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More climate crisis = more repression

Dear friends,

Last weekend, after 2 years of a chaotic and ultimately abusive relationship - with lots of love and rage, lots of sex and too many drugs, way too much emotional and – I shudder to write it, also very occasional physical violence - my boyfriend and I finally managed to break up with each other. Of course, some communicative skirmishes (rearguard actions) continue, each of us wanting to claim the "moral high ground" for himself. In a message this morning, for example, he expresses „surprise“ about „all the bitterness“ that I had communicated in a whatsapp message intended to end all whatsapp messages. His „surprise“, though, was a bit odd, given that I had made the reasons for my „bitterness“ (really: rage) perfectly clear, they were explicitly written in the lines to which he replied. Nevertheless, he could not relate to the information, could not respond to any of the details I supplied.

Why, you might ask, does this text start with an issue that apparently has nothing to do with the climate crisis, peaceful sabotage, or movement strategy, the central topics of this newsletter? On the one hand, of course, because writing also has a therapeutic element, and there is a certain amount of venting and processing I need to do. But there is also a deeper, analytically highly relevant reason - it is about psychological Verdrängung, a psychoanalytical term that is usually translated as repression, sometimes also as suppression or displacement, and refers to the pushing-into-the-unconscious-mind of unwanted, undesirable and distressing mental content. Understand this process, how it works, how incredibly widespread and increasingly central to our (northern, rich, overdeveloped) societies it is, and what follows from it, will become more and more important for the climate justice movement.

Texts about the climate crisis and climate strategy (whether policy or movement) are increasingly ignored, such as the IPCC-report that came out just ten days ago. Certainly the timing of Russia's invasion of Ukraine didn't help, but did the main German evening news show really have to relegate the report about to the very last slot in the programme, after the news that Russia has been expelled from FIFA?

I spoke about this frustration with my then-not-yet-ex, who's both a political moderate, and at best moderately interested in politics. He reminded me that these “news”, as I thought of them, weren't really news at all, since nobody really understood or cared about any of the details. The basics are, he said, common knowledge: we basically all know that the climate crisis is an acute, man-made real threat to all of humanity and is an enormously unjust phenomenon, in that those who have contributed the least suffer the most, and vice versa.

But: even before the emergence of the new Eastern Front, there was already no positive correlation between the emergence of new information about the escalating climate crisis (and Germany's escalatingly shitty role in it), and the development and enforcement of effective climate protection policies. I would go so far as to say that the sometimes violent, and almost always irrational reactions to the really very chill and low-level highway blockades organised by the “Last Generation” (a grouping that had emerged in the space left by a somewhat collapsing XR Germany) are indications that we are moving toward an increasingly irrational climate debate. Why? Because, just like my ex-boyfriend, the majority of society, or society as a structure, can't respond to the increasing amount of climate information in the rational mode of "responsibility" - in the sense of, "What's happening?. How are we involved in this? What can we do to change this? Let's do it!" - but only with the extremely irrational affects of guilt and, above all, shame.

I have spoken about responsibility, guilt, shame and their relation to each other elsewhere, here the following is important: guilt and shame irrationalise subjects (individual, or collective). The more information emerges that shows the subject that it is not behaving as its own ethics dictate, the more this information must be repressed, at least when adjusting ones behaviour in a way that aligns ethics and actual behaviour would be too costly or difficult. If the information is not reacted to by adaptation or repression, then "cognitive dissonance" follows, a state of mind perceived as extremely unpleasant, from which the subject tries to escape, but which can also break it.

Now: neither my ex-boyfriend, nor German society at large, were or are able to respond to the substantively correct and (usually) reasonably presented criticism of their behavior by adapting their behaviour, since there exist in both cases fundamental structures (psychological for my ex, socio-economic in the case of Germany) that are extremely difficult and high-cost to change. They cannotadapt, so they have to react with repression (and again, I am speaking here of the psychological kind of repression, although the other type might be among the range of responses, too).

But what if the repressing subject is confronted with an agent that wants it to focus on, rather than continue to repress, the unwanted mental content, the suppressed information? When, for example, I demand that my ex and I observe basic ethical principles in behaving towards each other, and point out situations in which he definitely violated even the few agreements we did have? When the climate movement continues to remind the country that Germany is not only doing "too little" in order to protect the climate, but is actively undermining efforts to do so? This then poses the threat of what Freud calls the "return of the repressed," one of the most powerful figures in classical psychoanalysis. The return of the repressed would unleash a force that could sweep away the repressive subject, destroy it, or at least render it incapable of action.

In order to avoid this, the subject will first try to ignore the source of the return of the repressed (in our examples: my ex ignoring me, and Germany ignoring the climate justice movement), but if this fails, the next response will be to fight the source of the returned, formerly repressed information with extreme brutality and post-factual irrationality. See again the reactions to the highway blockades, and our relationship conflicts, the details of which would make your hair stand on end. In summary, this means that the escalating climate crisis must lead precisely to the radicalization of ignorance and later brutality that I spoke of in the infamous "green RAF" interview. The more climate crisis, the more repression. The more repression, the more activism, the more threat of the "return of the repressed," the more irrationality and brutality.

If this is true, then we are heading for an increasingly irrational and brutal climate debate. I don't believe that we in the climate justice movement have really integrated this type of analysis into our strategies yet, but I'm pretty sure we should. Because we don't want to leave the climate battlefield as bloodied as I'm crawling out of this hot, piping mess right now. But how to win against an irrational and brutal opponent when you always do fair play yourself? Look at the US, look at Trumpism. And look into your everyday relationship conflicts. You will see: Irrationality, guilt, shame, all these are much more important (political) productive forces than we think so far.

Tadzio Mueller

(translated from this (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) German text)

Kategorie English

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