By Charles Eisenstein
Oct 3, 2015
From the anthology Ecosexuality: When Nature Inspires the Arts of Love
I hesitate to start an essay with definitions as if I could compel you with force of logic to accept conclusions that follow irrefutably from premises. Nor would that be very sexy: an imposition rather than a seduction. Defining terms contributes to the delusion that our disagreements arise from imprecise language, when actually our precision might exclude the erotic heart of the issue: the inchoate, the qualitative, the mysterious. Especially when we are talking about sex, any definition seems to make it less than what it is.
Nonetheless: What is sex?
The release of normal boundaries to share ones self with another.
A temporary merger of individuals into ecstatic union.
Sharing of the essence of self, each acquiring some of the other, and creating a third thing.
The physical enactment of the urge toward union.
A mutual, intimate relationship of giving and receiving.
Ecosexuality is a philosophy that maps something of these definitions onto the human relationship with (the rest of) nature. Let’s play with some of them, starting with the intimate relationship of giving and receiving.
For a moment, enter into the mythic mind that sees the cosmos as alive and intelligent on every level. In that frame, it is obvious that the earth wants to give to humanity. I say this with no small trepidation, knowing the damage that religious teachings of entitlement to Earth’s “resources” have done, and knowing as well the equivalent entitlement that science has assumed in viewing the material world as lacking any inherent intelligence, purpose, or sentience: as a bunch of stuff to be used instrumentally for our own ends. I am drawing from a different well: the primal gratitude of hunter-gatherers in awe of the bounty of nature, which they saw as a gift. How could it be otherwise? We did not earn the soil. We did not earn the water. We did not earn the sun, the air, the trees. Their workings and origins are utterly mysterious. We did not earn them, make them, or design them, so they must have come to us as a gift.
The problem today isn’t just that we take nature “for granted.” A grant after all is a kind of a gift. The problem is that we don’t see it as a gift, but as something just there. The natural response to receiving a gift is gratitude, which awakens the desire to give in turn. As Lewis Hyde puts it, gifts work as agents of transformation, and gratitude is “the labor the soul undertakes to effect the transformation after the gift has been received… until the gift has truly ripened inside of us and can be passed along.”i
While “primitive” cultures may indeed have sought to give return gifts to the earth, we have quite nearly forgotten to do so. Our ideology blinds us: how can a purposeless ball of stuff, an impersonal melee of forces and particles, “give” anything? The rational person at best embraces the idea of a living, giving planet as a poetic metaphor, but not as a fundamental truth.
Yet the apparent givingness of the earth is hard to ignore. It once extended even to the requisites for industry. Think of the “gushers” in the early days of oil exploration. It was as if the ground were bursting with the desire to pour forth the gift of oil. The raw materials for industry were easily obtained. How different from the violently extractive mining and drilling operations of today: blasting away entire mountaintops to get the coal, forcing huge blasts of water deep underground to break the shale and get the gas, pumping enormous volumes of seawater underground to get the oil. It seems the earth is not giving her gifts so freely anymore. She is being forced, coerced, raped, tortured.
Of course, a traditional rational materialist would say that these verbs cannot apply at all to something without sentience; they are metaphorical projections of human feelings onto inanimate matter. Earth cannot suffer, they would say, any more than a brick or rock could, because it lacks a central nervous system. Putting ourselves atop a hierarchy of being that values the welfare of humans first, animals next, and trees, rocks, soil, and water not at all, they would conclude that nature doesn’t matter outside its use to us humans. The environmentalist argument that we must stop climate change or we will all perish buys in to that logic, neglecting to affirm the value of Earth in and of itself. It is all about ourselves. No wonder we have been raping the planet instead of making love to it.
The lover does not say, “I care about you because without you, who would do my laundry?” Love is for who the beloved is, in and of themselves. To have a beloved then, one must see their “is-ness.” Our ideology has blinded us to the beingness of the planet and to most of what lives in it and on it. To love Earth, we must see it as a subject not an object. Objectification of women, some say, is a key prerequisite for rape. The same must be true of the planet.
What would it be to cease objectifying the earth? We would have to see it no longer as an object, but as a subject, an “I.” Perhaps it is less of a stretch today, thirty years after the Gaia theory was developed, to believe that Earth is a living being (and not just “like” a living being as James Lovelock says).ii It is another thing entirely to invest the planet with the full regalia of subjectivity: sentience, intelligence, consciousness, purpose, and an inner life. Even more audacious would it be to ascribe these qualities not just to the planet, but to the cosmos too and everything in it down to the smallest atom. Yet most human beings who ever lived, whom we call primitive, would have affirmed this without question. Today, we are happy to entertain such ideas as pretty poetic fancies, but any earnest proposal that matter bears intelligence is dismissed as arrant fantasy or pseudo-science. What do theories alleging the authenticity of morphic fields, water memory, UFOs, human-plant communication, psi abilities, and of crop circles have in common? All of them imply that humans are not the sole repositories of intelligent purpose. They call into question man’s status as the Cartesian lords and possessors of nature. Could this, and not any deficiency of evidence, be the reason why such phenomena are excluded from scientific orthodoxy?
We can no more love what we see as a purposeless, random agglomeration of generic particles than we can love an objectified person. The transition into the ecosexual age therefore involves a revivification of matter, a resacralization, a restoration of nature’s status as a coequal subject. To do so has long seemed to contradict the basic teachings of science, which seeks to identify invariant, impersonal laws of nature according to which all matter behaves. Those who couldn’t reconcile those laws with their sense of a purposive, living universe had no choice but to relegate those properties to a non-material realm called “spirit.” Sadly, in so doing they were complicit in the desacralization of matter.
Surrender to dead materialism, or abandon materiality for an otherworldly realm of spirit? Today we have a way out of this dilemma, as the Newtonian universe of deterministic forces operating on generic masses against an objective backdrop falls apart, opening the door to a material world that has the properties once relegated to the spiritual. I speak not only of the accumulation of paradigm-breaking observations mentioned above, but also to the fundamental crisis at the heart of physics, nearly ninety years old now but just as relevant today as ever. Just as physics approached its Shangri-La of reducing all phenomena to few deterministic forces operating on a handful of subatomic particles, it foundered on the totally unforeseen and unmovable rock of quantum indeterminacy. Knowing the totality of forces acting on an electron or any other particle, we cannot predict its behavior except probabilistically. One goes here, the next goes there – why? The scientist, trying to preserve matter-as-object, says, “It is random.” The pantheist says, “Because each electron makes its own choice.” She says, in effect, “All the world is a subject, just like I am.” Herein lies the crucial difference in perception underlying any falling in love with the material world.
On some level we all have the perception of a living universe; it is innate to us. That is why we still fall in love with the world, despite the overlay of received beliefs that obscure its subjective beingness, and systems of social control that bewitch or frighten us into ignoring it. Society as we know it could not function if very many people lived in the ongoing realization of the subjectivity of all beings, because this realization entails a respect and reverence for all life that is flagrantly incompatible with our political, economic, and social systems. It is incompatible with prisons, with mines, with road-building, with borders, with military strikes, with the whole military-medical-educational-prison-political-industrial complex. From the perspective of reverence for all beings, the whole of modern civilization is intolerable.
The crisis in the physics of world-as-object that began with quantum mechanics has escalated and spread throughout the sciences. For example, the study of complex systems reveals that structure, organization, and even beauty need not originate with a designer, organizer, or artist, but are autochthonous properties of non-linear dynamic systems. This is true not just in physics but even in mathematics: go look at a Mandelbrot Set zoom video and gasp in awe as you realize that no artist conceived its infinite, gorgeous complexity, its order within order within order. All of it is merely revealed by calculation. Reality is just like that. Or we might say, sacredness does not come from the outside. It is inherent in matter. It is as the “primitives” knew: The universe is intelligent through and through.iii
A further scientific reflection of the ecosexual awakening can be seen in biology, in which the self-other distinction supposedly demarcated by genetic boundaries is succumbing to observations of widespread gene sharing, endosymbiosis, and biological genetic engineering. Though these phenomena have gained increasing acceptance in recent years after decades of languishing in the margins, their full ramifications have yet to be appreciated because what they are telling us is very radical: the living world does not consist of discrete, separate, competing selves. Not only do prokaryotes (bacteria) exchange DNA with each other all the time (in a kind of non-reproductive, but self-altering, sexual intercourse) but plants and animals, including human beings, are part of this genetic sharing as well through the medium of viruses, whose DNA can be taken up by their hosts.iv According to the founder of endosymbiotic theory, Lynn Margulis, this is the main source of genetic novelty and the engine of macroevolution.v Finally, far from being inviolable kernels of self, genes are more the tools than the masters of organisms, which turn them on and off or even cut, graft, and shuffle them to meet their needs.vi In other words, the environment is not a separate container for the genetic self; each is part of the other. Yes, there is a boundary, but it is a fluid, permeable boundary, and the self is the product of the relationship. Normally, we make the self primary, and see relationships as links between separate selves. In the ecosexual view though, perhaps it is more as Deleuze would have it: the difference, the relationship, is what generates being. We are not beings having relationships; we are nexi in a matrix of relationships. As much as we form relationships, relationships form us.
Like it or not, resist it or not, we are already ecosexual and even cosmosexual beings. We are in life, and life is in us. We are in the universe, and the universe is in us. Sex, maybe, is the ecstatic experience of that truth, the temporary release of those ever-shifting, already-fluid, permeable boundaries between self and other.
Whatever scientific and philosophical awakening might be happening, our civilization is certainly not living accordingly in its practical relationship to the planet. Built on old paradigms, our economy and technology embody and enforce earth-as-object. Immersed in this society, we individuals are nearly helpless in our complicity with the world-destroying machine.
On a practical personal and collective level, then, how do we make love to nature? Our genital organs are useful only for making love to that small but important piece of nature that takes human form. What does ecosexuality mean practically, for technology, economy, politics, and human relationships? Are we merely to walk through the same lives looking out through new eyes? No. Ecosexuality is not just a philosophy; it is a way of relating. , In the realm of technology, for example, ecosexuality entails a metamorphosis of present technological power relationships with the earth into a new, cocreative mode of technology.
In a relationship, the narcissist asks, “How can I mine this relationship for my own benefit?” The lover asks, “How can I use my gifts to contribute to us.” Exploitative technology asks, “How can we extract as much as possible from the land, for our own ends?” Ecosexual technology asks, “How can we create greater wealth and harmony for people and land both?” Or, since the land wants to give, we might ask, “What is the dream of the land?” and on a planetary level, “What is the dream of Earth?”
Consider a second practical example: economics. Today it is possible, even usual, to profit from activities that pollute the biosphere and harm other beings. An economy in love with Earth would not allow that: perhaps taxation would shift onto pollution and resource extraction, so that the best business decision would be identical to the best ecological decision. Rather than sacrificing the bottom line to implement zero-waste manufacturing, the company that succeeded in doing so would enhance the bottom line.
This approach, akin to the valuing of ecosystem services, has its limits: some things are beyond price. Therefore another realm to bring into alignment with love of the planet is law: rights of nature and the criminalization of ecocide to translate reverence for nature into practical social systems. Both of these ideasarise from the imperative that our species grow up and stop acting like little children, that we take responsibility as full members of the planetary ecosystem.
If we have not received Earth’s gifts with gratitude, if we have become so used to them that we keep taking more, obliviously, perhaps we might excuse ourselves by saying that we didn’t know any better. There is a kind of innocence about the belief that Earth has no limit to what she can give. It is the innocence of a child, taking from its mother. It is not up to the child to set limits on what she receives from the parent; it is up to the parent to set them, so that the child can eventually internalize them.
It might seem that Earth has been an over-indulgent parent, giving and giving past its capacity and letting its youngest child trample all over it, to the point where its own survival is in doubt. On the other hand, perhaps Earth is wiser than we know, and this is the normal maturation process for an intelligent species such as ours. Either way, it is clear that we are finally hitting some limits. Our childlike innocence is coming, painfully, to an end, as we face the consequences of our despoliation of the earth and the necessity of no longer taking at will.
The ecosexual awakening is a direct response to hitting these limits, the waning age of abundance and the ending of our civilization’s childlike relationship to the Earth. . We face the necessity of treating Earth not as a mother – a boundless provider of all we need and want – but as a lover, with whom we give and receive in equal measure. Well, maybe not “equal” – how could we ever give to the planet as much as we receive from it? What is important is that our society always consider Earth’s well-being in its choices, that our giving and receiving are in balance. And the prerequisite for this is to see the subjectivity of the planet, which industrial civilization is awakening to just as it dawns on a child that other people have feelings too; that they are “selves” just as I am.
To treat Earth as a lover rather than a mother requires that our species transition into adulthood. The very fact that we are, as a civilization, falling in love with the planet indicates that this transition is nigh. Falling in love is a major landmark in the life of an adolescent; it is a new kind of love relationship in which one desires to give something to one’s sweetheart and maybe, in time, to create something together, like a family. (Of course, it is also a very ancient relationship. When I speak of “we” here, I am referring to civilization, and especially industrial civilization.)
The rise of the environmental movement marked industrial civilization’s falling in love with Earth. Of course there were environmentalists before the 1960s, but they called themselves “conservationists,” still viewing nature as something subordinate to man. It wasn’t until the 1960s, with books like Silent Spring, that the environmental movement erupted into mass consciousness, and it was a movement of love. Rachel Carson’s description of the thinning of raptor eggshells didn’t incite fear in the reader, but grief. It wasn’t, “What will happen to us if those birds die?” It appealed most strongly to love, and awakened it in millions.
Further catalyzing the ecosexual awakening were the first photographs of Earth taken from outer space. First appearing in 1972, they pierced our hearts with our planet’s breathtaking beauty and seeming fragility. For many it was the first time they’d seen the planet without borders drawn on it. An even more profound consequence of these photos is that they compelled us to relate to Earth as a distinct, integral being; before then, it had always environed us, contained us. Having never seen it from the outside, it could not be an object of the lover’s love. For us to relate to Earth as lover we needed an external vantage point from which the planet could become the object of adoration.
Significantly, this moment came at and through the furthest extreme of separation from nature human beings had ever contrived: encapsulation in a metal shell a hundred thousand miles away in outer space. With space travel, it would seem, the conquest of nature was complete, humanity had ascended finally into the non-earthly realm: the first step, it was believed, into a future of space colonies, artificial worlds, and the ultimate replacement of every gift of nature with synthetic substitutes, even synthetic bodies. Ironically, the age of space travel launched something of the opposite, quickening our realization of – not our independence – but our total dependency on the planet; not of a destiny of separation from nature, but our need to reintegrate with it; not of our right to dominate the earth, but our sacred duty to love and protect it. A beautiful moment it was indeed in humanity’s coming of age.
Another hallmark of the adolescent passage into adulthood is the coming-of-age ordeal. Human beings instinctively understand its necessity, which is why these ordeals are common in societies that do not suppress such instincts. Employing physical isolation, visionary plants, fasting, intense pain, and other methods, the ordeal is designed to rupture the child’s identity and unconscious beliefs, so that he or she might step into a larger identity as a full member of the tribe. Lacking such ceremonies (or left with mere vestiges like Bar Mitzvahs and baptisms, which might have originated in simulated drowning to induce ego death), young people haphazardly create their own hazing rituals, seek to “obliterate” themselves with alcohol and drugs, and challenge the boundaries of the world with senselessly risky behavior. Whether or not such efforts are successful, eventually life itself will provide us the necessary ordeal; until it happens we do not feel like true adults, but only like children playing grown-up, well into our twenties or even our thirties. The more insulated we are from life’s most shattering experiences, the longer this period lasts, which is perhaps why it seems to last longer in the affluent. Until it is complete, mature love is impossible.
Today, humanity (by which I mean the dominant civilization) is collectively undergoing just such an ordeal, a breakdown in our systems of meaning and collective identity. We used to know who we were: the lords and possessors of nature, ascending one technology after another toward independence from nature. Today, as technology fails to live up to its promise to bring us to Utopia, as the story that robotics will bring an age of leisure, that medicine will conquer disease, that social engineering will eliminate poverty and crime, that political science will eliminate war and injustice, that technology in general will make the world a healthier, more beautiful place and that the science of life will make us into happier and happier people falls apart around us, as our most cherished certitudes about humanity’s progress are revealed as nothing but ideology, we don’t know what to believe anymore, what to trust, or who we are.
On a personal and social level, the crumbling of the outward expression of the old stories is painful: the crumbling of institutions like marriage, education, justice, health care, and money. Beyond the privation this ordeal brings, there is also a bewilderment, an existential crisis. It is a pregnant space to be in, a sacred space. On the personal level, it might be the time after a relationship has ended, and not just a relationship but a whole kind of relationship. It might be when you lose your job and not just a job, but the hope of ever getting that kind of job or as “good” a job again. It could happen via a health crisis, and not just an illness but one that the doctors cannot fix and may even deny exists. Whatever it is, it is when normal is gone and isn’t coming back. For a time we might hope it will come back or pretend it will come back, just as our elites lead us in pretending that the heady days of high economic growth are coming back, or the days of cheap and carefree fossil fuels, but sooner or later we surrender.
It is from this empty space, this sacred “space between stories,” that a new identity is born. This kind of transition happens many times in life, not just upon the first entry into adulthood.,Adulthood is not a uniform condition but comprises many stages of being, each of which involve a shift of identity and a breakthrough into a larger self. Humanity, though, is a young species, taking its first step into adulthood.
In the space between stories, we don’t know how to navigate. The ways in which we once related to the world are no longer sufficient to the challenges we face, whether as individuals or as a species. Eventually, a new story is born to guide us, to provide meaning again, to give us a narrative structure that tells us who we are, where we are going, what is important, what is right, and how the world works. The new story follows and reinforces a new state of being.
Could the story of Lover Earth be that new story for civilization? Returned from our journey of separation, we rejoin the tribe – the tribe of all life on Earth, the tribe of the living planet – and seek to contribute to the wellbeing of all. Initially, this contribution might be primarily to heal the damage wrought over the past centuries: to reverse climate change, rebuild the soil, heal the waters, green the deserts, and restore the forests. These are surely the first projects of the divine marriage between nature and a newly initiated humanity. Individuals who have already had an ecosexual awakening are creating the template for that marriage already.
The Ends and Means of Ecosexuality
Having explored what ecosexuality is in relation to nature, we might also turn it back upon ourselves and ask what it means to bring an ecosexual consciousness into human relationships, and in particular into environmental activism.
Ecosexuality appeals, like Rachel Carson did, to love not shame. It does not attempt to force us into acts that simulate what someone who loves this earth might do. Leveraging shame, guilt, fear, and self-interest to induce politicians, corporations, or anyone else to adopt environmentally friendly policies is tantamount to an attempt to turn the rape of the earth back onto its perpetrators. Maybe rape is too strong a word, but to try to force love, or at least the motions of love, is certainly on the rape spectrum.
To force simulated love, you might say, “Adopt sustainable practices and you will get PR benefits that help the bottom line.” You might say, “Stop driving that SUV or you will be partly to blame for the warming of the atmosphere.” You might imply that whoever “goes vegan” has reason to love and approve of themselves as a good person. Not only are these tactics coercive, they are also ineffective in the long run. The long-term result of environmentalist guilting and shaming is either (1) that their targets get defensive, harden their positions, and dismiss the very real dangers that environmentalists describe as the sanctimonious ravings of alarmists with an “agenda,” or (2) that their targets adopt enough green practices to let themselves off the hook, and do nothing more because, after all, “I recycle and I voted for Obama.” When we wield shame as a weapon to coerce change, the result will be people trying to find ways to approve of themselves and alleviate the shame. This, and not genuine love of Earth, will be their primary motive.
What does the ecosexual do instead, to spread love of Earth around the world? She seduces. She makes an eco-erotic offering that cannot be refused. She displays the beauty of the planet and its creatures and appeals to the biophilia that lives within all of us ecosexual beings. Approaching the polluter CEO or politician or sports hunter, she knows, “The same love of Earth that I feel lives within you as well.” Knowing that, she seeks to liberate it so that all may join in the love-in.
After all, how did you yourself become an environmentalist? Was it because of the financial advantages of medicines that might be obtained from the rainforests? Was it because of fear of the economic losses due to climate change? Or was it, perhaps, through beauty and grief? If we want to create more environmentalists, this is the language we must speak, a language of love, not of hate. We will not be frightened into sustainability. Fear changes nothing very deep; it is still all about me (us). A real change would be a change in perception, a change in relation; a real change would be to fall in love with Earth and everything on it.
Much of the political discourse around climate change and the environment puts the blame on the greed, rapacity, and turpitude of the corporations and their allies, and activism becomes a campaign to arouse indignation and hate. But honestly: is it really that the CEOs, politicians, and PR flacks are bad people? Or could it be that they are enacting the roles given them by a system and a mythology, and that you too, in their circumstances, would do much as they do?vii
When I read a story about, say, Monsanto lobbying the EU to make seed saving illegal, I feel an upwelling of hatred and judgment, accompanied by mental caricatures of heartless executives seeking, like the bad guy in a James Bond movie, to dominate and destroy. Significantly, in most Bond movies and in action movies generally, the master villain has to be portrayed as deranged. Only then can the good-versus-evil trope operate – a real human being is complicated, believing himself to be doing good even as he does evil, justified by some story however self-serving or nonsensical it may seem from the outside. The villain must be made into someone “different from me” in order to open the floodgates of hate and generate the emotional payoff of self-righteousness.
Beneath that upwelling of hate and judgment is pain. Next time you feel outraged and appalled at some incomprehensible evil-doer, feel into the quality of the pain underneath it. For me, it is a feeling of helplessness, of being crushed by enormous, implacable powers; it is a feeling of alienation from the whole universe. It is a kind of loneliness, signaling an need to connect, to unite.
Marshal Rosenberg has said, “A judgment is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”viii Writhing in the pain of separation, we project it onto the Other, perpetrating the same alienation we feel within in a forlorn and tragic attempt to escape it. And so the cycle goes: a “war on evil” that never ends. How can we transcend it? To fight our judcgmentality and separation with self-judgment and self-rejection is just more of the same. It is the same mentality that fights weeds with pesticides and then the resulting super-weeds with super-pesticides in an endless, life-consuming war of control, when maybe the weeds are a symptom: of depleted soil, of monoculture, etc. We too have grown in depleted cultural soil: depleted of the deep nourishment of connection to the land and life and people and stories around us. As well, we are cast into a monoculture, a world where matter is standardized into commodities and relationships standardized into transactions, laws, job descriptions, grades, and bureaucratic categories. Alienated in a million ways from the livingness, sentience, and sacredness of all beings – alienated, that is, from the qualities of self that unite us with other – of course we hurt and rage, all against something so ubiquitous we cannot know what it is or distinguish it from life itself. We can heal that alienation by making love: by enacting all the ways and means of experiencing the other as self.
The lovemaking that ecosexuality encompasses is personal and interpersonal, and it is also political, economic, and global. To reclaim gift from money, to reclaim matter from commodity, to reclaim eros from patriarchy, to reclaim justice from punishment, to reclaim childhood from schooling, to reclaim nature from “resources” – all are expressions of ecosexuality. Here are some concrete examples:
– Restorative justice processes that bring perpetrator and victim together to listen to each other, see each other’s humanity, and open the possibility of forgiveness and voluntary amends-making.
– Permaculture practices that start with a long acquaintance with the land in order to understand the needs and gifts that are natural to it and the human communities around it.
– Economic policies like universal basic income that trust people’s inborn desire to work, create, and contribute to something larger than themselves.
– Consensus-based political structures that value the perspective of outlier individuals.
– Nonviolent activist tactics that are an offering to authority to respond in a non-ordinary way (e.g. that see the police as not really wanting to be violent.)
– Educational philosophies like Montessori and free schooling that respect children’s innate desire to learn, without a regime of conditional approval, coercion, and “behavior management.”.
All of these start with the appreciation of a person, group, ecosystem, or other being as a unique and interconnected self, and then act on that appreciation. It is the action of love to make more love.
And it is the action of fear to create more fear. Believing as we seem to that the problem in the world is evil (or whatever label we give to the Other), no wonder we act as if the solution were to conquer. Every political cause becomes a fight, a campaign, a struggle, a battle – military metaphors all. We seek to win the war against corporate greed. Let’s be wary of this mentality, if for no other reason than its complete congruence with the war against nature, against the wild, against the wolves and the weeds and the mosquitoes and the germs and all the other alienated parts of this living earth that is in truth the extension of our own selves. Well, I said “if for no other reason,” but let me offer another reason: it isn’t sexy. It holds us apart. As Jung famously said of Eros, “Where love reigns, there is no will to power; and where the will to power is paramount, love is lacking.”ix
The ecosexual seeks to move toward reunion with all the lost and alienated parts of himself, human or otherwise. Everything inside mirrors something outside; the urge to wholeness, therefore, is enacted through relationship. A relationship in which the core being of each party affects the other, in which there is a melting of certain boundaries of self, is a kind of sexual relationship. The judgementality I was speaking of, whose essence is, “I would not do as you did, were I you” – i.e. you and I are fundamentally different, separate – is not erotic. It does not dissolve boundaries; it enforces them.
None of this is to imply that there is never a time to discriminate, never a time to fight, never a time to enforce boundaries, and never a time to enact what Jung would call the masculine principle of Logos. We are sexual beings, but we are notonly sexual beings. In our culture, though, our sexual nature is suppressed, channeled into the margins, or given partial or superficial expression to neuter its revolutionary potential.
It is this revolutionary potential that makes ecosexuality, and indeed all liberated sexuality, a threat to a patriarchal, control-based society and to any culture that treats people or nature as mere objects. Authoritarian regimes are nearly unanimous in their restrictive sexual morality. Pure eros cares nothing for hierarchies, propriety, or convention. It obliterates rules, plans, calendars, and clocks, compelling us through the exigency of desire to come to the present moment, to seek union, now. Our society, rather than suppress eros outright, diverts it into inconsequential realms, for example via pornography: a power that could upend the social order is instead incinerated in front of the computer screen. In a similar way, our biophilia, our desire to love and serve and protect the earth, is diverted onto feel-good environmental campaigns that, while doubtless worthy on their own merits, merely palliate a few of the worst abuses while a thousand others proceed unchecked. What if, instead, we used the power of eros to create community where there is now alienation, wholeness where there is now separation, abundance where there is now scarcity? What if we used the power of eros to inspire action where there is now apathy, wisdom where there is now ignorance, service where there is now greed?
Given the manifest failure of the War on Evil, there is no other way.
According to Joseph Campbell, the religious lore of India names five degrees of love, of which the highest is not divine love, not universal love, but illicit, passionate, erotic love, “breaking in upon the order of one’s dutiful life in virtue as a devastating storm.”x That doesn’t sound very much like a good thing, but when we consider how duty and virtue encode so many of the mores, conventions, and conceptions of prudence by which, in our timid abidance, we are destroying the planet, the illicit becomes more attractive.
What outrageous things might we do, intoxicated by the passionate love of nature? What security might we throw to the wind? What risks might we be willing to take in service of the beloved? It is certain that if everybody plays it safe, if everybody waits for someone else to take the first step, then our civilization is doomed. Appeals to fear are not enough to change our behavior. They might have a temporary effect, but implicit in them is the message, “Make your decisions based on fear,” and usually, decisions based on fear translate into the very things that are ruining what we love. That is not revolutionary at all. Far more powerful it would be, to rechannel the power of desire toward its true object: to draw closer to all we have Othered, to awaken within us the deep passion for all that is free, in love, and alive.
The ecosexual awakening extends erotic love – the expansion of self to include what was other – to new realms. Whether alienated parts of our own psyche, or people once written off, judged, patronized, or condemned, or indeed the non-human living world of plants, animals, ecosystems, and that which science has called non-living – the rivers and mountains and planet itself – all evoke a longing in our hearts to reunite.
Hyde, Lewis. “The Gift Must Always Move.” Coevolution Quarterly, No. 55, Fall 1982. pp. 10-30. Quote is from page 11. This article summarizes some of the main ideas from Hyde’s classic book, The Gift.
In The Revenge of Gaia, Lovelock writes, “You will notice I am continuing to use the metaphor of ‘the living Earth’ for Gaia; but do not assume that I am thinking of the Earth as alive in a sentient way, or even alive like an animal or a bacterium. . . . It has never been more than metaphor—an aide pensée, no more serious than the thoughts of a sailor who refers to his ship as ‘she.’” (p. 16)
iiiCertainly most complexity theorists would hesitate to draw such a conclusion, but that chaos theory has profound philosophical consequences did not escape the foremost pioneer of the field, Nobel chemist Ilya Prigogine. See Prigogine, Ilya and Isabelle Stengers. Order out of Chaos.
ivThe DNA itself may not be only from viruses: see, for example, David R. Riley, Karsten B. Sieber et al., “Bacteria-Human Somatic Cell Lateral Gene Transfer Is Enriched in Cancer Samples”, doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003107, 9(6): e1003107, PLoS Comput Biol, 20 Jun 2013. Typically, such discoveries are dismissed as curious anomalies.
vFor a concise lay presentation of Margulis’ thought, read Margulis, Lynn, and Dorion Sagan, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species, Perseus Books Group, 2002.
viFor a richly referenced account of recent findings on these topics by a prominent academic scientist, see James Shapiro’s Evolution: A View from the 21st Century (FT Press, 2011)
viiHere I am referring to the social psychological theory of Situationism (as distinct from the 60’s political movement), elucidated in: Hanson, Jon D. and Yosifon, David G., “The Situational Character: A Critical Realist Perspective on the Human Animal” (October 17, 2006). Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 93, No. 1, 2004
viiiRosenberg elaborates this proposition in his classic Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Second Edition. Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press, 2003.
ixJung, Carl. “The Problem of the Attitude-type,” Collected Works vol. 7, par. 78.
xCampbell, Joseph. Myths to Live By. Viking Press, 1972. p. 152