(The old Rhodes Zoo, on the slopes of Table Mountain). Last week, some students at UCT decided to throw poo on ‘that statue on the Jammie Stairs’. People started to write about it in the newspapers and lots of people had different opinions. I think it’s probably time to listen to what felt wrong, rather than decide what people should or shouldn’t be doing. But that might just be because I’m not the person who has to clean up the poo. It isn’t the first time Rhodes’ legacy has come under protest though. A couple of years back, a man (who I later met while he was growing a food garden on the grounds of Alexander Hospital) burned down the Rhodes Memorial Chapel in a protest against social injustice. He made a good argument about why he did it, but it probably would have been better to express it differently.
While I was at UCT, we went out to look at the Rhodes Zoo, which is on the slopes of Table Mountain. The Zoo is empty now, and has been for years. The Lion Cage is still there, but the Lions are gone. A population of thars, part of the Rhodes legacy, were culled off a couple of years ago. While we looked at the ruins of the old zoo, we spoke about the importance of memory and what it means to forget, or dis-remember history. We also spoke a little bit about the taming of the wild, and what that means.
James Hillman wrote that the exhausted and disillusioned colonialists had such desire for such a ‘new’ world that they went to battle with geography, or all that was wild. People have been so afraid of ‘Pan’ he explained, that we have tried for years to convince ourselves of his death. No co-incidence then that ‘Pan’ sounds like panic. But in the urge to build, create and rupture the bonds between nature and people, there has been a loss of animal life, culture and dehumanization. Hillman asked us to return to the animal part of ourselves, and that part of us which makes us unique compared to other animals: language.
This was where my interest in a radical ecopsychology started to emerge. I was interested in language and story telling. I was also interested in climate change, and the ways of being which had contributed to climate change. But the irony of the ecopsychology movement didn’t escape me. Whose ‘psychology’ excluded the cosmos, after all? Western psychology largely does, but western knowledge doesn’t present the only way of knowing or being within the world.
There are so many cultures of people around the world who are fighting for the rights of an earth they value so deeply. In This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein explains that indigenous populations of people explain that ‘only love will save this place’. In South Africa, a Venda community are fighting for the protection of sacred spaces which link to heritage http://mupofoundation.org/ and David Abram tells the story of the Songlines of the Aboriginal people, which map the terrain and connect a person to his/her ancestors, who once traveled to new landscapes guided by the words of songs. These songs are a birthright, and they depend on the land remaining as it is. By changing the terrain, Abram explains that we render the speech of aboriginal people meaningless. Self is so deeply connected to land that to remove a person from this land is to quite literally drive them out of their minds.
Forced removals of people from the land are not only part of a colonial history, but are still happening. Abram explains of the forced removals of tribes of people in Indonesia or Malaysia in the name of commercial foresting. And then there are the tribes of indigenous people in Brazil who are fighting off a series of dams. These dams will result in forced removal of people and a great loss of animal life. Without understanding the deep connectedness to earth that many indigenous people have, there is a risk of creating what Abram calls ‘cultural genocide’. And this is why all voices of people have to be given the opportunity to speak and share what it means to be human in the world. This is why we need a new psychology, with a deeper and wider contribution from all members of the human family. The world, as it currently exists, is in the throes of environmental disaster. And the biggest grief that people share is not that the world will come to an end, but that we, as people, may loose the earth. An earth which, as children share, is “Just as special as I am.” When the Brazilian president was reelected last year, and spoke of inclusion without mentioning the Indigenous Population of people, it was an important omission, considering the vital need for recognition and representation in a time of threatened land loss. And this is why there is a need for a radical and inclusive ecopsychology, as Andy Fisher explains. This is why the social arm is so important, and why we need to look at the connections between people, society and earth in the form of an interconnected triangle, bringing in critical psychology so that we can understand how human rights and environmental rights intertwine. Without this, perhaps we unwittingly perpetuate injustices.
James Hillman (1997) City and Soul Andy Fisher (2013) Radical Ecopsycholgy: psychology in the service of life. Albany: Sunny. Abram, D. (1996). The Spell of the Sensuous: Perceptions and language in a more-than-human-world. New York: Vintage. Klein, N. (2014). This changes everything. London: Allen Lane. The Agents of Change Project: http://www.agentsofchangeproject.blogspot.com