Ecological anxiety disorder: diagnosing the politics of the Anthropocene
The quickly changing character of the global environment has predicated a number of crises in the sciences of biology and ecology. Specifically, the rapid rate of ecological change has led to the proliferation of novel ecologies. These unprecedented ecosystems and assemblages challenge the scientific, as well as cultural, core of many disciplines. This has led to divisive debates over what constitutes a ‘natural’ system state, and over what kinds of interventions, if any, should be advocated by scientists. In this paper, we review the nature of the recent discomfort, conflict, and ambivalence experienced in some sciences. In examining these, we stress emerging and conjoined concerns in ecological scientific communities. Specifically, we identify, on the one hand, an expressed concern that practitioners have been insufficiently persistent and explicit in proselytizing the current risks of human impacts, and on the other hand an obverse concern that many historically common scientific concepts and concerns (like ‘invasive’ species) are already overly normative and culturally freighted. We identify the resulting contradictory condition as ‘ecological anxiety disorder’, announced either as a fearful response to: 1) the negative normative influence of humans on the earth (anthrophobia) or 2) the inherent influence of normative human values within one’s own science (autophobia). We then argue, drawing on the psychoanalytic work of Jacques Lacan, that these paralyzing phobias are born of an inability to address more fundamental anxieties. Only by explicitly enunciating the object of scientific desire, we argue, as Lacan suggests, can scientific practitioners come to terms with these anxieties in a way that does not lead to dysfunction. Using a case example of island rewilding in the Indian Ocean, we provide an alternative mode of resolving and adjudicating human influences and normative aspects in ecology and biology, one that is explicitly political.