Views from a Small Island: Fresh Perspectives on an Altered Landscape
The mood hung like damp laundry inside the Marin Airporter. It was the morning after the election, and I was on my way to teach at the Expressive Therapies Summit in New York. Three days later, I left New York for London. Perhaps, like me, you’re still reeling from the election, scared for our world, and struggling to feel grateful in this season of giving thanks. So I want to share some insights gathered from the Psychology of Climate Change Conference I attended in London. What follows are views from a small island that offer a smattering of fresh perspectives. They don’t solve the problems we face, but they might just give you new ways to think about them.
Andrew Samuels, psychotherapist and activist, began the day by telling the audience to beware “Apocalypticism” – addiction to catastrophe. How might the adrenaline and excitement that we experience in the face of catastrophe be contributing to climate change? How does the Judeo-Christian mythology fuel this apocalyptic drive?
Indeed, doesn't Shakespeare play his part as well? As here, in the famous speech by Hamlet that questions our very desire to live:
To be, or not to be--that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep-- No more--and by a sleep to say we end The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished.
And so we see how crisis can also be a kind of death wish, a desire to end the struggle and pain of living—a sort of mass suicide, where the “believers” enter the heavenly afterlife, while the unbelievers receive their just punishment.
How are we taking a stand for life? For resiliency? How can we refuse to buy into an End of Times vision, especially under a Trump presidency?
Sally Weintrobe, a psychoanalyst who writes and talks about what underlies the disavowal of climate change, spoke of A Culture of Uncare. She began with a story of camping in the desert with her husband when they discovered that they couldn’t open their food supply locker. Help was three days away. She split between them the dried peaches they had at hand, and then ate her entire portion in one sitting.
When our physical environment becomes unstable, she explained, we experience an equivalent inner instability that disables our capacity to care for our future selves. You can see how this applies to climate change and the uncertainties it provokes in us. We are literally burning through Earth's energy and bounty in the way Sally burned through her dried peaches.
While unstable situations often cause us to abandon our future selves, ironically, our greatest fear is of abandonment. As Sally stated: “Our most primitive fantasy is having non-caring parents who abandon us to die.” This fear of abandonment, she argued, makes us susceptible to leaders that offer “pseudo-containment” –or the promise that they will take care of all your needs. Trump, in other words, appeals to people traumatized by abandonment.
And wasn’t it those who saw themselves as most abandoned by the system who voted in droves for Trump? A man who proclaims that he will create safety and stability—build a wall that is impenetrable to attack, where everything dangerous to America will be kept out. Where you will not be abandoned, but kept from pain, conflict, looked after.
Trump in his Trump Tower, personifies the archetype of the Strong Man. While his approach is cynical, the archetypal energy he channels is made for this time of uncertainty—and it might help us to recognize this.
Catherine Happer, of The Glasgow Media Group, spoke to the media’s culpability. Its ideology of cynicism, the way it relies on presenting contrarian views, for example, on climate change science, seeds suspicion about everything we read or hear. We are exposed to so many conflicting opinions, we don’t know who or what to believe. When Trump declares that everyone is lying to you––which, as Catherine pointed out, is very different from saying “I am telling you the truth"––people resonate. We are being lied to—constantly.
One thing that struck me as strangely absent in the conference, however, was any discussion of our relationship to the natural world. And yet, if we are to summon our greatest selves to bring forth our greatest efforts on behalf of the Earth, perhaps we need to remember that we emerged out of the Earth; indeed, that we are the Earth in human form.
After taking Kate Thompson's and my workshop “Restorying the Many Dimension of Psyche: An Ecology of Being” at the Expressive Therapies Summit in New York, a participant told us: "Until now, I never understood that I carry the wisdom of the Earth within me.”
It's good to hear from many voices. We shall need to open ourselves up to new views, new ways of exploring and making sense of these turbulent times. It is essential to experience fresh perspectives and feel into the wisdom of them.
But we need to remember: It is Earth’s intelligence that will have the final say.