Thursday, May 3, 2007



The basic idea of ecopsychology is that while the human mind is shaped by the modern social world, it can be readily inspired and comforted by the wider natural world, because that is the arena in which it originally evolved. Mental health or unhealth cannot be understood simply in the narrow context of only intrapsychic phenomena or social relations. One also has to include the relationship of humans to other species and ecosystems. These relations have a deep evolutionary history; reach a natural affinity within the structure of their brains and they have deep psychic significance in the present time, in spite of urbanization. Humans are dependent on healthy nature not only for their physical sustenance, but for mental health, too. The destruction of ecosystems means that something in humans also dies.


  • The core of the mind is the ecological unconscious. For ecopsychology, repression of the ecological unconscious is the deepest root of collusive madness in industrial society.

  • The contents of the ecological unconscious represent, in some degree, at some level of mentality, the living record of cosmic evolution, tracing back to distant initial conditions in the history of time.

  • Just as it has been the goal of previous therapies to recover the repressed contents of the unconscious, so the goal of ecopsychology is to awaken the inherent sense of environmental reciprocity that lies within the ecological unconscious.

  • For ecopsychology as for other therapies, the crucial stage of development is the life of the child. The ecological unconscious is regenerated, as if it were a gift, in the newborn's enchanted sense of the world.

  • The ecological ego matures toward a sense of ethical responsibility to the planet that is as vividly experienced as our ethical responsibility to other people. It seeks to weave that responsibility into the fabric of social relations and political decisions.

  • Among the therapeutic projects most important to ecopsychology is the re-evaluation of certain compulsively "masculine" character traits that permeate our structures of political power and which drive us to dominate nature as if it were an alien and rightless realm. In this regard, ecopsychology draws significantly on the insights of ecofeminism with a view to demystifying the sexual stereotypes.

  • Whatever contributes to small scale social forms and personal empowerment nourishes the ecological ego. Whatever strives for large-scale domination and the suppression of personhood undermines the ecological ego.

  • Ecopsychology holds that there is a synergistic interplay between planetary and personal well-being. The term "synergy" is chosen deliberately for its traditional theological connotation, which once taught that the human and divine are cooperatively linked in the quest for salvation. The contemporary ecological translation of the term might be: the needs of the planet are the needs of the person, the rights of the person are the rights of the planet.

This proposition was posed to me by a person who does not see any need to be concerned about environmental degradation caused by human activity so long as humans are free do make individual choices, because it's his belief, like Adam Smith's, that as long as the rights of the sovereignty of the individual are maintained, the individual choices will guide the whole towards an equitible and sane relationship with the environment:

Without freedoms destruction of the ecosystem seems inevitable.

The following was my response:

From my own phenomenological perceptions, I see that freedom of the individual is inevitable until one is rendered incapacitated in some way or dies. The real question I am interested in, is about the form that freedom takes. I personally recognize that I have the innate, volitional freedom to agree to do what is being required even under the most extreme forms of coercion where I am being given choice, because I am the one that chooses to do it, even if I would prefer to do something else. The choice may also include the choice to go on living, or keep a finger, or one can imagine many other scenarios of of coercive pressure, but the choice is made until it's completely taken away. If that were not true the body hangs like a puppet waiting for strings to move it in some external way. It requires self initiation, self volition, hence "freedom," to act in any way, even to act in concert with others, or follow orders in a hierarchy. It requires personal freedom to agree not to bother someone if requested, and personal freedom to ignore that request. It requires freedom to drive down the highway on the established "correct" side of the road to minimize danger to self and others.

This sort of freedom hardly needs to be made into an issue. If we didn't understand it we wouldn't even bother with rules. At least one effort of any intellectual exploration is to seek to discover the abstract structural elements of mind from which actions freely emerge. Freedom of action is assumed as long as action is possible, as long as the brain is functional. So it's an entirely trivial point to say that the destruction of an ecosystem seems inevitable without freedoms. With freedom the destruction of the ecosystem may also be inevitable if people don't excersize it to question the very form and structure of their complex society. What you end up with by introducing such a concept is a non sequitur into the exploration of the meaning of freedom, in the context it is brought up, and the recognition that the meaning "imagined" in this vague way involves a whole series of beliefs and values, very often directly related to the very institutions themselves that are taking everyone "freely" in the direction of their own demise -- if indeed that's where things are headed.

We have seen that what is identified as "binary opposition," as the structuralists like Claude Levi Strauss have pointed out, can possibly be the very basis of human consciousness. We have also seen how it has inherent attributes that lead to hierarchical thinking, where one of two concepts in an opposition are favored over the other. It's, of course, an act of freedom to favor one over the other, which is essentially how values and institutions of all sorts are created. A transnational corporation is essentially an institution created out of a complex matrix of binary oppositions, one favored over another, creating the hierarchical structures of the institution and the form in which decisionmaking is made and the purpose of the collective efforts achieved, efforts from the providers of capital to the "work" -- whatever that might be.

But as the post structuralists and the post modernist era philosophers have also shown, those binary oppositions may not be as set as the earlier structuralists proposed them to be in societies, and thus may not offer such a good explanation for why a given society seems formed the way it is, in fact may not even explain that a society is formed the way it is; and then, it's recognized that the cognitive structures of binary opposition are constantly degrading, so a constant reiffication effort is required if a social form is to be maintained or allowed to change.

This in fact may be a more accurate description of the many "other" societies that anthropologists rushed to study as the institutions of globalization over the past five hundred years or so wiped them out through colonialization, and later something called "modernization" and "development." Many of those societies may have been much more flexible and interactive with their environments than the structuralists, who were operating themselves out of a paradigm of societietal mode bent on maintaining its own complex institutional forms intact, imagined them to be with their projecting of an analytical stasis by coding and analysizing through their entirely rational screen of the binary opposition tool, an analytical device they'd discovered through the very nature of their own philosophical traditions. Post structualist anthropologist have gone back and reexamined the precepts of Anthropology itself, and from that have emerged different efforts at understanding the nature of society, efforts that attempt to see how abstact forces are moving dynamically and in a flux relationship, both within the institutions and between the interface of cultural devices that are the very adaptation to the environment. Ecopsychology is something that has emerged out of the awareness that some sort of complex adaptational process is taking place, and that the consciousness of the whole of a society is involved. The hypothesis is that an increased awareness of the forces of nature can be a positive element in that process.

The binary oppositions then can be recognized to be in constant degradation against the forces of the whole of society which are made up of institutions, and what minimizes degradation is often the adherence to form itself that people participate in, almost like a daily ritual, and those forms reiffy the validity of the the institutions and the need for them, which can give a sense of stability and thus with stability "safety." This safety and stability of institutions may be a good and a valid strategy for all to take part in, as society is a group effort no matter how many notions of disintegration are introduced -- notions like favoring the concept that individual "freedom" is favored over the values of a whole of a group, a particularly familiar binary opposition one often hears as a rational explanation to promote certain societal institutions as necessarily performing for the good of all in a somewhat vague, and usually poorly defined atmosphere that holds together yet another concept called "free enterprise" and Reagan's famous "magic market," and so forth. This is how at least some of us go about looking at the rational forms that make up the glue of society, that hold together the institutional forms that we all, with some degree of conscious intent, freely agree to maintain.

If, perhaps, the social forms do not comply with the natural ontology of the inherent elements of a planetary biosphere seeking balance and sustainability of energy flows and species interactions that are the very nature of that energy interaction in a complexity we think of as life. In fact, past efforts to create complex societies based on an adherence to the institutions that are that that very hierarchical complexity has nearly always led to the collapse of complexity, from our understanding of history. That history is itself worth paying attention to, and holding in mind as we question the nature of our own complex institutions and where they may implicitly lead the human participants. So that itself, once understood, should bring a note of caution to those who follow the forms of their society, and one might then want to understand those forms and their ontological implications.

Thus to make an effort to stand aside from the forms which are the "conformity" the forces of society seek to maintain in order that the forms continue, to look at them and attempt to see them and their very nature, is an act of freedom; in fact an act of radical freedom because of the very inherent nature of institutions, and one which is generally frowned upon, and one for which those who dare do it are often eliminated from the public discourse in one way or another. There are many ways the status quo of cultural forms can be used to "eliminate" seekers and questioners.

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