During the summer of 2010, I met the first child in my life who grew up gardening, enjoying unstructured play, attending un-standardized school, playing in forests, planting trees, collecting wood, showering with water heated by sun, and defecating into composting systems. This child would have been challenged to come up with a way that he was not connected to the world around him. I wonder if he could differentiate himself from the world at all. This child had something that fewer and fewer children have.
Awhile back I made a post about the necessity for a word in addition tosolastalgia, that describes the inability to feel solastalgia as a result of never having had a sense of place to begin with. Most children today do not have a sense of place.
I was delighted and surprised when I received a response from Glenn Albrecht, the philosopher who coined the term solastalgia through his development of a framework for describing what he calls “pscyhoterratic” (from psycho – mind and terra – earth) health conditions. Albrecht’s work has focused on theoretical and applied approaches to understanding the relationship between ecosystem and human health.
Albrecht called this inability to feel solastaglia, “ecoretrogression.” Here is his description:
“Our children don’t have a form of amnesia about the environment. They have no relevant eco-memory to forget about the way things were. What they have is a form of negativity which deprives them of that which they need to know.
The negativity is like retrogression in evolution where things become less complex and less diverse over time. Some call it the path to extinction.
Therefore, our children are suffering from socially induced ecoretrogression which is the disturbing idea that the current generation is less ecologically literate, less ecologically attuned, less ecologically aware and less ecologically emotional than previous generations. As a consequence, they are unable to respond to the enormous risks posed by ecosystem distress and global warming.”Ecology is often thought of as one more silo’ed off field of science, but the emergence of ecology is really an evolution in the way we think. Ecology does not fit into the silos of decades past and it creeps out of its academic confines in ways that physics and chemistry never have. When we talk about ecology, we are simply talking about how things relate.
The way we perceive is through patterns and those patterns are evidence of relationship, of ecology, of the presence of life. Consider a photograph of mars and another of earth. One is patterned and the other is, relatively unpatterned, or lifeless.
Pattern is life. Perception is the presence of pattern. Without pattern there is undifferentiated void. There is absence of mind.
Retrogression refers to a return to an earlier state. For the first billion years of earth’s existence there was no life. Photographed from the outside, earth would have been relatively unpatterned and less complex.
Children and adults today lack environments with pattern. Sure the streets are laid out in a “grid pattern.” But this pattern is static and standard. It does not cycle and pulse, it does not exhibit the variation that is evidence of life in progress. One could say the grid is a dead. The fact that children in car dominated environments cannot make mental maps of their area is evidence of the inability to perceive and to remember that accompanies the absence of pattern. What we cannot perceive, we cannot feel and feeling is the heart of the soul.
Ecological literacy is the ability to perceive patterns. It is foundational to perception itself and its disappearance is only remedied by cultivating the awareness of patterns in our environments and bringing them to life.