Sunday, January 24, 2016

Unthinkable Thoughts:  Climate Change and the “Desire-Not-to-Know”

“Emotion does not threaten human rationality; it is the only possibility for engaging human rationality.” – Marshall Alcorn (Photograph Credit: Ed Dittenhoefer) Click to Enlarge.
Emotion, rationality, and the climate crisis
Tim Kasser, a professor of psychology at Knox College, does an excellent job of connecting the desire-not-to-know with the broader ecological crisis.  His studies show that environmental degradation has more to do with the values held dear by Western civilization than not having access to the right information.  In his research, systematic damage to the natural world is closely correlated with a cultural emphasis on achievement and power, concepts entangled in both the conscious and unconscious mind.  Something as fundamental as our sense of self—our ability to make meaning in our lives—could be an obstacle to facing climate change, whether you’re an outright denier or a self-proclaimed progressive with a carbon footprint typical of the United States.

I am not suggesting that education isn’t important.  Instead, I’m emphasizing that it’s equally important to understand how people make use of credible information. In November, an Associated Press poll found that almost 40% of Americans are “not too worried” about climate change. Two thirds of participants in the poll accepted that climate change was happening, and a vast majority said that humans are the cause—and yet most of them did not view it as an urgent matter. If this is the desire-not-to-know in action, how should we respond?

The methods mentioned earlier, reflection and reverie, are only a few of Alcorn’s suggested answers. Communicating with someone at the level of affect, or emotion, can facilitate the integration of new information. One powerful way to do this is art. As journalist and photographer Alexander Kafka writes, “the arts encode information, stories, and perspectives that allow us to appraise courses of action and the feelings and motives of others in a palatable, low-risk way.”

Ultimately, attributing denial to stupidity or moral failure is unproductive. If movements are serious about incorporating conflicting viewpoints into the struggle for change (which is often
times necessary for that change), it is more useful to acknowledge that the conditions for denial are the natural acting-out of past experiences. We can recognize the emotional foundations of rationality instead of demonizing the desirers-not-to-know.

Read more at Unthinkable Thoughts:  Climate Change and the “Desire-Not-to-Know”

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