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What is Culture Collapse Disorder? Ecopsychopathy and the End of Culture as We Know It

Ecocide: Industrial waste

Industrial waste

Earth’s inhabitants are in peril largely of our own making. We are, consciously or unconsciously, systematically destroying our home places, habitats, ecosystems, and above all, the only home we collectively know: earth. Reports are emerging daily about the implications of human impact on our environment, presenting dire warnings about pollution, urban development, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, natural disasters, and displacement. The tally of global losses grows daily as we perpetrate ecological destruction through our relentless consumption of the earth’s dwindling resources; through rampant use of toxins, chemicals, and pesticides; and through deforestation, erosion, and devastation of natural ecosystems, wetlands, rivers, and oceans.

The unchecked demands of a burgeoning human population on the planet are initiating conditions that are simply not sustainable. Combined with what might be called our cultural “modern mindset,” an ongoing belief (perhaps primarily at an unconscious level) by a large part of the earth’s population that resources are unlimited, that the way we live is the only way, and that everything will work out somehow, we are, as humans, at a precarious tipping point.

Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung (1957/1970) foresaw severe consequences propelling our civilization toward collapse even from his vantage point of the mid-twentieth century, saying:

Plastic trash collects on a beautiful lakeshore

Plastic trash collects on a beautiful lakeshore

[This] nihilistic trend towards disintegration must be understood as the symptom and symbol of a mood of universal destruction and renewal that has set its mark on our age . . . . This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science. (p. 304)

More than thirty years ago, ecopsychologist, Buddhist, and activist Joanna Macy (1979) also noted that for the first time in recorded history we are deluged with data that suggest our own culture, species, and planet may not survive, and that we are all deeply affected by that knowledge.

bees building honeycomb

Bees building honeycomb

If we turn to nature for insight, the way our ancestors have done for millennia, it’s hard to miss the growing number of extinctions of so many species; one of the most notably, perhaps, the mass die-off of honeybees that are abandoning their hives to certain death, a phenomenon termed “Colony Collapse Disorder” (Cox-Foster & van Engelsdorp, 2009; Stipp, 2007). A unique and perplexing feature of Colony Collapse Disorder finds that virtually all of the bees simply vanish almost overnight, leaving behind only the queen, a handful of her attendants, and the unhatched brood. The tens of thousands of worker bees that keep their given hive alive by gathering nectar and pollen to make honey to feed the community appear to be unable or unwilling to return the hive. Their connection to their home place, the hub of their existence, has seemingly been severed, preventing their ancient instinctual ritual of serving out their individual but critical role in the whole. When individual bees don’t reconnect with the hive after a foray into the wild, the system fails. In this way, both the population and the physical hive that serves as home to the bees collapse in quick succession.

Book: A Spring without Bees by Michael Schacker

Book: A Spring without Bees by Michael Schacker

Some scientists suggest that honeybees may be acting as the proverbial canary in a coal mine, foreshadowing the imminent demise of the human race as we plummet toward a colony collapse of our own. The loss of connectivity to the hive, the home place, results in the loss of the community itself. In A Spring Without Bees, Michael Schacker (2008) muses on the mythical as well as biological implications of Colony Collapse Disorder, referring to it as a potential Civilization Collapse Disorder. I have simultaneously considered it as Culture Collapse Disorder, an eco-psycho-pathological disorder in which humans, too, because of our heavy focus on, inundation by, and even possession by our current culture and some of its corresponding negative values, have lost our vital connection to home: physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and archetypally.

In coming weeks, I will write more about Culture Collapse Disorder in relation to Colony Collapse Disorder, the meaning of home and our relationship to it, and I will delve into some of the major symptoms we are seeing as a result of the imbalance in our relationship to earth and corresponding earth community. Ecocide, climate change, and forced displacement are just a few of the devastating events that are already changing life as we know it. Ultimately, if we are unable to delve into and address some of the underlying issues of our ecopsycopathy, we may indeed face the collapse of our culture. Actually, collapse of our collective consumer mindset and its ensuing destructive practices may be the only thing that saves us in the end, allowing a restoration of a more balanced and healthy relationship with the greater hive that sustains and supports us all.


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