NANO: What psychologies have anthropocenics produced in this setting and how is this refiguring what people want and consider possible? What thought styles and language ideologies are in play?

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Michael Kilburn's picture
August 30, 2019

Anthropocene psychologies (or psychopathologies) have some similarities to the decadence and denialism of late socialism in central and eastern Europe that is one of my research interests. As ecological disasters, particularly in the coal regions of northern Bohemia; the most polluted area of europe at the time) gave the lie to the Party line of progress and prosperity, a comforting veil of ideology allowed leaders and many citizens to go about their business "as if" there were no looming crisis. In his New Year's address after becoming the first post Communist president of Czechoslovakia, dissident playwright Vaclav Havel made this connection clear, describing the destroyed environment as an undeniable symptom of modern humanity's disconnection from the natural world and a "contaminated moral environment." As outlined in the work of historian Miroslav Vanek (see our article "Ecological Roots of a democracy movement") , the ecological crisis was deeply entwined with a political crisis that eventually led to the collapse of the Communist state in Czechoslovakia in 1989. Havel's critique was not just of Communist ideologies, but of ideologies of technologival civilization and modernity in general:

"What we call the consumer and industrial (or postindustrial) society, and Ortega y Gasset once understood as "the revolt of the masses," as well as the intellectual, moral, political, and social misery in the world today: all of this is perhaps merely an aspect of the deep crisis in which humanity, dragged helplessly along by the automatism of global technological civilization, finds itself. The post-totalitarian system is only one aspect-a particularly drastic aspect and thus all the more revealing of its real origins-of this general inability of modern humanity to be the master of its own situation. The automatism of the posttotalitarian system is merely an extreme version of the global automatism of technological civilization. The human failure that it mirrors is only one variant of Ihe general failure of modern humanity. This planetary challenge to the position of human beings in the world is, of course, also taking place in the Western world, the only difference being the social and political forms it takes- Heidegger refers expressly to a crisis of democracy. ... It may even be said Ihat the more room there is in the Western democracies (compared to our world) for the genuine aims of life, the better the crisis is hidden from people and the more deeply do they become immersed in it. It would appear that the traditional parliamentary democracies can offer no fundamental opposition to the automatism of technological civilization and the industrial-cousumer society, for they, too, are being dragged helplessly along by it. People are manipulated in ways that are infinitely more subtle and refined than the brutal methods used in the posttotalitarian societies. But this static complex of rigid, conceptually sloppy, and politically pragmatic mass political parties run by professional apparatuses and releasing the citizen from all forms of concrete and personal responsibility; and those complex focuses of capital accumulation engaged in secret manipulations and expansion; the omnipresent dictatorship of consumption, production, advertising, commerce, consumer culture, and all that flood of information: all of it, so often analyzed and described, can only with great difficulty be imagined as the source of humanity's rediscovery of itself." (Power of the Powerless, 1978)