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.

6 comments on “Generation Symbiocene, Optimism and Symbiocene Identity”

  1. Hi Glenn, I’ve been following your work for a long time now and use it in my teaching resources, so I thank you dearly for your insights. Your re-framing of the Anthropocene to the Symbiocene is very noble and I will be sharing this as well. And what lies beyond that era as well? Perhaps the Holocene becomes the Halocene when all of nature is revered and respected, akin to Pandora in Avatar (is this one of your inspirations for ‘ghedeist’?). Regarding Generation Symbiocene, I can’t help but think that this is also akin to the discussions about the youth generation of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Transformation occurred but did not exactly sustain itself (’80s excess saw to that). Perhaps Gen S will learn from the mistakes of the past but I fear the misuse and abuse of social media will thwart its progress. There is much at stake, as you well know. All the best, Justin.

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    1. Thanks Justin! All is revealed in my book, Earth Emotions. As a Baby Boomer, I was part of the late 60s early 70s revolutionary movements, including the green and peace movements. I cannot have my youth back, but I want Generation Symbiocene to have theirs to completion.

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  2. Further to all this, you may be aware of this discussion about re-framing Nature at a more personal level:
    (I inserted a weblink but it’s not posting. It’s from Yes! magazine from 2015: ‘Nature Needs a New Pronoun: To Stop the Age of Extinction, Let’s Start by Ditching “It”‘).
    Nature is not an ‘it’, rather ‘ki’. A new pronoun derived from the “Anishinaabe word for beings of the living Earth…Bemaadiziiaaki.”
    From the article: “…it’s impossible to speak of [nature] as “it.” We use the same words to address all living beings as we do our family. Because they are our family….“Ki” to signify a being of the living Earth. Not “he” or “she,” but “ki.” So that when we speak of Sugar Maple, we say, “Oh that beautiful tree, ki is giving us sap again this spring.” And we’ll need a plural pronoun, too, for those Earth beings. Let’s make that new pronoun “kin.” So we can now refer to birds and trees not as things, but as our earthly relatives. On a crisp October morning we can look up at the geese and say, “Look, kin are flying south for the winter. Come back soon.”
    ki is pronounced like we say ‘key’, which then becomes a homonym; that in saying ki, we hold the key to a reverence for nature that can unlock the current Anthropocenic mindset and release the ghedeist.
    I shall get onto your book asap. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for this. I see ‘life’ as the key concept (excuse the pun), not Nature. Nature is everything (life plus non-life). Life is special because multiple species share it. I call it the ‘biocomunen’. From Earth Emotions, I write: “When we die, the loss of our life also entails the extinguishment of trillions of fellow life-beings. Life is a gift held in common by healthy holobionts. The idea of life as a shared or common property of living collectives is of such scientific importance I suggest we should give it its own name. I call the shared property of life within holobionts the “biocomunen”. Life is precious, it is the reason for all the complexity, diversity and relationships that animate it. Given that the whole sustainability paradigm of the past four decades failed to acknowledge this vital aspect of life, it is no wonder its principles failed to achieve ‘sustainable development’. Sustainability has been appropriated by the Anthropocene … we need to rectify that error. “

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  3. Ah yes, your comment about life reminded me of a talk given by Alan Watts that’s recorded here: https://www.organism.earth/library/document/78
    “….We say, well, first of all—in the beginning—there was nothing but gas and rock. And then intelligence happened to arise in it—you know, like a sort of fungus or slime on top of the whole thing. But we’re thinking in a way, you see, that disconnects the intelligence from the rocks. Where there are rocks, watch out! Watch out! Because the rocks are going, eventually, to come alive.”
    I’m reading your book now. I love how you are creating a new language to guide us through this landscape/era that we are currently inhabiting; a fellow researcher and I have referred to your work here: https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-3-319-73400-2_54-1
    We also feel there are other words to describe our place in nature from different cultures which surpass our English comprehension of the world. The indigenous word ngurra is especially pertinent for us now.

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