The National Pubilc Radio Morning blog recently gave us more of the news to which we have gotten dangerously accustomed: Most Americans regard evidence about climate change from the vantage point of their world view rather than any scientific evidence. This phenomenon I have begun to call "when believing is seeing."
This week Vice President Al Gore wrote a comprehensive Op-Ed in Sunday's New York Times, entitled "We Can't Wish Away Climate Change." Although the piece provided both a firm and clear warning with reasons and reasonableness attached, the larger issue at stake is one of the "human climate" in which belief systems are smiting anything factual that gets in their way.
The fomer Vice President called one such belief system (not a religion in the traditional sense), "a hubristic bubble of market fundamentalism." He also referred to what he called "market triumphalism" that was at its peak in the 90's just as early warnings of global warming hit. It appears he is inferring that storms of capitalistic fervor refuse to be constrained. With regards the influence of the media on this matter, Gore says, "Some news media organizations now present showmen masquerading as political thinkers who package hatred and divisiveness as entertainment." He pleads for law and reason, for facing the truth as our only road to redemption.
With all due respect to the Vice President and to those who have the conviction that we need to follow all inconvenient truths to save our planet, I submit that we also have the obligation to investigate the unspoken truth of Gore's piece.
The gridlock he describes cannot be broken unless we examine what happens psychologically when religious convictions become political and economic illusions. For example, when we allow to go unchallenged the assertions that any government intervention is "socialist," then, sadly but importantly, an insecure and easily swayed public can be given to believe that climate change is a bogus socialist conspiracy to scare us into communism. Gore talks of "climate deniers" --- as I cringe with the association to "Holocaust deniers" --- who can view original filmed evidence of the atrocity and still deny it in cold blood. Frankly, to my way of thinking, both denials are a form of killing: killing rationality and evidence and attempting to kill feeling and compassion as well.
It can be hard for many to acknowledge that the rule of law is compromised broadly by combinations of media hype and unmetabolized, raw and denied feelings that are brought out by a crafty media that knows how to reach them. Subliminal psychology has been a weapon of media and politicians for generations now, but pointing out the perpetrators alone doesn't solve the problem.
Propaganda of fear and hate works because there is a public denying other phenomena as well.
We hate to know we are capable of hate, so we masquerade every act of aggression overseas as justified and humane. We hate defeat, so we deny our limitations and our mistakes. We regularly deny that our "way of life," or the "American Dream" is not, in fact, a God given set of rights but rather that which has unevenness; all which must yield to evidence of disasters.
One way of approaching the urgent issue of climate change is to begin by examining human frailty in the realm of reason when it comes to feeling threatened from within. In nearly three decades of practice in psychotherapy, I have learned that people scarred by inner panic and distress would rather focus on external terrors because the external destruction scares them less. Besides, there are so many in our country literally praying for an Apocalypse since, for them, the only evidence they need is that which is contained in the Bible.
Scientifically, in terms of law and environment, if something isn't working then we need to ask why. When our cars aren't working we take them in for repair. When evidence doesn't work, we need to ask why. I say we cannot assume, but we need to put our heads and hearts together.
Al Gore continues to do a magnificent job of publicizing and fighting for justice and proactive interventions in the realm of climate change. To help him, we need to work on the human climate that causes too many people to be closed to evidence.
Freedom and law can only function when there is the space to think critically and to discuss with respect for truth. Some truth has to be objective lest we take medicine and science and throw them into the sea with the pollutants presently left there. We need to find ways to "talk amongst ourselves" and with each other.
A hint can come from psychology, even from the practice of psychotherapy. Many of us are so addicted to our pathologies and habits that being presented with evidence and receiving advice are not enough. There is always the doctor who can't convince the lung cancer patient to stop smoking or the therapist who can't get the parent to stop beating a child.
If we want to address planetary ecology, then we have to address the dysfunctions and flaws of human connection in order to address the places where people are paralyzed.
If we can momentarily summon love for our country and sing "We Are the World," then perhaps we can get the idea that "it takes a village" to take human ecology seriously. Only when we understand and remedy the parts inside that are broken and brittle can we make it through to see clearly enough to prevail.