For it is only unacknowledged trauma that prompts us to act out in ways that make the problem worse. If what we have been calling “climate change” is, in fact, an unprecedented form of trauma that is prompting us to act out in such perplexing ways as questioning the validity of facts themselves, then there is tremendous potential for societal and global healing in simply bringing awareness to the nature of our collective wounding. As anyone who has walked a 12-step path will tell us, awareness is a powerful elixir.
Is there more to us than Thanatos? I believe there is. Art, medicine, literature tell me so. A little child’s laugh tells me so. The water against the waves does, too. But I also believe that we’ve been told for so long that there isn’t more to us than Thanatos — that all we are is little walking vessels of greed, rage, spite, and hate — that Thanatos is all we know how to be anymore. Let us, then, begin the difficult, beautiful work of discovering a greater truth about ourselves.
The longer we pretend this dystopian world is not imminent, the more unprepared and disempowered we will be. The ruling elite’s goal is to keep us entertained, frightened and passive while they build draconian structures of oppression grounded in this dark reality. It is up to us to pit power against power. Ours against theirs. Even if we cannot alter the larger culture, we can at least create self-sustaining enclaves where we can approximate freedom. We can keep alive the burning embers of a world based on mutual aid rather than mutual exploitation. And this, given what lies in front of us, will be a victory.
Our society has tried to medicalize trauma. We call it PTSD and regard it as an individual illness that can be treated with medications. But it’s increasingly clear that trauma is a moral and spiritual issue as much as a psychological or chemical one. Wherever there is trauma, there has been betrayal, an abuse of authority, a moral injury.
Fascism is a political label but, like any such label, it has a psychological foundation. That is, the political behavior of those who are fascists can be explained by understanding their psychology. Of course, all behavior can be explained by psychology but I will focus on the psychology of fascist behavior here.
What do imploding middle classes do? They turn to fascists. Who blame their woes on scapegoats, turning grief into grievance. Fascists promise the downwardly mobile that they will be “great” again — that they’ll rise culturally, triumph socially, be symbolically reborn, and economically renewed. It’s a powerful appeal, to people who, suddenly, are shocked, that they are falling out of what appeared to be a clear blue sky. Who will save them? Who’ll rescue them? To understand fascism, Yyu have to understand that the minds of a large part of this stratum of society simply stop working. Those minds brim over with grievances, hated, imagined enemies, who are persecuting them, victimizing them, who are hunting them into nonexistence, who they need to destroy first, exterminate — not anything resembling coherent thoughts, logical reason, or moral sanity
What is not widely recognized, though, is the underlying germ that makes the politics of division so viable. Our culture teaches us in subtle but countless ways that division works – that it is necessary for creating safety and enabling control. We soak up this lesson, learning first and foremost how to divide the self. That lesson is stressed and locked into our bodies by our public schools: achieving success there means suppressing the body’s intelligence and sitting still (and you’d better learn to throttle the body’s energy, or you’ll get in trouble) so that you can fill your head with the right facts and lessons.
This is who we’ve always been, a nation of madmen and sociopaths, for whom murder is a line item, kept hidden via a long list of semantic self-deceptions, from “manifest destiny” to “collateral damage.” We’re used to presidents being the soul of probity, kind Dads and struggling Atlases, humbled by the terrible responsibility, proof to ourselves of our goodness. Now, the mask of respectability is gone, and we feel sorry for ourselves, because the sickness is showing.
Why we feel so fatigued, depleted, and exhausted
Mostly, we’ve bought into the Great American Myths of a) everyone should be self reliant b) no one should be a burden c) everyone must take responsibility only for themselves — but no one else. Ah, do you see how easy these myths make it for a society to collapse? Why should you care about that dead kid, if you believe in self-reliance, that no one should be a burden, and that everyone is only their own responsibility? Hey! It’s not your problem — it’s his. Why should you care who gets dragged away by the strong men? It’s their fault, their problem, their responsibility. Is it? Is life really that simple? Is this difficult, strange, and noble project called coexistence, called civilization really as simple as those three myths? Or in telling and retelling those three myths, did Americans somehow avoid asking the hard questions, about what responsibilities people must take for another, if they are to stay sane, humane, decent, courageous, noble, true, whole — civilized?