Tag Archive for collapse

Confronting Signs of a Society in Decline: An Interview with Journalist Chris Hedges

When I met Chris Hedges online for our recent interview together, I could see why Pacifica Graduate Institute invited him to speak at their milestone 40th anniversary celebration conference, Climates of Change and the Therapy of Ideas, which takes place April 21-24, 2016, in Santa Barbara, CA.

As a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Hedges carries with him nearly two decades of experience reporting from war-torn countries like Yugoslavia, El Salvador, and also Gaza and South Sudan. In this capacity, he has witnessed the decline and disintegration of multiple societies, a perspective which has surely influenced his capacity regard the decline and potential destruction of our own modern culture that seems severely out of order.

He has been described, more than once, as being “dark,” which, from a depth psychological perspective, I’m quick to assure him, is actually a compliment. Depth psychology insists we look under the surface and in the margins of things in order to better understand them, and then requires that we witness and hold what we find in spite of the darkness from which we might easily prefer to flee. Chris appears to take this in stride: recognizing and carrying the knowledge that contemporary society is facing its own morbidity, in some ways, has fallen squarely on his shoulders.

decay.jpgHedges notes that, as both individuals and civilizations, we encounter cycles of growth, maturation, decadence, and decay, and death. In contemporary society—especially modern society—we can see the signs of morbidity around us, in our boundless use of harmful fossil fuels, in much sought-after expansion beyond the capacity to sustain ourselves, and in the physical decay of the environment and in the places we inhabit.

There are common patterns and common responses to decline and collapse across eras and cultures. While our culture is more technologically advanced in comparison with that of Easter Island, for example, it is arguable that human nature has not really changed. Who was it that cut down the last tree on Easter Island, for example? He wasn’t thinking, Hedges asserts, and neither are we today! Since the Jungian viewpoint is that we are each on our own journey of individuation, increasing consciousness and moving toward wholeness, for me, Chris’s point raises the question as to whether our culture should actually be individuating as well—but is somehow stuck in its process.

How is it that most of us, myself included, are able to go about our daily lives engaging in habits and participating in systems that are destroying the planet, harming each other, and generally contributing to the detriment of society? There is a psychological mechanism by which people seek to blind themselves, Hedges insists. We tend to cling to a belief system that essentially shuts us off, disconnects us from what’s actually happening around us. Those individuals that dare to name the reality often become outcasts in the society. The seers are condemned and vilified.

We carry with us a sort of “sick mania for hope,” says Hedges. If news isn’t positive or hopeful, we dismiss it or deny it. The majority of the population of a civilization in decline simply don’t want to hear the truth about the situation because the future seems too bleak. If you take just the issue of climate change, Chris explains, you can see that we live with two illusions: One, that it doesn’t exist; or two, that we can adapt. While most of us are hiding out in denial, according to Nietzsche, Chris reminds me, it is the role of intellectuals and artists, to see and confront the reality through their work.

“When you don’t confront the perils around you; when you build psychological mechanisms or walls—which we have done with the aid of technology and the aid of culture, then you’re almost guaranteed to commit collective suicide, Hedges tells me, adding, “The consequences …for my children and for future generations is catastrophic because if we don’t radically reconfigure our relationship to each other and to the earth, we are going to have to begin to confront the extinction of the human species.”

Yes, for so many reasons, one can see why some people have described Chris Hedges as “dark.” Having written my own dissertation at Pacifica on a phenomenon I termed “culture collapse disorder,” I spent many long hours contemplating the darkness of some of these same ideas. I remember Buddhist eco-scholar Joanna Macy writing that we, as humans, collectively live in fear of confronting the despair that we all carry—a despair that derives from dread of realizing for the first time that the human species may not pull through.[1]

denial_blog.jpg“There is a kind of subterranean understanding the the ground is shifting in incredibly dramatic ways,” Chris agrees, but we certainly have our ways of coping and shoring up our denial. Our society has built mechanisms of indoctrination around consumerism and entertainment. Technology, he suggests, rather than being a boon for consciousness, has instead served to shut down the most basic understanding of who we are as individuals and as a society.

Hedges introduces the term “atomization,” utilized by twentieth century political philosopher Hannah Arendt to describe how communal organizations (including bowling leagues and stamp clubs) have been obliterated in our culture, and how people have retreated into their own narrow circles and cut themselves off from establishments that made participatory democracy possible. Fewer and fewer people are showing up to churches and historical societies these days, he points out. With atomization comes a dangerous “cult of the self” which seeps into every aspect of our lives—including spirituality.

In the course of our conversation, I am reminded of something James Hillman once penned, writing:

Soul-making must be reimagined. We have to go back before Romanticism, back to medieval alchemy and Renaissance Neoplatonism, back to Plato, back to Egypt, and also especially out of Western history to tribal animistic psychologies that are always mainly concerned, not with individualities, but with the soul of things (“environmental concerns,” “deep ecology,” as it’s now called) and propitiatory acts that keep the world on its course.[2]

It’s a question of a society that honors the sacred—as pre-moderns did, Chris responds when I read Hillman’s words. Nothing has an intrinsic value in a corporate-capitalistic society. Everything has an exclusively monetary value, including human beings and the natural world, which we exploit until exhaustion or collapse. Chris cites Karl Polanyi’s work, The Great Transformation, in which Polanyi states that these societies have built within them their own self-annihilation, and points out that Polanyi, although he is an economist, actually uses the term “sacred” in his writings. In Hedges’ opinion, we have lost both the capacity to understand the sacred and the capacity for reverence for the sacred, resulting in the destruction of the very forces that sustain the earth and the community.

So, I wonder aloud: How do we reconnect with the sacred?

back_to_nature.jpgChris doesn’t hesitate. Severance with natural world is a big part of the problem, he contends, and intrusions like television and Internet have fed the decay, disintegration, desensitivity and numbness of the wider culture. We have to find ways to unplug and find our way back to nature. Nature is what allows us to realize we are not the center of the universe. We’ve also lost connection with the voices of our ancestors, who can free us from the trap of modernity. We need to be able to reflect on what it means to have a life of meaning and to participate within a society. When we’re cut of from those voices, then in many ways we’re cut of from what it means to be human.

I can’t agree more with this diagnosis. It is at the heart of what I understand from my own studies in depth psychology. Our best hope to weather the coming storm and stay centered through the disintegration of society as we know it is to reconnect with those powerful forces that give us context and meaning, and to continually contemplate what Jung himself once wrote: “The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life.”[3]

Listen to the full interview with Chris Hedges here (Approx. 33 mins.)

Learn more / Register for Pacifica’s upcoming 40th Anniversary Conference, Climates of Change and the Therapy of Ideas

[1] Joanna Macy, “How to Deal with Despair.” Originally published in New Age magazine, June 1979

[2] James Hillman and Michael Ventura, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy—and the World’s Getting Worse, p. 51

[3] C. G. Jung,  Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 356-7

 


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Chris Hedges, M.Div., whose column is published weekly on Truthdig.com.com, has written 11 books, including the New York Times best seller Days of Destruction, Days of RevoltDeath of the Liberal ClassEmpire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle; I Don’t Believe in Atheists; and the best selling American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. Hedges previously spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans and was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University and The University of Toronto. He currently teaches prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey.


bonnie_bright.jpgBonnie Bright, Ph.D., graduated from Pacifica’s Depth Psychology program after defending her dissertation in December 2014. She is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, a free online community for everyone interested in depth psychologies, and of DepthList.com, a free-to-search database of Jungian and depth psychology-oriented practitioners. She is also the creator and executive editor of Depth Insights, a semi-annual scholarly journal, and regularly produces audio and video interviews on depth psychological topics. Bonnie has completed 2-year certifications in Archetypal Pattern Analysis via the Assisi Institute; in Technologies of the Sacred with West African elder Malidoma Somé, and has been extensively involved in Holotropic Breathwork™ and the Enneagram.

NOTE: This post was originally published on Pacifica Post, the official blog post for Pacifica Graduate Institute, on March 7, 2016

EcoApathy and Ecospychopathy: Opposite ends of a Dangerous Spectrum

household garbage and urban dumpster
Where does YOUR garbage go when you throw it “away”?

Many societies have collapsed en masse over the course of human history due to over-consumption and extreme detrimental impact on the environment and ecosystems that supported them. However, the combination of our persistent unconscious and unchecked rates of consumption stemming from a rapidly growing population, our seeming lack of capacity to feel and respond to the need for balance in relationship to the planet, and our rampant exploitation of nature is alarming. It appears that never before have we had such a lethal combination in concert with such pervasive emotional, psychological, and spiritual disconnect.

The fundamental issues behind our current disorder show up on a spectrum ranging from eco-apathy on one end, and ecopsychopathy on the other. Eco-apathy represents our capacity for denial and our ability to suppress emotional reflection and response to our troubling situation. Sigmund Freud, a primary contributor in establishing the field of depth psychology, based much of his theory on the idea of a personal unconscious in which memories and emotions can be repressed beneath the surface of our conscious thought, but still potent in their effect (Elliott, 2002).

Often, in order for us to survive or bear the devastating consequences of events or circumstances that surpass our imagination or ability to comprehend, our psyche serves us by burying them beyond our awareness, diffusing their conscious energy and rendering us emotionless or even apathetic. Understandably, when it comes to the mass destruction of our environment, we are collectively unable to surrender to the horror we might feel if we truly allowed ourselves to comprehend what we’re doing as a culture to the planet. In this state of eco-apathy, many of us simply live our lives, unable to question or act on the conundrum we face, incapable of making the necessary changesundefinedor even of conceiving of them in the first placeundefinedthat will allow us to enter in a reciprocal relationship with earth and to find equity again.

Worse, eco-apathy is a dangerous phase that links directly to ecopsychopathy, a condition on the other end of the spectrum, which represents our ability to do violence to nature. When we turn to apathy, the feelings repressed below the surface of consciousness are still very much alive and ultimately will require an outlet to find resolution. Jung (1951/1976) suggested that “when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate” (para. 126). Unexamined issues or emotions we refuse to acknowledge can have tremendous impact on our lives whether we know it or not.

pollution-cars-exhaust-12111725pd

Could it be that our mass consumption of fossil fuels which leads to toxic exhaust could be making us “exhausted” in our every day lives? Is the pollution we wreak in the outer world polluting our psychological life as well? Is our ongoing tendency to “drive” everywhere we go “driving” us to distraction, dis-ease, or situations that are less than healthy?

Now might be a good time for each of us to really reflect on how we feel about the planet we live on and how we are in relationship to it.

References

Elliott, A. (2002). Psychoanalytic theory: An introduction (2nd ed.). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Jung, C. G. (1951/1976). Christ, a symbol of the self. In R. F. C. Hull, M. Fordham & G. Adler (Eds.), Aion: The collected works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Vol. 2). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, Bollingen.

Ecopsychopathy and Sustainability: The End of Life as We Know It

What is Ecopsychopathy and What are the Implications to our Culture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a recent blogpost, I wrote some introductory thoughts about what I’m calling “Culture Collapse Disorder,” an eco-psycho-pathological disorder in which human-made stressors stemming from culture and development (and their correlating underlying connected psychological issues) are causing a drastic systemic imbalance, manifest by a critical rise in adverse conditions for earth and its inhabitants.

In short, the way of life most of us are living in modern consumer culture is simply not sustainable and the symptoms and resulting suffering are mounting. These days, while many of us choose to distract ourselves through compulsive consumption of goods, services, technology, peak experiences, entertainment, celebrity and even psychotherapy, the unconscious knowledge that we are in a time of transition is beginning to bleed through into our everyday understanding.

Culture Collapse Disorder is an idea based on a related aberration that manifested in the natural world beginning in late 2006: Colony Collapse Disorder the mass collapse of honeybee colonies in which the hive—the container—literally breaks down because the worker bees fail to return to the hive, abandoning the queen bee, the unhatched brood, and the stores of honey. Contemporary consumer cultures, which have been the foundation of the western world for decades, are generating lifestyles, behaviors and mindsets that are destroying our home places and our home planet on a mass scale. By consciously or unconsciously refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of the damage we are creating and thus failing to take any action to prevent or repair the damage on the level required for us to survive as a culture, we are on the brink of a major transition in which life as we know it will change forever.

The fundamental issues behind our disorder show up on a spectrum ranging from eco-apathy on one end, and ecopsychopathy on the other. Eco-apathy represents our capacity to bury our heads in the sand and our emotions along with them, unable to surrender to the horror we might feel if we truly allowed ourselves to understand what we’re doing as a culture to the planet. In his incisive book, Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos, psychotherapist Joseph Dodds (2011) outlines reasons for our seeming indifference or incapacity to take action including denial, feelings of powerlessness, scapegoating, splitting, dissociation and the general incapacity to deal with feelings of anxiety and fear. In this state, many of us simply live our lives, unable to question or act on the conundrum we face, incapable of making the necessarily changes that will allow us to enter in a reciprocal relationship with Earth and to find equity again.

Ecopsychopathy speaks to destroying the earth through our conscious or unconscious pathological tendencies—in part due to our consumer lifestyle that we so frequently and overwhelmingly take for granted, and in part due to a deep-rooted sense of entitlement that has evolved along with development and so-called “progress.”

In the arena of mental health, there is no strong consensus between organizations about the symptoms and criteria of psychopathy, and no association has sanctioned a set definition of psychopathy. Frequently, a diagnosis of psychopathy is based on patterns of behavior, while measurements are based on personality traits; thus, definitions range from traits or behaviors of an individual who is cold-blooded and predatory (from “Psychopathy: A Clinical Construct Whose Time Has Come”, Robert D. Hare, in Criminal Justice and Behavior) to one who is “color blind” with respect to normal emotional experience. (See the reference here, in ‘Factors’)

By some, psychopathy has been defined as “the darker side of an individual that may seem ‘normal,’ well-adjusted and well-meaning” (From the Handbook of Psychopathy), while Scientific American magazine featured an excerpt from What Psychopaths Teach Us about How to Succeed (Dutton, 2012), which insinuates psychopathic characteristics are far more common that we might think: “Traits that are common among psychopathic serial killers—a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and the manipulation of others—are also shared by politicians and world leaders.” At the same time the author insists, psychopath who falls at the other end of the spectrum may exhibit traits our culture teaches us to admire in those we deem successful: “fearlessness, focus, lack of empathy and mental toughness.”

“Eco” comes from the Greek word “oikos” which means “house, dwelling place, habitation” (EtymOnline.com). Thus, “ecopsychopathy” describes a spectrum of disordered behavior toward home, including impulsivity, egocentricity, lack of empathy, callousness, ruthlessness, manipulation, and lack of remorse among others. Regardless of the definition you may choose to adopt, I believe all of us can locate ourselves on the spectrum somewhere when it comes to the way we behave toward nature, even if it stems from simply being part of a culture that is ecopsychopathic at its core.

Lacking a sense of participation in a larger earth community, humans have become anthropocentric, assuming the rest of life is at our command, dominating and taking whatever we feel entitled to. And, it’s critical not to miss how implicated and interconnected we all are. Every human being throws away on average each year seven-and-a-half times his or her body weight. While I may pride myself on recycling as much as possible, large quantities of fossil fuels are still required for the garbage trucks to pick up my recycling, a large amount of which statistically never makes it to being recycled due to the cost of recycling or the lack of appropriate resources to do so. (See a great infographic here about recycling)

And, though I would never condone deforestation of the Amazon, I still purchase products that include palm oil, beef from cattle that graze on large tracts of land, or gold or silver jewelry and other products that are produced by clear cutting the natural flora and fauna of fragile ecosystems in ancient forests. More, I don’t wonder where my next bite of food is going to come from and often totally ignore the fact that in many third world countries they must first find and cut the wood with which they will cook their next meal, before even figuring out where the food will come from.

Too, while I am horrified at reports that 80% of the water in the Ganges River in India which so many people use for drinking and bathing is untreated sewage (Get the story here) or that thousands of pig carcasses from animals that died from a mysterious outbreak of disease at a factory farm further up the Shanghai river have been discovered floating downstream where villages are dependent on the water there for drinking (Read the news here), mostly I still take it totally for granted that I can turn on my tap and have clean, fresh water for my own needs any time of the day or night and would be traumatized to have to give it up. (Visit here for more details of why we continue to clear-cut the world’s rainforests). Finally, let’s not forget that if you drive a car like I do, or ride a bus, take a taxi or an airplane, you are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions which are changing conditions on our planet faster than ever, a clear act of mistreating the earth and all its inhabitants.

The phenomenon of Culture Collapse Disorder is terrifying and untreatable as long as we don’t acknowledge the disorder at its core. Our capacity to destroy the only home we know—earth and all its ecosystems, environment, species, and so on—is a fundamental symptom of just how deep the imbalance lies. At this critical juncture in our culture, we must make a fundamental shift back into balance. It’s not a question of sustaining life as we know it: life as we know it is simply not sustainable. And, while we can—and must—make changes on an individual level in our everyday lives and continue to call for larger global initiatives to be supported by governments going forward, these actions are simply touching in at the surface level, the level of symptoms of the disorder. By making the symptoms go away, we have not addressed the core underlying issue.

Jungian and archetypal psychologist James Hillman believed that symptoms are part of the speech of the soul (The Psychopathology of Every Day Life); thus the symptoms we are collectively experiencing may be considered the voice of the anima mundi, the world soul. Taking a curative approach to simply silence the symptoms is a “killing game” that extinguishes part of the soul. As a culture and humanity, we must look more deeply at the issue and come back into relationship with a living earth that needs us as much as we need it. We can do that by starting to listen and engage, paying attention to dreams or spending time in reverie in Nature, turning our attention to the way life and intelligence surrounds us at all times. Ecopsychologist David Abram suggests we have an inherent capacity to communicate with nature in his book, Becoming Animal, and that through conscious intention and perception with our senses, we can engage intimately with earth (See the abstract for my recent review in Jung Journal).

Ecotheologian Thomas Berry states:

The Earth with its layers of land and water and air provides the space within which all living things are nurtured and the context within which humans attain their identity. If in the excitement of a secular technology reverence for the Earth has diminished in the past, especially in the western world, humans now experience a sudden shock at the devastation they have wrought on their own habitation. The ancient human-Earth relationship must be recovered in a new context, in its mystical as well as in its physical functioning.

There is need for awareness that the mountains and rivers and all living things, the sky and its sun and moon and clouds all constitute a healing, sustaining sacred presence for humans which they need as much for their psychic integrity as for their physical nourishment. (From “Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community”)

The notion of Culture Collapse Disorder, a critical and dangerous pathology which affects us all, may be seen as terrifying and it’s unveiling a negative outlook of doom and gloom, but it is critical that we begin to look at it as finding a diagnosis is often the first step to treatment. As environmental attorney and author James Gustave Speth insists, “We need to be reminded of the nightmare ahead…we will never do things that are needed unless we know the full extent of our predicament” (in A Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, The Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, p. 234.

What happens next is up to all of us. If we individually and collectively persist in our tendencies to eco-apathy and our ecopsychopathy, the transition to a new way of being on the planet may be harsh and sudden, leveling the playing field in a massive upheaval. If we are able, as Carolyn Baker suggests in her timely and inspiring Navigating the Coming Chaos to understand we are “married to everyone and everything,” we will be more equipped to make the transition more reflective, intentional, and creative, and to “increasingly glimpse the momentousness of our connection with every person in our world” (p. 50)—and, I would add, to the world itself, gradually finding our way back around to a way of life in which we walk more softly on the earth, ask permission for what we take and give back something in return, and fully enter the community of all nature.