Enantiodromia

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

words by william defebaugh

photograph by Kei Nomiyama

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Enantiodromia (noun): the principle that everything eventually makes way for its opposite.

 

Enantiodromia is a term that was introduced to the masses by Carl Jung, the Swiss father of analytic psychology—but it’s not a new concept. In fact, its roots trace back to ancient Greece, where writers and philosophers Heraclitus and Plato noted that, “everything arises in this way, opposites from their opposites.” Nowhere do we see this more abundantly than in the precessions of nature: day invariably begets night, summer begets winter, life begets death, and so on. The trough of every wave eventually creates its crest, and in this process, nature maintains equilibrium.

 

Anyone who reads the news would probably come to the conclusion that the world is out of balance, from both a climatic and cultural perspective. This week alone we experienced a political meltdown on multiple fronts in the United States: first when the Iowa caucus system literally crashed, and then when President Donald Trump was acquitted from his impeachment charges by the Senate. This is the same President who also had the gall to boast about joining the global trillion tree initiative while making no mention of why we need the trees, and talking up the fossil fuel industry—all in the same speech. Meanwhile, this week his administration quietly finalized its plans to exploit more national landmarks.

 

Outside of politics, a new study published in the journal Science this week found that bumblebee populations have fallen by 46% in North America in the last century due to rising temperatures. And another study found that fireflies are facing extinction, though in a different form: light pollution is making it more difficult for them to mate (males light up in order to signal they are ready to mate, and females respond with patterned blinking). In short, things are looking bleak for insects.

 

Now, if you soldiered through that recap, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of: “We’re doomed! We are destroying the natural order! Ahh!” And while the former might be true (sorry), the latter is impossible. All too often, order is confused with balance. In nature, chaos and order coexist, constantly making way for one another. We see this in the five mass extinctions that came before us, each of which paved way for the next era of life on earth (more on this in our next issue, coming soon). That’s the thing about balance: when we are experiencing an extreme swing of the pendulum as our world is now, what might feel like chaos is actually enantiodromia or equilibrium in action.

 

Speaking of balance: Yellowstone National Park is celebrating one of the greatest stories of re-wilding in history after successfully bringing back gray wolves from the brink of extinction, restoring the area’s ecosystem with its natural top predator. This week it was also announced that a climate reporter, Vanessa Hauc, will co-moderate a Presidential debate for the first time in history, which is no small feat. And climate activists are getting more creative by the day, having recently snuck a giant trojan horse replica into the British Museum to protest its connection to BP.

 

When Jung brought the concept of enantiodromia to the modern world, he applied it to the mind, pointing out that every extreme tendency of the unconscious is eventually met with its opposite, which is true for the collective as well. After the onset of the industrial revolution, humanity found itself at an extreme as arrogance and ego became our dominant driving forces. What we are experiencing now is a course correction, as humility and reverence take the wheel. All of this is not to say that we are off the hook—rather the opposite. We must fight harder than ever before for the natural world, but we must do so with a balanced perspective and remember that the pendulum has no choice but to swing, and that we are the pendulum.

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