BOOK REVIEW / And anon, methought, the wood began to move: 'The Voice of the Earth' - Theodore Roszak: Bantam Press, 17.99 pounds

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The Independent Online
THEODORE ROSZAK examines his patients with exemplary insight. Both the people and our planet are seriously sick. The western nations can no longer maintain their indulgent, affluent and cancerous lifestyles. And the Earth cannot sustain the punishing weight of their wasteful and dirty industrial system. The growing ecological and environmental problems mirror the pathologies inherent in our everyday life. Our desire for a better quality of life reflects our alienation from nature. We have infected Mother Earth with our own madness and ignored our responsibility for future generations. We must change before it is too late.

Good. We have heard this before, not least from Roszak himself in his previous books. But what is the method in our madness? Why are we behaving in this irresponsible and maniacal manner? Roszak's insight begins to melt when it comes to diagnoses. The root cause of our ills, he suggests, is the different way we bring up boys and girls. Civilization is collapsing due to an acute lack of a female Freud.

When it come to prescription, Roszak's insights disappear into a mystical haze. We need the wholesale replacement, he argues, of the 'intellectually crippling' and 'militantly secular liberal thought' with spirituality based on a new religion. It is the spiritual vacuum at the heart of western society that has driven us all into the abyss of insanity. The recovery can begin only by seeking a 'greater sanity' that will bridge the historical gulf between the psychological and the ecological, and will reconcile the needs of the planet with those of the individual. This greater spirituality, this higher religion, this apotheosis of Californian New Age mysticism, is ecopsychology.

Ecopsychology, Roszak asserts, is the yearning of our deep unconscious. It is Mother Earth talking to us on a mystical wavelength, trees speaking in tongues, stones preaching ethical sermons. It is a comprehensive and universal green science that combines the latest discoveries of cosmology - which confirm the unity of time, space, spirit and mind - with Stone Age psychiatry, poetry with politics, and includes generous doses of deep ecology, ecofeminism and neo-paganism.

The bedrock of ecopsychology is a new deism which owes no loyalty to Judeo-Christian theology or a personal god. It is based not on the idea of a Heavenly God who descends from Olympian heights to hand legal tablets to his followers, but on solid, good, reductive science. It is a deism rooted in reason but open to intuitive insights and aesthetic experience: 'It can be seen as nature mysticism'. And, Roszak asserts boldly, it is already functioning as the 'metaphysical scaffolding' of a new cosmology.

The cosmology that the good witch doctor has prescribed is hardly new. The excavation and worship of nature as a source for ethics has a long tradition in western thought. Nature philosophies have been used to justify almost every brand of exploitation from oligarchy and slavery to totalitarian repression. Indeed, nature mysticism is the ultimate ego trip. Earlier in the century, Roszak-like nature mysticism and occultish scientific reasoning formed the basis of the volkisch ideology and Hitler's 'blood and soil' naturism. Stalin's cosmological 'dialectic' also owed something to this kind of thinking.

It is hardly surprising, then, that mystical authoritarianism, combined with hippie-style narcissism, give an underlying tension to Roszak's book. There is even a touch of megalomania in his writing. He aims for nothing less then a total explanation of the living importance of the great scientific discoveries of our time. For him, science is not simply a problem- solving enterprise: it is a quest for a mystical high, the ritual magic that purifies the soul. As both a science and a mystical religion, ecopsychology is therefore a theory of everything. He presents us with a stark choice. Reject ecopsychology and die. Accept the innately animist nature of your being and evolve onto a higher plane of consciousness.

Roszak's scientific neo-Platonism is just as mad as the mad behaviour and lifestyles he so eloquently criticises. The Voice of the Earth is a very unwise book from someone who is seen as the wise old man of the alternative movement. Before we save the earth we need to save ourselves from Californian gurus and demigods.