Read this. Krugman echoes comments by Glenn Albrecht. The surprising issue is that given the severity of this disaster, so few people seem as upset as I might expect, at least here in NYC. I venture to say, however, that unless you live along the Gulf coast or work in it waters, the implications of this oil spill event are being conveniently tucked away in the dark corners of people’s minds. At a dinner over the weekend, friends commented, “This is terrible,” looking anguished and frightened in a manner that tightened their eyes. No one that I spoke to was motivated to do anything. There are, however, psychological concepts that can explain such apathy. They can also suggest strategies to enable a more authentic national dialogue about our energy choices. The Gulf Coast doesn’t only need Obama. It needs the citizenry.
The latest news suggests that the earliest that this leak may get under control is in a week, after that it could be three months, or until the estimated 10,000,000 barrels of oil empties out into the ocean. The way people’s defense mechanisms work it seems likely that until the effects of this disaster absolutely overwhelm the human capacity to split of awareness of upsetting events from their everyday consciousness, most people will go on as normal. When the impact becomes more “dramatic” I think greater outrage will emerge. In the meantime, the average citizen will summon up and utilize their cognitive processes to adopt a wait and see attitude. Even the White House is taking a decidedly pragmatic approach.
The danger of doing so is that any time strong emotions are neutralized instead of being expressed and processed, there is a vulnerability to making the same mistakes over and over again. If this tragedy doesn’t cause enough calamity that can be represented by imagery powerful enough to penetrate the sealing off affect of defensive cognitive strategies, the human mind will utilize its well-documented ability to accommodate to the damage, and set a new threshold for alarm. For example, if only a few sea turtles wash up dead then that becomes an expected norm. Going forward the death of a few turtles starts to become the norm, and only massive deaths will trigger reactions that might lead to action. Charles Wohlforth wrote on dotearth that
“No one who has experienced a spill in home waters would go through it voluntarily. If we let those who pay the costs of spills decide on offshore drilling, we won’t be doing much of it anymore.”
To avoid simplistic thinking that “the spill is like chocolate milk” necessitates that those who live in NYC and California and Ohio experience the impact of this spill at a sensory level. Sensory exposure can often over-ride defensive mental operations and call forth the more authentic emotional experience of what an oil spill means for human, other animal and planetary life. People might then be capable of acting and voting in a manner that prevents the next one. Ads like this one can help. Recruiting a national team of volunteers to help clean up the mess would also be a good idea. If more people actually experience and live though what this is like we can share this burden as a nation. Shared experiences might induce more informed choices about energy policy. Further, direct but not overwhelming experience with the consequences that will affect all people might also support the recognition of dimensional connectedness within the earth’s ecosystems. What happens there is also happening here even if our mind’s defensive structure prevents us from recognizing that truth.