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The Voice of the Earth

An Exploration of Ecopsychology

by Theodore Roszak

376 pages, paperback, Phanes Press, 2002

In The Voice of the Earth, Theodore Roszak develops the concept of ecopsychology, the relationships between the individual and the earth. Drawing on science, psychiatry, poetry and politics, Roszak offers new ways of seeing the connections between ourselves and our world.

Praise for The Voice of the Earth

"A bold work, nothing less than a psychoanalysis of civilization. . . . Roszak is trying to do for our relationship with the earth what Freud did for our relationships with each other." -- Lester R. Brown

"The Voice of the Earth is one of the very few serious books about the ecological crisis that leaves the reader with a sense of direction rather than despair." -- San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

"Because it's thorough, because it's right, and because it speaks the ideals of a passionate heart, Roszak's book lays a groundwork for the theory and practice of psychotherapy for the coming century." -- James Hillman

"The Voice of the Earth has given clear expression to one of humanity's deepest longings: a conscious sense of affection for the earth and a better sense of relatedness with all that is."--Noel J. Brown

"This book is of the greatest importance to all of us who know our world and love it."--Rollo May

Quotes from The Voice of the Earth

"Let us think of the psyche as a self-regulating system that deals in emotions, passions, aspirations the way the living cell deals in proteins and energy transfers. The environment that the psyche must confront in its task of adjustment is the culture that psyches before it (those of the parents and ancestors) have created as a 'second nature.' Accordingly, the psyche strives to cope with the stresses and stains this cultural environment imposes upon it. Even when the demands are severely out of balance with the needs of its own internal biological economy, it struggles to conform, if need be by way of crazy distortion. At last, having gone as far as it can to accommodate the pressures, it asserts its desperate need for healthy balance.

"What the modern cultural environment has required of us is an enormous extroversion of attention and energy for the purpose of reshaping the Earth into a global industrial economy. For two centuries we have been subordinating the planet and our deepest personal needs to that project. This great act of collective alienation, I have suggested, lies at the root of both the environmental crisis and individual neurosis. In some way, at some point, a change of direction, a therapeutic turning inward, had to take place within a culture as maniacally driven as ours has been by the need to achieve and conquer."

. . .

"Standard economics is right, however, when it reminds us that a flourishing supply implies an expanding demand. The Third World would not be producing frivolous junk if the First World did not provide so gleeful a market for it. The fact raises another, deeper issue. Ask anybody on the street if they really need a neon telephone; what answer would you expect to receive? Most likely a unanimous 'not at all.' But ask again after they have seen a neon telephone or two, and they might-- some of them--sheepishly confess that, while they don't actually need such a item, it just might be 'fun' to own one. 'Fun' covers a great deal of economic territory in affluent societies. It sells a lot of merchandise. Fun movies, fun clothes, fun cosmetics, fun food . . . why not fun telephones? Fun--meaning impulse buying relished as much for the impulse as for the buying--delivers a sense of well-being, a small touch of luxury. It makes shopping one of the staple entertainments of our time. Always another cute little novelty, another quirky gizmo, another fad or fashion to bring home and talk about."

"Lester R. Brown of the Worldwatch Institute has defined the goal of the environmental movement as sustainability, by which he means 'the capacity to satisfy current needs without jeopardizing the prospects of future generations.' But who is to define 'current needs'? At the level of physical needs, nutritionists and medical doctors can specify the criteria of health with some assurance. But at a certain point, economics borders on psychology, and there the objective criteria are much less clear."

. . .

"For Kropotkin, the factor of innate conscience makes human community a great deal more than an agglomeration of people held together by a social contract. It is a biologically deep and intricate system. In contrast to the totalitarian regimentation that treats the populace as so many subordinate cellular units of the body politics, Kropotkin would have a society of autonomous persons, each linked to each by ethical caring. Nothing more is needed, no police force, no bureaucratic apparatus. But of course we have policy and bureaucracy; we have had them for a very long time. Why? What is the need if there is an ethical unconscious that provides a reliable social bond? Anarchists have never produced a good answer to the question; they are no better at explaining the origin of evil than anybody else. But it is nonetheless clear that if an ethical unconscious did not exist, no amount of police force or bureaucracy could hod any society together. We form ourselves spontaneously into family, clan, band, tribe, guild, village, town. This is social ecology in action. The anarchist asks: how far can this instinctual sociability be used to solve the social evils that beset us?

"Freud, dealing with the psychic casualties of bourgeois industrial Europe, could find nothing in nature with which to connect the psyche but vindictive selfishness--and beyond that the alien void of a dead universe. Kropotkin, dealing with healthy animals in the wild and ruggedly independent peasant folk, asserted an ethical unconscious derived from biological symbiosis. Goodman, in his turn drawing on the same fine faith in human nature to create his neolithic conservatism, broadened the analysis. He was among the first to connect decentralism and healthy ecology with the Taoist tradition. In the Tao, at least as he understood it, he found the principle of organic self-regulation whether of the body, the community, or the environment. The homely mysticism of Lao Tze, the Chinese peasant sage, became the basis of Goodman's Gestalt psychology, a significant departure from Freudian orthodoxy that involved trusting the body, the senses, and the natural environment to solve their problems in their own spontaneous way."

. . .

"Neolithic conservatism is among the most important tributaries flowing into contemporary environmental politics. It is the basis of "Deep Ecology," the mystical--religious-- feminist wing of environmentalism. The Deep Ecologists remind us of the unsettling fact that may of the cultures that white Western Europeans have for so long been pleased to dismiss as backward and deservedly defunct possessed one quality that may yet elude us: Survival . . . at least up to the point at which we rendered them extinct. Gary Snyder's 'Great Subculture' lasted the better part of ten millennia an may at times--as among the Pacific Northwest tribes and still today the Bushman-Hottentots--have achieved a comfortable, if modest standard of living with much leisure left over for cultural creativity. The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, writing on 'Stone Age economics,' even suggests that the hunters and gatherers might be regarded as 'the original affluent society.'

The world's most primitive people have few possessions, but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilization."

Table of Contents of The Voice of the Earth

  1. "Please, Sir, May I Have Some More?"
  2. Modern Psychology in Search of Its Soul
  3. Stone Age Psychiatry: A Speculative Reconstruction
  4. Mind in the Cosmos: Agnosticism and the Anthropic Principle
  5. Anima Mundi: The Search for Gaia
  6. Where God Used to Be: Deep Systems and the New Deism
  7. The Human Frontier: The Meaning of Omega
  8. City Pox and the Patriarchal Ego
  9. The Neon Telephone: The Moral Equivalent of Wretched Excess
  10. Narcissism Revisited
  11. Toward an Ecological Ego
  12. Attending the Planet

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