Social Closeness & Social Distance: the More-Than-Human Story

Let’s talk about the new geological age of the world, the Anthropocene, the “human epoch”, a time of extinctions and biosphere collapse driven by human activity. This doomsday scenario comes at the price of the largest possible understanding of what it is to be human, the one all of us have inherited from our ancestors, the one in which the ancient red cliff in the Thompson Gorge below (for example) is what it is to be human. Any damage done to it is synonymous with destruction of that identity and its skills. It is, in effect, social distance.

What, then, would it be like to be socially close? Well, for one thing, other consciousnesses will meet us in that space, and will direct us. The ancestral figures below, ones in which my mind and the Earth matched, are present in this image because they caught my eye. The intent is theirs as much as mine.

Near Mauvais Rocher

Such apparitions aren’t subservient to human intention and are, in effect, also definitions of what it is to be human. We are ancient on this Earth.

Stone Canoe with Ancestral Figures, Thompson

Psychology describes these effects in terms of the Individual self, but what of the non-individual self? What of the psychology of the Earth? It is not separate.

Old Nlaka’pamux Camp above the Thompson

In short, it might not be what our modern anthropological mythology has primed us to hear, but Covid-19 has a psychology. Material is crossing between species. The weapon against this transmission is to socially distance humans from each other, using all the power of the socially-distanced state. This is wise, as this is not a healthy conversation. It is a mirror of our social distance and destroys the social closeness we have left. Also wise would be to ask this question at the same time: how can we end our socially-distanced state and be part of an ongoing social relationship with the Earth and all its forces and creatures, one that is close yet nuanced and protective of real individuality? After all…

… to say that a hoverfly and its rabbitbrush are separate, and given voice only by human cultural training, is like saying that …

… this shamanic stone in the Thompson and you are separate. How can the two of you talk, then? When your mind is in the Earth, how can you know what is in your mind if you have no relationship with this stone?

Or with this silt bluff (and its bighorn sheep tracks and ancestral emanations) at Cook’s Ferry? Simply, they will be dead to you. At that point, you, who are the Earth, will only have the portal of Death to speak through, and the Earth will speak, and she will speak through it, whether by species-jumping viruses or in any other way. It is hubris to call this the Anthropocene. We are only part of this story.

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