Symbiocene emotions

| 28th March 2019
Lotus blossom at Duns Creek, NSW
Glenn Albrecht
We need a rich and precise vocabulary to articulate the changing relationships between our sense of place and our emotional and biophysical health.

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The Anthropocene delivers negative emotions in epic quantities, but it also provides the chance for us to recognise and appreciate their opposites. The meme of the Symbiocene makes it possible for humans to regain a sense of their positive and joyous emotional engagement with their home, the Earth. The Symbiocene also offers the prospect of re-engagement with each other. 

have argued that a new era in human-nature relationships - one I call the Symbiocene - will emerge from the chaos of the Anthropocene. I have also suggested a new consortium of humans, Generation Symbiocene, led mainly by the young, can take the reins of this revolutionary movement. 

The revolution needed to enter the Symbiocene will be dependent on science and technology delivering a new base for the hierarchy of human needs. However, this revolution will require a lot more than good science and technology.

Emotional landscapes

I now make the case that human emotions, in particular 'Earth emotions', are at the core of our current problems. Our emotional landscape is in lock-step with the biophysical landscape and our identity and sense of place are intimately tied to this relationship. 

E. O. Wilson made an important observation when he stated that “people will travel long distances to stroll along the seashore, for reasons they can’t put into words.” What remains 'silent' about this activity most likely includes a sense of close connection with something larger than the self, of being at one with the rhythm of the waves, fresh air, the daily pulse of tides and the proximity to non-human life. There is also the horizon: nothing impedes a view into curved infinity. 

When confronted by events such as a whale, most likely deceased because of 40 kilograms of plastic waste in its guts, or the gradual loss of the cryosphere due to climate warming, we must acknowledge the expanding scale and scope of negative emotional engagement with landscapes and biota. 

In the past, we have been able to take for granted and freely experience positive Earth emotions and feelings without any need to incorporate them into the formal language. 

Perhaps languages other than English have done so, but I think E. O. Wilson is correct; the English language has very little specific to say about our positive engagement with the Earth, as an emotional experience.

Now, in the midst of a cascade of hugely negative events occurring to the Earth, we must explicitly put these emotions into words

Emotional states related to the state of the Earth can be thought of as sitting within a spectrum of emotions and psychological states I call the 'psychoterratic'.  

The psychoterratic is fully revealed within the emotions of the Anthropocene and its opposite, the Symbiocene. 

Anthropocene emotions

In the Anthropocene humans live inside a category mistake called ‘the environment’. Negative emotions are stirred when what we love about home, place and land is being violated.

There are now many psychoterratic states that have been named, from the anxiety of future disturbance to the lived experience of actual change.

Ecoanxiety and ecoparalysis

Ecoanxiety is a generalised feeling that things are going to get worse in the future as human development causes negative change to the climate and all types of ecosystems.

Ecoparalysis is the feeling that life has become so complex that you cannot do anything to solve the problems that are now plaguing the Earth. There is a conviction that every move ends in contradiction unless the whole notion of growth in the Anthropocene is rejected.

Solastalgia

I created the concept of solastalgia in 2003 to more accurately isolate and define the particular form of distress that is at the core of the desolation of the bonds between people and place.

The importance of place relationships in our emotional lives needed appropriate acknowledgement with a word of its own. The loss of solace from a place-relationship is a profound psychoterratic experience. 

Solastalgia is evident when an unwelcome negative environmental change invades the life of a person or community and attacks one's sense of place.  

I originally connected this negative emotional state to what happens when open cut coal mining or drought affect people in rural contexts.

But solastalgic distress has been taking hold world-wide as climate change has become more rapid and pervasive. There are many more circumstances where forms of chronic place desolation can occur. 

A simple way to think about solastalgia is as a type of homesickness you have while at home and your home environment is changing in ways that you find distressing.

Unfortunately, for too many people, we now live in an 'age of solastalgia' as the Anthropocene keeps delivering ever more profound shocks to the natural and social systems that support us.

Tierratrauma and global dread

Beyond chronic solastalgia there is tierratrauma, where acute environmental change causes acute psychoterratic trauma. Bearing witness to tree loss, a pollution event such as the Gulf oil spill or a human-enhanced natural disaster such as local flooding are causes of tierratrauma. 

The very idea of an eco-apocalypse can also generate what I have called global dread in the mind of a sufferer. As dread is, by definition, future directed, it is a type of pre-solastalgic anticipation of a totally bleak future for those who will inhabit it. The grieving starts even before death and extinction. 

Symbiocene emotions

The relative climatic stability in the Holocene period of the past 11,000 years has given humans the opportunity to experience the best that life has to offer. We lived within the symbioment.

Positive Earth emotions must have been a default psychoterratic state, so much so that E. O. Wilson considers that biophilia or love of life, to have an instinctual or genetic basis. 

It can be argued that the Anthropocene commenced some 300 years ago with the Industrial Revolution and that, prior to that moment, the instinctual love of life, our biophilia, must have been vital for our emotional compass. 

Topophilia and endemophilia

The pleasure derived from a close emotional bond with our local and regional home was described by Yi-Fu Tuan as topophilia or love of place. The closer to the land a person lived, the stronger the topophilia.

People placed within much loved environments could experience what I have called endemophilia. A love that is distinctive to particular places is a powerful psychoterratic force that can be used to protect and conserve elements of places for posterity. 

Eutierria

I created eutierria to put into language a secular version of a phrase - "that oceanic feeling" - that often has religious connotations.

In this state, the divisions between the self and the rest of nature are dissolved and a state of harmony is entered. 

Eutierria is a good Earth feeling and one that lovers of nature, landscapes and biodiversity often experience. Eutierria is not euphoria, as it comes from raw interaction with the living Earth. It is not enhanced by artificial or extraordinary means. 

A good earth

The creation of the material structure of the Symbiocene simultaneously offers its makers positive psychoterratic experiences. 

The reward for the hard work required to build the Symbiocene will, among many other goods such as clean air, unpolluted water and renewable energy, be the free psychoterratic 'highs' that flow from positive Earth emotions. We once again live within the symbioment.

Soliphilia

Living together offers the possibility of a new form of political affiliation that I call soliphilia.

Soliphilia is a form of political commitment that is the full expression of positive Earth emotions; it is the love of and for the totality of our intimate place relationships, and a willingness to accept the political responsibility for protecting and conserving them at all scales. 

We now see the emergence of soliphilia in, for example, the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the School Strike social movements. 

Soliphilia is neither left nor right in the orthodox political spectrum because, unlike all past political positions, it has its focus firmly on the re-unification of humans with the rest of life.

The biophilia, or love of life, finds its political outlet in the politics of the shared love of all life.

As engagement with the positive psychoterratic takes place, nurture and protection of those places becomes the main aim of the politics of soliphilia. 

Symbiocracy, or the type of inclusive politics that will be present in the Symbiocene, will require detailed deliberation on the part of humans for the health and vitality of the whole.  

The task of soliphilia is for local and regional people to respond to desolation and dysbiosis by political and policy action. Such action will replace the diseased and negative with repaired and symbiotically revitalised places. Valued and special places will once again deliver positive emotional sustenance. 

Emotional repair work is intimately tied to biophysical restoration from the environment to the symbioment.

As humans involve themselves in that restoration project and heal damaged places, they also emotionally heal themselves and banish solastalgia. There is nothing to stop that process going global in the Symbiocene. 

This Author

Dr Glenn Albrecht is freelance environmental philosopher and farmosopher. He has pioneered the domain of psychoterratic or psyche–earth relationships with his concept of solastalgia. He is the author of Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World and writes at Psychoterratica.

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