Love Your Symptoms

A Response from Paul Robbins and Sarah A. Moore of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Rather, however, than arguing that one group’s desires and fears should be repressed or sublimated by the other, we suggest some common ground. Political ecologists and eco-moderns together reject an Edenic idea of balance in nature – acknowledging, with materialist psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek, that the idea of balance itself is merely a retelling of The Fall. The concept of nature in balance is a comforting story we humans tell each other, after all, to avoid facing the reality that our socio-natural condition is inherently disordered and never fully amenable to technical or social control. Facing that reality head on, for Zizek, following Lacan, is an uncomfortable act; something that disturbs the surface of the false appearance of order, control and full knowledge. Rather than repressing the common symptom of political ecologists and ecomoderns, the feeling that something is wrong with this world; that it could be made better for humans and non-humans alike, we therefore suggest that ecomoderns and political ecologists follow Zizek’s welcome injunction to “Love your symptom as you love yourself!”

The injunction to “Enjoy your symptom!, to love it as you love yourself, does not mean falling into complacency or worse, unfettered relativism or nihilistic despair, but instead learning to recognize the symptom in ourselves and others – to hear what it is trying to tell us about our own and others’ suffering. We therefore suggest that we join together to render ecomodern political ecology a therapeutic empirical project. Rather than become entrenched in an ongoing battle over the dysfunction of the other group’s phobic attachments, then, we would instead explicitly engage them, working together to pose specific questions, open to productive exploration: Under what conditions, and to what extent, are GMOs a projection of unjust property relations and when, conversely, are they the tools of livelihood autonomy, farmer aspirations, or even sedition? What kinds of states do hydraulically fractured natural gas fields or nuclear power plants make and when are such states amenable to more just distributions of benefits and hazards of power generation? When are they not? Who controls the specific way innovation occurs and when does such innovation actually free labor, imagination, and desire… When does it not? Under what conditions do cities unleash the power of people, increase efficiency and restore the “natural” worlds around them and when does their governance merely remake the violent constraints of what came before?

Read the full response here.