Diagnosing the Phoenix Complex: What We Hope for When We Burn the World (and Ourselves)
For millennia now, humanity has been implicitly conceiving of nature as a phoenix, understanding its cyclical regeneration as a sign of its infinite capacity for rebirth from the ashes of destruction. Hoping that such a dynamic would continue indefinitely, we keep literally burning the world down, while awaiting its phoenix-like resurgence. Both singly and in groups, as consumers and corporations, states and energy companies, we continue to think and to act as if nature were immune to irreparable devastation, as if it (and we, ourselves) were a miraculously resilient phoenix. Nevertheless, what is being annihilated today can no longer regerminate and be rejuvenated from the ashes, receiving a new lease of life from death, as a result of soil degradation and depletion, desertification and the expansion of hypoxic areas in the oceans, the catastrophic melting of Arctic ice and suffocating smog filling the atmosphere. In this talk, I will draw the outlines of what I call “the phoenix complex,” which may help us diagnose the deep cultural, psychological, theological, and philosophical roots of this predicament.
Michael Marder is Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country, UPV/EHU, Vitoria-Gasteiz. His work spans the fields of environmental philosophy and ecological thought, political theory, and phenomenology.