Sunday, 26 June 2011

Panglossian Disorders

I’m posting Kathy McMahon’s fun and also painfully accurate description of the various defence mechanisms that many people deploy in the face of uncomfortable realities such as climate change, imminent economic collapse and peak oil. Kathy goes under the title of the Peak Shrink, a clinical psychologist, counselor and author of Peak Oil Blues. Kathy originally posted these types of Panglossian Disorder in November 2007 (here) but has recently reposted them with an accompanying song (here).

I’m grappling with a lot of these maladaptive psychological mechanisms at the moment, both for a book and a keynote paper for a few hundred sixth formers. I think Kathy pretty much nails all of them. Enjoy.

Panglossian Disorders and Their Subtypes

“Panglossian Disorders” are defined as: “The neurotic tendency toward extreme optimism in the face of likely cultural and planetary collapse.”

Temporal Subtypes:
Scarlet O’Hara-ism- “I’ll just have to think about that tomorrow.” A strategy of denial that allows the person to temporally compartmentalize the feared event(s).
Futurism: “Sure, that will happen, but it will occur after all of us are long dead.” A belief that something that might happen in the distant future is no concern in the present.
Y2K features: “They said everything would collapse with 2000, and it didn’t.” A belief that any prior concern about societal problems that didn’t occur demonstrates the impossibility of any others happening in the future.

Angry Subtypes:
Rhett-Butlerist Features- “Peak Oil? Planetary Collapse? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Aggressive denial of information not in keeping with one’s world view.
Kill the Messenger Redirection: “Why are you telling me this? What kind of sicko focuses on these kinds of facts? You need help!” The belief that those who bring bad news are doing it for malevolent reasons.

Narcissistic Subtypes:
Rigid Cheney-ism: “The American Way of Life is non-negotiable.” The belief that any undesirable change can be avoided by a sheer act of will.
Survivalistic features: “Hey, if the rest of the world is doomed, I don’t worry about it, because I’ve got mine.” A belief that personal preparation is adequate.

Religious Subtypes:
“Religiosity: “God/The Planet/Mother Nature loves humans. He/She/It would never permit massive die-off.” Or “If that happens, I just put my faith in my Savior.”
Neoliberal Econo-manic Tendencies: “The market will sort it out.” A belief that market forces control all— including geological realities.
Nascarian Features: “People love their automobiles. A solution will have to be found to keep us driving.”

Subtypes with Denial or Minimization as the Central Feature:
Pure Denial: “That can’t be right. It’s just impossible.”
Minimalization as a primary defense: “There may be some shortages, but I doubt it will be as bad as you say.”

Subtypes with Histrionic, Helplessness, Acquiescence or Submissive Features:
Submissive Features: You’re probably right. [Shrug]” Too hard/scary to think about… A response that acknowledges the reality of the threat, but is emotionally frozen or unwilling to devote emotional time and energy to the matter.
Histrionic Features: “I just don’t know anything about that. Oh, Golly, I hope you’re wrong. That’s all I can say. Oh Golly, I just can’t think about it.”

Subtypes with Delusional or Magical Thinking:
Meglomanic Features:“This simply won’t happen to me.” A belief in one’s specialness, which will save them from the consequences affecting those around them.
Paternalistic Features: “The government/corporations will sort it out.” A belief in the infallibility of organizational structures to resolve problems they aren’t willing to even acknowledge.
Doubting Thomas Features: “Peak Oil is a scam by the Oil Companies to raise prices!” Minimizing the possibility of the crisis by the belief that some one or some group has ultimate control over its happening.
Pure Cornucopian Features: “The more we need, the more they’ll be.” A belief that continued progress and provision of material items for mankind can be met by advances in technology.
The Flinstonian“The stone-age didn’t end because they ran out of stones.” A belief that modern innovation is eternal.
Frank Zappa-ism: “As soon as things get really bad, they’ll come up with something.” A belief that necessity is the mother of invention.
Magical Thinking: “Don’t worry, we can build a car that can run on air!” Proposes solutions that are clearly outside the realm of physics.
MacGyver-ism Features – A belief that massive planetary problems can be solved with ordinary/common items found readily at hand. Eg.: “Pig dung will be the next fossil fuel.” Or “Coke Cans can be turned into solar panels.”

The Panglossian View
Borrowing Voltaire’s character Pangloss in his novel Candide, we might speak of a Panglossian Disorder as the belief that “all is well and everything in the world is for the best.” In adopting a Panglossian philosophy, Candide accepts situations and tries not to change or overcome obstacles. Instead, he passively accepts whatever fate has in store, and shrugs off his personal responsibilities. The name Pangloss is actually a pun: pan = Greek for ‘all’, relating to the whole universe (English); and ‘gloss’ (English) = both an explanation and an interpretation, which is deceptive in its external appearance. There is also a medical definition: Panglossia: abnormal or pathologic garrulousness, usually of a trivial nature.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there, perhaps especially you new ones (e.g. Ivakhiv).  For those of you who are at least minimally ecologically minded, I imagine that being a parent has lent your theorising and thinking about the environment and the future, as well as your activism and life-choices, a certain affective intensity and tone that it wouldn't have had without children.  I copy here a piece from Joe Romm's Climate Progress, part of a father's day essay he wrote last year (here).
As parents, we constantly admonish our children to share with others. The joke is that as adults, we hardly like to share anything at all. Who likes to lend out their car? Or their tools or books? We’re so worried they won’t come back in the same condition — or won’t be returned at all.

But the truth is that the people we like to share the least with are our own children. “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children,” the saying goes. Right now, though, we’ve borrowed the entire Earth, trashed much of it, and don’t plan to give back the rest of it.

We are plundering the world’s “renewable resources” — arable land and tropical forests and fisheries and fresh water. And we are using an ever-greater fraction of nonrenewable energy resources, especially hydrocarbons, with devastating consequences.

Now there might be some dispute here about the use of "we".  That is, corporate actants and multi-national socio-economic and political assemblages might seem more likely objects of blame for the systemic mess. But this doesn't alter the fact that most of us are participants in and beneficiaries of the very globalised systems that are drawing down from the future at an ever accelerating rate.  The big question for parents seems to be, what will it mean for our children to flourish or simply survive in the world "we" are passing on to them?  Personally, the "birds and bees" talks with my kids that I'm nervous about are literally about birds and bees, plus climate and energy, food and water etc.  It's going to be a bitch to explain why daddy and mummy enjoyed so many benefits that they and their children won't be able to.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Join the Dots, Spot a Hyperobject

Another great link from Joe Romm's Climate Progress, this time we have a stunning video by Stephen Thomson (of Plomomedia). Stephen has added some powerful images to Bill McKibben's recent piece in the Washington Post. McKibben is critical of the ongoing failure of the media to join the dots between extreme weather events, and Stephen Thomson's video brings McKibben's narrative to life in a very effective manner.

Interactive History of Climate Science

Just came across this wonderful interactive history of academic climate science papers, divided into skeptic, neutral and pro-global warming categories. Move the slider along the bottom to pick the year, click the bubble to get a list of the papers in the respective category and year. Beautiful.