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Ecopsychology: Towards Unity and Spirit

by Ren Fri May 11th, 2007 at 04:13:36 PM EST

What unity ultimately requires is closure. The circle of theory must come round like the alchemical snake to bite its tail. What is must at last be known. Perhaps that is what underlies the eager unfolding of the natural hierarchy from the Big Bang to the human frontier: substance reaching out hungrily toward sentience. That is the simple but mighty insight that the physicist John Wheeler sought to capture in this schematic image of a universe that makes a u-turn in time to study itself through the human eye.

Oddly, this unity of the knower and the known seems to have been better appreciated by pre-scientific humans who worked from myth, image, ritual. If ecopsychology has anything to add to the Socratic-Freudian project of self-knowledge, it is to remind us of what our ancestors took to be common knowledge: there is more to know about the self, or rather more self to know, than our personal history reveals. Making a personality, the task that Jung called "individuation," may be the adventure of a lifetime. But every person's lifetime is anchored within a greater, universal lifetime. Each of us shares the whole of life's time on Earth.  Salt remnants of ancient oceans flow through our veins, ashes of expired stars rekindle in our genetic chemistry. The oldest of the atoms, hydrogen whose primacy among the elements should have gained it a more poetically resonant name is a cosmic theme; mysteriously elaborated billions-fold, it has created from Nothing the Everything that includes us. From Ecopsychology: Eight Priniples, by Thodore Roszak

About Reproducing Cultural Hubris

Out of what is this homo-centric hubris, this schizophrenic disconnect and self absorption of modern techno-industrial production/consumption emerging, each and every day, on the surface of the planet, intermixing with a delicate and thin shell of life we now call our biosphere?  What institutes and perpetuates a bio destructive cancer on the planet like neoliberal polyarchic pseudo democratic globalism that itself relentlessly destroys and displaces the indigenous cultural forms that once did, in fact, interact directly with the forces and forms of nature?

I'm suggesting we might benefit from looking at the forms our very lives take and how we work our minds in relation to those, thereby creating our daily process of life, which embeds the memories and the very sense of who and what we are as a daily, ongoing reality.

Ecopsychologists are suggesting that to understand that process, and ourselves, we need to do something to actually change our daily forms of life. That connecting with the natural world in a different way can begin to embed different forms within us that become not just conscious, intellectual rationalizations, but that will go deep into our minds to be experienced throughout our bodies, and become subconscious as well, with a deeper sense of ourselves and who we are in relationship with the forms of our environment. They are suggesting that as a "therapy," it can't be done intellectually, rationally, any more than truly understanding what the "extent of anthropocentrism" actually is can be done through a rational, intellectual process. Intellectualism is easily recognized as a backward-looking, analytical process that actually occurs after direct experience and direct mind/body response in a situation.  With that awareness of what we do with that process, we can see that we are fragmenting our awareness of now with our memories, with the beliefs those memories intertwine through accumulated processes of memory and thought, and we create illusions of reality that we than place, like a template over the immediate experience, thus potentially distorting what we can see, and in that distorting our response to what is.

If you've ever been in one of those life threatening emergency moments where everything goes into slow motion, perhaps you've directly been able to see your body seeming to do everything while the rational mind calmly observes it doing it, actions the body seems to know to do with a direct intelligence you are somewhat mildly amused to discover, and without any guidance from this anthropocentric awareness one assumes is in charge until this moment of emergency. If you've grown up around animals and dealt with some energetic creatures of 1000 lbs or more, you recognize how your body is tuned to this, especially in close quarters, or that herding is something you do recognizing the characteristics in the animals and influencing them with your own form, as a dog learns to do when it learns to herd. Those are just some suggestions from my own experience.

This Jungian Analyst, Dennis L. Merritt, talks about his experiences growing up and how they have influenced him throughout his life. His experience on the dairy farm in Wisconsin mirrors my own in nearby Michigan:

I grew up on a small dairy farm in Wisconsin where I spent many hours of my free time wandering the hills and marshes with my dog. A deep connection was forged between the land and my psyche, much deeper than I realized. After spending many years away from the Midwest, working on a doctorate at Berkeley in the late 60's in Insect Pathology (microbial control of insects), then a Masters Degree in Humanistic Psychology from Sonoma State College, California, and finally training to become a Jungian Analyst in Zurich, Switzerland, I was led by a series of powerful dreams to return to the land I have felt so connected to. I also became involved in sweat-lodge, vision quest and Sundance ceremonies of the Lakota Sioux of the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota that added a depth of relationship to the environment I could not have imagined otherwise.


Near the end of my training at the Jung Institute in Zurich, I had one of the most powerful and simple dreams I have ever had. It was a single-image dream of a typical upper Midwestern landscape. There was a meadow with very green grass, flowers and possibly alfalfa. The topography was gently rolling with trees on the horizon. Insects flew above the meadow. It was a beautiful sunny day with puffy white clouds in a blue sky. What was most remarkable about this simple scene was that it shown with an inner light. Every atom in the dream was alive. Despite having seen some of the most beautiful scenery in the world--California, the Grand Canyon, the Canadian Rockies, Switzerland, etc., I have never seen anything as beautiful as this simple meadow scene.

This is an example of what the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung called a numinous dream--a dream with an inner light and a sacred sense. I contend that no indigenous person has had a more sacred dream of the land. Every human is capable of experiencing this sense of the sacredness about the land. Long ago Jung recognized this archetypal need of a connection to, and love of, the land. E. O. Wilson calls this "biophilia".

When one has such a dream, the challenge is to let it lead one's life and direct one's conscious orientation. To follow such a dream's inspiration is to walk a path with heart. Having grown up in Wisconsin, I knew the state affected me deeply, but I had no sense of just how deeply until this dream. I began to look at all elements of the Upper Midwest more closely--its soils, topography, flora and fauna, seasons, etc. To deepen this process and help convey this sense of the land to others, my wife and I set up a week long summer institute in 1991 called Spirit in the Land, Spirit in Animals, Spirit in People. The Institute was so well received we ran a second one in 1992, followed by a reduced version for the University of Wisconsin Extension in 1994. The talks I gave at the Institutes became the genesis of the book I'm finishing, The Dairy Farmer's Guide to the Universe--Jung, Hermes and Ecopsychology. To convey my sense of an interdisciplinary environmental education program, I am reproducing the contents of three brochures announcing the Institutes.

Seeing a Spiritual Connection Through Form

The possibility that we can be directed in this way by dreams and their metaphorical implications for our entire being is something that hardly makes it, it would seem, to the mainstream levels of popular culture.  In a very basic way, it may be antithetical to the fundamental paradigm of a rationally derived, techno-industrial based society -- with a rational view that the world is its resource and not a living whole in its own right, of which humans are only a systemic part, not the top predator in a food chain meant to feed their, and only their self derived hubris -- that itself may have gone off track from the organic roots of being with its very liberal foundations of a rational, philosophic approach to its undestanding of a tautological determination of its social guiding principles of life.  That is, unless the notion that violence and the many damaging implications that are considered "inappropriate" for young children to be exposed to are also taken seriously enough to be considered a questionable exposure to our adult population's psyche as well -- not that I am suggesting control measures, but just a recognition of what it implies. Is it true that a constant exposure to images of violence only effect the psyches of young children?

Just to be clear, I'm not asking about social control issues, I'm asking about awakening a sensitivity to a seeing of how we are immersed in forms and how those forms are part of our consciousness, and in the process, invoke a wondering about just how separate we really are as assumed independent individuals from all this. What are the sources of our consciousness? Can we really be conscious and separate from our environment, like the mind is contained in some sort of bottle?

But myth and mythical thought was an important connecting force to the subconscious and our immersion in forms that our ancestors employed, by all accounts. For me, I've always had a strong response to literature and poetry, and the inspiring sense of imaginary power it can infuse. So in talking about this topic, I'd like to point to this dimension as a source of imaginative context and a way of seeing how the dynamics of ecopsychology can work for us, reconnect us to elements of our world, whether we want to save the planet or just want to have rich imagination related to it.

Also, in terms of language, this might in some ways relate to Edward De Bono's "Water Logic" and "ideas to flow" which speaks to the "voice" of the mind speaking out of these forms in a relational process rather than the static logic that retains a fundamentalist, or positivist nature. Lakoff, of course, as a neuro scientist, talks about cognitive categories and framing. Those are metaphors of form as well. Pointing to dreams and the subconscious metaphors of the mind may offer a view of language as a connection to the inspirational within us to that which connects our minds and our psychic health to the earth and its living forms as they are embedded in the subconscious to then become those connective metaphors. I suggest this to give a sense different where language is used to abstract and analyze, creating in that process a fragmentation and alienation from the actual ongoing process of life. This of course is done through a different process, perhaps, so that's worth keeping in mind. In other words, no need to binarily oppose them for they may both be present at once as a conscious process.

These embedded forms may be the sources for those moments of epiphany, and the quality and form of those epiphanies may depend on the stimulation, whether a natural environment or human built one. Not judging one or the other, just noting how our mind is complex and may respond depending on the stimulus. Not judging one or the other, just noting how our mind is complex and may respond depending on the stimulus, can perhaps open our mental doors to see how the forms we live with daily confine our spiritual connection with our natural life forces and the planet.

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A World Transforming -- from Nation States to...?

by Ren Fri Apr 20th, 2007 at 06:02:55 AM EST

Just read through the debate over the question "What good is the European Union?" and I can see I have a ways to go to get comfortable with the depths of the various arguments.  At the moment I am still limited to expressing my US contextualized macro view of geopolitics, which I don't doubt will serve me poorly in this environment, and I may clumsily step on a few toes around here as I express them, but I want to start somewhere. So I'll klutz it out for a bit in hopes I'll learn quickly from my mistakes.

I appreciated the The Independent article of the fifty points answering: So, what has Europe ever done for us? Apart from.... Gave me a good summary of points to work with.

I noticed one post in my review of the debate of point 42 on the list, with no followup discussion. But I'm raising some questions about it here, so maybe some followup discussion can occur here.

From the diaries - afew

Read more... (82 comments, 9082 words in story)

Yet Another "All About The Strategic Ellipse"

by Ren Wed Apr 11th, 2007 at 02:30:34 PM EST

Just Another Version of The Global Capitalist Empire Formula

Yesterday I came up with the following simplified overview of characteristic ecological succession processes as a comment in someone else's diary. It got me thinking and then I spun off into the following thoughts for a diary entry:  

One of the ways I see it, up to now, human beings haven't had to work too hard to consciously design their societies. However, the past two hundred years have witnessed something of an anomaly in human societal adaptation.

The combination of cheap and easily convertible energy, with the rapid expansion of a narrow spectrum of social systems that aggressively maximize resource consumption, has paralleled a rapid population expansion of the human species, with a mass take over and extinction of a vast number of ecological niches.

These types of expanding social systems represent what ecologists call the low succession r-selected species, which flourish opportunistically in disturbed, low succession, minimally speciated environments, until they falter and their poplations die back as the resources become exhausted. A typical example of such a species is the lemming.  Their populations rise and fall in typical bell shaped curve on a graph, very similar to that of the Hubbert curve for peak oil:

In nature what occurs next is a transformation to a greater variety of k-selected species, with lower offspring production and a greater efficiency of resource consumption which is geared to a sustainable rate.

Historically human beings have proved themselves capable of creating societies that can mimic either r-selected or k-selected species.   Personally, I'm looking at what a k-selected society would entail now.  We have a variety of rhizome-like, cooperative organic based startups scattered around the U.S.  They are kind of like seed stock for a possible collapse, as I see it.

Those R-Selected Species Just Keep On Keepin' On

One can find many reasons advanced by various scholars to back up the U.S. promotion of democracy in the world.  In his book The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty First Century,  Thomas Barnett offers a map of the globe that identifies two macro geographic regions as a "functioning Core" and a  "non-integrating Gap."  Barnett is a bright, horizontal thinking strategic planner who's worked for the Pentagon, and other government bureaucracies, and it would appear from his book that he likes to imagine he's in one of those computer games where humanity is represented in blocks that contain gross numbers.  Thus the collateral effect of Shock and Awe is a matter of adjusting numbers. His "functioning Core" consists of the richest and most developed countries and regions - North America's two big ones (not Mexico), Europe's Union members (of course Great Britain), Japan, South Korea (not including North Korea, naturally),  and Australia.  To that he's given gratis acceptance to what he calls "emerging economies" of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Russia, China and India.  Together they comprise roughly two thirds of the globes population.  The "non-integrating Gap" consists of the rest.  Another group of geopolitical strategists might call them the peripheries, another, the underdeveloped nations. Most are in what another group calls "The Arc of Instability."  Pick your favorite.

Look at the map and you'll undoubtedly be riveted by the oval line circumscribing the so-called "geostrategic ellipse."  Within that you will find, with the exception of Israel, no primary members of Barnett's  "functioning core," although Russia's recent revival from an inevitable collapse (caused, as Barnett sees it, by one of those Gap-characteristic infections, with initial infection occurring around 1918) puts it in a unique position of being one of the emerging Core members with it's own rich resources in fossil fuels.  Geostrategically that's a potentially sticky one for U.S. global imperial ambitions if Russia gets off track in some unmanageable way, but that's an ongoing foreign policy management problem.  Those ambitions include what Barnett would call a plan for "connecting" the "disconnected Gap" to the core, for the primary purpose of achieving a more secure world, as defined by those in the "functioning Core," of course.  In lieu of that, he sees the primary mission of the US, and its handy military, of course, is to extend connectivity between the Core and Gap as far as possible.

In terms of the policies of the U.S. over the past sixty or so years, the past twenty five years of polyarchic democracy building strategies coincides nicely with Barnett's prospects for connecting the "disconnected Gap," now that the military has been folded back into the foreign policy batter again.  So for Barnett, we've gone from a period of covert clumsy CIA intervention, imposing strong man clients in key resource rich nations, to strategies for installing more sophisticated polyarchic elites in charge, with the necessary camouflage of electoral democracy, since then that argument gets little question from other polyarchic bases that haven't yet quite figured out what their role in all this is, to the extra important stabilizing factor of a redesigned Cold War Era military industrial complex situated on some 740 bases in key geostrategic locations, with the helpful support of in the range of 50 specialized intelligence agencies.

Barnett's Ten Commandments

Any savvy neoliberal globalist will recognize the sensible logic in Barnett's list of the "Ten Commandments of Globalization" suggested in his book:

  • 1. Look for resources, and ye shall find.
  • 2. No stability, no markets.
  • 3. No growth, no stability.  (interesting oxymoron)
  • 4. No resources, no growth.
  • 5. No infrastructure, no growth.
  • 6. No money, no infrastructure.
  • 7. No rules, no money.
  • 8. No security, no rules.
  • 9. No Leviathan (US superpower), no security.
  • 10. No will, no Leviathan.
In regards to the Leviathan feature, Barnett proposes that the US begin to shape its military role by resculpting its major resource in the Global Imperial project by bifurcating it into a "Leviathan Force" and a "System Adminstrator" force -- the latter clearly something missing in the first stages of Iraq, and now look at the mess!

Our intellectual elites are nothing if not persistant in coming up with these master plans.  Maybe one of these days they'll get the right formula for their witches brew.

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Institutionalization, Coercion, and Hegemony

by Ren Sun Apr 8th, 2007 at 06:33:02 PM EST

This is my first diary entry since I joined the board some 1000 members ago.  I believe that's over a year back now.  I seem to remember that I've had a few posts way back then, possibly about Peak Oil.  I've been here to read a number a time and I keep meaning to get active, but I've been busy, and I admit that my html is about 12 rusty years behind me and that was initially inhibitive.  Any way, I am going to finally post something.

I was about to post on something about the Lucifer Effect, based on Dr. Zimbardo's famous -- or infamous, depending on one's perspective -- Stanford Prison Experiment.  Fortunately I noticed Robert Feinman's related post and so I've recast this slightly to emphasize what I perceive as a different focus from his.  Though cross fertilization is not out of the question.

Institutionalization -- Coercive and Hegemonic

I have never liked the easthetic feel I get when I think or say the word "hegemony." The accompanying sensation is one of breathing through a dank, brown sponge filled with spores of mildew.  There's probably some psychological subtext in that for me.  However, I find myself able to use it more after hearing this somewhat homespun and refreshingly clear explanation in an audio of a talk Stan Goff gave at a University in Maine last year, titled Iraq and Exterminism.  Here's what he said:

It's much easier to exercise control over a population whenever they consent to their own domination. They sort of accept the official story, accept the official ideology and then we all just sort of go around and cooperate. That kind of control, where we internalize the control, is hegemony. Where when I come up and hold a gun on you and you do it out of naked fear, that's coercion. And the idea is you've got sort of hegemony on one pole, exercising ruling class power and coercion on the other pole and as hegemony fails then coercion becomes the more prominent instrument.

As we look around the world right now, Latin America in particular, we are seeing a sort of continental drift with a definite shift to the left, and it's created all sorts of political instability... The immiseration of the people on the periphery in the world system right now has doubled over the past thirty years. Globally hegemony is not working any more.

As hegemony breaks down as a method of control, which is an indication of a larger sort of crisis of the system itself, then coercion becomes more and more the instrument. What we are seeing is just an acceleration of that process where the neocons sort of jumped on this "surprise from the sky" on 911, the acceleration of an agenda that was already inevitable, hegemony was always going to give way to coercion at some point.

A prison is perhaps the most overt, and depending on your perspective, extreme version of coercive institutionalization of power in U.S. society, and as best I can understand them from a distance, those of most European countries. With some contemplation we can find many elements of institutionalization in other systemic forms of our society, much of which I suspect many take for granted. Nearly all of us undoubtedly experienced our endoctrination to institutional forms during our primary and secondary schooling process, and it will be found in many work environments, like corporations, and in the bureaucracies of government. Much of that people take for granted as the way it needs to be.  So much of our day to day life entails going through various institutional environments.  To a great extent we are so well adapted to the rules of behavior involved we hardly notice them.

In reference to that I'd like to offer some reading that discusses the issue of dress code in a business environment and its relationship to controlling behavior in a work environment: The Low-Down On Dressing-Down.

To the extent that we don't question this daily process and what it entails, or even moreso, when, if questions are raised, we argue in favor of it, as if it were the only way things could be, or certainly the best of any possibilities, I suggest we are engaging in what Stan Goff described above as hegemony.  We are aligned in some way or another with the very basis of our society and what gives it whatever power and force it may have as whole "integrated" collective. In his penetrating and insightful propaganda studies, Jacques Ellul has identified that more or less enculturated behavior, as sociologists might think of it, in what he identifies as sociological and integrative propaganda.  Integral with that his his recognition that modern society itself has taken on a unique systemic characteristic related to its technologically oriented character, which invokes a kind of necessary process of productive efficiency as a  maplike overly over social relationships.

Those of us who have been in the military and through a boot camp experience, have experienced the closest form of institutionalized power -- that I am familiar with -- to a prison environment, and a prison environment was supposed to be the basis of the institutionalization acted out in that 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment.  There are some very key features involved: objectification, dehumanization, and a stripping of individuality to create a sense of uniformity and anonymity.  I like to keep them in mind as I ask other questions about institutionalization.

I want to link this article: The Stanford Prison Experiment: Still powerful after all these years?

I'm interested in why authority works both in a prison setting and in society. So is Zimbardo, especially it seems after the way his experiment went. I don't see "society" and a prison as necessarily distinct or seperate issues once the notion of "institutionalization" is added to the mix.  Zimbardo's experiment raised some serious questions about the institutionalization of power and inherent features built into institutional power that appear to effect behavior, potentially in all of us, in ways that are not necessarily obvious. It can raise some very serious questions about our own sense of autonomy, our range of self actuation, and perhaps our own self conceived heroic efforts to be good persons in the world.

From that article I linked above:

Zimbardo's primary reason for conducting the experiment was to focus on the power of roles, rules, symbols, group identity and situational validation of behavior that generally would repulse ordinary individuals. "I had been conducting research for some years on deindividuation, vandalism and dehumanization that illustrated the ease with which ordinary people could be led to engage in anti-social acts by putting them in situations where they felt anonymous, or they could perceive of others in ways that made them less than human, as enemies or objects," Zimbardo told the Toronto symposium in the summer of 1996.

Most of us may be confident about our sense of individuality and may believe that we are immune to the effect a systemic institutionalization of power can have on our behavior. This experiment raises questions that may challenge such beliefs. The question I have asked about it, since I first heard of it years ago, is what psychological effect institutionalization of power has on each of us, subtly or overtly, since we are always engaged in various ways with these environments? And what, if anything, can we do about it? Is it possible that by knowing and understanding it better, we can in some way mitigate those affects? Or is it even possible that some people, for various reasons, would rather not?

On a bit more hopeful a note, Dr. Zimbardo concludes that resistance is not futile, though awareness to what needs resisting is important in the process.  He has a section on his website The Lucifer Effect offering strategies for developing awarness and "Resisting Influence.

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