It is another epidemic, more latent and quieter, which nevertheless strikes more and more people on a planetary scale. And, like the coronavirus, it is just as revealing of the dysfunctions of our contemporary societies. This epidemic is the distress felt by more and more human beings in the face of the destruction of their living environment.
Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher, has been studying this phenomenon for several years, having notably collected the testimonies of the inhabitants of the Hunter Valley, a region north of Sidney. Over there, thousands of kilometers of prodigious nature have been ravaged by gigantic coal mines: the songs of birds and the enchanting landscapes have disappeared, there is now only room for dust, the acrid odor and the deafening din of explosive devices that track down the ore in the smallest corners of these open-air sites. To this profound and radical alteration, local residents can only respond as amazed and despair.
La solastalgia : the devastation of nature
This distress, Glenn Albrecht therefore gave it a name: "solastalgia", which he defines precisely as "the feeling experienced in the face of a stressful and negative environmental change" and "the desolation experienced in the face of the devastation of a natural place loved, which is part of our identity. Like nostalgia, presented as "the evil of the century" when the syndrome appeared in the XNUMXth century, solastalgia shares the idea of a strong attachment to one's place of life. Except that this time, this malaise is expressed without even having left the country: this psychological violence imposes itself at home by the transformation undergone by its usual living environment. In doing so, Glenn Albrecht brings to light a reality that is too often despised: nature directly affects our morale, our mental health being often more impacted by our environment than we would like to believe.
A specialist in environmental ethics, hailed in the Anglo-Saxon world but still little known in France, Glenn Albrecht has been developing this concept for twenty years, but his work is only published for the first time in French, with Earth emotions. New words for a new world (Ed. The links that liberate, 2020). Scholarly but essential work – Pablo Servigne, who says the greatest good about it, speaks of a book of “capital importance” – we discover that his passion for neologisms does not stop at “solastalgia”, far from it: it is a whole semantic arsenal thus created by the philosopher, anxious to invent new words to identify the new evils of our time.
Solastalgia shares the idea of a strong attachment to one's place of life. Except that this time, this malaise is expressed without even having left the country: this psychological violence imposes itself at home by the transformation undergone by its usual living environment.
"I was always surprised to find that there were no words in human psychology to define environmental distress," he explained to us during his visit to Paris in early March. But these are important emotions that deserve their own terms! ". This is how he describes as “psychoterratic” the positive or negative emotions caused by the state of the environment on Earth. At the end, a glossary lists this series of new vocabulary words, which sometimes look surprising, such as “ecoagnosia”, “soliphilia”, “terrafury” or even “holobiont”.
The ancients knew
While Glenn Albrecht relies in particular on the cultural traditions of the aborigines – "This people has an impressive history of longevity and coexistence with other human and non-human beings", he writes in his preface – he also draws his inspiration from side of various ecological and spiritual reflections developed by Aldo Leopold, Arne Naess or Joanna Macy, among others. What also detects there, in many respects, Buddhist accents – an intellectual filiation that he does not deny elsewhere. “I have a lot of empathy for religions that integrate the human into the rest of the world, which is why different aspects of Buddhism are very familiar to me. I completely recognize the value of a life led according to Buddhist principles,” he explains.
Moreover, slaying "the organized religions which have constructed the separation of Man and Nature", Glenn Albrecht thus makes himself the defender of a new secular spirituality which he in turn endows, obviously, with a strange neologism: the "ghedeist", to which the 5th chapter is thus devoted, is defined as this "feeling of a deep symbiotic interdependence between the self and other living beings (human and non-human) and their coming together to live together in places and shared spaces on Earth. It is a secular feeling of intense affinity and mutual empathy for other creatures.
Behind these surprising neologisms, which should surely not frighten the curious reader, hides a laudable and highly necessary intention, with Glenn Albrecht: to allow human beings to reconnect with a certain harmony lost with nature. And for this, the Australian philosopher is convinced, it is first necessary to “eliminate the nature-culture dualism which is one of the main errors of our Western philosophies”. All this was certainly worth a new dictionary!