Friday, 4 November 2016

Soliphilia Solialgia

I agree with many others who saw the outpouring of 'Occupy' dissent as an expression of ethical or moral outrage. It was outrage at the now globalised loss of human and non-human potential in life. While poverty is relative to context, even in so-called rich countries, people are having their life potential severely restricted by gross exploitation, unemployment and under-employment. Elsewhere, some humans simply have their lives cut short by starvation, disease and circumstances beyond their control such as natural disasters and climate change.

People are now increasingly united in the view that the gross inequality of power, privilege and wealth in the world is primarily caused by monopoly ownership of natural and human resources that are ruthlessly exploited for exclusive private profit. The exploitation pushes natural and humans systems beyond their limits with resultant loss of planetary, ecosystem and human health.

I have tried to capture the new politics of solidarity needed to address this situation with the concept of ‘soliphilia’. I have defined soliphilia as: the love of and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet and the unity of interrelated interests within it.The soli is from solidarity with meanings connected to a union of interests, purposes, or sympathies among members of a group; fellowship of responsibilities and interests. The word has its origins in the French terms for ‘interdependent’, ‘in common’ and from the Latin solidus, with meanings connected to ‘solid’ and whole.

I believe that soliphilia encompasses much of the politico-emotional feeling that ‘Occupy’ represented. We want our communities back from the brink, we want the social in society to be meaningful and we want a shared experience of decision-making and common-wealth creation. We experience soliphilia when fully engaged with the politics of people and places that we love. ‘Occupy’ gave expression to a symbiotic politics of place and our motivation to defeat the forces that cause sickness, death, extinction and unwelcome change. Soliphilia goes beyond left-right politics and provides a universal language to help achieve genuine sustainability.

However, I have realised that we do not have a word in English to cover the sense of profound sadness and distress that many of us have for the chronic devaluing and diminution of solidarity, social symbiosis and community. The social fabric of our loved communities is disappearing as a lived experience similar to that of the gradual loss our loved biophysical environments. I have created the concept of ‘solastalgia’ to explain this lived experience of distress and loss of solace about negative change to loved home environments and it has now gained considerable acceptance in our understanding of ‘psychoterratic’ or earth related emotional and psychological responses.

I now propose ‘solialgia’ as the opposite of soliphilia and it has the same etymological origins except that the algia or pain replaces the philia or love. Solialgia is defined as the distress people feel when their loved home community begins to disappear with loss of community, neighbourhood, neighbours, solidarity and common interests. When there is distress about a lived experience of; social unity falling apart, community in retreat, eviction, homelessness, social pathology, the privatisation of common wealth, the retreat of democracy ... there is solialgia.

Be warned, however, as there will be those who wish to use solialgia to justify their racism, sexism and other prejudices. We have to ‘occupy’ soliphilia and solialgia and prevent their abuse by those who actually represent their antithesis.  As I have seen with the concept of solastalgia, this can be a difficult task.

The politics of place has an emotional and psychological landscape similar to that of the biophysical and I believe that soliphilia and solialgia cover two ends of an important spectrum but one that we have rarely ever spoken about ... now we can.

The Symbiocene

Entering The Symbiocene
I argue that the next era in human history should be called The Symbiocene (from the Greek sumbiosis, or companionship). I created this concept in 2011 as an almost instinctive reaction again the very idea of the Anthropocene (Albrecht 2011, Albrecht 2014). The scientific meaning of the word ‘symbiosis’ implies living together for mutual benefit and I wish to use this profoundly important concept as the basis for what I hope will be the next period of Earth history. As a core aspect of ecological and evolutionary thinking, symbiosis and its associated symbiogenesis, affirms the interconnectedness of life and all living things (Scofield and Margulis 2012).
As many thinkers have pointed out, such interconnection and interaction puts humans back into the community of life and resists the Hobbesian and Spencerian views of nature as essentially hostile and a competitive war of all against all. No doubt, conflict between organisms exists, but an overall balance of interests (eco-homeostasis) is in the total interest of all life. In addition, ecology itself is a radical concept in that it requires of us all to live within the limits of nature and to live with all the other life forms that share this home we call the Earth. In this contemporary historic moment of our appreciation of the threat of global warming, one the earliest thinkers to warn us of its dangers (in 1962), Murray Bookchin, summarised cogently what an ecological understanding of the world means and what it does to our understanding of our place within it:
The critical edge of ecology, a unique feature of the science in a period of general scientific docility, derives from its subject matter – from its very domain. The issues with which ecology deals are imperishable in the sense that they cannot be ignored without bringing into question the survival of man and the survival of the planet itself. The critical edge of ecology is due not so much to the power of human reason – a power which science hallowed during its most revolutionary periods – but to a still higher power, the sovereignty of nature … ecology clearly shows the totality of the natural world – nature viewed in all its aspects, cycles and interrelationships – cancels out human pretensions to mastery over the planet (Bookchin 1971:59)
As a scientific term, symbiosis has been used to give substance to the nature of the interactions between different organisms living in close physical association. For example, the relatively recent discovery of immense mutually beneficial associations of macrofungi with flowering plants in complex positive metabolic symbiotic relationship to each other in ecosystems all over the world has already overturned the dominance of the ‘Darwinian’ view of life as solely founded on competitive struggle between species (Scofield and Margulis 2012, Albrecht 2001).
We are now closer to understanding how ecosystem parameters can be guided by key players in the system to maximise benefits for the life-chances of whole species. In essence, there is a form of ‘natural justice’ that prevails. We now know that, for example, health in all forest ecosystems is regulated by what are called “mother trees” that control fungal networks that in turn interconnect trees of varying ages. The control system works to regulate nutrient flows to trees, such as to the very young, that need them most (Simard et al 2015). It also works to transfer information and energy from dying species to those that might continue to thrive, thus maintaining ‘the forest’ (see Fraser 2015). These crucially important insights have yet to be incorporated into ecological thinking applied to politics and human societies.
Given that forest ecosystems are foundational for most life on Earth, including humans, the so-called ‘wood-wide-web’ is now a prime example of natural justice and the attempt to maintain ‘balance’ or total homeostasis in nature where the early insights of Kropotkin in Mutual Aid (1902) find contemporary scientific validation. Cooperation and mutual aid can now be reinstated as an evolutionary foundation of life and crucial for all aspects of human enterprise. Kropotkin wrote:
In the practice of mutual aid, which can be traced to the earliest beginnings of evolution, we thus find the positive and undoubted origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the ethical progress of man, mutual support – not mutual struggle – has had the leading part (Kropotkin 1987:234).
Imagining The Symbiocene
Let us now try to imagine The Symbiocene and the politics of how it might function. The new era will be characterised by human intelligence that replicates the symbiotic and mutually reinforcing life-reproducing forms and processes found in living systems. Given that we have evolved as a species within the pre-existing evolutionary matrix, such intelligence lies within us as latent potential. The elements include, full recyclability of all inputs and outputs, the elimination of toxic waste in all aspects of human enterprise, safe and socially-just renewable energy and full and harmonious integration of human industry and technology with physical and living systems at all scales.
In The Symbiocene, human action, culture and enterprise will be exemplified by those cumulative types of relationships and attributes nurtured by humans that enhance mutual interdependence and mutual benefit for all living beings (desirable), all species (essential) and the health of all ecosystems (mandatory). Human development will consist of creative actions that use the very best of biomimicry together with other eco-industrial, eco-technological, eco-agricultural and eco-cultural innovation. Human psychology will be fully nurtured within The Symbiocene (Albrecht 2014).
However, beyond biomimicry we must also have symbiomimicry. Many simply think it is enough to copy the shapes and form of life, but they make no connection to life’s processes. We don’t just copy the form of life, we replicate in all types of human creativity, the processes of life that make the mutually beneficial associations between different life forms strong and healthy. Examples such as the ‘wood-wide-web’ suggest to me that organising resources and processes so that the young, weak and vulnerable get their fair share in order that the totality has the greatest chance of survival and flourishing is fundamental to life. Symbiomimicry in human enterprise will both generate and distribute resources such that, in nurturing all humans, we nurture the life support system on which we all depend.
The geological proof of the presence of The Symbiocene will be the observed gradual disappearance of The Anthropocene as the Earth is cleansed of its toxic legacy and the background rate of global extinction and evolution resumes. In what I hope will be a relatively short period of time (decades? hundreds of years?) there will be a point in human evolution when every element of human culture, habitat and technology will be able to be fully re-integrated back into life and its cycles and processes. From that point onward, within the youngest geological strata, there will hardly be a distinctively human presence left on this Earth. All that will be left to fossilise will be the bones and teeth of people who lived within The Symbiocene.
As we build The Symbiocene we shall also build a new political system I call Sumbiocracy (from the Greek sumbiosis, from sumbioun, to live together, from sumbios, living together). I define Sumbiocracy as rule determined by the type and totality of mutually beneficial or benign relationships in a given socio-biological system at all scales (mutualism).
The basic idea here is that if the processes that nurture ecosystems and biomes are identified, protected and conserved, species within such healthy ecosystems will also flourish. We therefore do not need to further democratise a failing ‘biased’ democracy with, say, a Deep Ecology ‘council of all beings’ approach where species’ interests are ‘represented’ in decision-making structures by well-meaning humans. Rather, we need to elect people to govern who understand and affirm life-supporting organic form, process and relationships such that they can deliberate on creative proposals from humans.
If, for example, an aspect of human development is known to have a long-term toxic impact on a basic life process such as metabolism, then it simply cannot be permitted to take place or if it is already being undertaken, it must be urgently phased out of existence (e.g., lead in petrol, asbestos in building supplies, phalates in plastic).
In contrast to democracy which is by definition, anthropocentric and capable only of partial answers to human-biased questions, Sumbiocracy requires those who govern (Sumbiocrats) to have a thorough understanding of total ecosystems and the symbiotic interrelationships that enable them to function. In order to ‘live together’ humans must exercise their intelligence and power to achieve overall harmony in a community of interests. Within a Sumbiocracy, Earth Rulers must ponder what kind of mutualistic development is permissible to enable living together via the answers to the following questions:
  • Is there full recyclability of all inputs and outputs?
  • Are we using safe and socially just forms of renewable energy?
  • Do we have full and harmonious integration with biogeochemical systems at all scales?
  • Have we achieved the elimination of toxic waste in all aspects of this enterprise?
  • Are all species, great and small, having their interests taken into account?
  • Do we have a harmony or balance of interests?
Governance by scientifically and traditionally informed humans (including citizen science) at all places and all scales determines the interconnections between elements of complex systems before they commit to action that impacts system health. We must remember that place is critical to effective sumbiocracy as only those with close and intimate ties to particular places are in a position to know their place and make decisions about its health and vitality.
Sumbiocracy is a form of government where humans govern for all the reciprocal relationships of the Earth at all scales from local to global. Organic form (all biodiversity including humans) and organic process (Earth systems) are present in this new form of government. Sumbiocracy is rule for the Earth – by the Earth, so that we might all live together.
We now have a very sophisticated understanding of how the natural world works and, as it was here and functioning before humans evolved as Homo sapiens sapiens, it is we that must fit in with its process and functioning. To understand the conditions of life but to deliberately destroy them by toxic overload, changing the climate for the worse, making formerly healthy ecosystems unfit for life, destroying ecosystems and extirpating species (the 6th Great Extinction), we demonstrate that we are not only Homo non-sapiens, but also some kind of pathological plague on all species on this Earth. We are better than that.