The threat faced by humanity is not the multitude of complex social, political, economic and technological forces precipitating our rush to extinction, it is our dysfunctional individual and collective psychological state, perhaps a much more vexing problem to solve.
Anyone reading the scientific literature (or the progressive news outlets that truthfully report this literature) knows that homo sapiens are on the fast track to extinction, most likely sometime between 2025 and 2040.
For a taste of the evidence in this regard focusing on the climate, see ‘Climate Collapse and Near Term Human Extinction’, ‘What They Won’t Tell You About Climate Catastrophe’, ‘Release of Arctic Methane “May Be Apocalyptic,” Study Warns’ and ‘7,000 underground [methane] gas bubbles poised to “explode” in Arctic’.
Unfortunately, of course, the climate is not the only imminent threat to human survival. With an insane leadership in the White House in the United States – see ‘Resisting Donald Trump’s Violence Strategically’ – we are faced with the prospect of nuclear war. And even if the climate and nuclear threats to our survival are removed, there is still a substantial range of environmental threats – including rainforest destruction, the ongoing dumping of Fukushima radiation into the Pacific Ocean, extensive contamination from military violence… – that need to be addressed, given the synergistic impacts of these multiple and interrelated threats.
Can these extinction-threatening problems be effectively addressed?
Well the reality is that most (but not all) of them can be tackled effectively if we are courageous enough to make powerful personal and organizational decisions and then implement them. But we are not even close to doing that yet. And time is obviously running out fast.
Given the evidence, scientific and otherwise, documenting the cause and nature of many of these problems and what is required to fix them, why aren’t these strategies to address the problems implemented?
At the political and economic level, it is usually explained structurally – for example, as an outcome of capitalism, patriarchy and/or the states-system – or, more simply, as an outcome of the powerful vested interests that control governments and the corporate imperative to make profits despite exacerbating the current perilous state of the Earth’s biosphere and its many exploited populations (human and otherwise) by doing so.
Read more by Robert J. Burrowes
- The Fear That Drives U.S. Nuclear Strategy
- The Psychology Of Mass Killers: What Causes It? How Can You Prevent It?
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But the reality is that these political and economic explanations mask the deeper psychological drivers that generate and maintain these dysfunctional structures and behaviors.
Let me explain why and how this happens using the climate catastrophe to illustrate the process.
A lack of will?
While scientific concern about the increase in carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere had been raised more than a century ago – see ‘The Discovery of Global Warming’ – it wasn’t until the 1980s that this concern started to gain significant traction in public awareness. And despite ongoing agitation by some scientists as well as climate and environment groups, corporate-funded climate deniers were able to stall widespread recognition of, and the start of serious official action on, the climate catastrophe for more than two more decades.
However, as the truth of the climate catastrophe was finally being accepted by most people and the climate deniers were finally forced into full-scale retreat on the issue of whether or not the climate catastrophe was, in fact, so serious that it threatened human extinction, the climate deniers implemented their back-up strategy: they used their corporate media to persuade people that action wasn’t necessary ‘until the end of the [21st] century’ and to exaggerate the argument about the ‘acceptable’ increase above the pre-industrial norm – 2 degrees? 3 degrees? 1.5 degrees? – to obscure the truth that 0.5 degrees was, in fact, the climate science consensus back in 2007.
But, you might ask: ‘Why would anyone prefer to ignore the evidence, given the extinction-threatening nature of this problem?’
Or, to put the question more fully: ‘Why would anyone – whether an “ordinary” worker, academic, lawyer, doctor, businessperson, corporate executive, government leader or anyone else – prefer to live in delusion and believe the mainstream narrative about “the end of the century” (or 1.5 degrees) rather than simply consider the evidence and respond powerfully to it?’
And what is so unattractive about the truth that so many people run from it rather than embrace it?
Obviously, these questions go to the heart of the human (psychological) condition so let me explain why most humans now live in a delusional state whether in relation to the climate, environment issues generally, the ongoing wars and other military violence, the highly exploitative global economy or anything else.
Living in Delusion
People do not choose to live in delusion nor do they choose their delusion consciously. A delusion is generated by a person’s unconscious mind; that is, the part of their own mind of which the individual is normally unaware. So why does a person’s unconscious mind generate a delusion? What is the purpose of it?
A person’s unconscious mind generates a delusion when the individual is simply too terrified to contemplate and grapple with reality. Instead, the person unconsciously generates a delusion and then lives in accord with that delusion for the (obvious) reason that the delusion does not frighten them.
This unconscious delusional state is the fundamental outcome of the socialization, which I call ‘terrorization’, of the typical child during their childhood.
Endlessly and violently coerced (by a variety of threatened and actual punishments) to obey the will of parents, teachers and religious figures in denial of their own self-will, while simultaneously denied the opportunity to feel the fear, anger, sadness and other feelings that this violence causes, the child has no choice but to suppress their awareness of how they feel and the reality that caused these feelings. As a result, this leaves virtually all children feeling terrified, full of self-hatred and powerless. For brief explanations of how this happens, see ‘Understanding Self-Hatred in World Affairs’ and ‘Why Are Most Human Beings So Powerless?’
However, and this point is important, each of these feelings is extraordinarily unpleasant to feel consciously and the child never gets the listening they need to focus on feeling them. See ‘Nisteling: The Art of Deep Listening’.
As a result, these feelings are suppressed below conscious awareness and this fear, self-hatred and powerlessness become the primary but unconscious psychological drivers of their behaviour and, significantly, results in them participating mindlessly in the widespread ‘socially acceptable’ delusions generated by elites and endlessly promulgated through elite channels such as education systems, the corporate media and entertainment industries.
Hence, as a result of being terrorized during childhood, delusion is the most common state of human individuals, irrespective of their role in society. For a full explanation of why this happens, see ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’.
And, as one part of their delusional state, most people must engage in the denial of reality whenever reality (unconsciously) frightens them (or threatens to bring their unconscious self-hatred or powerlessness into their awareness). See ‘The Psychology of Denial’. This, of course, means that they are frightened to take action in response to reality but also deny it is even necessary.
So what can we do about all of this? Well, as always, I would tackle the problem at various levels.
More than mere tokenism
If you are one of those rare people who prefer to research the evidence and to act intelligently and powerfully in response to the truth that emerges from this evidence, I encourage you to do so. One option you have if you find the evidence of near-term human extinction compelling in light of the lackluster official responses so far, is to join those participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’.
Obviously, tokenism on your part – such as rejecting plastic bags or collecting rubbish from public places – is not enough in the face of the profound changes needed.
Of course, if you are self-aware enough to know that you are inclined to avoid unpleasant realities and to take the action that this requires, then perhaps you could tackle this problem at its source by ‘Putting Feelings First’.
If you want intelligent, compassionate and powerful children who do not grow up living in delusion and denial, consider making ‘My Promise to Children’.
If you want to campaign on the climate, war, rainforest destruction or any other issue that brings us closer to extinction, consider developing a comprehensive nonviolent strategy to do so. See Nonviolent Campaign Strategy.
And if you want to participate in the worldwide effort to end violence in all of its manifestations, you are welcome to consider signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’.
In summary, the primary threat faced by humanity is not the synergistic multitude of complex social, political, economic and technological forces that are precipitating our rush to extinction.
The fundamental threat to our survival is our psychological incapacity (particularly because of our fear, self-hatred and powerlessness) to perceive reality and respond powerfully to it by formulating and implementing appropriate social, political, economic and technological measures that address our multifaceted crisis systematically.
Unless we include addressing this dysfunctional individual and collective psychological state in our strategy to avert human extinction, we will ultimately fail and extinction will indeed be our fate.
Top Photo | A still from the 2009 film, The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name.
Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his website is here.