Earth has a soul

The image known as the Pale Blue Dot (1990) as seen by Voyager from 3.7 billion miles away. The image became instrumental in changing people’s emotional connection to our planet. Astrophysicist Carl Sagan famously said: “We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives.”

Recent news articles about the state of recycling and plastic in our oceans have entered into my consciousness, and into my dreams, just as I’ve been finishing off The Earth Has a Soul (2016), a wonderful collection of Carl Gustav Jung’s writing on nature and technology.

“Science must recognise the as yet incalculable catastrophe which its advances have brought with them. The still infantile man of today has had means of destruction put into his hands which require an immeasurably enhanced sense of responsibility, or an almost pathological anxiety, if the fatally easy abuse of their power is to be avoided.” — C. G. Jung, The Earth Has a Soul, p.133

Just as the emotional case was never made for the EU in Britain, and just as vegetarians struggle to convince people of the moral case for cutting out meat without alienating them (from us, or from themselves, as people struggle to take in the enormity of just how messed up the global food industry is) we need to inject spirituality, love, and morality into the arguments about climate change.

“And the immediate things are this earth, this life. For quite long enough our ancestors, and we ourselves, have been taught that this life is not the real thing, that it is provisional, and that we only live for Heaven. Our morality is based upon the negation of the flesh, and so our unconscious often tries to convince us of the importance of living here and now.” — Carl Gustav Jung, The Earth Has a Soul, p.86

Much of the Western world is moving away from organised religion, and its decline is perhaps a good thing for individual rights and democracy; yet rather than leaving a vacuum – to be filled by consumerism, techno-optimism, or money-worship – I’d humbly argue that what should rush instead to occupy the space left by the departure of communal worship and belief in the divine is a genuine worship of the natural world.

We need to respect the water cycle that maintains all life; the ground which allows food to grow; the weather systems which rage in response to our careless treatment of it. These are our gods. Everything is in a delicate balance, but as Jung says, man is so one-sided in his greed.

A huaca (temple) in Trujillo, Peru, where the ancient Moche people worshipped rainbows, sun, and water 2,000 years ago. I visited and wrote about this place in 2015.

It isn’t enough to worry about any potential afterlife, or to talk about humanity’s salvation as though we are the only things worth saving. Contraception and abortion on demand aren’t just feminist and human rights issues, they’re a way of addressing overpopulation. It isn’t enough even to care for those in one’s immediate vicinity and to be kind to your neighbours. We are killing the planet through our lack of respect.

“We need more psychology. We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself.” — C. G. Jung, The Earth Has a Soul, p.174

We need to resurrect the idea that the elements, the plants and animals we share the planet with, are sacred – because if we don’t show them more care, we may not anger the gods into devastating retaliation, but we will ensure our own demise regardless. We literally cannot survive without the ecosystems we’re destroying.

“In spite of our proud domination of nature we are still her victims as much as ever and have not even learnt to control our own nature, which slowly and inevitably courts disaster. […] Our progressiveness, though it may result in a great many delighted wish-fulfilments, piles up an equally gigantic Promethean debt which has to be paid off from time to time in the form of hideous catastrophes.” — C. G. Jung, The Earth Has a Soul, p.122-123

Our planet, at least in its current form, will not survive what we are subjecting it to. The nightmarish vision of more plastic in the sea than fish is just one example. It somehow feels linked to the onward march towards greater reliance on technology, and the resultant narcissism that has us pay more attention to the projected versions of our lives than to our internal selves, and comes at the expense of investigating the drive of human men – for it is usually men – to dominate everything.

It seems there is not enough self-investigation going on. We need to think about how we relate to the planet as individuals, how we fit into the food chain, how this self-knowledge can contribute to helping the planet.

“In the alchemical view, Christianity has saved man but not nature. The alchemist’s dream was to save the world in its totality: the philosopher’s stone was conceived as the filius macrocosmi, which saves the world, whereas Christ was the filius microcosmi, the saviour of man alone. The ultimate aim of the alchemical opus is the apokatastasis, cosmic salvation.” — C. G. Jung, The Earth Has a Soul, p.87


A small list of things that have inspired me on this subject…

Watch 📹 How to Change the World (2015), a Netflix documentary about Greenpeace and the origins of the eco movement in 1960s USA. (Link)

📹 Mission Blue (2014) on Netflix is a really good documentary about the amazing oceanographer, diver, and conservationist Sylvia Earle, whose passion is saving the oceans from total destruction (Link). There’s also a great episode of On Being in which she talks more about her work. (Listen)

Listen 🎧 The Ezra Klein Show: Dr Melanie Joy on “Carnism” (2018) is one of the most clarifying and interesting podcasts I’ve ever heard on the intersecting issues of environmentalism, vegetarianism/veganism, and politics. (Listen)

🎧The Ezra Klein Show: Bruce Friedrich on how technology will reduce animal suffering (2016) is an older but still excellent episode featuring an interview with a former employee of PETA who is extremely convincing. (Listen)

“The negative relationship to the mother is always an affront to nature, unnatural. Hence distance from the earth, identification with the father, heaven, light, wind, spirit, Logos. Rejection of the earth, of what is below, dark, feminine.” — C. G. Jung, The Earth Has a Soul, p.88

🎧 Mothers of Invention (2018) is a brand-new podcast all about feminist solutions to the man-made problem of climate change and environmental damage. It’s a combination of two subjects close to my heart. (Listen)

🎧 Radiolab: Space (2010) is one of the most memorable episodes of my all-time favourite podcast, Radiolab. Considering how many podcasts I tune in to (22% of my waking hours are spent listening, according to my app), I think that says a lot. Learn more about Carl Sagan and gain a sense of the phenomenal size and delicacy of our universe. (Listen)

Read 📖 Carl Gustav Jung, The Earth Has a Soul: on Nature, Technology and Modern Life (2016). Despite writing in the 19th and 20th centuries, psychoanalyst Jung still has so much to say that is relevant to the way we live now. I especially love the sections on learning about our own nature through paying attention to our dreams, and his strong criticism of technology and machinery which has interrupted the flow of daily life.

📖 Will Storr, Selfie: How the West became self-obsessed (2017) is a highly accessible and very well-researched book about the origins of narcissism, how this is aggravated by our current technology and social media, and how it is contributing to worsening mental health in Western populations.


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