Thursday, April 9, 2015

Why So Much Denial? Omer Day 6

 by Moshe Givental
I spend a lot of time reading and talking about climate change, about the the science of what's happening and is likely to happen without a concerted global effort, about heroic activist efforts to resist, as well as social, psychological, and theological attemps to try to explain why it's so difficult for all of us to respond. The science here is very clear, not simple, but clear, so we are not lacking scientific proof. There are millions of dollars being spent to protect financial interests, and this strategy is not much different than what the tobacco companies did to cast doubt on the clear science for decades. "It could be bad, it could be good, we don't quite know... let's just continue smoking some more." Apart from that, however, I'd like to test 4 partial explanations for what's happening socially and psychologically. Please add your thoughts, ideas, and critiques!
1) Modern life conditions us for NUMBNESS TO SUFFERING, especially large scale suffering.
- From the slave conditions in which much of our clothing, food, and toys are made
- To our tax dollars with which immoral wars fought with
- To the general awareness of the incredible suffering of millions around the world, suffering which we neither caused nor are even complicit in, but are now aware of in a way no generation prior could have been aware of
- Amid all of the above, it's a wonder that any of us are emotionally present to anything without being completely immobilized by sadness and sympathy! 
- I have to admit, I don't actually "feel" anything about climate change destruction the majority of the time. My response stems from an intellectual and ethical responsibility. I'd like to feel, but I don't know how to feel something about something like this.
2) The scale of what's happening and is likely to happen without a global world war scale kind of response feels TOO HORRIBLE TO BELIEVE
- Think of the ways in which people during WWII could not believe that the Nazis were killing Jews on the scale that they were, and in the ways that they were, long after the information was clear. People simply could not believe such an atrocity could be true. I'm in debt to Roger Gottlieb's most recent book "Political and Spiritual" for this scary parallel.
- To what extent is this playing out with Climate Change Destruction? To what extent is our lack of accepting the scientific facts the process of having difficulty believing that something on this scale of destruction could possibly be true?
3) The BYSTANDER EFFECT
-  If an individual seems someone suffering or sees someone doing something wrong and there is no one else around to help, they may very well step up. However, if there is a large group, and the individual looks around and sees everyone else going about their business as if nothing is happening, they will do so too, overriding their moral compass and assuming that they must somehow be mistaken. Or, they will hope/assume that someone else will step up, given that so many other people are present. Research shows this over and over. Google it. 
- People see majority of society doing nothing, or not doing anything big/extreme/loud enough that's in proportion with the facts scientists are presenting and assume, "well... it can't be so bad. If it was, then it would be obvious and everyone would be up in arms..."
- I contribute to this, I think most of us who are indeed doing everything that we can to wake up the world and turn us around are guilty of contribute to this. I often don't speak or speak (metaphorically) loud enough because I'm afraid of people treating me as an apocolyptic lunatic. In speaking in more measured tones and presenting the facts are more mild (or vague) than they are, in fear that the stark reality will be too frightening for people and then will simply shut down, I contribute to the Bystander Effect.
4) DENIAL is a stage of GRIEF. 
- According to Kubler-Ross, the basic stages are the following: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Of course it's more complex and we all cycle through.
- This is separate  from Denial that has to do with companies protecting their finances.
- How much of our actions and feelings (or lack thereof) are a response to a sense that this might be true, and the beginning of a process for Grief? I"m in debt to Jim Antall for this insight.
- How much of the anger/hatred that comes up against people bringing Climate Change destruction to the fore is part of people's process of Grief (in addition to fear and self-protection)?
- Perhaps this can also explain a part of what seems just as delusional, the idea that if we just change enough light bulbs, recycle, get enough electric carson the road, or tax the carbon... then everything will be okay?  How much are we trying to Bargain as a part of Grief? 
- See Bill McKibben's Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet for clarity on how the Eaarth's eco-systems (yes, there 2 'a's to represent the fact that our ecosystems are already drastically altered), and that just like a drunken teenager, we just don't feel DRUNK YET, and so we keep drinking.

Today is the sixth day of the Omer.
Today is the sixth day of the journey from bondage to revelation.
Moshe Givental is a 4th year Rabbinic student at Hebrew College in Newton Center, MA. Formerly a therapist, he is an educator, lover of G-d, animals, music, and play, and reluctantly becoming an Activist.

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