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Befriending the Things around Us. Respecting the Soul of the World

A generally unnoticed factor behind our current environmental predicament is a deeply dysfunctional relationship with the things around us, not just things of nature but also human-made things. Behind this dysfunction is an idea of things as inanimate, lifeless, dead. This post-Cartesian notion seems obvious to most people nowadays, but is in fact highly unusual when seen in the context of the history of human cultures. By contrast with our modern notion of ‘animism’ (‘primitive’ peoples project their own psychology onto the inanimate world so that it appears animated), most cultures think that the world is pervaded by soul from the start (as in the Platonic anima mundi). An appreciation of the philosophical depth of the idea of the world soul—or a world of qi energies in the Chinese tradition—encourages us to befriend the things around us and treat the soul of the world (and the body of the earth) with greater respect.

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