Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Unconscious obstacles to caring for the planet

"Engaging with Climate Change"; edited by Sally Weintrobe, is a beautiful book written by people who care about the world, about nature, and about the well being of all humans. Here is an excerpt from the chapter by John Keene. (highlights by the Frog)

 I suggest that when it comes to how we see ourselves, we live in acurious world of doublethink. In spite of Darwin's contribution linking mankind with its biological heritage and Freud's account of the disowned operations of the mind, our public discourse tends to follow the Enlightenment view that rational thought now predominates, and there is recurrent surprise on finding so frequently that this is not the case. One might say that the problems potentially posed by significant global warming tick all the wrong boxes as far as our evolved, individually learned and group responses to our environment and to danger are concerned. The plasticity of human behavior and the power of language, which have been such an advantage in the development of the species, mean that human individuals have to develop their own models of the world and their relationship to it. These models, which operate to a considerable degree outside awareness, are profoundly affected by experiences in infancy. These partly unavailable and partly disowned assumptions, which powerfully affect our behaviour, are not just the domain of psychoanalysis but are well recognized in folklore, myth and in our literary and dramatic heritage. Sadly, rapid and magnificent technological advances have had little impact on these fundamental processes, which restrict our capacity to comprehend and deal with external reality and to restrain our capacities for self-destruction.

1 comment:

  1. The above is certainly a well written (perhaps too well written?) ("the suggestive power of well crafted and sequenced language"? ) and a reasonably argued and certainly a thought-provoking piece. Is it itself a rational argument based on enlightenment thinking (within our public discourse) or is it too perhaps somehow influenced or shaped by Darwin's and Freud's respective contributions as also described above or by other forms of simplifying heuristics? My rational and logical mind tells me that I would need to dissect, analyze and parse each sentence to see if it really can stand and also whether the ones that follow it necessarily follow logically as conclusions or not. The paragraph packs a lot of ideas and concepts and notions into a single paragraph. I think they need careful unbundling and separate testing against both experience and logic before the conclusions can be accepted without reservations. And how long of a comment would that take? I am not sure for instance whether one should say that "sadly" the "rapid and magnificent" technological advances we have made have had little impact on these fundamental processes. Maybe viewed differently this is not a sad thing at all but perhaps instead a rather good one? And I am also not convinced that "these fundamental processes" necessarily always restrict our capacity to comprehend and to deal with external reality.....(doesn't it "depend" on circumstances, situation, context and etc.?) and "to restrain our capacities for self-destruction". Humans also experience and practice such things as sympathy, empathy, compassion, charity, courage, and a number of other states of mind and of interpersonal behavior and practice that could even seem "irrational" or "illogical" if too closely scrutinized but end up doing more good than harm to both individuals and to groups as well as to communities and to society as a whole. But having said all of the above (amazingly) I think I agree with the paragraph above more than I disagree with it. The next question of course is what to do about it with respect to climate change. Are there other problems that "tick all the wrong boxes" too? Or is climate change a sui generis case? And if not, how are we dealing with other similar cases where the rational mind can't seem to predominate and draw the right conclusions for thought and action?