The Ocean Floor is Our Unconscious

It isn’t major news, it doesn’t hog the headlines. It’s just one of many news stories about how we are polluting the whole planet. But it can now be said that even in its remotest corners, the ocean floor is littered with junk—fishing nets, sunken ships, machinery parts, fuel tanks—the list is endless. According to a recent National Geographic article, the strait between Sicily and Italy is the most polluted area of marine litter in the world. Some areas there have a density more than a million objects per square kilometer. The article goes on to say that the volume of rubbish in the sea could surpass three billion metric tons in thirty years. I can’t even process what that means, except that it is an enormous amount. “Plastics, fishing gears, metal, glass, ceramics, textiles and paper are the most abundant materials in the seafloor,” says the article.
What distinguishes the ocean floor from other areas of rubbish, like landfills or garbage dumps, is that the ocean floor is invisible. We can’t see it, it’s not part of our daily life, and in some cases it is unfathomably deep. We are unconscious of the ocean floor; the surface of the ocean looks the same as it always has—the wine-dark sea of Homer’s description. But down deep, where no-one ever sees or looks, the detritus of all human civilization quietly accumulates. The ocean floor is like our collective unconscious, the material record of everything every generation has ever done. Like the psychological unconscious, even though it is out of sight and out of mind, it has power. It is quietly, stealthily, transforming us—poisoning us, really. And there is little this or any future generation can do about what is already there. Those objects, large and small at the bottom of the sea, will be there virtually forever—ever so slowly decaying perhaps, but virtually permanent. Even if some enlightened future generation made it their mission to clean up all the junk and pollution of our industrial age, I can’t imagine them going down five miles deep and dredging up the millions and billions of rusting objects and invincible plastic in the sandy depths.
This collective unconscious is already having a deleterious affect on marine life. Litter is a new threat to marine biodiversity. “It is already known that nearly 700 marine species, 17% of which are on the IUCN red list, have been affected by this problem in several ways,” says the article. That number is bound to drastically increase in future years. Our garbage is literally killing the fish—and a large segment of humanity depends on fish as their main source of protein. The seabed may be out collective unconscious, but for the fish–and for those who depend on fish–it is not unconscious at all. They know that we are killing them.
The degradation of our full collective unconscious—which includes not just the ocean but all the land, and orbital space too—is beyond measure. Space is like the ocean; there is so much junk up there orbiting around that it is an increasing danger to objects we send to space and the human beings we send there. Cleaning up space—besides requiring international cooperation far beyond our current geopolitics—would be like cleaning up the oceans. Perhaps some innovative space robots can be invented to suck up all the junk orbiting there. But by the time we get to it how long is it likely to take? A thousand years and a million robots?
Our collective unconscious is like a house that never gets cleaned. The dust and dirt builds up. At first the residents of the house don’t notice much. They are busy doing what they do—wandering about, watching TV, munching snack food and drinking beer. But eventually the mess is so great no-one can move. You can’t even get to the bathroom without tripping over something. The toxic dust in the air makes the residents sick. One day they begin to notice and wonder if the accumulating junk, now waste high, has something to do with their disease. They have awakened, finally, but by that time can anything be done?
By then it will probably be too late. Is this where we are heading? Is the collective unconscious, growing and building in the dark, eventually going to drive us all to sicken and perish? Freud once said that the purpose of psychoanalysis is to make the unconscious conscious. Can we do that? There are a few Cassandras—scientists mostly, the same ones warning about global warming—who are conscious and who are trying to get our attention about the oceans. But they are few, and most people, understandably, are worried about more immediate things, like earning enough to eat and survive.
Given enough time—if we stop polluting the ocean entirely—it may be that the ocean itself will dissolve what we have done. It might take ten thousand years, or even a hundred thousand. But planetary time lives in its own sphere, far beyond ours. However long it takes, the planet will heal; nature, as they say, bats last. But until then, what is our responsibility?

One thought on “The Ocean Floor is Our Unconscious

  1. I’m not sure whether to feel depressed or fired up with hope. It feels better to choose the latter. Thank you, Lewis, for this call to awaken.

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