Dr. JustCollapse: how I learned to stop being depressed about the climate and to love the future again
Dear friends (& today I'm mostly addressing those who aren't yet part of #TeamJustCollapse),https://troet.cafe/@andredo/111465257936513331 (Opens in a new window)
I know that you feel it too, no matter how hard you try to keep it at bay: the gathering darkness.
And: no, I'm not talking about the days getting shorter, although that certainly doesn't help. I mean the darkness of climate collapse and the rise of fascism, of war, war and pandemic (the day's news, 6th of December, St Nicholas' Day in the global annus horribilis 2023: The hard right AfD is by far the strongest party in eastern Germany (Opens in a new window), 32% ahead of the CDU's 24%, while the parties making up the governing coalition only manage 25%; in the global climate system, five key tipping points may have already been passed (Opens in a new window)and the year was on average 1.46 degrees warmer than the pre-industrial era; Trump wants to become dictator, and the killing in Gaza and Ukraine continues unabated). I mean the darkness that imposes itself as soon as you open a newspaper ('s homepage), turn on the radio or watch the news in the evening. It's the darkness that many of you – completely understandably - react to by increasingly withdrawing from the media world because, firstly, it's mostly unproductive to sit through this shit every day (unless you've elevated dooming to something of a business model ;)), and secondly, well: it's dark, it feels like shit, and who wants to feel like shit all the time?
Verdrängung in an age of collapse: what we feel but dare not knowhttps://twitter.com/jan204re/status/1731627354387026412 (Opens in a new window)
Incidentally, this is the point where, as pointed out before, I totally understand the impulse to repress: "we all repress, must repress, because not repressing would simply be too terrible. (Opens in a new window)" I've been noticing a slightly odd situation arising In my immediate environment, in the climate bubble, in my family (both my weird blood family and my wonderful queer self-selected family): while "repression" (again: the German word Verdrängung is fiendishly difficult to translate) usually means that the repressing subject is not aware of what is being repressed (that's sort of the whole point), in the current situation, where repression is a collective practice, we can both repress and know that we are repressing. It may sound a bit trite, but: our hearts sense the fear, darkness and despair that threaten as soon as we expose ourselves fully, without filters, without repression, without magical thinking, to reality and the most likely future scenarios, and shy away from them, as these feelings could crush us. As a result, our minds design modes of Verdrängung, from the detailed, policy-based ignorance of the fact that 27 years of climate summits have achieved absolutely fuck-all, and expecting a drastic change in this dynamic from the 28th is just utterly unrealistic; to the increasingly widespread, non-issue-unspecific "I just don't consume news anymore, it drags me down too much."
On a self-interested side note: if you sometimes feel annoyed by what I say and how I say it, it might not only be the result of the fact that I can be really quite annoying and exhausting (ask my husband, or even me: after all, I have to spend every day with me, imagine that! ;)), it might also be a bit due to the fact that the narrative I've been pushing for a few months now - acceptance of failure (Opens in a new window) and the disappearance of the "old" future, grief (Opens in a new window), the end of magical thinking, justcollapse politics (Opens in a new window) - is aimed at people who prefer to recognise the truth rather than suppress it. And because most of you, for completely understandable reasons, would rather continue to repress than recognise a dark future without emancipatory, utopian and hopeful elements, you find my story exhausting. And I get it. I really do.
Feelings first, facts secondhttps://twitter.com/eg_rostock/status/1731981958442271106 (Opens in a new window)
I understand the Verdrängung, even understand that some of you - including the smartest ones, like a friend of mine at FFF Berlin, who at the same time finds me extremely exhausting (you know who you are ;)) - would rather believe bullshit stories about COP28 than know what you already feel. Because the stories entailing Verdrängung have an added value that the story about just collapse politics does not (yet) have: it makes you feel good. It is, after all, much more pleasant to assume that some dea ex machina is coming to save us; that governments are both willing and able to protect the climate; that not (almost) everything will, at least initially, change for the worse, than to assume the opposite.
I could of course point out, as I have done many times before, that my story, the story of #TeamJustCollapse, has the advantage of being based on facts, realities, on hard truths, but who gives a fuck? If my analysis of the “society of repression” (Verdrängungsgesellschaft) is correct, it would follow that those facts won't change your mind in any way, because you all already know the facts - you just don't accept them, and you do that not because of the facts, but because of the feelings they trigger. And if that's true, then my story - I've already argued that we as a society have a lot of emotional work to do before we can have a rudimentary rational climate debate - has to be one that starts with feelings, that takes seriously the fact that people like to feel hope and don't want to feel like shit, and that these needs are more important than whether a story is totally and utterly correct from start to finish.
So I have to manage to tell a story that is not only "true" (in the sense of according with reality), but one that convinces you that joining #TeamJustCollapse, or – let's take the movementism down a notch - just dealing with the coming collapse emotionally (and then maybe as a set of practical challenges) can mean that you feel better, stronger and happier, even though you're dropping your Verdrängung. This is the part that I haven't really written down yet, but have been talking about more and more often at events and in podcasts (Opens in a new window) over the past few weeks: that my personal story of the past few years follows exactly the pattern of crisis - depression - acceptance - empowerment that I would like to tell you about and that I would like to submit to you as a personal and collective proposition (with the exception of the excessive and at some points actually dangerous overconsumption of chemical drugs, you're free to leave that out ;)).
Fearing the end of the futurehttps://twitter.com/OsirisVomSirius/status/1727366498706919798 (Opens in a new window)
Some 1.5 years ago, I wrote this: "Hi, my name is Tadzio, and I'm pretty sure I'm deep in a climate depression (Opens in a new window)." Although I would no longer use the term "climate depression", because at the time I was actually in a deep and initially not particularly productive (in the sense of the "stages of grief" pop psychology) mourning phase over the disappearance, the now objectively no longer given possibility of a good, a better, a more rational and a freer future for everyone in the world, agitating and fighting for which had thus far given my life meaning and structure. And btw, for those for whom this sounds a bit too communist: this "future" that gives meaning and structure to the present does not have to be a "queer-communist" one, as it is for me: it can be the better future for yourself, or for your children, or for your community, however you determine that. Almost all of us carry within us images of a better future, and without this it is almost impossible to make sense of our own lives.
So, whatever the source of this better future is for you - be it a partner or children; a vocation or a profession; be it your in-built optimism generator or, I dunno, your annual ticket for your local football club - for me it has been "the movement", the "fight" for "the cause" for almost 25 years. Movement was my secular religion, so to speak (and my "dea ex machina"). And when I realised that even the movement would not be able to stop the collapse, I lost faith and hope, because I thought: hope can only be hope for the great victory (in the fight against capitalism and injustice). If we cannot have realistic hope for success in the fight against climate collapse, then there can be no hope, I thought.
Why am I going into such detail here? Because in the past weeks and months, during which - knock on wood! - I've managed to finally worm my way out of this depression and enjoy life to the fullest extent again (which actually seems odd, since it's so dark), I've found that many of you stand at a similar point right now as I did in 2022, before I acknowledged my depression. You're afraid to face your fears, even though the climate optimists' stories no longer really convince you either - you feel that they no longer correspond to the reality that you almost perceive every day in the news - because if you face these fears: do you then face a future, a life without hope? Without light and warmth, without love and solidarity? A future without a future?
Hope in the dark I: Lützerath
That's exactly where I was at the end of 2022: facing a life without a future. Then came a racist panic surrounding Berlin's New Year's Eve celebrations/riots, and the future without a future suddenly became a fascist future: the "coming out of the asshole society (Opens in a new window)" had begun. And when "Day X" dawned in Lützerath on January 3rd and every climate activist in the country was called upon to defend "Lützi" from the “soulless minions of orthodoxy” (h/t DS9), what dawned in my depressed brain was the final battle of the movement to which I had dedicated my adult life, and which had failed (me). So I set off for Lützerath, possibly for our last stand, my climate movement's Alamo. And yet, at the same time a spark of hope began to glow inside me: I travelled to Lützerath because in the darkness with which the year 2023 began, the movement magic that permeated Lützerath represented one of the few points of light, warmth and hope. (Opens in a new window)
You know of course what happened next: although we as a movement were back in our old, hambach-forest-style top form, although everyone from NGOs to Fridays for Future, from eco-liberals to anarchists were there and gave their best, although 35,000 people fought that Saturday in the "Mud Battle of Lützerath" to relieve the occupied hamlet, we "lost", the entire village was razed. The "Wohngemeinschaft" where I was staying, houses no. 9 and 10 in the village so small that it needed no street names, was the last standing stone structure in what we called "Lützerath unevictable" until Thursday 12 January, and on Friday it too was evicted.
So if hope can only come from success or the prediction of success, I should have slipped back into hopelessness after Lützerath. But things turned out differently. For me, it began in the days leading up to the eviction, during which I felt like a hitherto empty mobile phone that had finally been reconnected to its charger, its battery. I came to Lützerath without a single bar on my battery, and every day, even though the police tightened the siege around us, I became stronger, more self-confident, felt truly alive again for the first time in years. As we stood by a window the night before the eviction, looking out at the cops, the floodlights, the enormous machines that we knew would be evicting us from our (temporary but no less familiar and wonderful) home the next day, someone asked: "Is there anywhere in the world you'd rather be right now?" Everyone gave the same answer: "no, this is perfect, I don't want to be anywhere else but here, with you."
Hope in the dark II: community
It was in Lützerath that I found my faith again. Not faith in the great revolutionary victory in a distant future; not even the belief that we could physically defend Lützerath; but the belief in the community that exists in movement, the irreducible power that is created when you join forces with others and fight to make the world better - even if "better" really only means "less bad than it would otherwise be". We were three political generations (Opens in a new window), from 22 to 56, we came from political cultures that were infinitely far apart, and we grew together through external pressure, but above all through the common task, the common mission. Where there was scepticism at the beginning, in the end there was only deep affection, solidarity and a sense caring for one another that would honour the most harmonious family. In the coming together of these different people, the communist magic of social movement became apparent, the magic that turns individual elements into more than the sum of their parts, which turns "let's do something together" into "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs".
The central point here is this: the hope that I had found again in Lützerath was not hope for a now materially impossible victory over fossil capitalism, because obviously, that fucker had gone ahead and destroyed the village. Which means, that in order to hope, I don't have to rely on magical thinking, repress or otherwise ignore the certainty of climate collapse; nor do I have to repress the fact that the most likely social scenario in most countries of the global North (and other, now relatively privileged "emerging economies" (stupid term)) is the rapid advance of fascism.
No, In order to hope, I "only" have to be able to put my trust in the people around me: that these will be the people with whom I will try to create new and, if things go well, even larger spaces of solidarity, love and humanity in a world that is most likely going to get darker and darker. Therein lay the core of my "Pink Panthers (Opens in a new window)" idea: not in developing the ability to beat up militant queer haters (though I certainly wouldn't mind that), but in the ability to defend the kind of spaces in which life, as I, as "we" (leftists, progressives, humanists, climate types, queers, etc.) imagine it to be possible. This perspective also makes it easier to consume news regularly and to engage with the world without being crushed under it: since I now assume that there will be no climate protection (i.e. none, really zero), that the climate is already collapsing, as are other socio-ecological systems, that the fascists are getting stronger and stronger, I can savour every single moment when something good happens (in several US states, the right to abortion has been enshrined in the constitution; in Spain, the Vox fascists surprisingly lost the elections; ditto the disgustingly queer- and misogynistic PiS in Poland), because each of them genuinely surprises and delights me - while every victory for the fascists is simply a confirmation of my expectations: It sucks, but it's expected and therefore emotionally manageable.
Hope in the dark III: no hope without emotional labour
But: getting to this point requires a lot of emotional work, and it will not be an easy path. You have to arrive at your own "acceptance" (cf. stages of grief), and I can't give you a detailed roadmap. A wonderful man recently asked me how I got through those two years in the wilderness, in the darkness, in the depression. My answer, which I could barely articulate between bursts of tears, was: "barely". Nobody should follow my exact path, and not just because of all the drugs.
One mistake I made was to walk the path relatively alone, because is hard, difficult and rocky, and you will probably stumble. Then you need people to pull you up again, people with whom you can keep going. To be sure, for us "movement people" those can be our “comrades”, but all of us, even those “outside” movement exist in social relationships, no matter how alone we sometimes feel. Look around you: who in your social circles is asking similar questions? And if no one in your immediate surrounding: what's the internet for? Check out if there's something like the Climate Collapse Café (Opens in a new window) in your linguistic space, for example, where smart, warm, wise people meet regularly to talk to each other about what this "acceptance" means for them emotionally, in their relationships with other people, etc. Organise yourself in your neighbourhood when it comes to making it more resilient, just and sustainable, because these are the people with whom you will struggle for the future. The social relationships you build are the future you can hope for: and as I hope I've shown with my Lützerath example, that's much more than nothing.
Sure, that sounds like a lot of work: nobody ever said grief was easy. But perhaps I have shown the beginning of a path that leads to a future in which we can still have hope.
More on this next year, I need a longer break for now. Until then, be good to yourself and each other. There is still much to do...