Generation Symbiocene, Optimism and Symbiocene Identity

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The loss of identity tied to a sense of place was one of the defining characteristics of my concept of solastalgia.[1] The issue of “identity” was even in the sub-title of the first publication devoted to it.  In my first publication on this topic I argued that, while solastalgia is a serious psychic condition, it could be alleviated. I suggested:

The defeat of solastalgia and non-sustainability will require that all of our emotional, intellectual and practical efforts be redirected towards healing the rift that has occurred between ecosystem and human health, both broadly defined. In science, such a commitment might be manifest in the full redirection of scientific investment and effort to an ethically inspired and urgent practical response to the forces that are destroying ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. The need for an “ecological psychology” that re-establishes full human health (spiritual and physical) within total ecosystem health has been articulated by many leading thinkers worldwide. The full transdisciplinary idea of health involves the healing of solastalgia via cultural responses to degradation of the environment in the form of drama, art, dance and song at all scales of living from the bioregional to the global. The potential to restore unity in life and achieve genuine sustainability is a scientific, ethical, cultural and practical response to this ancient, ubiquitous but newly defined human illness.[2]

Given what I have written, I find it strange that some of the commentators on solastalgia have suggested that “the pain of solastalgia tends to be irreversible”.[3] Another, the futurist Bruce Sterling, suggests that it delivers “permanent mutilation” to its sufferers, and that, rather than “dark euphoria”, if you succumb to it, “it will do you in”.[4]

There is an element of truth in this, in that when a place that has been relatively stable is desolated, it can never return to its previous state; but that is technically true of every place on Earth. As the climate change denialists say, change is occurring all the time, and we can never reverse the thermodynamic arrow of time and space. However, as a psychoterratic concept, solastalgia is a negative Earth emotion, and emotions can be repaired and restored to a state similar to that before the desolation. The key though, is the halting of the desolation of place, and its restoration to a state that once again delivers solace and sustenance to its ‘owners’.

I think such a restoration project is similar to E.O. Wilson’s idea of reserving half the surface of the Earth for the preservation of a ‘home’ for all the remaining biodiversity of the Earth. Half Earth, presents a coherent way of avoiding the endangerment, then extinction, of all the megafauna of the Earth within the next 100 years.[5]

We can speculate about ‘half Brain’, a bit like half Earth. As mentioned in Chapter 2, Gregory Bateson argued that our psychic homes, our seats of consciousness, have been substantially rendered ‘insane’ by the pollution of the Anthropocene.[6] If we see the cumulative minds of the human species as ‘psychic Earth’, then I hope we still have at least half of our positive psychoterratic potential left. It is a glass half-full situation.

Building on our residual intelligence and good emotions, Gen S has the opportunity to preserve and protect what is left, then create, from that base, a full Earth/full Brain terranascient future. In an essay on solastalgia, published in 2012, I further argued that:

With a new psychoterratic language to describe and “re-place” our emotions and feelings, powerful transformative forces are unleashed. Solastalgia is fixated on the melancholic, but it is also a foundation for action that will negate it. There is a positive side to psychoterratic classifications, one where positive earth emotions and feelings such as biophilia, topophilia, ecophilia, soliphilia and eutierria can be used to counter the negative and destructive.

There is a drama going on in our heads and hearts, where solastalgia can be defeated by the simultaneous restoration and rehabilitation of mental, cultural, and biophysical landscapes.

Now that solastalgia and other psychoterratic terms (both positive and negative) are being established in the research literature and many forms of popular culture, and as recognition of the damage that degraded and desolated environments do to our mental health increases, it is possible that we can respond more effectively to simultaneously restore mental and ecosystem health.[7]

 I am with E.O. Wilson, in this fight to conserve and rehabilitate the biophysical. I want to add the positive, sumbiocentric, psychoterratic as well, and I think that they are both worth fighting for. Indeed, you cannot have one without the other, as, to replace the Anthropocene, anthropocentric thinking must be replaced with sumbiocentric thinking.

In the past, humans, as a species, have fought over all sorts of really trivial matters such as the borders of nation states. Now, the stakes are nothing less than the complete restoration of the whole Earth, and the complete restoration and re-integration of the human psyche and body with the Earth at specific places. To end anthropocentrism, and replace it with sumbiocentrism, are outcomes worth fighting for. In the case of Generation Symbiocene, it is the fight for identity and the fight for a good life.

[1] Albrecht 2005.

[2] Albrecht 2005, 59.

[3] MacFarlane 2016.

[4] Sterling 2017.

[5] Wilson 2016.

[6] Bateson 1982.

[7] Albrecht 2012.

From Earth Emotions, Cornell University Press, 2019.

Image: Environmental activists at Gloucester NSW at a demonstration against further coal mining.

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