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How Conformity Trumps Action on Global Warming

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It has finally happened, just as science fiction writers predicted: A passivity virus has infiltrated our bodies and paralyzed our will. In relation to global warming, the spread of this infection looks like the etiology of our extinction.

As Mark Twain lamented more than 100 years ago, we humans are so emotionally fragile as to need mass consensus before embracing fresh opinions or novel ideas about politics, religion, manners, or culture. Not even science’s consensus on climate calamity can disturb our herd instinct.

This conformity effect contains us in a perpetual loop de loop. We drive from home in gas-guzzling vehicles to franchised strip-malls and big box-stores for landfill-destined Chinese products of mediocre if not toxic quality, which are delivered to our shores by ocean freighters whose combined greenhouse gas output surpasses even that of our cars.

In addition, of course, we drive from home to work and back a few billion miles each day, which burns up a lot of gas. Has anyone figured out how many criminals in Texas could be executed with the fumes from one SUV’s gas tank? The League of Conservation Voters did figure out, as of a few weeks ago, how many global-warming questions the top five political talk-show hosts asked of the total questions posed to presidential candidates in both parties: 24 out of 2,275.

It is comforting in our conformity to grant to political talk-show hosts the governorship of conventional wisdom. Consequently, we accept that, like them, we need only allocate slightly more than one percent of our attention and resources to the prevention of global warming.

Obviously, we can’t depend on our leaders on this issue. We have to become non-conformists so we can act independently of them. This enables us to be responsible for the drift toward environmental apocalypse. When we become personally responsible for our national dysfunction, we empower democracy and inspire the common will to push through policy decisions that best protect human interests. Each person can become his or her own political action committee when freed from the need for the approval and leadership of others.

One of the worst byproducts of our urge to conform is the credo of Americanism. Its symbol is the whitewashed picket fence that tries to hide the foreclosed home in the background and the dark clouds of global warming moving in from the horizon. On bended knee, our real pledge of allegiance is to this national icon.

Americanism gives us license to pass to the next generation the clean-up costs for the Rapture of Consumerism. In the fine print of its contract with America, we’re entitled to whatever goods and benefits we can buy, extract, borrow, or steal from the environment, the world, future generations, and each other—as long as we turn a profit or write new laws fast enough to hamstring justice.

Global warming is an alien doctrine, a heresy of Americanism. If violence is as American as apple pie, then global warming is Americanism’s cooked goose. So deny, deny, deny until last electronic dime of profit is extracted from disaster capitalism. Under the spell of conformity, we’re timid voyeurs who can’t even convince capitalists that money doesn’t count when you’re dead.

We can get rid of this type of conformity through self-knowledge, in which we face both our own darkness and our own goodness. When we expose our darkness, we free ourselves from unconsciously acting it out. When we secure our goodness, we are unable to resist its influence.We don’t have to take a sledgehammer to the borrowed ideas of conformity and our socially approved impressions of self (though the crunching sound of smashed crystallized thinking is cathartic). Deeper insight by itself can trigger brain-cell critical mass.

Here is a deeper insight to ponder. Mark Twain’s lament about conformity is found in his famous essay, “Corn-pone Opinions.” There he writes that we have as a primary interest a need for self-approval. The source of conformity, he said, is “the inborn requirement of self-approval.” Liking oneself is desirable, of course. But a person’s compulsive need for self-approval means that he or she is defensive, self-centered, stubborn, and . . . well . . . a bit of an idiot.

Indeed, the need for self-approval underlies conformity. But what underlies the need for self-approval? Compulsive self-approval is an unconscious reaction to an aspect in our psyche known as the inner critic, or self-aggression, or the superego. This part of us operates with a hidden agenda, and it is often harsh and condemning. When it operates beyond our awareness, it limits our intelligence. It causes us not to believe in our own truth. It questions our right to make independent decisions. Consequently, we can’t access our own authority. We don’t believe in ourselves. We are inwardly passive to the assumed, illegitimate authority of this part of us. Because we can’t generate approval from within, we become like beggars looking for it in the words, attention, and confirmation of others.

This inner dynamic is transposed to the national scene. Because we are passive to an illegitimate and often irrational authority in our psyche, we co-create on a national scale our military-industrial debt-ridden economic follies with the authoritarian keepers of capital, their irrational economists, and their flip-flopping political stooges.

Before we get meaningful global warming prevention, we need a program of national conformity eradication in which the agent of progress is self-knowledge.

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Peter Michaelson is an author, blogger, and psychotherapist in Plymouth, MI. He believes that better understanding of depth psychology reduces the fear, passivity, and denial of citizens, making us more capable of maintaining and growing our (more...)
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