In Ancestral trauma, Part II – separation from nature/nurture I wrote how climate change around 6,000 years ago turned much of the Sahara, Arabia and Central Asia from grasslands into deserts, a monumental shift documented by geographer James DeMeo in Saharasia.
As Steve Taylor writes in The Fall, “The main event in human history is a sudden, massive regression—a dramatic shift from harmony to chaos, from peace to war, from life-affirmation to gloom, or from sanity to madness.”
The impact of this shift—what we today call eco-anxiety—was immense. People who once lived in close connection with nature felt shocked and betrayed as once-fertile land dried up, and food and water sources vanished.
As has been seen in recent examples such as the East African droughts of the 1970s and 80s, eco-anxiety impacts humans in very specific ways, as DeMeo describes:
“A passive indifference to the needs or pain of others manifested itself, and hunger, feeding of the self, became their all consuming passion… The very old and young were abandoned to die. Brothers stole food from sisters, and husbands left wives and babies to fend for themselves. While the maternal-infant bond endured the longest, eventually mothers abandoned their weakened infants and children… [Famine produces] a general intolerance and anxious aggressivity towards the basic biological expressions of… touching and body contact…”
In Ancestral trauma, Part II I wrote:
“From being something that was revered, nature became distrusted. The same separation that occurred at the macro level between nature and man repeated at the micro level between mothers and infants—to an infant, its mother is nature.”
These macro and micro separations—the nature-human bond and the mother-child bond—fractured at both the physical and metaphysical levels, giving rise to four fragments.
These macro and micro separations—the nature-human bond and the mother-child bond—fractured at both the physical and metaphysical levels, giving rise to four aspects—or, more accurately, four fragments:
|Physical||Loss of respect for nature||Loss of the breast|
|Metaphysical||Loss of sense of nature as divine||Loss of mother love|
On the physical level, the need to fight for food sources broke humanity’s respect for nature—plant, animal and human alike—and the need to steward the planet. Anything and anyone could be killed, destroyed or consumed in the pursuit of survival—later, the pursuit of wealth—regardless of long-term consequences.
This is the basis of the environmental destruction we’re dealing with today.
On the metaphysical level, this manifested in the overthrow of peaceful fertility goddesses by male war gods who legitimised slaughter and conquest for survival and accumulation. Nature itself was no longer revered as sacred; divinity became an entirely abstract concept.
Astrophysicist Hubert Reeves links these two fragments when he writes: “Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature, unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshipping.”
On the physical level, this manifested in early weaning practices that created angry male children who grew into men with an insatiable appetite for violence and sexual violence. It manifested in masculine control, suppression and persecution of everything feminine, emotional or sexual.
This is the basis of modern society’s sense of shame, awkwardness and difficulty around basic biological functions (breastfeeding, elimination, sex).
On the metaphysical level, this manifested in the weakening or breaking of the mother-child bond (the ‘mother wound’), which causes a rage against the mother for her emotional unavailability—which the child in turn replicates by becoming emotionally detached and unavailable.
This is the basis of the increasing anxiety and emotional meltdowns we’re coping with today.
This fourfold fragmentation created the psychological basis for patriarchy and for the thoughtless exploitation of the earth’s resources for profit. What we call ‘civilization’ is based on these four, deeply damaged aspects of our collective psyche:
- A civilization of rampant, heedless environmental destruction for the senseless accumulation of profit
- A civilization that does not revere the environment it depends on for its survival
- A civilization disconnected from the feminine values of community, co-operation, wellbeing and wisdom
- An emotionally immature civilization reluctant to take responsibility for healing itself and its planet
In 1899, social theorist Edward Carpenter wrote a book called Civilization: its cause and cure, in which he argued that civilization was a disease that no society had ever survived. Our society is the last in line. We will either prove Carpenter wrong, or there will be no further societies to make the attempt.
Bad news/good news
Now, as we once again face a period of climate change and eco-anxiety, it’s important to realise that our problems—and our traditional inability to solve them—stem from climate change and eco-anxiety that happened some thousands of years ago.
The bad news is we’re still carrying that damage in our genes. The good news is that, by looking at our emotional history, we can predict how it will affect us and develop strategies to offset that.
To prove Carpenter wrong, we must reunite the four fragments of eco-anxiety. We must not only save the environment but also eliminate the genetic programming that gave rise to the current crisis.