Levels of denial

There are different forms of denial that prevent people from recognising the negative effects of our stories in the Western world, such as the myth of ‘Economic Growth’. Some of these are:

  • I don’t think that these effects are really dangerous
  • It just isn’t my business to sort out these problems
  • I don’t want to be seen as a non-conformist
  • This information is a threat to my interests
  • This evidence is just being made up
  • There’s nothing we can do about it so I don’t even want to talk about it

In this way, people manage to avoid facing the problems at all.

Of course, once they do look, it all gets pretty horrific and that’s what frightens them. The second layer of denial, which I sometimes call ‘We’re Doomed Captain Mannering’ (from a UK TV programme called Dad’s Army) draws attention to the disasters increasingly created by Economic Growth. It is an evidence based account, ignored by many, about the collapse of ecological and social systems, climate changes, the effect of the depletion of global and local resources such as those described in Transition’s ‘peak oil’ and the sixth global mass extinction of species.

This is the standpoint of ‘Woe is me’, finger-wagging greenies who seem to want everyone to stop having fun and look after the planet because ‘just look at what we are doing’ – face of horror. This mythology seems to be the one that non-greenies presume is held by people who claim to be ‘green’, (although ‘being green’ these days has seemingly become just another face of consumerism).

Denial barriers to people entering wholeheartedly into actually looking at the problems include:

  • It’s so upsetting I prefer not to think about it
  • As soon as I start to think about the dangers I freeze up and feel panic
  • I feel paralysed
  • There’s no point in trying to do anything since it won’t change a thing or make any difference
  • We’re doomed, give up
  • We can fix it with new technology
  • Blitz consumerism – buy everything now
  • Human beings are a cancer on the earth and deserve to be wiped out anyway
  • Superman or God or aliens or Bill Gates or Richard Branson will save us all at the last minute

Once you can accept that global warming is real, that the earth is badly polluted and in for a period of unpredictable change, you might be lucky enough to find ‘Positive Hope’ rather than ‘Despair’.

This position is held by people who overcome denial and are able to face the coming changes as already underway – as already past ‘the tipping point’. Projects such as ‘Dark Mountain’ are inhabited by such people who are busy finding new myths and stories for a sad culture that is wrecking its own home.

This position of hope may involve creative responses to new and existent problems. It means thinking in new ways. As Einstein said; “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.” Also Buckminster Fuller; “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Positive Hope means transformation at a personal level and the use of creative energy to change the poisons of the toxic myth of Economic Growth into the nectar of a life sustaining society committed to the healing and recovery of our world. It is deeply challenging and exciting. It means being closely in touch with your values and choosing to live an ethical life filled with meaning. There are more and more people looking for and finding this. It also means resistance. Resisting the dominant hegemony, challenging it at every turn and revealing the truths, extrapolating our our often unquestioned actions and ‘bad stories’ to their resultant conclusions.

We might summarize our present human situation by the simple statement: that… the glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth and now the desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human.
From here on, the primary judgment of all human institutions, professions, programs and activities will be determined by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore, or foster a mutually-enhancing human/Earth relationship.”
– Thomas Berry

I am sometimes racked with fury and sadness at what people are doing to this beautiful planet, without even seeing what it is. I swing between finding beauty and solace in the place and moment and despair for what a culture of ignorant idiots after money are doing to it. But the world turns. Crumbs of hope emerge like the (temporary) outcome of the Dakota oil pipeline or news that more young people watched ‘Planet Earth II’ with David Attenborough than ‘The X-Factor’.

I live in a particularly beautiful place, the least inhabited area of Cornwall UK, where the summer lanes are alive with wildflowers and all sorts of wildlife. When I see people driving their cars through these lanes and just chucking their rubbish out of the windows – I find it hard to believe that I am the same species as these wreckers.

I attempt to live in a relationship with the nature around me, sharing a yield from my garden with nature, living lightly on the earth. The farmer on the dairy farm next to us likes to shoot the rooks out of our trees because they ‘make a noise’! This feeling of being an alien on my own planet perseveres.

My brothers and sisters, the indigenous peoples of this earth such as the Kogi, the Kayapo, Lakota and Sioux Indians, Masai or Aboriginals also live in tune with the earth around them. They have different stories to our own, ones that don’t end with the destruction of our environment. But our actions in the economic growth myth also despoil these peoples – we are taking them over a cliff with us!

James Lovelock explains this sense of linked awareness in his Gaia Hypothesis:
The Gaia hypothesis, also known as Gaia theory, proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet. Topics of interest include how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms affect the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere and other environmental variables that affect the habitability of Earth.” Wikipedia

The Gaia Hypothesis is at least an entry level into eco-theology in the First World. It attributes complexity and interactiveness to our planet – with the people who inhabit it as part of that system. Lovelock interestingly demonstrates that the Earth has been completely polluted before by its inhabitants. In a primary mass-extinction event, the chlorine-breathing inhabitants of earth – at that time anaerobic bacteria – gave out so much waste-product oxygen into the environment that they smothered themselves and died out. That is, apart from a group of them who converted a murderous intruder, the pollution effect of oxygen, into a powerful friend – air to breathe. This offshoot of anaerobic bacteria went on to become the basis of life we see today on planet earth.

The present mass extinction event, named ‘The Holocene Extinction’, is also mainly due to activity from earth’s inhabitants – in this case, humans and their industrial excrements. A great cycle of life described by David Attenborough as ‘abundance, destruction, rebirth’ is reaching the end of its second phase, sometimes called the Sixth Extinction. It appears that the occasional desolation of the planet by its occupants may be part of an ongoing evolutionary process.

At a personal level, in order to transcend my sadness about what people are doing to my planet, one of the things I have recently taken to telling myself that ‘Everything is as it should be’. Perhaps this too is a form of denial? As long as I make my own personal choices to live on this planet lightly, without uneccessarily destroying life or damaging eco-systems, I cannot accept responsibility for all the dumbed-down idiots out there who choose not to look at the consequences of their actions.

But if all of the species of this earth are unknowingly part of a mass, ‘Gaian’ consciousness, then perhaps our fatal human flaw – denial – is an important element in the evolution of life? Perhaps the fatal flaw at the heart of Holocene people, human nature itself, is there for a reason. Maybe humans are somehow programmed to alter the environment of their own planet?

In that case, the greens are the New Conservatives and ‘Everything is as it should be’.

simonthescribe writes and publishes articles, books and websites themed around living a sustainable life in tune with nature.