticism?
TR: Well, of course they’re many varieties of nature mysticisms. In the Western-Judaeo-Christian tradition it has always been viewed with a certain alarm and suspicion because it seems to involve deifying the natural world in a way that has often seen to be flirting with heathenism or paganism. There are still certain parts of the Christian community, especially in the Christian community, some suspicion that people want to address the natural world as if it’s alive, vital, and sacred. Generally speaking, I would say nature-mysticism is a sacramental view of the religion of nature. It’s characteristic of most primary people, the religions we think of as traditional religions among primary people– the people that used to be called primitives, almost always based upon the perception of nature as alive and intentional and in touch with us; a nature that must be treated with respect and with reciprocity. So generally speaking, those are the characteristics of nature-mysticisms. The way this is translated into modern ecological terms is along the lines of deep ecology or eco-feminism or feminist spirituality, which are wings of the environmental movement that are seeking to draw upon a deep experience of the life and the intentions of nature, not to simply see it as a realm of resources, but has to be managed for human benefit.
JM: In our previous program, you used the concept mind at large. And it strikes me that when we talk about nature-mysticism, I think about what anthropologists have sometimes disparagingly called animism, the idea that every rock, every tree, every animal has a kind of a consciousness that can speak to us. Are you thinking along these lines?
TR: Yes indeed. Animism is deeply rooted in human culture and in most of the religions of the human past. Perhaps all of them, with the exception of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, have within them a strong representation of animism. Indeed, in terms of an eco-psychology, I think animism is the perception of nature that’s reborn in every human being. Children are naturally animistic in their treatment of nature. It’s reflected in their most spontaneous response to the natural world. They address it as if it had vitality and mentality. It’s reflected in children’s literature, fairy tales, and folklore. My sense of the matter is that children have to almost be forced to stop being animistic in order to be normal and sane in our society. But in other cultures people matured into adult forms of animism. I think for example the ancient Greeks were as civilized as any society we might want to mention. They produced great philosophy, great art, and great literature. What do you make of the fact that they look at the world around them and saw gods and goddesses inherent within it? We don’t know quite what they meant by that perhaps, but we know they saw the natural world as vital and inherently mindful and purposive. They sacrificed to it, they prayed to it, the addressed it, they wrote great poetry addressing themselves to the natural world. So it’s quite possible for a high civilization to be deeply animistic. So animism comes in a variety of forms. The Gaia hypothesis, which we discussed already, is an inherently animistic perception of nature, though for scientific nature purposes it can be cleaned up and put in perhaps biochemical terms. But the eco-feminists (that’s the women’s wing primarily of the environmental movement) have come to see it as a kind of modern animism. Animism is irrepressible because it’s a valid perception of the natural world as having dignity, vitality, and mentality.
JM: The animism of the Gaia hypothesis would be that the planet itself is alive as a living consciousness.
TR: That we can understand a great deal about the planet only by thinking of it as if it were a living organism. And the whole problem is in those words, “as if it were.” Because if that turns to be the only way to understand what the planet is all about, then the perception is not merely metaphorical in a reductive sense of the term metaphor, but it’s a valid perception of nature.
JM: So what you’re suggesting is that a eco-psychology has to reach back historically to the Neolithic understanding that people had of their unity with nature, their intimate psychological unity with nature.
TR: It has to be opened to perhaps even more than that, not only Neolithic, but Paleolithic. In a sense that– I want to make this clear– that there are insights in human culture going all the way back that deserve to be honored. And we should seek to understand them with all the respect we would seek to understand other cultures and their perceptions of reality. I think eco-psychology in is that sense highly comprehensive. It can draw upon modern science, a number of scientific ideas, but it must also, I think, integrate perceptions of nature that may still survive I want to emphasize in children, as they are born into the world, that are certainly represented in the human tradition. So all of that I think is the reservoir of ideas, perceptions, sensitivities that have a place in eco-psychology. This is a profoundly comprehensive vision of human nature.
JM: You also draw upon the work of the psychologist Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, who instead of studying on healthy people, his studies were based on the healthiest human specimens he could find, and one of his findings was that these people often exhibited states that he called peak experiences which he described very much akin to the states that mystics throughout history have described.
TR: There’s a lot to be salvaged out of Maslow’s perception, and humanistic psychology is one of the major schools of psychiatric and psychological thought. I find a lot in Maslow. Maslow was however limited in one respect. That is, he thought that we had to find our salvation, our therapeutic breakthrough, and our peak experiences wholly within the human environment. This is something that happened only within the human mind. There’s very little nature to be found in Maslow’s writings. That is, he never managed to connect his therapeutic insights, his theoretical insights with the natural world around him. He more or less subscribed to the idea that I think goes back all the way to Freud, that there is a division in the world between those things that are human and social; and those things that belong to the strict natural sciences. I think eco-psychology would take issue with that bifurcation of reality, and see human culture, human nature, as part of a continuum that is deeply rooted in the whole history of time and the universe.
JM: Well, one of the figures that Maslow sighted is I recall expressing these peak experiences. One example would be someone like the great poet Walt Whitman, who wrote about a grain of sand, a leaf of grass as embodying the ultimate essence of the divinity.
TR: Yes, Walt Whitman is a good-natured mystic and there’s a lot to be drawn from him.
JM: What Maslow seems to be suggesting is that kind of insight is one of the most powerful, one of the highest insights that a human being can have.
TR: The great idea in Maslow– and not only in Maslow, you can also find this in other people– is his perception that the depths of our nature may yield reason of joy and pride and exaltation. The psychiatric tradition is by and large along Freudian lines and grounded in the idea that the unconscious is a chamber of horrors. It’s filled with guilt and repressed criminality and repressed aggression, and repressed lust. That if you look deep within your self, what you find there is cause for shame and essentially what therapy involves is reconciling people to accepting that into their lives and coming to have a more mature understanding of these repressed contents. Maslow, along with Jung and others, was among those who believed that the deeper you look inside, the more reason you find for joy, for celebration; that the foundations for human nature are clean and good and innocent and creative. My feelings is that this is what I believe we would find in what I’ve called the ecological encounter unconscious. That is a bond with the natural world, which makes us at home in the universe and which gives reason for a positive view of life, very different from the more alienated view of life we associated with Freudian orthodoxy or existential therapy or even certain elements of Maslow’s humanistic psychology, which is still alienated from the natural world in a way that makes it hard to connect.
JM: You’ve mentioned Jung a number of times. Jung developed the theory of the collective unconscious, and it seems to me that this may be about as close as we can find within psychology and psychiatry today for the idea that the human unconscious is somehow connected to this larger world of, well Jung referred to archetypes. But if we look earlier to the use of the word archetype, the German poet, Goethe, referred to the phenomenon that the essence of poetry is the same as the essence of nature itself.
TR: Jung was one of the major thinkers that I was able to find most promising as a resource of eco-psychology. And it is precisely his idea of the collective unconscious that I found myself able to draw upon. The only problem I have with Jung is that Jung at a certain point in his career, because he wanted to treat deeply suffering human beings, felt that if necessary he would violate the principles of science in order to treat their wishes and their needs as realities in their own right. And if necessary, if this would sacrifice has scientific respectability, so be it. My feeling is that it is not necessary to make that decision to break with science in the modern world, that there is a great deal in science, especially within the last few generations that can support human needs and aspirations and it’s not necessary to do as Jung did– to sacrifice your scientific respectability. The other aspect of Jung that was a little difficult for me to deal with is the fact that Jung’s collective unconscious is an extremely ethereal, almost fleshless realm of psychological reality. It does not take on the reality of the natural world. Even though Jung himself, incidentally, in his personal life had a strong sense of nature-mysticism, of connection with the natural world, was most at home out of the city in the forest near the water, the running waters
JM: His therapy sessions were often held while walking in the woods.
TR: He had a strong sense of natural connection. That didn’t always show up in his theories, which tend to be more abstract and disembodied. So my strategy in The Voice of the Earth was to interpret that voice in very physical flesh and blood terms, to integrate into Jung’s collective unconscious, a sense of actual, physical nature, of anomaly and vegetation and to find that our connection with nature in its most physical and real form at the depths of our unconscious. And the ecological unconscious for me is not as an abstract idea as Jung’s collective unconscious, it is much more related to our evolutionary background as children of the planet earth.
JM: Several times you’ve referred to eco-feminism and women’s spirituality as being branches of ecology. Could you amplify on that– the feminist perspective and what significance it has for your…
TR: It’s a very deep significance. Among the issues that I think has to be seriously addressed by eco-psychology is the issue that has been raised by eco-feminism. And that has to do with the deep influence of sexual stereotypes– gender stereotypes I should call them– upon our culture. There is a sense in which the whole of civilized history, since the foundings of the whole river-valleys civilizations, has been strongly biased in the direction of patriarchal values, and aggressive values that treat the natural world with hostility and suspicion and significantly that natural world is usually spoken of in feminine terms– mother earth, mother nature. Even more so in the modern Western world, modern science and technology seem to be shot through with a sense of aggressiveness, a spirit of domination, which eco-feminists has identified as a gender stereotype. That is, they’re warping the foundations of our understanding of nature and of technological connection with the natural world. At some point I feel this would be a central issue in eco-psychology, to a deep analysis of the gender stereotypes that continue to operate in the world today. Take a specific issue– the sense we have that the only way you can be secure in the world is to dominate the world, hence all the metaphors we have of conquest, conquering nature, conquering outer space. Images like that are deeply macho, and they’re compulsively masculine. And they influence us to believe that the natural world is an enemy, that it is hostile to us and that we must take it over and manage it and subjugate it to our human needs. Hence, the intense artificiality of urban, industrial society. We live in these cities, in these structures that are manmade and man controlled and it’s within that context that we seek to find a sense of security in the world. Now, from a psychological point of view what this betrays is a tremendous sense of insecurity in the natural world. And I think at some point you would have to address the fact that this has distorted our relations with nature. Is there some other way to find security in the world, other than domination? Here I’ll give you an interesting parallel, which is a psychological parallel. Anyone dealing in family counseling, marriage counseling, will recognize that nothing destroys a relationship in a family or between a husband and wife man and woman more than the feeling that the only way they can relate is by dominance and submission. We readily recognize that is at the root of many broken families, broken marriages, broken relationships. What’s the alternative? Well most therapists would say there has to be trust, there has to be mutual respect. Now in an eco-psychology you would take that same insight into human relationships and try to read it into our relationship with the natural world. Is there some other way to find security in our relations with nature than by way of dominance and submission? I think the eco-feminist viewpoint–the insight–is “yes”, by trusting. By trusting nature to be life enhancing and life supporting. You cannot at every point; in fact it’s a futile exercise to seek to dominate a force as large as the planet, Earth. That we would be much better advised to move within the grain of nature, sort of a Taoist insight into the nature of things. That I think would be a very deep issue in eco-psychology. A deep investigation of how we achieve security in the world– through trust or through domination.
JM: One of the issues that you raise is very basic is calls us to question what is underlying our behavior when we engage in activities that are destructive to nature. Why do we do that, it’s a lack of trust. But let me ask you this, I think I hear you saying that if we just develop a new, self-image, a new psychology, we can address that lack of trust.
TR: Well, yes, we’re being very brief about this, but to spell it out fully, you know one of the deep teachings of modern environmental philosophy is really quite traditional. You cannot simply take and take and take from nature without giving. So the proper relationship between human beings and the natural world is one of reciprocity. Well, reciprocity lies at the root of all of the religious practices of primary people, of traditional societies, a sense that you cannot simply take without giving back. Now we speak of that reciprocity in terms of recycling things. Of using things with thrift of wasting very little. So we can reinterpret this in modern terms that sound abstractly economic. But underlying this is the sense that we must relate to planet as if it were an intentional personal presence with whom a relationship that involves an ethical obligation to reciprocate the generosity of the planet. And if we don’t do that we distort that relationship and seek to make it one of exploitation and domination. This may very well lie at the very root of our ecological crisis in the modern world. And the solution to it is at least along that one level is a psychological of recognizing that we can gain greater security by way of trust and reciprocity than by domination and exploitation.
JM: It seems to me though that you have to go a lot further than simply saying we must trust. And I think of the next steps that you take is to rely on science and say let’s look at natives peoples and let’s look at species of animals that have lived for hundreds of thousands of years in harmony with the environment.
TR: Well, one of the insights of deep ecology, which is challenging and perhaps even disturbing is in fact that our culture, the culture of the modern world the urban industrial world is very recent and very young. It does not have much of a tract record.
JM: Five thousand years maybe.
TR: Well, and urban industrialism is only a few centuries old. On the other hand there are cultures that have survived for a very long period of time in conditions of trust and reciprocity with the natural environment. I don’t want pretend for a moment that I’m not trying to idealize or romanticize those relations between primary societies and the natural world because there’s often recognition that nature can be harsh and be severe. It can be punishing. Gaia is an earth mother; she can be a tough mother, a punishing mother if you want to speak in those terms. That there’s a kind of mature recognition of the fact that those are the terms of life. And you don’t break trust with the planet and seek to dominate it and exploit it for some short-term advantage simply because the going is sometimes rough. I think many environmentalists in more scientific terms of coming to tell us that same thing, that we have to change our lifestyle and our habits of life on this planets in ways that at some points may involve sacrifice, but will nevertheless in the long term give us the capacity to survive with grace and with a adequate standard of living. So this is a very real choice that confronts us about the meaning of security– long term security on the planet and maybe that we are presently trapped within a psychology of domination that has pretty much characterized our style of life– the city with its heavy weight upon the planet exploiting the planet as much as possible to give us all the things we need to create a artificial environment within which we will feel a kind of perhaps false security that cannot outlive three or four or five generations. That may be the essence of our environmental problem that we are seeking security along the wrong root. But the solution is not simply an economic and social political one. It’s also a personal and psychological one.
JM: I suppose the question comes down to where is your bottom line if you feel as Freudians and existentialists do that the bottom line of the human sole is alienation and a need for domination, then it’s easy to justify continued ecological exploitation.
TR: Yes, and the interesting thing about all views of life that are based upon a sense of alienation, inherent and inescapable alienation from nature is that they are deeply tragic. They don’t promise a nice finish. Now I don’t want to suggest that what I am advocating here is the easy way to go or anything of that sort. But what I am saying is that I think there might be a deeper maturity in recognizing that after all we are living on a planet from which we evolved. We cannot therefore be so alienated from that planet that we no longer some participation in that genetic heritage, that evolutionary heritage and that ought to become part of our psychological theory.
JM: Well, it seems to me that the lesson of tragedy is that when we’re faced with situations that seem unavoidably horrible, the best we can do is reach inside of us for that which is noblest and wisest and Theodore Roszak that what I hear you calling us to do. The project of eco-psychology may fail, but even if it were to fail, it could bring out the best in us.
TR: Well, I think it’s a matter of asking us to respond to the ecological crisis with a sense of more than fear or dread, with a sense of acting nobly towards a planet that has nurtured us into existence and which offers us a possibility of great bounty.
JM: Theodore Roszak, thank you so much for being with me.
TR: It’s good to be with you Jeff.
JM: And thank you for being with us for this third part of a third part series on eco-psychology.
COPYRIGHT (C) 1998 THINKING ALLOWED PRODUCTIONS
By John Kehoe
Last month on our way home to Vancouver from a tour of South Africa, we stopped off in Brazil for a vacation. We eventually found ourselves in a sleepy fishing village about an hour’s drive north of Salvador, enjoying the magnificent beaches and fresh seafood. One day, as we were out walking, Sylvia called excitedly to me. She was gently touching a fern with a twig she had picked up. When the fern was touched all the leaves instantly curled up into a compact, ball-like shape. The plant had obviously developed a system that detected when insects or animals approached it, and this action made it more difficult for them to chew on the leaves.
Seeing this reminded me of being on safari several years earlier where a game ranger pointed out a species of tree that not only reacted to animals eating its leaves, but transmitted signals to other trees of the same species as well. It seems that these particular leaves were very delicate and tasty favorites of the giraffe. So whenever a family of giraffes would begin eating them, within 15 minutes the taste of the leaves would turn sour. What was so interesting, however, was that it was not only the leaves on that particular tree that turned sour, but the leaves on all the identical trees within a half-mile radius! The tree whose leaves were being eaten was able to somehow communicate with the other trees in the area and warn of impending danger.
Does this suggest that plants have consciousness?
It would appear so, and this conclusion is not so out of place considering that many cultures believe absolutely in the power of communicating with plants. Even within our own culture, it is no secret that those with “green thumbs” who work regularly with plants tend to talk to them. There have been numerous studies proving absolutely that an empathetic understanding and psychic connection to plants by a gardener tends to produce larger and healthier plants. The “Findhorn” experiment is one such example where vegetables were grown, sometimes several times their usual size, in very inhospitable ground, using the power of love and encouragement. Talk to anyone who loves gardening, who spends time daily with plants, and you might be surprised to hear what intelligent and well-educated people have to say about the consciousness of plants.
Peter Tompkins wrote a fascinating book called The Secret Life of Plants, which sold over 1 million copies. In it he chronicles how plants communicate with each other as well as with humans. This is not as incredulous as it seems.
The indigenous peoples from around the world, those who live close to the land, have always had a special relationship with nature. Whether it be the North American Indian, the Aboriginal, or the Bushmen of the Kalahari, all the traditional teachings encourage respect and communication with nature. In my travels through Africa I have met and befriended some fascinating Sangomas. These people are the traditional healers, and through herbs and prayers and trances and sacrifices, they treat the people who have come to them for help. Let us not forget that according to the Bible, the cure for everything ailing the human body can be found in the plants that grow upon this wonderful earth of ours.
So how does the Sangoma know what herb or combination of herbs to give? Some of it is passed down from healer to healer, but beyond that the plants themselves will tell you, if you’re properly attuned to them. This is what the Sangomas tell me. I have no reason to doubt them.
About five years ago during one of my Awakening courses, a participant of the course had a most remarkable experience. We were exploring the hidden rhythms that exist in all of nature, learning to feel and sense the consciousness of trees and plants. (Unfortunately, with the urbanization of our society, we have lost the ability to feel and sense the pulsating life of living organisms. With practice, however, it can be reawakened.) What happened is that one of the participants (a woman in her thirties) had an inner communication with a tree, and it told her to chew its leaves and rub the saliva in her eyes, which she did. (She was having problems with her eyes.) I asked her if she knew what the tree was and she answered no, she had never seen that type of tree before.
My initial reaction was horror. In Africa there are many poisonous plants, and you can cause immense harm to yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.
“I have complete faith,” the woman answered. “It spoke to me so clearly.”
While not wanting to doubt her, I needed to verify that what she’d done was okay. We called the local ranger, and the ranger, the woman and I walked into the bush to identify the tree. Once she identified it, we went back to the camp and looked it up in the camp library. The tree was the Silver Terminalia. We read the description of the tree for several paragraphs and then we read, “Among African peoples this tree has a wide variety of uses… The leaves have a very bitter taste and can be taken to cure diarrhea and may also be applied as an eyewash.” You can imagine our surprise and amazement.
By the next day her eyes were completely cured. Coincidence? Miracle? Communication with a plant? I’ll let you decide for yourself, but having personally been there to witness the event, I have no doubt in my mind that the plant spoke to her. There is consciousness in every living thing. Plants, animals and humans. Each consciousness may be different from the other, but we are all plugged into the same mystery of life. The plants are indeed our brothers and sisters, and we have much to learn from one another.
By Bron Taylor, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and Michael Zimmerman, Tulane University
Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (b. 1912) coined the term “Deep Ecology” in 1972 to express the ideas that nature has intrinsic value, namely, value apart from its usefulness to human beings, and that all life forms should be allowed to flourish and fulfill their evolutionary destinies. Naess invented the rubric to contrast such views with what he considered to be “shallow” environmentalism, namely, environmental concern rooted only in concern for humans. The term has since come to signify both its advocates’ deeply felt spiritual connections to the earth’s living systems and ethical obligations to protect them, as well as the global environmental movement that bears its name. Moreover, some deep ecologists posit close connections between certain streams in world religions and deep ecology.
Naess and most deep ecologists, however, trace their perspective to personal experiences of connection to and wholeness in wild nature, experiences which are the ground of their intuitive, affective perception of the sacredness and interconnection of all life. Those who have experienced such a transformation of consciousness (experiencing what is sometimes called one’s “ecological self” in these movements) view the self not as separate from and superior to all else, but rather as a small part of the entire cosmos. From such experience flows the conclusion that all life and even ecosystems themselves have inherent or intrinsic value – that is, value independently of whether they are useful to humans.
Although Naess coined the term, many deep ecologists credit the American ecologist Aldo Leopold with succinctly expressing such a deep ecological worldview in his now famous “Land Ethic” essay, which was published posthumously in A Sand County Almanac in 1948. Leopold argued that humans ought to act only in ways designed to protect the long-term flourishing of all ecosystems and each of their constituent parts.
Many deep ecologists call their perspective alternatively “ecocentrism” or “biocentrism” (to convey, respectively, an ecosystem-centered or life-centered value system). As importantly, they believe humans have so degraded the biosphere that its life-sustaining systems are breaking down. They trace this tragic situation to anthropocentrism (human-centeredness), which values nature exclusively in terms of its usefulness to humans. Anthropocentrism, in turn, is viewed as grounded in Western religion and philosophy, which many deep ecologists believe must be rejected (or a deep ecological transformation of consciousness within them must occur) if humans are to learn to live sustainable on the earth.
Thus, deep ecologists generally believe that only by “resacralizing” our perceptions of the natural world can we put ecosystems above narrow human interests and thereby avert ecological catastrophe by learning to live harmoniously with the natural world. It is a common perception within the deep ecology movement that the religions of indigenous cultures, the world’s remnant and newly revitalized or invented pagan religions, and religions originating in Asia (especially Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism), provide superior grounds for ecological ethics, and greater ecological wisdom, than do Occidental religions. Theologians such as Matthew Fox and Thomas Berry, however, have shown that Western religions such as Christianity may be interpreted in ways largely compatible with the deep ecology movement.
Although Naess coined the umbrella term, which is now a catchphrase for most non-anthropocentric environmental ethics, a number of Americans were also criticizing anthropocentrism and laying the foundation for the movement’s ideas, at about the same time as Naess was coining the term. One crucial event early in deep ecology’s evolution was the 1974 “Rights of Non-Human Nature” conference held at a college in Claremont, California. Inspired by Christopher Stone’s influential 1972 law article (and subsequent book) Should Trees Have Standing–Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects the conference drew many of those who would become the intellectual architects of deep ecology. These included George Sessions who, like Naess, drew on Spinoza’s pantheism, later co-authoring Deep Ecology with Bill Devall; Gary Snyder, whose remarkable, Pulitzer prize-winning Turtle Island proclaimed the value of place-based spiritualities, indigenous cultures, and animistic perceptions, ideas that would become central within deep ecology subcultures; and the late Paul Shepard (d. 1996), who in The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game, and subsequent works such as Nature and Madness and the posthumously published Coming Back to the Pleistocene, argued that foraging societies were ecologically superior to and emotionally healthier than agricultures. Shepard and Snyder especially provided a cosmogony that explained humanity’s fall from a pristine, nature paradise. Also extremely influential was Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, which viewed the desert as a sacred place uniquely able to evoke in people a proper, non-anthropocentric understanding of the value of nature. By the early 1970s the above figures put in place the intellectual foundations of deep ecology.
A corresponding movement soon followed and grew rapidly, greatly influencing grassroots environmentalism, especially in Europe, North America, and Australia. Shortly after forming in 1980, for example, leaders of the politically radical Earth First! movement (the explanation point is part of its name) learned about Deep Ecology, and immediately embraced it as their own, spiritual, philosophy. Meanwhile, the green lifestyle-focused movement known as Bioregionalism became another physical embodiment of a deep ecology worldview. Given their natural affinities it was not long before Bioregionalism became the prevailing social philosophy among deep ecologists.
As a philosophy and as a movement, deep ecology spread in many ways. During the 1980s and early 1990s, for example, Bill Devall and George Sessions published their influential book, Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered; Warwick Fox in Toward a Transpersonal Ecology linked deep ecology with transpersonal psychology, thereby furthering the development of what is now called “ecopsychology”; David Rothenberg translated and edited Arne Naess’s important work, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle; and Michael E. Zimmerman interpreted Martin Heidegger as a forerunner of deep ecology, thus helping to spark a trend of calling upon contemporary European thinkers for insight into environmental issues. Many deep ecologists have complained, however, that the postmodern thinking imported from Europe has undermined the status of “nature,” defined by deep ecologists as a whole that includes but exists independently of humankind.
Radical environmentalist activists, including the American co-founder of Earth First!, Dave Foreman, and the Australian co-founder of the Rainforest Information Centre, John Seed, beginning in the early 1980s, conducted “road shows” to transform consciousness and promote environmental action. Such events usually involve speeches and music designed to evoke or reinforce peoples felt connections to nature, and inspires action. Often, they also include photographic presentations contrasting sacred, intact, ecosystems, which are contrasted with degraded and defiled lands.
Some activists have designed ritual processes to further deepen participant’s spiritual connections to nature and political commitment to defend it. Joanna Macy and a number of others, including John Seed, for example, developed a ritual process known as the Council of All Beings, which endeavors to get activists to see the world from the perspective of non-human entities. Since the early 1980s, traveling widely around the world, Seed has labored especially hard spreading deep ecology through this and other newly invented ritual processes. The movement has also been disseminated through the writings of its architects (often reaching college students in environmental studies courses); through journalists reporting on deep ecology-inspired environmental protests and direct action resistance; and through the work of novelists, poets, musicians, and other artists, who promote in their work deep ecological perceptions. Recent expressions in ecotourism can be seen, for example, in the “Deep Ecology Elephant Project,” which includes tours in both Asia and Africa, and suggest that elephants and other wildlife have much to teach their human kin.
Deep Ecology has been criticized by people representing social ecology, socialist ecology, liberal democracy, and ecofeminism. Murray Bookchin, architect of the anarchistic green social philosophy known as Social Ecology, engaged in sometimes vituperative attacks on deep ecology and its activist vanguard, Earth First!, for being intellectually incoherent, ignorant of socio-economic factors in environmental problems, and given to mysticism and misanthropy. Bookchin harshly criticized Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman for suggesting that starvation was a solution to human overpopulation and environmental deterioration. Later, however, Bookchin and Foreman engaged in a more constructive dialogue. Like social ecologists, meanwhile, socialist ecologists maintain that deep ecology overemphasizes cultural factors (worldviews, religion, philosophy) in diagnosing the roots of, and solutions to, environmental problems, thereby minimizing the roles played by the social, political, and economic factors inherent in global capitalism.
Liberal democrats such as the French scholar Luc Ferry (1995) maintain that deep ecology is incapable of providing guidance in moral decision-making. Insofar as deep ecology fails adequately to recognize that human life has more value than other life forms, he argues, it promotes ‘ecofascism,’ namely the sacrifice of individual humans for the benefit of the ecological whole, what Leopold termed “the land.” (Ecofascism in its most extreme form links the racial purity of a people to the well-being of the nation’s land; calls for the removal or killing of non-native peoples; and may also justify profound individual and collective sacrifice of its own people for the health of the natural environment.) Many environmental philosophers have defended Leopold’s land ethic, and by extension, deep ecology, against such charges, most notably one of the pioneers of contemporary environmental philosophy, Baird Callicott.
Although some ecofeminists indicate sympathy with deep ecology’s basic goal, namely, protecting natural phenomena from human destruction, others have sharply criticized deep ecology. Male, white, and middle class deep ecologists, Ariel Salleh maintains, ignore how patriarchal beliefs, attitudes, practices, and institutions help to generate environmental problems. Val Plumwood and Jim Cheney criticize deep ecology’s idea of expanding the self so as to include and thus to have a basis for protecting non-human phenomena. This “ecological self” allegedly constitutes a totalizing view that obliterates legitimate distinctions between self and other. Moreover, Plumwood argues, deep ecology unwisely follows the rationalist tradition in basing moral decisions on “impartial identification,” a practice that does not allow for the highly particular attachments that often motivate environmentalists and indigenous people alike to care for local places.
Warwick Fox has replied that impartial and wider identification does not cancel out particular or personal attachments, but instead, puts them in the context of more encompassing concerns that are otherwise ignored, as when for example concern for one’s family blinds one to concerns about concerns of the community. Fox adds that deep ecology criticizes the ideology—anthropocentrism—that has always been used to by social agents to legitimate oppression of groups regarded as sub- or non-human. While modern liberation movements have sought to include more and more people into the class of full humans, such movements have typically not criticized anthropocentrism as such. Even a fully egalitarian society, in other words, could continue to use anthropocentrism to justify exploiting the non-human realm.
In response to the claim that deep ecology is, or threatens to be, a totalizing worldview that excludes alternatives and that—ironically—threatens cultural diversity, Arne Naess responds that, to the contrary, deep ecology is constituted by multiple perspectives or “ecosophies” (ecological-philosophies) and is compatible with a wide range of religious perspectives and philosophical orientations.
Another critic, best-selling author Ken Wilber, argues that by portraying humankind as merely one strand in the web of life, deep ecology adheres to a one-dimensional, or “flatland” metaphysics (1995). Paradoxically, by asserting that material nature constitutes the whole of which humans are but a part, deep ecologists agree in important respects with modern naturalism, according to which humankind is a clever animal capable of and justified in dominating other life-forms in the struggle for survival and power. A “deeper” ecology would follow from discerning that the cosmos is hierarchically ordered in terms of complexity, but that respect and compassion are due all phenomena because they are manifestations of the divine.
In the last analysis, for Naess, it is personal experiences of a spiritual connection with nature and related perceptions of nature’s inherent worth or sacredness, which provide the ground for deep ecological commitments. In his view, such experiences are diverse and this approach respects diversity, indeed, many ultimate premises are consistent with the eight-point, Deep Ecology Platform, which Naess developed with George Sessions.
Although controversial and contested, both internally and among its proponents and its critics, Deep Ecology is an increasingly influential green spirituality and ethics that universally recognized in environmentalist enclaves, and increasingly outside of such subcultures, as signifying a radical movement that challenges the conventional, usually anthropocentric ways humans deal with the natural world. Its influence in environmental philosophy has been profound, for even those articulating alternative environmental ethics are compelled to respond to its insistence that nature has intrinsic and even sacred value, and its anti-anthropocentric challenge.
Its greatest influence, however, may be through the diverse forms of environmental activism that it inspires, action that increasingly shapes world environmental politics. Not only is deep ecology the prevailing spirituality of bioregionalism and radical environmentalism, it undergirds the International Forum on Globalization and the Ruckus Society, two organizations playing key roles in the anti-globalization protests that erupted in 1999. Both of these groups are generously funded by the San Francisco-based Foundation for Deep Ecology, and other foundations, which share deep ecological perceptions.
Such developments reflect a growing impulse toward institutionalization, which is designed to promote deep ecology and intensify environmental action. There are now Institutes for Deep Ecology in London, England and Occidental, California, a Sierra Nevada Deep Ecology Institute in Nevada City, California, and dozens of other organizations in the United States, Oceania, and Europe, which provide ritual-infused experiences in deep ecology and training for environmental activists. It is not, however, the movement’s institutions, but instead the participants’ love for the living Earth, along with their widespread apocalypticism (their conviction that that the world as we know it is imperiled or doomed), that give the movement its urgent passion to promote earthen spirituality, sustainable living, and environmental activism.