"What you learn in therapy is mainly feeling skills, how to really remember, how to let fantasy come, how to find words for invisible things, how to go deep and face things... but you don‘t learn political skills or find out anything about the way the world works. Personal growth doesn‘t automatically lead to political results. Look at Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Psychoanalysis was banned for decades, and look at the political changes that have come up and startled everybody. Not the result of therapy, their revolutions..." (Ventura & Hillman, 1993, p. 6-7)
This provocative statement by a psychoanalyst (who also writes on ecopsychology) critiques what he sees as a particular narrow focus in much of psychotherapy, in which the focus is not on the visible and material, but on the invisible depths of our subjectivity. In such (non-ecopsychological) psychotherapy the normal order of everyday life is inverted as the invisible is uncovered whilst the visible material world becomes invisible. In contrast, therapists and writers influenced by ecopsychology attempt to make the material visible and bring the material world back into the therapy room in a number of different ways. This chapter will view the material and its return into therapy through the analytic lens. The colonisation of Aotearoa, the ecological impact of this, and the challenge of confronting human destructiveness, will all be covered in this chapter.
A Marxist Example of Analytic Materialism
The reference to the former Soviet Bloc in the introductory quotation evokes Marxism – a set of political ideas aligned with philosophical materialism. Steven‘s (1990) Marxist analysis is an example of one of the diverse ways in which psychotherapists might be able to begin to think more about the material world. Steven is particularly relevant because his writings are focused specifically on the New Zealand context, and are assigned reading in a New Zealand (Auckland University of Technology) training programme for psychotherapists.
According to Steven, Pakeha colonialists had a highly developed rationalising ideology in which colonisation and the Treaty of Waitangi were acts of benevolence towards Maori. In contrast to this ideology which he attempts to expose, Steven analyses the material forces that demanded colonisation, and which in turn led to both genocide and most importantly for this dissertation, environmental degradation.
From a Marxist perspective, British colonisation was an attempt to solve a crisis of capitalism in which Britain had a large and potentially revolutionary lower class. Though the 1834 Poor Law Act in Britain attempted to stem population increase, a place had to be found for the current and dangerously unstable surplus working class population. Aotearoa was this place, and the high quality land (and therefore living conditions) were the necessary enticement for colonists (Steven, 1990).
Unlike in cheap labour or extractive economies where indigenous people are wanted for their labour, there was no role for Maori who occupied land required for Britain‘s surplus population. Their existence threatened the development of Aotearoa as a destination for destitute Britons. Pressure to develop Aotearoa in this way spilled out in genocide, (in the savagery against Maori of the Settler Wars of the 1860s) but also resulted in the undermining of Maori culture and connection to the land. The focus here is not however on this genocide, but on the centrality of the land to Pakeha motivations and identity. ―It lies at the heart of who New Zealanders really are, and it also, though more indirectly, shapes our ideologies of who we think we are.‖ (Steven, p.30) According to Steven, Maori identity in the past centred on the land, and today centres on the struggle for return of that land. The material of the land is of central importance to both behaviour and identity.
Themes and ideas dear to classical psychoanalysis are apparent in Steven‘s (1990) narrative of colonisation and New Zealanders‘ relations with the land. For instance, the defence of rationalisation could be seen in the disavowal of aggressive impulses towards Maori occupants of the land. Guilt regarding this aggression might also later be rationalised. The surplus working class, dangerously uncivilised and potentially uncontrollable like forces in Freud‘s id, must be controlled and found an outlet for, by the ―civilised‖ British ruling class. The colonists themselves can be seen as being driven by the search for pleasure or at the least the avoidance of pain in a better quality of life.
Being a materialist analysis, competition for the land is the organising principle for the inter-racial relationships. This evokes the idea of Oedipal competition for possession of the mother who is also mother earth. Driving the conflict and competition for land are the mechanisms of capitalism which match up with Freud‘s version of Darwin, a Darwin emphasising savage competition rather than cooperation and interdependence (Roszak, 1992).
Ecological Impacts of Pakeha Colonisation of Aotearoa
Psychoanalytic dynamics can be understood idealistically, as originating in the interior of the subjectivity of the individual, or in a materialistic analysis (such as this chapter) can be understood in relation to the material of nature. In Aotearoa‘s case, the material of nature has helped determine human activity, but also has itself been profoundly changed by the colonisation of Aotearoa, as will be shown.
Pakeha colonists saw the Aotearoa landscape in terms of unrealised economic potential. Initially the focus was on turning the extensive forests into timber, running sheep for wool, and turning the forests into pasture land for dairying. From this perspective, Pakeha could only perceive Maori economic relations with the land as wasteful under-utilisation. This perception formed a further justification for appropriation (Park, 1995).
Star (2003) argues that colonists did not hate the natural environment, but that they were largely ignorant of the value of the landscape upon which they would have an irreversible impact. Western concepts of an eco-system of inter-dependent parts had not yet been developed. What environmental knowledge Pakeha had was based on the very different environment of their home-land. From this position, Pakeha were ill-equipped to understand indigenous concepts, including the resource preserving function of tapu (Star, 2003).
Park (1995) explores the history of a few Aotearoa sites that were ecologically rich and precious enough for Maori to refer to as Nga Uruora – Groves of Life. One such site (to be used here as an example of historical Pakeha relationships with the material of Aotearoa nature) was the ―Immense Trees of Ooahaoruragee‖ which stood on the site which is now the Thames estuary and Hauraki Plains.
Park‘s natural history includes historical accounts of "this vast forest dominated by the great kahikatea which according to Cook‘s account often measured 19 foot in diameter, and which were loaded with beautiful scarlet and black fruit, or koroi, which formed a staple food when in season and would be almost unimaginable to collect today. Another early Pakeha visitor recorded ―the copse wood and flax, with reeds and rushes of every description, flourish most luxuriantly on the banks of this noble river; ducks, and other water-fowl, sail proudly and undisturbedly on its placid bosom, and are so remarkably tame, as to come fearlessly within reach of the paddles... the whole atmosphere seems impregnated with perfumes..." (Park, p. 34) "Though early Pakeha visitors could appreciate the aesthetic significance of this area, they still saw it as a vacant wilderness ―not at all difficult to seize for a colony" (Park, p. 39) (This view reflected a widespread Pakeha colonial idea that they were transforming a wasteland (Moodie, 2000.) To Maori this area was a tapu, food-rich labyrinth of waterways and forest (Park, 1995).
Only later would the first Pakeha begin to understand the Maori relationship with this land. William Swainson said years later in 1856: ―"They claim and exercise ownership over the whole surface of the country, and there is no part of it, however lonely, of which they do not know the owners... Forests are preserved for birds; swamps and streams for eel-weirs and fisheries. Trees, rocks and stones are used to define the well known boundaries." (Park, p. 65)
Over time Maori had artificially modified environments in rich spots such as this to utilise nine different resource zones, but they did so in a give and take relationship, and with an affinity for both nature‘s resilience and fragility. Furthermore the modifications were subtle, not very different from that which was present anyway. (Park, 1995)
This assessment of Pakeha impacts on nature is a comparative one. The comparison is between the impacts of two peoples, one of which had already adapted in relation to material of nature in Aotearoa, the other which had not.
Confronting Human Destructiveness
The intention of this excursion into natural history is to emphasise the lack of awareness on the part of Pakeha colonists about the value of these "Groves of Life" which they were destroying in establishing their farms. Being newcomers to an eco-system unlike their own, the colonists‘ lack of awareness is understandable. What is more puzzling is Pakeha New Zealanders‘ continuing ignorance of the vast disparity between the ecological richness that existed before colonisation, and the desert-like conditions that result when humans, through industrial agriculture, channel entire eco-systems‘ productive energy into themselves (Park, 1995).
Thinking analytically about the material of nature, Pakeha lack of interest in the natural history of our country could be likened to the comparative ignorance and disinterest in their own personal history that many psychotherapy clients start therapy with. Part of this ignorance may be simply that the past is past, and that these precious eco-systems of vast lowland forests (like our own personal past) no longer exist literally in the present, to be explored in a concrete and physical way. However, another element may be psychological. For Pakeha, ignorance may serve as a defence against unbearable guilt, shame, anger at the actions of our own ancestors with whom we are identified, and against grief at the loss of that which is irreplaceable (Rust, 2004).
The interpretation suggested in the preceding paragraph is not only psychological, but also ecological and political. According to Fisher (2002) ―therapists have often argued that they do not belong in the political arena: a stance that is in itself a political act.‖ (p. 54) From an eco-psychological stance that takes the material world seriously, therapeutic neutrality is no other than collusion with the systems of capitalism and with late industrial society that casts people into the unsustainable roles of consumers (Fisher, 2002). Fisher proposes a practice of therapy that is radical, a word by which he does not mean extreme, but rather that it goes to the root of issues in human relationships with nature. This would appear to be a challenging endeavour for clients, and for therapists who according to Fisher must forgo total reliance on the idea of psychologism – that if we change consciousness then the whole of society will follow. In terms of this dissertation psychologism could be thought of as an extreme idealistic focus that excludes the material from the human-nature relationship.
The challenge laid down in the ecopsychology literature, to confront clients with their responsibility for and participation in environmentally destructive systems of material exchange, is a difficult one. Therapists and writers with different political/theoretical allegiances position themselves (and their clients) differently within this challenge. For instance, writers with deep ecological allegiances cast the systemic challenges in human (tool using and technological) vs nature terms. They consider humans‘ use of technology as a factor that both alienates them from, and allows them to dominate nature. More politically oriented writers cast the systemic challenges in human vs human terms, for instance highlighting the way in which through hierarchical power relations, powerful humans exploit less powerful humans and the natural environment, alike. (Bookchin, 1988)
Whether critiquing use of technology, power-relations, or other factors, I would suggest that use of powerful systemic critiques runs the risk of painfully alienating clients from participation in society with which these factors are so interwoven. As a participant in society, the therapist runs the same risk of alienation, and faces the challenge of maintaining awareness of painful systemic factors, just as therapists must be able to bear their own personal conflicts and vulnerabilities in order to bear these things in their clients.
While a joining empathic focus may support both client and therapist in bearing these difficulties, balancing systemic and individual lifestyle focuses may also be important. Confronting one‘s own (and possibly one‘s clients) polluting, and bringing one‘s own behaviour more in line with the realities of environmental sustainability may be a useful preparatory step. This step may prepare clients and therapists alike to hear deeper interpretations of our involvement in systemic violence towards the environment, rather than resort to various defences such as denial. This approach is the opposite of psychologism as explained above, and is instead based on the more materialistic idea that through changing behaviour consciousness may follow.
Randall (2005) gives an example of how the dilemmas of this approach might look in therapy with actual clients, when she asks "How should one respond, for instance, to the young man who says proudly that he has passed his driving test and is acquiring his first car?... Does one analyse the narcissism in a patient‘s desires for environmentally damaging activities, or stay silent because they mirror one‘s own actions? Does one notice the manifestations of denial in a patient‘s behaviour or ignore them because of the mutual discomfort acknowledgment would bring? The answers to such conflicts must, as ever, start with the individual patient. But it is likely to be our environmental-mindedness which dictates whether or not we hear the hint of doubt in the boy‘s voice as he tells us about the car and allows us to wonder what he has done with his knowledge of its damaging consequences." (Randall, p. 13)
This chapter has reviewed literature that emphasises the power of material (the physical environment itself) to shape human experience. Particular attention has been given to colonisation, which Steven (1990) understands as centred around competition for land which was essential for maintaining capitalist systems of ownership and control. This capitalist process is paralleled with Oedipal struggles for possession of mother (earth), and ―Freud‘s Darwin‖ of savage competition.
The literature points towards Pakeha destructiveness towards the land as being more about ignorance than hatred of the land. Maori patterns of land-use and experience of the richness of the land is contrasted to Pakeha colonial views of Aotearoa as either a wasteland, a potential, or economically under-utilised.
Finally, the difficulty confronting human destructiveness towards the material environment is considered. Many eco-psychological writers challenge ideas of therapeutic and political neutrality as potentially collusive with defensive tendencies to disavow human destructiveness.
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