Utopia and the Indigenous Soul

September 2, 2013

Martín Prechtel uses the idea of the indigenous soul to discuss how all humans need to feel at home on earth if we are to live more equitably here. By equitably I mean what used to be called sustainably, before that word was co-opted to ‘greenwash’ corporate concerns (“It’s business as usual, shareholders; we’ll just sell it to the emerging market better”). That is, to live in a way that ensured collective flourishing for all people and therefore for the earth as a whole, including other animals and plants and landscapes. Enlightened self-interest, when extended to its logical conclusions (which is easy to do philosophically but seems to lose all traction when applied to action), means that the whole earth must become a place of vital concern for all humans and their ways of life. Healthy biospheres require species diversity; species diversity requires different types of landscapes, so that (for instance) insects can breed in wetlands, which can feed birds and mammals, which pollenate flowers, which provide food and medicine; so land otherwise considered to have little value to humanity – like a swamp that only matters when the land it is on is ‘reclaimed,’ as if by its rightful owners – can actually be accorded value as it is, left to support a vital part of the earth community and not bulldozed for the benefit of the earth’s ‘most conscious’ denizens (woe to all other beings). Even this philosophy of enlightened self-interest only goes far enough when it stretches to all parts of the land or sea regardless of whether or not they can be found to provide any appreciable advantage to humanity at all.

All facets of life on earth, that is, actually have intrinsic value, and should be protected from voracious, self-defeating appetites.

So what is this idea of the indigenous soul and how does it fit with this vision of an equitable earth? The indigenous soul is simply the heart and mind and body and spirit of each human being in the sense that they know themselves to born of, and loyal to, the earth, as their true home, as a place worth protecting, especially against dominant interests that work against this loyalty. The indigenous soul is born with the human body in any city, any nation, on earth; it assumes loyalty to the planet as a place worth protecting before it accepts the imprint of race, nation, political persuasion, religion, philosophy or other collective dream. This before is highlighted because it indicates something that each particular body is invested with prior to the processes of socialization that will imprint those secondary characteristics of the self to be individuated out of the uncarved block of the child (who will, of course, also have some predispositions coded into their genetic structure)

There’s no aim in this unfolding – there is no teleology or endpoint involved – because the feeling of being at home on earth is the ultimate reward for the embodied self, who is the indigenous soul, as they come to know themselves as a conscious human being becoming aware of the universe as it unfolds (likewise, with no aim in mind except its own being and becoming at once, both complete at all times and limited in its particularity and therefore its uniqueness as well).

The importance of the concept of the indigenous soul, I believe, can be found in this loyalty, which puts the earth first regardless of other affiliations. The most important secondary affiliation the indigenous soul undermines is not nation, religion or race, however (even though those take centre stage in so much consumerist propaganda – oops, I meant modern mass media); it is urbanity. The enormous, exponential growth in human beings being born, or becoming, urban is the single most important thing that matters to the ecological cost of human life on earth today. As more humans are born now than ever, a higher percentage of them are urbanized.

This is not a diatribe against urbanization (even though I admit I don’t like having ever been domesticated by the social and physical infrastructures of human life), it is a simple fact. Urban centres use up more resources per acreage than non-urban living spaces do.  Cities are most often sited on the most fertile arable land, next to water courses, relatively flat and not covered in hostile territory like desert or mangrove swamp. Though the land is not used to grow or provide habitat for other animals, it supports a higher concentration of humans than other forms of society can, so it must needs be supplied with the necessities of life from elsewhere, at higher rates than would otherwise be required. Cities drain surrounding lands, both in immediate physical terms and in terms of inequitable relationships between relatively rich and poor nations, regardless of the physical distance between them (of course inequity also exists between parts of each nation and even city too).

For the urban citizen to put the earth before their creature comforts is probably the most radical and important shift that the idea of the indigenous soul could afford twenty-first century life. We are all an indigenous soul.



  1. Thank you for posting this. In the ‘rewild your life’ challenge (spend half an hour in nature every day) I’m trying to test the limits of ‘connecting with non-human nature’ in urban settings. It’s easy to connect when you are surrounded by bush but what is the potential in the middle of the city?

    What I take from your post is that it’s crucial, what I’m finding so far (keeping in mind it’s only day 2) is that wilderness is everywhere but in the city it’s easy to overlook it. I don’t think it’s inevitable, I think we train ourselves to stop noticing it, or perhaps we learn to priviledge human creations.

    • Yes, I fully agree with your conclusions there Kiri. For me the next step is, once we’ve helped people to reconnect with the earth (I know I’m getting ahead of myself here but I am a sucker for a thoroughly thought through vision) how do we then help them to care? That is, care enough to change…

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