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Alienation, the cosmos and the self



This paper is concerned with the alienation between the self and the cosmos. On the one hand, the binaries involved in this process (including the division between society and nature and between mental and manual labour) have been widely described and commented on. Social scientists and activists alike have shown that dichotomies of this kind are used by social elites to legitimate control over nature and over ‘inferior’ human beings. These insights are all vital but this paper attempts to combine them with elements of psychoanalysis. Binary ways of thought also appeal to elements (especially infantile elements) of the human psyche that divide parts of society and nature into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. These binaries are the product of psychic defence mechanisms operating under uncertain, challenging or difficult- to-understand circumstances. They result in a narcissistic rather than an anaclytic relation to the cosmos, one in which a divided cosmos is mirroring a divided self rather than (as in archaic societies) a self which develops in close relation to ‘others’ on which it depends. The paper concludes by arguing that a highly general, ‘universal’, knowledge of the cosmos and external nature is unstable and eminently challengeable.