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The problem of 'Freeing the Femine'

The problem

Chapter 1 in Freeing the Feminine by Elspeth and Gordon Strachan,
Labarum Publications, Dunbar 1985, pp. 1-26.

Republished on our website with permission of the authors

In the aftermath of the first world war and long before the second, Sigmund Freud concluded an essay entitled Civilization and its Discontents with a question which he called ‘the fateful question of the human species’- whether the human instincts of aggression, self-destruction and mastery of nature would so dominate our civilisation that life as we know it would cease to exist. ‘Men have brought their powers of subduing the forces of nature to such a pitch’ he wrote, ‘that by using them they could now very easily exterminate one another to the last man. They know this - hence arises a great part of their current unrest, their dejection, their mood of apprehension. (1) He foresaw a grim battle between the ‘heavenly powers’ of love and death over the fate of the human race, but could not predict the outcome.

Freud’s question was posed in 1930. The full extent of the human drive to control and exploit nature was revealed in 1945 when the cataclysmic power of the atom was harnessed and made into the nuclear bomb. On August 6, at 8.16 am, this ‘basic power of the universe’ President Truman described it, was unleashed over Hiroshima. The horrors of devastation to body, mind and spirit, the natural environment, human habitation and culture that resulted were beyond comprehension and out of all proportion to any previous human experience. The technocrats who devised the bomb had become purveyors of death, mass destroyers of mankind. Freud’s fateful question was being answered.

Despite the horrific effects of the splitting of the atom actually unleashed on hundreds of thousands of Japanese, our world today contains over a million times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb-enough to reduce the planet to ‘a republic of insects and grass’. (2) If, as Freud feared, men and women were being made restless, anxious and unhappy by their unbridled mastery over nature as early as 1930, can we conceive the psychological effect that our modern potential for immediate global annihilation is producing when thoroughly weighed? All-out nuclear war is described as ‘unthinkable’, but too few of us really do consider the implications of the nuclear arms race. The terror and sheer bewilderment that such an all-embracing threat inevitably creates is still repressed by most people, shelved, unacknowledged and unvoiced. This repression is highly dangerous; it is one of the more sinister aspects of our nuclear age. As Jonathan Schell warns in his profoundly disturbing book The Fate of the Earth, it is our refusal to look at the practical realities of nuclear war that will bring us to the brink of it:

At present, most of us do nothing. We look away. We remain calm. We are silent. We take refuge in the hope that the holocaust won’t happen, and turn back to our individual concerns. We deny the truth that is all around us. Indifferent to the future of our kind, we grow indifferent to one another. We drift apart. We grow cold. We drowse our way toward the end of the world. (3)

While we drowse our way to the end of the world, barricading ourselves against our unrest, dejection and apprehension with increasingly sophisticated weapons of self-destruction, our death-in-life paralysis has become in itself a most lethal weapon, killing millions. The world’s annual military bill amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars, yet something over thirty thousand people die every day from lack of that most basic human commodity - food. A fraction of even one day’s military expenditure would help eradicate world hunger for ever, but our governments have neither the compassion nor the foresight to take this initiative. Despite the perceptive and urgent analysis of world problems by groups such as the Brandt Commission, we in the wealthy ‘North’ prefer to ignore the acute suffering of our neighbours of the ‘South’, believing that to do so will make our own survival more certain. This is tragically unrealistic, as the Brandt report shows.(4) For half the world to be dying of starvation while the other half spends millions on slimming diets and bombs is not only morally outrageous, it is economic suicide. As NorthSouth: a programme for survival says,

To diminish the distance between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ nations, to do away with discrimination, to approach equality of opportunities step by step, is not only a matter of striving for justice, which in itself would be important. It is also sound self-interest, not only for the poor and very poor nations but for the better-off as well.’ (5)

Brandt calls for ‘strong mutual interests in co-operation and . . . compassion(6) and warns that without a new respect for qualities such as these our world will not survive.

What is wrong with our society that we have so little respect for care and compassion? We subdue the forces of nature, harnessing them for deadly purposes like the nuclear bomb; we repress our own natures, denying the dread caused in us by such a misuse of our creative powers, and we stand idly by and watch millions of our fellow men, women and children wither and die, through our indifference and greed. We are cold, aggressive, detached and unfeeling, apparently caring neither for our true selves nor for others.

The qualities we seem to have lost, which are so much needed today, are those associated with the feminine pole of human experience: qualities such as care, co-operation, compassion, self-giving, nurturing and a sense of the continuity and oneness of life. Although traditionally associated with women, these attributes can of course be found in both women and men.

Over the years both women and the feminine side of human nature have been deemed inferior, of secondary importance and irrelevant if not troublesome to the serious business of running the world. By following the masculine way so exclusively, we have brought ourselves to the brink of self-destruction. Despite the rise of feminism and the success of a few notable women politicians, it is quite clear that masculine rather than feminine qualities are the ones valued in our leaders. This imbalance means that our world is ruled by impulses such as self-assertion, aggression, fierce independence, competition, ambition and ‘logical’ objectivity in a way that is now potentially lethal. We are taught to repress the feminine in ourselves, that side which relates to our emotions, intuitions and instincts. But such a repression creates disturbing personality problems which are becoming increasingly widespread, problems identical to the ones described by Jonathan Schell. Repression of the more feminine side of ourselves is a symptom of the psychological disorder called the schizoid condition. This is a condition which seems to permeate society today and it must be dealt with or it will lead us to our death.

In his book Human Aggression Anthony Storr describes the schizoid person as cold, aloof, superior and detached with the potential for erupting into irrational violence. (7) Rollo May defines schizoid as ‘out of touch; avoiding close relationships; the inability to feel.’(8) The word comes from the Greek schizein meaning to split, and although it has the same root as ‘schizophrenic’ it does not have the same meaning. Schizophrenia is a form of mental disorder whereas schizoid problems are common among perfectly ‘normal’ people. As Frank Lake points out in his analysis of schizoid personality reactions,

. . . the learned professions contain many persons of the highest technical competence whose ‘normality’ in their jobs is unquestioned, who nevertheless react, as I do myself, under stress of commitment to certain kinds of emotional situation, in a deeply schizoid manner. (9)

The schizoid condition is very common but highly complex and difficult to analyse. It involves the cutting off or separation of the person from his or her feelings; the rejection of many physical and emotional needs and the sense of a split mind and body. In the individual it is a lack of love or inadequate loving patterns during the early months and first year of infancy which create this disorder. Separation at birth, neglect, abuse and alienation from the mother can cause unbearable pain to a young child for whom its mother is all-important. In the early stages a child has no sense of identity separate from the mother and is totally dependent on her. If she seems to reject her child, this breaks that essential bond. The child feels unloved, unlovable and forever wary of close emotional attachment. Although longed for and desperately needed, love comes to be seen only as a source of pain and disappointment, so defensive barriers are built up to protect the frightened child from further hurt. The mother herself is feared and rejected: no longer the source of comfort and nourishment, she is seen as the wicked witch who threatens to ensnare and devour.

By adulthood, these painful early experiences can result in making the individual seem cold, aloof and withdrawn, unable to relate deeply to others and afraid of expressing either physical or emotional warmth. There is at the same time a great desire for closeness, and a terror of it. Many schizoid sufferers escape into intellectual and spiritual abstractions becoming, for instance, dry academics, over-intellectual theologians, self-righteous spiritual leaders, or icily efficient businessmen and women. As personal contact and emotional needs cause deep anguish, ways of existing are sought which avoid the danger of being hurt. The wounded child is still there, however, and the early repression of feelings can be so deep and agonising that in later life the pressure may become intolerable and a sudden outburst results, often uncontrolled and violent.

In his book Love and Will Rollo May writes of the alarmingly high number of people coming for counselling for schizoid problems. He believes these problems to be in some way prophetic of our age - an indication of the unacknowledged inner dynamic of the society in which we live. ‘Our patients are the ones who express and live out the subconscious and unconscious tendencies in the culture,’ he writes.(10) He agrees with Anthony Storr’s analysis as far as it goes, but argues that the lack of love, the disregard or rejection in infancy which causes the schizoid reaction is not merely the fault of the parents. Such parents are themselves victims of our modern society which offers few patterns of care, love and intimacy to follow:

. . I am contending that the schizoid condition is a general tendency in our transitional age, and that the ‘helplessness and disregard’ in infancy to which Storr refers comes not just from parents but from almost every aspect of our culture. The parents are themselves unwitting expressions of their culture. The schizoid man is the natural product of the technological man.(11)

One area in which parents have been distressingly led astray by scientists and technology is in the nursing of small babies. Much in society teaches us to distrust our feelings, subdue our emotions and bring reason rather than intuition into play. The Truby King method of child-care, widely accepted and practised over fifty years ago, though now discredited, crystalised this teaching and applied it to the care of the new-born. According to King, from the moment of birth babies had to be fed by the clock rather than by their needs; they were not comforted when distressed unless it fitted the schedule and they were trained not to expect ‘coddling’. Technological technique and scientific timetables replaced the mother’s natural instincts, thereby severing the bond between mother and child. As Frank Lake observed,

The time for which [the infants] could, with safety to their precariously developing trust be left alone, was regulated, not by the mother’s delicate and sensitive intuition as to the state of the relationship in the ‘nursing couple’, but by prescription of the doctor or maternity nurses.’ (12)

He goes on to comment that

The seeds of a profound distrust in the mother, the woman and ‘god’, as despising love needs and the hunger for sight or touch were sown in deep furrows, scored out across a once fair land. The harvest of emotionally impoverished . . . weedy personalities is being reaped. (13)

The tragedy is that such problems are perpetuated by children who have been brought up this way. Having had an inadequate example themselves of a loving, demonstrative relationship they often feel unable to show love to their own children. They cannot ‘play it by ear’, they cannot trust their feelings and instincts because their own condition does not allow it. Today, of course, child rearing is much more enlightened, but in the past those who followed the textbooks had this sort of advice given about the treatment of children:

Never hug and kiss them. Never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning: Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extremely good job of a difficult task.(14)

This was written in 1928. It may be no coincidence that a society capable of producing such a manual went on to devise the nuclear bomb - a split atom for a split culture.

Rollo May suggests that the schizoid person is the natural product of our technological age. Technology has a tendency to de-personalise, to value size, speed and efficiency at the expense of community, organic growth and human contact. In those areas where the growth of technology is out of hand, such as in the world’s major cities, personality problems are rife: depression, suicide and irrational violence are regular occurrences, and there is widespread apathy, listlessness, despair and vandalism. Apathy and violence seem to go hand in hand for, as Rollo May observed,

The human being cannot live in a condition of emptiness for very long: if he is not growing toward something, he does not merely stagnate; the pent-up potentialities turn into morbidity and despair, and eventually into destructive activities.(15)

In the summer of 1981 Britain experienced an outburst of unprecedented violence on the streets of some of her larger cities. The people who took part in the riots all expressed a profound and overwhelming sense of frustration and powerlessness. They came from decaying inner cities, crumbling relics of a past age where the centre of town was a thriving community. These areas are now ghettos and the young people who live there have felt very bitter about the way they are treated by the rest of society. Frequently they have no jobs, no social clubs, no decent housing, no respect outside their own group and no future. They feel alienated and rejected.

A similar sense of disorientation is felt by many urban dwellers, especially those who live in the large, inner city areas. Cities such as London, Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool have particularly bad problems as a result of their size and overcrowding. It is significant that the police have been blamed for the tension and sense of alienation felt especially by minority communities, and a sign of our times that they no longer feel safe enough to go ‘on the beat’. The friendly presence of the ‘bobby’ has been replaced by military-style tactics: patrol squads, radio communications and other technological tools. Debates over the need for community policing have reflected the cause-and-effect relationship between growth in technology and deep social problems.

The young people who exploded in the summer riots were expressing the more violent end-result of a mood of purposelessness that seems to permeate society. With unemployment high, many people with few inner resources to draw upon, give in to despair. According to May, this mood can be traced back to the radically transitional nature of our age where technology, efficiency, size and speed dominate over traditional patterns of community, co-operation and organic growth. As he comments,

. . . ours is an era of radical transition. The old myths and symbols by which we oriented ourselves are gone, anxiety is rampant; we cling to each other and try to persuade ourselves that what we feel is love; we do not will because we are afraid that if we choose one thing or one person we’ll lose the other, and we are too insecure to take that chance. . The individual is forced to turn inward; he becomes obsessed with the new problem of identity, namely, Even-if-I-know-who-I-am, I-have-no-significance. I am unable to influence others. The next step is apathy. And the step following that is violence. For no human being can stand the perpetually numbing experience of his own powerlessness. (16)

The 60s and 70s were dubbed the ‘Me’ decades because so many people were spending time trying to sort themselves out and discover who they really were. Today, traditional patterns are being consistently broken down, and the fear of commitment is a theme running through many relationships, encouraging isolation and self-absorption. Of course, great numbers of people are active in militating for a better lifestyle, more satisfying jobs, a secure future, and protest groups demanding the end to nuclear proliferation are gaining more and more support. However, these people remain on the fringe of society and the ‘silent majority’ stays at home, reading of increasingly regular incidences of muggings, rape, armed assault, terrorist activities and political assassination. Our world is indeed schizoid.

The findings of Rollo May regarding the effects of our new technological age have been confirmed by many psychologists and social scientists in different ways. Perhaps the most famous was F A Barnett’s comparison between the behaviour of overcrowded rats and that of overcrowded people. Among the rats there was fierce and violent competition between the males, sudden death without visible cause, sexual deviance, neglect of and attack on the young. In vast overcrowded human conglomerates, the regular occurrences of violent street crimes, gang warfare, stress diseases, collapse of the family unit, sexual permissiveness and baby- and wife-battering have mirrored the distressed behaviour of the caged rats.(17)

It would be facile to imply that this is everyone’s experience of the city. It can offer great security, a sense of community, stimulation and glamour, as well as ease and luxury of lifestyle. For many it provides the necessity of employment and future security. Nevertheless, there is disturbing evidence of a psychological imbalance resulting from the growth of city-life, at the expense of life in the country. Elaine Morgan, in her provocative book on urban decline laments the neglect of the countryside and the polarisation between urban and rural life. Quoting the impartial research of social scientists such as Louis Wirth, she describes the predominant characteristics of city dwellers:

. . . as compared with folk communities, the city people now moving into the human majority tend to be more rational, more sophisticated, more tolerant, more secular, more reserved and more interdependent. They are also more liable to judge by appearances, and to be ambitious, competitive and cash-oriented.

There are equally striking tendencies on the negative side, however, remarkably similar to the findings of Rollo May:

. . . . They are more predatory, more neurotic, more criminal, more likely to develop schizoid personalities and to conduct only fragmented relationships, and to suffer from that peculiarly urban malaise known as ‘anomie’-a condition of apathy and hopeless disorientation caused by the breakdown of familiar and universally recognised rules of conduct.’ (18)

Dismay at the problems caused by the growth of large cities is not a modern phenomenon, despite the fact that they have now reached an unprecedented size. William Cobbett remarked that two hundred years before his time the size of London had aroused people’s passions, with the increase of buildings being seen as ‘no better than a wen or excrescence upon the body-politic’. ‘What must we think’ he asked, ‘of those numberless streets and squares which have been added since!’ (19) The industrial revolution had created havoc in London, Glasgow, Birmingham and many other cities throughout Britain. It was the age of the machine and the factory, and these - and therefore jobs - were not to be found in the villages, but in the towns. People of all ages left the countryside in vast numbers to find work in the factories, and houses had to be built to accommodate them. But these ‘numberless streets and squares’ brought with them a disorientation and anonymity which produced rootlessness and shrivelled the human spirit.

So great were the disturbances caused by these ‘unnatural conglomerates’ that in 1829 Sir Robert Peel decided that the country had outgrown her police institutions. It was to deal with the increased crime rate in the growing industrial cities that he set up his new police force and created the ‘bobby’. These policemen were appointed as public servants, but encouraged to behave as ordinary private servants. Their friendly presence could do little, however, to assuage the overwhelming sense of isolation and disorientation experienced by those who had left their villages for the towns.

One of the major early records of the new city and its effects is William Wordsworth’s seventh book of The Prelude. Although filled with ‘wonder and obscure delight’ at London’s history and glories, he was nevertheless baffled by

. . how men lived
Even next-door neighbours, as we say, yet still
Strangers, nor knowing each the other’s name. (20)

Literary critic Raymond Williams writes in The Country and the City, that Wordsworth was the first to express what has since become a dominant experience of the city. He felt a new sense of :alienation, a strangeness, or loss of connection in the crowd of others which threatened his own sense of identity:

O Friend! one feeling was there which belonged
To this great city by exclusive right;
How often, in the overflowing streets,
Have I gone forwards with the crowd, and said
Unto myself, ‘The face of every one
That passes by me is a mystery!’
Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed
By thoughts of what and whither, when and how,
Until the shapes before my eyes became
A second-sight procession, such as glides
Over still mountains, or appears in dreams.
And all the ballast of familiar life,
The present, and the past; hope, fear; all stays,
All laws of acting, thinking, speaking man
Went from me, neither knowing me, nor known. (21)

This is the ‘anomie’ which Elaine Morgan described-a sense of alienation and rejection which was perhaps first felt by those who had left the country to seek their fortunes in the new industrial cities. It created a deep split between the ways of nature and the new ways of men.

It was not only Wordsworth, however, who saw the evils of the city so clearly. Artists and writers of the time expressed the same tension between town and country. Frederick Engels for instance saw that the ‘very turmoil of streets has something repulsive, something against which all human nature rebels’. Writing in 1844, he complained that the ‘hundreds of thousands of all classes and all ranks . . . crowd by one another . . . and their only agreement is the tacit one, that each keep to his own side of the pavement, so as not to delay the opposing streams of the crowd, while it occurs to no man to honour another with so much as a glance’. (22) Engels accepted that selfishness and self-centredness are very much the condition of man, but was convinced that the ‘brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest becomes the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded together, within a limited space . . . it is nowhere so shamelessly barefaced, so self-conscious as just here in the crowding of the great city’. For Wordsworth it was nature which provided a true community and a real society. He felt acutely the contrast between the isolation of the city and the warmth of nature.

Wordsworth saw the hand and spirit of God in creation with a clarity and profundity that is intensely moving. He looked to nature as his highest guide, and was

. . well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being. (23)

There were others, however, who saw the countryside a very different light. ‘Nature averse to crime?’ wrote Swindburne paraphrasing the Marquis de Sade, ‘I tell you at nature lives and breathes by it; hungers at all her ores for bloodshed; yearns with all her heart for the furtherance of cruelty.’ (24) These two diametrically opposed views reflected the schizoid confusion of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries regarding that great archetypal mother-nature. On the one hand she was guide, guardian, nurse and messenger of God; on the other she was cruel, vicious, bloodthirsty and ungovernable. Those who, like de Sade, saw nature as a cruel goddess, red in tooth and claw, hostile to man, threatening life and morals, rejoiced in the success of industry in harnessing her power, and bending her to the service of man. The prospect of her gaping wounds, fitting fire at coal-pits and belching smoke in the factories must have filled them with delight, and the ease with which they came to straddle her rivers and plains dissect her mysteries must have reassured them that she could in time be subdued and conquered.

The romantics were dismissed by many in their own e as sentimental, womanish and self-indulgent; worshipping a pagan goddess of nature and wallowing in cult of sensibility. But there is a sense in which they were the forerunners of today’s ecologists. Like the romantics, ecologists deplore the havoc caused to nature by the world’s ever advancing industrialisation. But equally. like the romantics, many are dismissed as idealistic, sentimental and self-indulgent. Their warnings are ignored and their cries for conservation often ridiculed by government and vested interests. Increasingly over the past hundred years, those who have attempted to defend and protect nature have been over-ridden by those who desire to see her subdued and exploited. This conflict which began in earnest in the nineteenth century is one of the major causes of today’s urban malaise.

In Wordsworth’s and Engel’s day the industrial city rarely reached a million inhabitants, although there was a staggering rise in them in contrast to previous centuries. Plato considered the ideal size of a city to be around thirty thousand inhabitants, as did Leonardo da Vinci. It would appear that the number of inhabitants in most medieval towns on the continent remained fairly steady over hundreds of years, between twenty-five and thirty-five thousand. The shock of the new cities of the industrial revolution was enormous; the shock of the monstrous growth of cities such as London, Tokyo and New York cannot be calculated. In the USA, sociologists no longer talk of the city, or even the metropolis, but find themselves discussing the social unrest of the ‘megalopolis’. They divide the USA into three vast ‘megalopolitan’ areas of sixty million inhabitants each a very far cry from Plato’s republic of thirty thousand

One of the most celebrated critics of our modern obsession with size was E F Schumacher. His highly acclaimed book Small is Beautiful is subtitled A Study of Economics as if People Mattered and its outstanding popularity reflects the need, frequently unvoiced, that many people feel for a more moderate and humane application of the fruits of technology. Schumacher was not against technology itself, far from it, but he believed it should be used in a way which was appropriate to the needs of the people. He had seen too much damage done to lives and environment by the crude introduction of inappropriate tools. According to him, man dominated by technology acts like a foreign body in the subtle system of nature, and he saw numerous signs of rejection. His chief criticism was of our failure to recognise the need for moderation; he called for a balance between natural growth and our own apparently overwhelming desire to expand:

Nature always, so to speak, knows where and when to stop. Greater even than the mystery of natural growth is the mystery of the natural cessation of growth. There is measure in all natural things - in their size, speed or violence. As a result, the system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology, or perhaps I should say: not so with man dominated by technology and specialization.(25)

Writing forty years after Freud, Schumacher perceived the same unhappiness, unrest and anxiety caused by the human drive to subdue the forces of nature and `prove' our superiority. He believed, like Freud, that our battle with nature could end with the destruction of ourselves. On the personal and medical level, the dethroning of the `mother instincts' in favour of technological method and scientific `objectivity' has caused a great deal of distress, and helped create disturbing personality disorders. But on the global level our dethroning of Mother Nature and our rejection of her organic wisdom, in favour of mechanistic industrialised expansion, is causing a scale of crisis which threatens not only our stability but our very survival. We appear to be doing our utmost not just to control and master nature, but to destroy her. Every day our ears are assailed with news of the latest catastrophe to our planet because of our uncontrolled determination to expand and industrialise. The trees of the West German Black Forest, for instance, are being eaten away by the pernicious effects of acid rain, as is the fish-life in the rivers and lakes of Northern Europe and Canada. Acid rain is fast becoming one of the most serious pollution problems of industrial countries. It is a direct result of the ever-growing quantities of industrial waste from fossil-fuels that are being belched into the sky from high stack chimneys, mixing with the weather systems and falling as sulphuric acid. It is the sheer size of this industrial build-up that creates the scale of the problem.

Even more serious than this destruction of trees and lakes is the accelerating annihilation of the world's vital rain forests. So important are they for replenishing and recycling the earth's atmosphere that they have been called the earth's lungs, yet they are being destroyed at the rate of fifty acres a minute, as a result of greed and mismanagement. Vital cropland is also being eroded through exhaustion and over-exploitation. It would appear that at current rates an area twice the size of Canada will have become desert by the year 2000 if nothing is done.(26) Many species of plant and animal wildlife also face extinction because of our disregard for their worth. One species actually dies out every ten minutes, some of them not even having been identified before they go. In 1980, the World Conservation Strategy launched a report on the state of the earth's natural resources. It made sombre reading. We are wreaking havoc on animal and plant wildlife, on oceans, atmosphere, rivers and rain-forest, and endangering our own lives in the process. Essential food and medical supplies are bound up in the nature we ignore so readily. As Robert Allen observed in his book How to Save the World,

Earth is the only place we know of in the universe that can support human life. Yet human activities are progressively making the planet less fit to live on . . . . Everywhere fertile soil is either being built on or flushed into the sea; otherwise renewable resources are exploited beyond recovery, and pollutants are thrown like wrenches into the machinery of climate. As a result, the planet's capacity to support people is irreversibly reduced at the very time when rising human numbers and consumption are making increasingly heavy demands upon it.(27)

There is a pyramid of destructive activities against nature, at the top of which sits our arsenal of nuclear bombs, primed to reduce the whole thing to something less than rubble.

We have bastioned ourselves against nature in concrete high-rise flats; invented ways of by-passing her rhythms through chemicals and drugs; processed, coloured and `improved' her harvest of food. As far as possible, it would seem, we distance ourselves from anything natural, and warmly embrace the man-made. Those who cry for a more balanced, respectful treatment of nature are reminded that she is `red in tooth and claw', unpredictable and cataclysmic in the violence of her earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts and floods. Attitudes such as these have led to the ecological crisis that faces us today. Too many people still believe that our survival depends on how well we protect ourselves against nature, rather than how well we protect her against us.

Warnings have been issued, however, and not only in the past few years. As long ago as 1854, the American Indian Chief Seattle, delivered a powerful message to President Franklin Pierce, who wanted to buy his lands, warning him that he and his people must not abuse the earth, the sky and beasts, but love them as members of their own families.

Teach your children what we have taught our children: that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves . . . . Continue to contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.

Those words of Chief Seattle have a prophetic and chilling ring to them today, as talks continue over the consequences of our pollution of the entire planet, and as governments become increasingly worried.

For the North American Indians, the earth was their mother. She nourished them, protected them, offered her wisdom to them and received them back into her body when they died. For this they gave her great respect, reverence and love, some refusing even to plough her soil because it was her body:

You ask me to plow the ground. Shall I take a knife and tear my mother's breast? Then when I die she will not take me to her bosom to rest.

You ask me to dig for stone. Shall I dig under her skin for her bones? Then when I die I cannot enter her body to be born again.

You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it and be rich like white men. But how dare I cut off my mother's hair? (28)

The white man's treatment of nature was simply beyond their comprehension. As Chief Seattle so rightly observed,

He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother the sky as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.

The American Indians had a much more mature, loving concern for the mother earth, just as mature and healthy adults love and respect their natural mother. In comparison, western men and women act as schizoid infants, unfeeling towards her constraints, rejecting her nourishment, warmth and co-operation, building up continuously stronger barriers against her.

We are faced with possible extinction as a direct consequence of our acts of earth-violation. Coldly aloof, superior and detached, we have moved against our soils, our forests, our oceans and our very air itself in acts of fearful destruction. Our schizoid world has chosen the `cleverness' of technological technique rather than the wisdom of nature. But just as the child, however schizoid, must receive care and nourishment from its mother if it is to survive, despite its rejection of her, so our schizoid culture depends utterly on the rhythms, harvests and stability of nature, despite our alienation from her. If we are engaged in a battle against nature, then it is we who will inevitably lose. We cannot survive without her, as the poet Ted Hughes reminds us in his Revenge Fable:

There was a person
Could not get rid of his mother
As if he were her topmost twig.
So he pounded and hacked at her
With number and equations and laws
Which he invented and called truth.
He investigated, incriminated
And penalized her . . . .
Forbidding, screaming and condemning,
Going at her with a knife,
Obliterating her with disgusts
Bulldozers and detergents
Requisitions and central heating
Rifles and whisky and bored sleep.
With all her babes in her arms, in ghostly weepings, She died.
His head fell off like a leaf.

For Ted Hughes, nature was a passive, subservient mother figure who died quietly and in deep agony. Ecologist Kit Pedler had a very different picture of her: he saw nature as a raging revolutionary, furious at the damage being done and fully determined to put it right-with or without our help. Pedler was highly critical of what he called the `reductionist technologist toymakers' those who use their intelligence and expertise to dissect nature's mysteries and create clever new technological tools, regardless of their usefulness or potential harm. They see the whole of life as something that can be fully understood simply by analysing its parts. They `murder to dissect' and `assert that there are no values in the universe; no beauty, no rhythm and no regard, care or love, just systems for analysis and exploitation'.(29) Pedler makes a plea for the holistic view which sees life as a whole, much more than the sum of its parts:

Stretching from man to the worm, from the fishes of the abyss to the yoghurt bacterium, and from the moulds of decay to the birds riding the sky, I hold that there is but one single interwoven web of life and that our own kind was, until recently, an integral part of this single magnificent entity.(30)

Pedler calls this entity, this life-force, Gaia. `I use the name Gaia,' he explains, `not to propose a human feminine goddess, but to encompass the idea that the entire living pelt of our planet, its thin green rind of life, is actually one single life-form with senses, intelligence and the power to act.' (31). Nevertheless, Gala was the name of a goddess and this is highly significant. She is the Greek Earth Mother and mother of the gods.

In identifying the spirit of nature with a goddess Pedler was following an ancient tradition. The figure of the goddess of the earth can be found all over the world and many myths have been built up around her. But, as Pedler points out, they all share the idea that the earth is not a dead body. As we have seen, the American Indians called the earth `mother', but there are similar indigenous traditions in Europe and elsewhere.

Many of us have forgotten the ancient stories about Mother Earth and the Great Goddess, but they are of vital importance in understanding ourselves, our culture and our inherited attitudes to the earth, women and the feminine aspects of life. The Great Mother is an archetypal figure who lives in what Jung called the `collective unconscious' of all humanity-that part of our psyche which retains the impressions gathered in the earliest experiences of humankind. As Jung said,

Today . . . we talk of `matter'. We describe its physical properties. We conduct laboratory experiments to demonstrate some of its aspects. But the word `matter' remains a dry, inhuman, and purely intellectual concept, without any psychic significance for us. How different was the former image of matter - the Great Mother - that could encompass and express the profound emotional meaning of Mother Earth.(32)

We have lost touch with the emotional energy in the image of the Great Mother, and with the holistic view of life which saw no division between spirit and matter or heaven and earth.

Many ecologists today assume that to encourage us to call earth `mother' will provoke a radically respectful response, but they forget that modern society is schizoid and the mother-figure, whether nature, the woman or the goddess, is deeply suspect. Society unquestionably has a paradoxical attitude to the traditionally feminine aspects of life. On the one hand there is a tacit and pernicious assumption that the feminine is inferior to the masculine, that women are weak, passive and exploitable, that nature is only there to be subdued. But on the other hand there is the hint of ancient and deeply disturbing powers which, like the angry mother, the wicked witch or cataclysms of nature, threaten to overwhelm and destroy. Nature is the mother whom our schizoid anxieties force us to reject, but we are paying the price-jeopardising our humanity and our future. In the words of Jung,

As scientific understanding has grown, so our world has become dehumanised. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos, because he is no longer involved in nature, and has lost his emotional `unconscious identity' with natural phenomena. These have slowly lost their symbolic implications. Thunder is no longer the voice of an angry god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree is the life principle of a man, no snake the embodiment of wisdom . . . . His contact with nature has gone, and with it has gone the profound emotional energy that this symbolic connection supplied. (33)

According to the teaching of many Christian churches such an attitude is nothing more than mere pantheism, reflecting a pre-Christian, pagan view of nature, which worships creation itself rather than the creator. But then much of the church's teaching is also schizoid in its attitude to the feminine side of life, including nature. The evidence of the bible shows that nature is the messenger, the voice, the avenger and the glory of her Creator-God who dwells in the heavens and on earth,

Who makes the clouds thy chariots,
Who widest on the wings of the wind,
Who makes the winds thy messengers,
fire and flame thy ministers.

(Ps. 104:3, 4)

Schizoid churches have neglected this aspect of biblical truth by escaping into false mental and ecclesiastical abstractions. They have repressed the feminine in their midst. The example and teaching of Jesus Christ owed a better way. As God made man, uniting heaven and earth, spirit and matter in his very being, he is the redeemer and creator our schizoid world so desperately needs. Yet, as Lake laments, `The redeemer the schizoid sufferer needs is precisely the redeemer the schizoid intellectual theologian has compulsively striven to abolish'.(34) Too often our churches are but a mirror of society, reflecting some of its worst attitudes. Our reductionist society also has reductionist churches which seem to have little concept of the oneness of all creation, content to teach the disunity they practise by offering a dualism between spirit and matter, masculine and feminine, man and woman. Such divisions are deeply destructive.

If, as Rollo May believes, our schizoid sense of alienation, apathy and violence are all partly caused by our being out of touch with the truth behind the myths, symbols and traditional patterns which have made up our past, then we would do well to try to rediscover their meaning. It would be especially helpful to try to learn more about that powerful archetypal figure the Great Mother and her appearance in history. Our modern determination to subdue nature may be due to an unacknowledged fear of the destructive power of our own instinctual nature, or an irrational fear of the power of the ancient goddess. If we go back in time and look at some of the earlier myths and traditions on which society is based, we may be given a new perspective on our problem, which will enable us to begin to consider why the earth and her inhabitants have suffered such abuse at the hands of an essentially hostile human race. We may also begin to uncover the roots of society's deeply schizoid condition.


1. Sigmund Freud: Civilization and its Discontents, translated by Joan Riviere, Hogarth Press, London, 1930, p 144.

2. See Jonathan Schell: The Fate of the Earth, Picador, London, 1982.

3. Ibid. p 230.

4. North-South: A Programme for Survival, introduced by Willy Brandt, Pan, London, 1983.

5. Ibid. p 17.

6. Ibid. p 16.

7. Anthony Storr: Human Aggression, Penguin, 1968, pp 82-89.

8. Rollo May: Love and Will, Fountain Books, Glasgow, 1977,

9. Frank Lake: Clinical Pastoral Care in Schizoid Personality Reactions Clinical Theology Association, ‘Lingdale’, Western Avenue, Mount Hooton Road, Nottingham, 1971, p 30.

10. Op. cit. p 20.

11. Ibid. pp 16-17.

12. Op. cit. p 27.

13. Ibid.

14. J. B. Watson: Psychological Care of the Infant and Child, cited by Christina Hardyment: Dream Babies, Jonathan Cape, London, 1983, p 175.

15. Rollo May: Man’s Search for Himself, Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1953, p 24.

16. May: Love and Will, p 14.

17. See Elaine Morgan: Falling Apart: The Rise and Decline ofUrban Civilization, Abacus, London, 1978, p 14.

18. Op. cit. p 42.

19. William Cobbett: Rural Rides, cited by Raymond Williams: The Country and the City, Chatto and Windus, London, 1973, p 146.

20. William Wordsworth: The Prelude, Book VII lines 116-118.

21. Ibid. first edition, lines 624-634.

22. Cited by Williams, op. cit. pp 215-216.

23. Wordsworth: Tintern Abbey, lines 107-111.

24. A. C. Swinburne: Atalanta in Calydon (1863-4), cited by Mario Praz: The Romantic Agony, Oxford University Press, London, 1970, p. 233.

25. E. F. Schumacher: Small is Beautiful, Abacus, London, 1974, p 122.

26. See The Times, Thursday June 3, 1980, a Special Report for World Environment Day, entitled Survival.

27. Robert Allen: How to Save the World: Strategy for World Conservation, Kogan Page Ltd., London, 1980, p 11.

28. Cited in Touch the Earth, A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence, compiled by T. C. McLuhan, Abacus, London, 1978, p 56.

29. Kit Pedler: The Quest for Gaia: A Book of Changes, Souvenir Press, London, 1979, p 12.

30. Ibid. p 11.

31. Ibid.

32. C. G. Jung: Man and His Symbols: Picador, London, 1978, p 85.

33. Ibid. For a full and comprehensive explanation of the archetype of the Great Mother, see Erich Neumann: The Great Mother, an analysis of the archetype, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1955.

34. Op. citcit. p 19.

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