The collective denial in which we live

view from the sky of the city of Toronto at night with a lot of light

Credit: Thomas Hawk

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

French version here

Denial: Defence mechanism which consists in ignoring the existence of a reality that scares

Schizophrenia: Chronic psychosis which consists in loss of contact with reality and dissociation of personality.

Dementia: Serious mental illness that leads the victim to commit irresponsible, mad, and absurd acts.

The TV news of Monday, 3rd of October 2016, in the French national TV channel France 2 is a perfect example of the collective denial in which we live.

While I was watching this bulletin, astonished, dismayed, the following words were popping up in my mind: denial, madness, dementia, schizophrenia. I could hardly believe it. In just about 10 minutes, everything was there.

First of all, the news announces that the European Union officially signed the COP 21 International Climate Treaty. The objective of this treaty is to limit global warming to less than 2°C, threshold above which scientists consider that the climate situation will be unpredictable and out of control. The journalist ends the short announcement explaining that this is for preserving our ecosystems, and therefore “to protect ourselves”. Very good.

But we quickly come back to serious matters (meaning this treaty is big joke). In fact, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) worries about a weak economic growth in the world. Only glimmer of hope, the European Union, that apparently better resisted the financial crisis, despite that the DeutshBank threatens to bankrupt (in consequence of this crisis…). I wonder how the well-respected IMF can see in the European Union a hope for growth when one of its systemic bank threatens to collapse…

But other than that, in my mind, it’s boiling. I shout internally: “But haven’t you understood already that it is this eternal pursuit of growth that messes up the climate???”

I already feel desperate but another event finishes pushing down the nail of the coffin of the mental health of my contemporaries. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so real.

The French government decided to buy TGVs (High-Speed Trains) to Alstom that will be used for regional lines (i.e at limited speed) in order to save 480 jobs in the factory of Belfort. Millions of euros spent and tons of natural resources wasted to replace adapted trains that are perfectly working with unsuited trains. The fanatical extremists of the Holy Growth are not afraid of ridiculousness. Divine Employment goes before everything else. For the Holy Growth, 480 jobs are well worth this sacrifice on the altar of common sense and reason. “Isn’t it like driving Ferraris on regional roads?” France 2’s journalists, like good watchdogs, then try as best they can to justify this absurdity.

Schizophrenia starts showing when we know that this act of dementia has the objective to please the people in view of the future elections.

What an insult, what an offence to the common sense and intelligence of the people!

That being said, I myself sometimes doubt about the common sense of my contemporaries especially when we hear a representative of the CGT labour union at the end of the report. The government shames itself to save the factory, but the representative still has something to complain about. “Very good,” he says in essence, “but after that we will be done building these trains in two years, what will we become? We must support the industry in the long-run, otherwise it’s useless!”

Yes, of course. Climate and ecosystems are very nice but the industry must not – and cannot – ever be stopped. The industry must progress, more and more, no matter what. You already have 3 cars for 2 people? Are you crazy? Buy one more car, we must save the industry! There is already an airport in Nantes that satisfies the needs? So what, we need a new airport, more “modern”, and bigger! France is already criss-crossed with TGV lines? It’s OK, we’ll just buy TGVs for regional lines. Progress must progress, and so, even if it means covering with concrete until the last piece of land, even if we must produce until the exhaustion of all resources. It’s absolutely normal because this allows growth to grow, and we all know that without continuous growth the world will collapse.

Repeat after me: “Growth come back to us, because only you can bring Redemption.”

So, what is the denial I’m talking about? What is this dementia, this schizophrenia?

The TV news is representative of the collective denial of the reality of the physical limitations inherent to our planet. Schizophrenia, because we collectively have lost contact with our physical reality, and there is a total mental dissociation between the causes and the effects. And dementia, because this leads us to commit acts and pronounce speeches that are totally irresponsible and absurd.

Dissociation prevents us from establishing a casual link between our reckless pursuit of growth and climate change, the 6th mass extinction of species, and the destruction of our ecosystems from which we depend on. We deny that our lifestyles that have become so comfortable are at the origin of these issues. It’s impossible, because after all this is progress, and we never stop progress, right? Progress, this divine grace that saves us from barbarism, cannot be questioned. So much so, that it’s actually progress that will end up saving us. Progress will save us like Jesus when he will come back to Earth, so they say.

My dear contemporaries, wake up! Come back to reason! Progress will not save us, not more than Jesus will come back! Emancipate yourself from this blind faith, this religion of Progress. “Science without consciousness is the ruin of the soul”, said Rabelais. Today I say: “Religion without consciousness is the ruin of humans”. Because this is what we are heading to. This works for all religions, but especially the religion of Progress.

Adding misleading adjectives to the word “growth” such as “green” or “sustainable” will not change anything to this reality. Hiding ”growth” behind the word “development”, doesn’t help making it less unsustainable either. Because these words are hiding others, that are now somewhat taboo: capitalism, consumerism, productivism, extractivism, neoliberalism. As long as these realities that are driving the global system are not questioned, all the sustainable development, all the international treaties, and all the good faith of the world won’t change anything.

Let’s stop denying it. Let’s accept this reality, and let’s face it. Let us gradually reduce our consumption and our standard of living. Let us reuse, recycle, relocalize, recreate a human-scale environment. Let us listen to what degrowth activists have to say. Let’s listen to their debates and their propositions, instead of listening to psychopaths who pretend to represent the people and their interests.

They are so rich and privileged that they will easily escape the consequences of their acts. It’s us, the 99 %, who will pay the bill.

And it is not only about eating organic and switching off the light after leaving a room. We need to engage structural changes, political, collective, and radical. Recreate communities. True sustainability requires a genuine reorganisation of society. We need to get away from the necessity of growth, from international markets, from globalised finance.

We need to prepare ourselves and choose by our own will to gradually start these big changes. Otherwise, these big changes will eventually impose themselves on us. We have the choice: it is chosen degrowth or forced degrowth. The wise choice is to try to orientate our destiny in the best way until we are still able to do it, because otherwise the return to reality, to the limits of earth, can well be chaotic and violent, mentally and physically.

If we want to have a better future, at least should we be open to accept the alarm signals launched by scientists of the world. At least should we stop denying the reality of the emergency state of the climate and the environment.

I no longer watch TV. But when it happens, I remember bitterly why I banished it from all my living places. Throw out your TV, it benumbs you, manipulates you, annihilates your critical thinking, makes you accept the unacceptable. It diverts you, meaning that it distracts your attention towards the superficial rather than the useful. TV orchestrates the collective denial, and justifies schizophrenic and insane collective behaviour. It binds you, and slowly drags you down into madness.

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About me
I'm passionate about sustainable lifestyles and urban agriculture. I believe that community-supported initiatives and bottom-up policies are key to foster necessary societal changes. I'm an advocate of degrowth, agro-ecology, sharing economy and participatory democracy. Based in Bratislava, Slovakia, I like learning, reading, writing, sharing, hiking, dancing, eating, and celebrating.
Nicolas Giroux
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