The blog is about trying to navigate the problems of ‘solving’ climate change and ecological destruction. Trying to make the problems clear, and trying to point to the politics, psychology and technology of problem solving, energy transition and rethinking the crises. If we can’t solve the problems in time, it hopes to give people a way of living which might be useful in the ‘new world’ we face.
Climate change is only one consequence of the ecological destruction and pollution that overwhelms our ecologies. We also live in many ecologies in crisis: social relations are disrupted and disrupting, we have precarious economies, our politics inclines towards fascism as we try and impose order, information is repeatedly and sometimes deliberately confused, which produces uncertainty, bewilderment and, sometimes in reaction, over-certainty. There are many problems, and we can ignore some of them if we focus on climate change alone.
Hence I try and situate climate change amongst these other problems. Once we see a mess of crises, then the social, economic, political and technical connections between them all seem clearer, as is the need for something like a thorough social and conceptual change.
I’m deeply concerned about the ‘existential crisis’ that arises from people’s recognition of climate change and ecological destruction. Basically, everything we have learnt to do to lead a satisfactory life, is now potentially destructive, or undermining of that life. The problems are so big, and complex, that it is hard to imagine being able to make much difference by anything we do personally. Ways of giving meaning to life are threatened. This sense is overwhelming and confusing at best, and fairly depressing.
We are largely ‘unhomed’ by climate change, it creates unacknowledged anxiety and distress, and may even threaten our existence. We are in a situation in which the future is essentially unknown but disturbing. Even if you deny climate change as a problem, then you realise that your way of life is potentially under threat from other people. These factors can be hard to live with, and I suspect this is why why our responses are so dis-coordinated, confused and slow.
However, it is our thinking, feeling and acting that is as much a problem as what is happening in the world, and this primarily calls out for us to change our thinking, understanding and values – together with the ways we relate to, and connect with, other people. Which can be difficult.
One change of thought that is probably required is the recognition that we live within largely unpredictable complex systems. Everything interacts with everything else, and modifies itself and each other. We cannot perceive the whole system, and the only real/accurate model of the system is the system itself. This renders our traditional modes of problem solving, in which we work out a solution and carry it steadfastly out until the bitter end, extremely dangerous.
We may need to use more of the pattern recognition parts of our mind, and less of the linear reasoning parts. If so, we need to recognise that we can detect patterns that are not there, and need to put our understandings to the test all the time. This means we now need an experimental politics, in which we seek out not only what is going right as a result of our behaviour, understanding and policies, but what is going wrong, so that we can modify our behaviour constructively, or even discard our proposed solutions.
Because policies are partial understandings, complexity almost always implies that we will, in part at least, be mistaken. Persisting with mistakes, and ignoring the disorder arising from our attempts to impose order, is probably going to be destructive in most cases, even if there is a social demand to stick to what we recognise as ‘truth’. Accepting the importance of recognising error and disorder and not attempting to deal with it purely by suppression, is now fundamental to being able to live a good life. Everything we do has the potential for unintended consequences. Every situation, amidst these crises, is potentially new, no matter how similar it may look to previous situations.
ORDERING PRACTICES CAN PRODUCE DISORDER AND UNCONSCIOUSNESS
To repeat, what we call disorder is often created by our ordering processes, and by our suppression of recognising vital events because we try to make ourselves socially acceptable to people we like, people who are significant to us, or because our culture and theories direct our attention away from those vital and disorderly events.
To use a dramatic but well known, example: loyal Catholics did not see, or notice, abusive priests. Perhaps they thought the authorities would deal with the issue appropriately, perhaps they did not want to bring the Church (which they thought essentially valuable) into disrepute, or they thought that children were lying and punished them, and so children learnt to shut up, and became more damaged. As a result well-intentioned Catholics could not improve the situation, until people persisted in being attacked and unpopular and brought the events to everyone’s attention.
Similarly this suppression of what we perceive as disorder is the way we create our own personal or cultural unconsciousness – by suppressing drives and behaviour we consider unethical, or even insights, wisdoms and compassion which go against our cultural or political norms. These suppressions often come back to bite us, or consume our energy in keeping awareness and distress suppressed.
Obviously once you have recognised some of the problems it should change the ways that you live and think.
I suspect that paying attention to neglected events like dreams, body sensations or senses of failure, can be useful in expanding your awareness, and hence our ability to live well. This is possibly one of the few great insights of psychoanalysis, or in particular of Jungian forms of analysis.
Technology is often a mode of ordering, which has unintended consequences as its use interacts with other complex systems, and disrupts them. Sometimes the disruption may be deliberate as when technology is designed to watch over and control workers, and prevent them ‘wasting’ the employer’s time by enjoying themselves, or resting. This is why it is useful to pay attention to the unintended consequences of technology: social, environmental, economic, polluting, destructive and so on. Often because some people like what the technology allows them to do, they ignore the harmful consequences it might have for both themselves or others.
What I have called the information mess, arises through a number of factors, and adds to confusion.
The mess arises through information and communication technology and the way it is organised. In the contemporary world Information can be found to justify any position, and it will not be removed if it is false. A significant number of people try to impose political order on the world, not by discussion or finding the truth, but by repeating their claims and attacking those who disagree. To make sense of this information mess, and to save time, we tend to accept information which is accepted by others in our ‘identity’ or ‘information’ groups. Rejecting the information they share can risk our losing our place in the group, or losing our sense of identity. This is reinforced, by ‘winner take all politics,’ and by the politics between States, in which promoting false information of the right type can be seen as destructive towards our opponents. We also tend to be skeptical of information which comes from other groups, particularly outsider groups, or groups which our group defines itself as being against.
Information mess is reinforced by work hierarchies in which bosses are judged on informational competence, appear reluctant to admit they were wrong, and are fed what they want to believe by underlings who know better than to cross them.
Neoliberalism is one of the most important forms of attention direction and deceit in the contemporary world. It leads to harmful forms of common sense, and justifies the eco-destruction that is being pursued as necessary for prosperity and liberty. It helps people ignore the reality that without working ecologies we have no working basis for prosperity or liberty. What I’ve called the ‘neoliberal conspiracy’ is a basic part of the information mess and contemporary politics. It supports contemporary disorder and crisis.
Information mess is fundamental to understanding contemporary society, and our ability to steer our way through the mess is often disrupted by the conviction that we can steer our way through it.
THOUGHTS AND THEORIES
I take the theory dependence of observation quite seriously, and think it is useful to remember that we respond, not only to reality, but to our thoughts about reality which may not be accurate or useful. This is why the information mess is important, what we think directs our attention towards some factors of life, and away from others. What we think is heavily influenced by the groups we belong to, deliberately or accidentally. Being aware of this feature of our social-psychology is often helpful – we can challenge what we think is the case.
This is why it is useful to recognise that popular forms of so-called ‘positive thinking; in which we deliberately, and repeatedly, lie to ourselves in the hope that we will come to shape the world by our lying are probably harmful.
For example, President Trump seemed to want to solve the problems of Covid largely by playing down the danger and keeping people optimistic and alarmed at possible restrictions, and then by encouraging quick vaccine development. It is probable that this approach did not slow the virus very much, especially during that first year. Of course you cannot tell for sure, and what is done is done (so using Trump as an excuse for current failures is pointless), but I think being prepared to be aware of the problems and their complexities helps us to solve them, or bypass them. Denying the problems often does not.
To be clear, the kind of positive thinking I’m protesting about is the kind that tries to impose order on the chaos of life without any attention to what is happening. It’s not necessarily harmful to think that with practice and persistence you can come to do stuff that you currently are not that great at. This latter kind of positive thinking is useful for dealing with crises. It enables us to be open to the perception of the crises, and yet not completely overwhelmed by them, and to think that if we keep persisting and learning then we can help.
This is one reason why I have been talking about Dadirri and other forms of cognitive relaxed attention.
Going into these kind of states of listening, can relax a person’s attachment to programmed thoughts. It can also allow our inner wisdoms, pattern detections and perceptions arise.
This can help reduce the sense of existential crisis.
We can diffuse the urgency with which we can run away from unpleasant feelings or sensations, we can accept them gently, and sometimes that allows events to progress, we can get insight and understanding from not suppressing these unpleasant sensations, the sensations can perhaps move on.
Likewise attention given to spontaneously arising symbols and images can expand our awareness.
All of this can free our creativity, generate new meanings, and allow problems to be solved, by-passed or diminished.
It may not solve everything, but it can help.
We then take our solutions to the world, and see if they can help other people live through the situations we face. If they reject those solutions or find they do not work, that still does not mean we have not contributed something.
To go back to an earlier point, all solutions are experimental, and need to be tested and refined or abandoned. That is how we learn constructively.