[Re-edit October 2020]
Paul Chefurka proposes a number of stages of awareness of climate problems, with psychological consequences, which might be useful in understanding what we can expect as we ‘progress into the depths’ of the problems and predicaments we face.
Stage 1: The Person sees that there are particular shortcomings in an organization, our morals, our economy or whatever. It’s a matter of changing the rules, or getting more of something that is already there. It’s pretty easy really, if only people saw sense. [In terms I use later in this blog, this is a partly a problem which arises because of the so-called ‘directed mind‘]
Stage 2: There is ONE Fundamental Problem which destroys everything else. Capitalism, Climate Change, government, overpopulation, Peak Oil, biodiversity loss, fossil fuels, inequality, patriarchy, sociopolitical injustice, stupid politicians, socialism, lack of spirituality, etc. If we can fix this problem, or control some other people, then we can fix everything. [This is a form of radical simplification – a refusal to acknowledge social and ecological complexity , ]
People become activists and keep bringing up this problem to explain everything, and point out how everything could be solved if we really solved this problem.
Stage 3: If we become aware that we cannot seem to solve the big problem, it is possible for awareness of their complexity to grow. Then it seems there are many problems, but the person still might still try to prioritise some problems or resist expanding the ‘problem field’, to keep things under control. They may fear that further new concerns will only dilute the effort which needs to be focused on solving the “highest priority” problems.
Stage 4: Then the person realises that the problems are interconnected and influence each other. It is hard to keep those problems bounded and separate. There is a multitude of problems. The person sees the importance of unintended consequences – a solution in one domain may worsen a problem in another. Prediction is difficult, planning seems impossible.
At this stage people may move into small like-minded groups. This can increase learning and insight as the whole set of issues is discussed, in ways in which they cannot be discussed elsewhere.
I would add these groups can also be a retreat from problems, if the people are not careful. The people involved can see themselves as an elite amongst the benighted, and just reinforce their earlier certainties, [or they can become pure and spiritual and risk separation from the world].
Stage 5: Through ongoing discussion, the set of problems can now be seen as a complex predicament, by which I think Chefurka means a condition of existence which may not be solvable at all. We become aware that the predicament encompasses all aspects of life. Chefurka keeps this realization as part of Stage 4, but I think that moving into recognition of the predicament is another stage which needs recognition – as that is a different place from the rest of Stage 4. With this realization:
The floodgates open, and no problem is exempt from consideration or acceptance. The very concept of a ‘Solution’ is seen through, and cast aside as a waste of effort.
[We can potentially open up the problem field, and see how problem areas we have kept separate are connected. As well, everything we think we know, may appear even more uncertain.]
Depression is likely at this moment – especially if we are facing the problem alone, and have not managed to form a sympathetic group. If the problems are insolvable, then what will happen to us all?
However, there are two paths which open – although they would seem to have always been open, and this realisation constitutes the stage beyond depression – I would call this Stage 6.
Again, I think it important to accept that stage 6 is also a social event. The groups and connections we have formed are not transcended. They are part of the process.
Path 1. Move into resilience, community-building and local sustainability initiatives. We recognize that the State will not solve the problem, and probably cannot solve the problem. [Big NGOs cannot solve the problem.] The Corporate Sector will not solve the problem either. But we have to help both others and ourselves survive the oncoming crash. Without community, without the ability to work together we are probably dead. At the least, without active community we are stuck, unable to move and helpless. Being alone or with our family, holding out against all comers is eventually barren, even though it could be temporarily useful. Humans, in general, do not live well without other humans. It seems we have to find what strengthens all of us to fight onward, and make a new life, using the insights of the previous stages.
What we have learned is: Life is complex. There is no one problem. We cannot solve, or survive, the mess of problems [and this is a deliberate term], especially not alone. Predicaments interact. Unintended consequences are normal. We cannot depend on old structures. We have to talk, as well as act. We have to change our psychology which was appropriate perhaps for the old consumer life.
Path 2: The Inner path. “Become the change you wish to see in the world,” “In order to heal the world, first begin by healing yourself.”
This move is not a retreat into established religion and dogma, or to retreat from the world. That is simply pretending there is only one problem again, with one solution – sticking with the dogma and generally, imposing it on others. That is a denial of Spiritual and world complexity. The inner path is a process of attending to oneself as part of the world/creation, of one’s visions and dreams, of one’s feelings, and poetry. Other people help point out depth – our predicament is collective, and so, to some extent, is our inner world.
For me, both these paths are one. To make them separate, and bounded, is yet another denial of complexity.
Without attention to the ‘inner world’, we bring our complexes, resentments, unconsciousnesses, violence and so on to the effort to become resilient. We keep blaming others. We do not withdraw projections. We do not relate to others, and we need the others for satisfaction. We do not behave morally – and whether you want it to be the case or not, a new ethics needs to be born, out of what we find we need to do to survive the predicament.
Without attention to the ‘outerworld’ then we merely talk to ourselves, and get lost in the symbols, the fantasy, the bliss or horrors. We wander around not perceiving what is happening: we believe only what we want to believe, only what comforts us, and pass into delusion. In this solo state, we still require others for building our ‘spirit’, but we do not help them.
We test the inner by the outer and the outer by the inner. We learn the one from the other.
The ‘inner’ is only separated from the ‘outer’, when we are lost in theory. When they come together we get art as well as scientific practice amidst our daily life. And that could be good for all.