Friday, June 10, 2011

Need to See

Visualization of Bill McKibben's oped role-playing the climate crisis denier, courtesy of Patriot Daily Clearinghouse. It's a powerful four minutes of need to see.  Oh, and two other things not to see as connected either: Arizona wildfires and thinning Rocky Mountain snows threatening water supplies.

Beyond the Weiner Roast

Apart from a graphic illustration of some of the psychological concepts reviewed here recently, the Anthony Weiner frenzy is significant mostly in what it evokes in both the media and the media audience, which is in effect--and I suspect, also a choice--a dangerous distraction from more pressing important matters.

I was going to say so early on Thursday but I found that E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post had more or less said it for me.  And he's used to the Beltway political circus, so his alarm is even more alarming than mine.

A distraction from the threat of GOPer obstructionism, especially on the debt ceiling, a disaster with fresh numbers attached to it.  A distraction from the ongoing perils of the U.S. economy, and especially the possibility that this is the beginning of the future--of escalating fossil fuel costs due to dwindling supply, declining food production due to climate disruptions which manifests first as rising costs.  The role of China and increasing demand for fossil fuel in the current spate of rising gas prices (now falling, though GOPer Gospel to the contrary is unaffected) is documented here.

President Obama is not responsible for high gas prices, but environmentalists are taking him and his administration to task for a number of recent questionable decisions.  These are questions that deserve answers.  As annoying as the environmental lobby can be at times (and I say this as a card carrying member of the Sierra Club), they are right to become louder on these issues, and on the needed leadership directly on the Climate Crisis.

But what everybody is hiding from the most is dramatized in the video above, using Bill McKibben's Washington Post oped words and some very powerful images and revealing graphs.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Climate Inside: Projection Politics

art by Anthony McCall
  In a very simple yet functional definition, denial is not seeing what’s there. Projection as a psychological phenomenon is in this sense its opposite: projection is seeing what is not there.

It is projecting from your own unconscious an image on someone else, and believing the image is really them.  Usually it’s not a pretty image—that’s negative projection. Some projections are positive, in the sense that we project an image that is considered “good”: a heroic or angelic image. But much of the time it’s negative: we project an image of evil, a devil image.

The psychology of this is basically that we project what we don’t want to face about ourselves, or have some need to hide in our own behavior and self-image.

Projection as first defined by Freud and given much more elaboration by Jung is much more complex than this, and in many ways it is both inevitable and an aid to becoming a better person. But it is also very tricky and dangerous, because it can easily obscure reality. My concern here is how it operates in the public realm—in political and public policy judgments, which are based in part on judgments about people, and ultimately what is or isn’t real in the world, such as the reality of the Climate Crisis.

Projection is another expression of the unconscious. It is an expression which bypasses rationality, but which can seem to be rational—that is, we invent reasons for the legitimacy of these powerful feelings. That’s another characteristic of the unconscious: the feelings are very powerful, partly because they exist in that darkness that we don’t (or can’t) consciously acknowledge or examine, and so these repressed feelings explode with enormous force, which feels like certainty.

It is unpleasant at best to face the uglier parts of ourselves. Especially in societies or groups that impose or encourage the idea that people are either completely good or completely bad, to admit there is even something bad hidden in us, might shatter our image of ourselves. We can deny that irrational anger, jealousy, envy, aggression, lust and lust for power exist in us, and then project them onto others.

Projections are extreme. President Obama or President Bush are not just wrong on this or that issue—they are evil, masters of deception and malevolence.

Could they be evil in reality? Yes, but the tests are factual, what they’ve actually done.

In our society, the people who draw projections most often are public figures: celebrities and authority figures. The President of the United States is always the president of projection. Those who disagree with him see him as an all-powerful dictator, or a weak numbskull, or both. Those who agree with him see him at times as a hero, and at other times as betraying their faith and dashing their hopes when he doesn’t do exactly what they want him to do, or he turns out not to be a perfect hero.

Entire groups can project, and be projected upon. That seems to be a big part of the current political polarization—the politics of extremes. We’re the angels. They are the devils. 

It is more than mere partisanship when everything your political opponents favor, you automatically consider not only wrong but evil. A number of prominent Republicans once acknowledged the reality of the Climate Crisis. The cap and trade idea was originally a Republican solution. Now it is major news when Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman offer some acknowledgement of global heating, though so far they don’t support doing anything meaningful to deal with it.

What is so Democratic about global heating, which is a series of objective and mostly scientific questions and answers? The answer is, intrinsically, nothing. But two things happened: powerful fossil fuel corporations prevailed upon the Bush administration to reverse course on dealing with the Climate Crisis, even though during his campaign, G.W. Bush acknowledged its reality and the need to deal with it. And shortly afterwards, his opponent (and the man who would have been President had all the votes been counted), Al Gore became even more identified with the issue, with his popular movie and book, An Inconvenient Truth. For Republicans, Gore was the target of negative projection, and global heating became yet another political litmus test.

So what was once a somewhat partisan issue but with room for compromise on what actions to take to address the Climate Crisis, became polarized. And what was once generally acknowledged—the existence of global heating—was denied, almost entirely along lines of political party or political ideology.

Along with these shifts, projection really took over. Climate scientists themselves were demonized—they cheated, they were in it for the money. Al Gore was in it for political gain—he lived lavishly while calling for sacrifice from others.

So add projection to denial as powerful phenomena that can be exploited for political and economic gain by corporate interests and ambitious politicians.

But simply naming projection as a factor is not the point.  The point is that in the end it is a product of an individual’s psyche, and an individual can do something about it. Political projections become more powerful when they are reinforced by a group, and by constant repetition in the only media ever consulted. But in the end, it resides in the individual.

 First of all, we each need to consciously grasp the concept of projection, and how it operates. We need to look at our most extreme, most emotional views and ask ourselves whether reality merits this response, or whether it comes from a projection that needs to be looked at within ourselves. We each need to examine our own political views to see whether our projections are distorting our judgments.

Such projections can be dangerous to us personally as well as in leading us to make bad decisions on public policy. A “conservative” who attacks “liberals” for being “bleeding hearts” might well be destroying his own capacity for compassion. In another way, by projecting negative traits onto others, we don’t deal with them in ourselves, and they can turn into uncontrolled behavior that’s self-destructive and hurts those close to us.

Projection of evil onto adversaries leave us blind to our own contradictions.  Right now GOPer governors and legislatures in several states, elected to cut budgets and enact smaller government, are passing laws that result in bigger and more intrusive government, and wind up costing the states more.  In the name of liberty they are curtailing liberty. These leaders may well know exactly what they are doing, but projection can blind their supporters to the reality.

  Ideology both feeds projection and benefits from it.  GOPers persist in claiming that lowering taxes on the rich eventually creates jobs, when there's no evidence it does--especially now, with 9% unemployment exactly ten years after the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy began.  GOPer politicians rail against high taxes so much that their supporters simply don't believe the fact that federal taxes are comparatively low--the lowest since 1950, and that top tax rates (even without the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy) are much lower than they were under Reagan.  This can't be true, because they believe the image being projected, both the positive image of their party and the negative image of their opponents.

Projections can easily become group projections, and they can assume particular power when projected onto individuals or groups, and we aren't seeing the reality of what's there--we aren't seeing good and bad, we're seeing only very very bad.  In further examining projection, next time: the Other.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Coincidentally Jung

This is the 50th anniversary of the death of C. G. Jung.  I noticed this by chance a few days ago, when I saw the date of his death on the back of his autobiography: Memories, Dreams, Reflections.  I was reading passages in it, partly to prepare posts in my "Climate Inside" series here, partly as I ease into the reflections of summer and the month of a significant birthday.  I also have been looking again at some videos concerning Jung. 

But the coincidence of accidentally running into the date of this 50th anniversary a few days before it happened would probably not seem very strange to Jung.  Though he broadened and deepened and in some ways changed concepts named by Freud, he contributed several important new concepts and tools, including the idea of synchronicity: meaningful coincidences.

To me Jung is a fascinating figure as well as one of the most important voices of the 20th century.  He noted that he never wrote until he felt impelled to do so, because he was sure that what he had to say would be rejected or ignored in his own time, except by a few.  Though his reputation has grown, most of what he wrote is again rejected and ignored, though his approach to psychology is the most vital in many contemporary areas of inquiry, sometimes directly as in the archetypal psychology that was carried on by Marie-Louise von Franz and James Hillman (and in another way by Joseph Campbell), and sometimes "coincidentally" as in today's attitudes towards ecology, Buddhism, Native American and other indigenous cultures.

Jung was remembered by those who knew him for the depth and deftness of his work with patients, and for his friendships, his fierce energies, his stories, his great laugh.  He left the tower on the lakeside that he built and where he retreated in solitude to work and to play, his sculptures and artworks.  But for following generations he left mostly his writings:  "My life has been in a sense the quintessence of what I have written, not the other way he around.  The way I am and the way I write are a unity.  All my ideas and my endeavors are myself.  Thus the 'autobiography' is merely the dot on the i."   

Update: A BBC News essay suggests other legacies of Jung, and the second of a series in the Guardian rehashes aspects of Jung's relationship with Freud, and corrects the record (as Deidre Baird did in her biography, following Aniela Jaffe and others), on Jung's stance on the Nazis.