resistance to the obvious

Recently on a discussion list I am on, the question came up as to why people seem so fixated on destructive, messy, expensive and damaging sources of energy, when in fact there are alternatives. It does seem bewildering to wonder, once you’ve ‘had the kool-aid,’ why there is not a wholesale embrace of cleaner, safer, more efficient practices to supply the resources we need to flourish and grow.

It’s my view that until we can get a proper handle on the unconscious, cultural and social dimensions of human relations with nature and our “environment” we will be spinning circles. It seems evident that for some human cultures, we have difficulty in recognizing our complete dependency and vulnerability on “nature.” Such difficulty may be seen in its zenith in a Victorian attitude of rational “man” – and has remained deeply embedded in our socio-cultural psyches. This is seen in the expression of hubris and assertion that in fact humans have and are in control. Not only is there hubris – there is a persistent adherence to this in the face of catastrophic events.

This informs what appears as an irrational resistance, even hostility, towards alternative technologies.

Although investment in clean tech complete sense, and many are beginning to cotton on to this, there remains an extraordinary resistance, as well as disavowal (the capacities we have for both knowing and “not knowing” about certain truths). I reference psychoanalysis here, rather than psychology per se, as it has a long-standing, rich practice of trying to understand resistance to change — changes that are life giving and healthy, rather than destructive, manic, obsessive or what have you.

The psychoanalyst Harold Searles, a pioneer in working with schizophrenics and psychotics throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, wrote about human-nature relations in the 1970s. Some of the ideas are dated, but what he was noticing in his work, the frontlines of working intimately with highly disturbed patients at Chestnut Lodge psychiatric institution, concerned the relation of early childhood vulnerability (to the world, the parents, etc) and human relations with nature. While we cannot simply apply infant object-relations psychology to entire human societies, the parallels cannot be overlooked (in my view). Put another way, recognizing our dependence and vulnerability means coming to terms with some painful truths about what it means to be human. This will be “defended” and “resisted” until we can find a way to skillfully navigate and address these dimensions. As Searles wrote so presciently, we will “defend” the (Oedipal) achievement of the automobile until the bitter end. In other words, our technological and industrial developments are also forms of “achievements” which also have their destructive, life negating attributes. There is creativity in both the most damaging practices and the most glorious innovative forms of alternative technologies. It’s our role and job to acknowledge as best we can – yes, we’ve done pretty good up to now with our tech and industrial achievements, but they simply must change. The key seems to be in tapping into that raw creative desire to manage and shape and manipulate our world. Except in this case, in alignment with ecological principles.

It seems until we can really get a handle on these unconscious psychosocial dimensions, we are quite literally up against some very powerful forces. We continue to wonder why and how we can continue to be so irrational.  This is the subtext of the entire environmental movement as we know it; why and how are humans so destructive, blind to ecological principles. Clearly it’s hugely complex; but humans are irrational. We do extremely destructive things, like the child who loves to blow things up or squash bugs. We also are capable of creative design, innovation attuned to ecological realities.

I’m not suggesting we don’t need to instate regulations and parameters to shape and move behavioral change. Rather, I am suggested we need a full array of tools, including those that investigate on the deepest levels possible what is motivating destructive practices. As I’ve said elsewhere, the therapist does not cajole, threaten, scream at, bully, scare, or guilt-trip their patient into facing what is really going on. Being honest and truthful – being real and not sugar-coating – in itself has the capacity to be pretty scary (who has not felt the shock of facing previously unconscious behaviors), but the driving force is towards understanding, not scaring the bejeezus out of everyone – so we can move into new modes of being.

Recently Bryant Welch published a book, State of Confusion, in which he provides a thoughtful analysis based on his work as a psychoanalytically trained, clinical psychologist and a lawyer – and who worked in the Clinton Administration – of the political right. He discusses several key themes (without jargon) including envy, hatred, and projection. We need a corollary for the work we are engaging with – a similar analysis of how we persistently relate with nature in counter-intuitive ways, and the underlying psychosocial logic of this. Then, and only then, can we begin to engineer truly effective strategies and policies that have traction, and engage the hearts, minds, and wills.


1 Comment

  1. Dave Howard

    Perhaps we can call this fixation the Clarkson effect. Lots of men just love noisy, dirty machines, and will happily tinker with them all day long, and they seem to be in charge of everything. We have to send them all up an endless siding, without them knowing. You can call this the Howard response to the Clarkson effect if you like

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