week’s blog discussed one of the stages of grief in relation to Existential Collapse. It was suggested that denial is the predominant stage for most of the citizens of, especially, western-styled nations. This week addresses two more stages – anger and bargaining – perhaps the two most common stages that we find activists (and others) in the climate change movement.
Anger is an on-the-top emotion. When we experience it, we know it – and usually, so do those around us. Anger is driven by, and protective of, the ego. Anger declares: I am threatened, or I have been harmed. Our ego wants to protect us from real and/or perceived threats. So, our ego looks for, and usually finds, an external source of the threat or pain.
Anger is also a cover-up emotion. It covers up deeper emotions. Beneath anger we often find other emotional states: betrayal, physical harm, abuse, and abandonment, are some possibilities. These hidden emotions vary from person to person, and from culture to culture. Anger, and our ego, is determined to shield us from these deeper emotions. With respect to Existential Collapse, beneath the anger may be the pain of a deep sense of impending loss. Loss is always difficult, and painful. Existential Collapse is the ultimate loss, and extremely painful. No wonder we want to shield ourselves from that.
Once a source of threat or pain is identified, the ego now has something, or someone, to blame. Presently, the various movements around the world find it easy to identify culprits: business leaders, trans-national companies, world leaders, the media, politicians. Once identified, it is easy to uncover further evidence for this analysis. Confirmation bias kicks in and we can find many articles with titles such as “Biggest 10 carbon emitters” almost every day.
Anger is a useful early response to Existential Collapse – it protects us. However, remaining within this stage is unhelpful, because we remain externally focussed. We can find more and more evidence that we are right, that someone or something else is to blame, and hence deserving of our anger.
When that happens, anger has become a blindfold, preventing us from seeing the bigger picture.
The other stage that many activists (and others) are caught in is that of bargaining. Bargaining allows us to hold onto hope, even though we are experiencing pain. Bargaining asks: If I (we) do this then can things get back to normal?
Bargaining in a time of Existential Collapse says: If we do this, and that, then collapse will not happen. Bargaining is a hopeful stage, it paints a rosy picture of the future, one in which everything will be okay.
Because this stage is hopeful of the future, it often is a solutions-generating stage. However, solutions posited in this stage tend to be of a reactive and grasping nature. Reacting to a simplistic analysis and grasping at quick (often technological) fixes. Such solutions arise from a mechanistic way of thinking.
The mechanistic, Cartesian, ways of thinking have been with us in the western world for some 400 years or so. Einstein, however, challenged this by telling us that:
“We cannot solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Einstein was not simply suggesting thinking differently about problems, he was suggesting a completely different way of thinking.1
Because we continue to think and generate solutions within a mechanistic mindset, the solutions generated in this bargaining stage, more often than not, also tend to exacerbate the very problem we are wanting to solve.
Bargaining keeps us locked into an historical trap. A trap that keeps us thinking we can be certain of being able to fix things. A trap within which we continue to believe we can be in control of the anthropocentric project of progress. That is techno-addiction.
The bargaining stage is useful to us, it means we can, at least, look forward to a possible future. However, as with anger, if we linger here too long, we do so at our peril.
Plus, we fail to see the underlying cause of the strife we are in and the damage we continue to inflict upon the earth.
Next week’s blog will explore the stages of Depression and Acceptance.
1. This blog further explores Einstein’s famous dictum about thinking.