THE root of the Global Environmental Crisis lies in our relationship with nature. If we are to avoid ecological suicide then we need to rediscover our ecological unconscious.
We have become increasingly disconnected from the natural world on which we are dependent for our survival. Our capitalistic economic model based on continual growth has not only created the ecological crisis but has actively molded consumer demand. As consumers we are no longer in control as tastes and demands are determined by industry and shaped by advertising, which generate false needs.
Our behaviour is continuously encouraged and perpetuated by “perverse” economic incentive structures, media images, institutional barriers, inequalities in access, where status and wealth is reflected in how much we can consume. Our consumption of goods such as the fastest car, latest fashion, the newest gadget is one of the main ways of expressing our identify in the modern world
Human nature has become more consumerist and individualistic decreasing our understanding of the links between social and natural systems. This has lead to the development of a new form of narcissistic self. Psychoanalytical theory suggests that narcissism is an extreme form of individualism. It is a phenomenon from childhood, which means that the world will provide everything we need if we make enough commotion. Things that are out of sight such as food production, waste and environmental degradation are firmly out of the mind.
As we have developed we have becoming increasingly disconnected from nature. The majority of the people living in the developed world have become disengaged from the immediate materials provided by nature that are needed for survival. An increasing amount of the food and raw materials we consume is transported from around the world rather than made and used locally. This disconnection from the natural environment has resulted in a lack of understanding of the environment and ecological systems of which we are a part.
We no longer have a direct understanding of economic activity, consumption and the byproducts of our activities. The waste we generate is an intangible byproduct and has an impact far away from the point of consumption. This detachment has been facilitated by technology. Fridgeration techniques and intensive farming have replaced our understanding of the way things grow and the seasons. This separation leads to a lack of understanding of nature (e.g. our knowledge of food now comes form reading labels on packets and making uniformed judgements) about alternatives and can lead to fear (e.g. food scares). Knowledge based on direct experience has been replaced by knowledge produced by scientists (abstract systems) in laboratories. This has in some cases led to mistrust of science due to vested interest and changes based on new developments.
A wide variety of ancient and modern cultures have histories of embracing nature such as aboriginal, pagan and Hindu cultures, and shamanism. Where self-identity becomes entwined with nature, so much that loss of sacred places is devastating to indigenous people. In contrast, industrial society has repressed what Theodore Roszak has called our “ecological unconscious”.
If we are to reconnect with nature and restore environmental harmony then we need to rediscover our ecological unconscious that lies at the core of our psyche. This requires healing the fundamental gap between the recently created industrial psyche and the age-old natural environment. This involves re-evaluating character traits which have driven us to dominate nature as if it were an alien and rightless realm as well as questioning the sanity of the size and extent of urban-industrial culture.
Reconnecting with nature via decentralised food production and community nature projects and projects that promote personal empowerment are likely to nourish our “ecological ego”. In contrast, large-scale projects that dominate suppress the individual undermines the ecological ego. Roszak claims as our ecological ego matures towards a sense of ethical responsibility to the planet that is as vividly experienced as our ethical responsibility to other people, it will weave this responsibility into the fabric of social relations and political decisions.
When the needs of the planet have become the needs of the person, the rights of the person have become the rights of the planet then we will have finally rediscovered our ecological unconscious and understood our ecopsychology.
© Gary Haq 2009