Ecophobia: A Paradigm

Briefly, "ecophobia" is an irrational (often hysterical) and groundless hatred of the natural world, or aspects of it. Such fear of the agency of Nature plays out in many spheres. The personal hygiene industry relies on it, since capital-driven notions about personal cleanliness assign us preference for perfumes (for some more than others) over natural bodily odors; the cosmetic industry (in its passion for covering up Nature’s "flaws" and "blemishes") uses it; beauticians and barbers (in their military passion for cutting back natural growths) are sustained by it; city sanitation boards display it in their demands that residents keep grass short to prevent the introduction of "vermin" and "pests" into urban areas; landscaped gardens, trimmed poodles in women’s handbags on the Seoul subway system–anything that amputates or seeks to amputate the agency of Nature and to assert a human order on a system that follows different orders is, in essence, ecophobic. Ecophobia is a subtle thing that takes many forms.

Ecophobia is all about fear of a loss of agency and control to Nature. It is ecophobia that sets the Old Testament God (within the first twenty-six verses of Genesis) declaring that "man" (anatomically and generically, at this point) is to have dominion over everything. It is ecophobia that allows "man" unquestioned use of land and animals. And it is ecophobia that posits Nature as the scapegoat for social problems (such as over-crowding and the diseases that over-crowding encourages). Control of the natural environment, understood as a god-given right in Western culture, seems to imply ecophobia, just as the use of African slaves implies racism. Similarly, misogyny is to rape as ecophobia is environmental looting and plundering. Like racism and misogyny, with which it is often allied, ecophobia is about power.

From "An Introduction to Shakespeare and Ecocriticism" by Simon Estok, in this winter’s issue of ISLE (Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment).

To yours truly, the concept appears academically overstated but quite possibly hugely useful. Often it takes a new word to reveal a pattern of old thinking; maybe this is just such a word. I’ve been looking for one to try and show people that Nature doesn’t hate us. (We wouldn’t be here if she did.) Often, it seems to be quite the other way around…

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  1. sfmike

    Dear Kit: Take the word and run with it. I love it too. And yes, the academic exegesis was not the best. We could both do better.

    Still, I have a fascination for “ecophobians,” possibly because they have “trimmed poodles in women’s handbags on the Seoul subway system.” What an image.

    November 25, 2005