No 2074 Posted by fw, October 13, 2017
“… now we have visual evidence in these hurricanes, not caused by climate change, but rendered much more extreme, according to much scientific evidence. We have evidence, which the rest of us can take in as perspective survivors, of further climate damage that threatens our whole civilization. … I no longer speak so much of climate change denial, but rather climate change rejection. … One recognizes it partially. … The human mind can be very contradictory. One can both recognize it and reject it—reject it because it’s contrary to one’s anti-government stance—you need governments to cooperate to do anything about it—and because it’s antithetical to one’s identity and to one’s worldview, and also to one’s financial sponsors—all that feeding climate rejection. … I speak of the ultimate absurdity, the ultimate absurdity that if we do nothing but what we’re doing now—and it’s what I mean by malignant normality—just go on using fossil fuels, we will do ourselves in as a civilization, pretty much by the end of this century. … And with Trump malignant normality becomes the rule, because he’s president, and what a president does tends to normalize potentially bad, evil or destructive behavior.” —Jay Robert Lifton, Democracy Now
Robert Jay Lifton is a leading American psychiatrist and author of more than 20 books about the effects of nuclear war, terrorism and genocide. His new book is titled The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival. He is also a distinguished professor emeritus of psychiatry and psychology at the City University of New York.
Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh spoke with Robert Jay Lifton about his new book. In the midst of the massive hurricanes and the wildfires in California, Goodman and Shaikh asked him about climate change, what he’s called the “apocalyptic twin” of nuclear war.
Below is a repost of the interview, featuring the embedded 14:41-minute video of the conversation, and an abridged transcript with added subheadings and highlighted text. Alternatively, watch the video and access the full transcript by clicking on the following linked title.
Amy Goodman — On Thursday, Democracy Now!‘s Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke with him [Lifton] about his new book, The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival. In the midst of the massive hurricanes and the wildfires in California, I asked him about climate change, what he’s called the “apocalyptic twin” of nuclear war.
We have visual evidence of further climate damage that threatens our whole civilization
Robert Jay Lifton — Climate change, yes, is the apocalyptic twin. And we saw in those images of the hurricanes just in the last couple of months—and still—a kind of apocalyptic damage, the destruction of cities, of islands, of most of Puerto Rico, a large area, and doubts about the capacity to recover and to really prevent the most long-standing damage to these places. There has to be a kind of perspective survivor, somebody who imagines this happening. But now we have visual evidence in these hurricanes, not caused by climate change, but rendered much more extreme, according to much scientific evidence. We have evidence, which the rest of us can take in as perspective survivors, of further climate damage that threatens our whole civilization. I call them apocalyptic twins because only these two threats [nuclear war and climate change], these two developments, can destroy the human species.
Speak not of climate change ‘denial’ but of climate change ‘rejection’
I no longer speak so much of climate change denial, but rather climate change rejection. It’s impossible not to, in at least one part of one’s mind, recognize that there is something called global warming and that it’s very dangerous to us and that we’re contributing to it. It doesn’t mean that one accepts it. One recognizes it partially.
Our contradictory human mind can reject climate change because “it’s antithetical to one’s identity and to one’s worldview”
The human mind can be very contradictory. One can both recognize it and reject it—reject it because it’s contrary to one’s anti-government stance—you need governments to cooperate to do anything about it—and because it’s antithetical to one’s identity and to one’s worldview, and also to one’s financial sponsors—all that feeding climate rejection.
Global warming is “making its way into what I call a species awareness or a climate swerve”
But even as they try to make adaptation—how you’re going to restore these coastal areas—the issue of climate change arises more readily. So, although we are not satisfied with the amount of emphasis on global warming, it’s making its way into what I call a species awareness or a climate swerve. One wishes it would happen faster, but it is happening.
Nermeen Shaikh — But it’s interesting that you say that this climate swerve or change in climate mindset is happening at the same moment that the Trump administration is perhaps the most vocal in renouncing climate science, or in climate rejection, as you call it. I want to go back to President Trump last month, when he traveled to Mandan, North Dakota, and celebrated his decision to pull out of the landmark 2015 climate deal, while speaking outside an oil refinery.
Liar-in-Chief Trump tells his supports that withdrawing from the Paris Accord protects American industry and workers
President Donald Trump — In order to protect American industry and workers, we withdrew the United States from the job-killing Paris climate accord. Job killer. People have no idea. Many people have no idea how bad that was. And right here in North Dakota, the Dakota Access pipeline is finally open for business. … I also did Keystone. You know about Keystone, another one, big one. Big. First couple of days in office, those two. Forty-eight thousand jobs. Tremendous, tremendous thing. I think environmentally better. I really believe that. Environmentally better.
Trump claims that quitting Paris Accord, building pipelines makes US “environmentally better”
Goodman — So, that was President Trump speaking on September 6th in Mandan, North Dakota. It was just about a year after the Dakota Access pipeline guards unleashed dogs on protesters, Native American protesters, water protectors, who were trying to protect the planet and not have that DAPL pipeline built. It was after—just after Hurricane Harvey had inundated the greater Houston area and Hurricane Irma was just making landfall. He chose this moment to come to this controversial spot, where hundreds of Native Americans, just down the road from the oil refinery, had been jailed for their fight for water protection, to announce, once again, “Look at what I’ve done, pull out of the Paris accord and greenlight these pipelines.”
Re the Paris Accord, Trump’s so-called “clarifications” are typically Trumpian, typically obfuscating
Lifton — But that story isn’t over, and the story continues. It has proven very difficult for Trump to pull out of the Paris accord. As soon as it was announced, there was a heartening response on the part of governors and mayors all over the country saying that their states or their cities would follow the Paris accord. And there was an even more intense international response, a joint statement by Germany, France and Italy, that the Paris accord was irreversible, and by China, that they would continue their involvement in the Paris accord. And then the Trump administration issued a series of so-called clarifications: “Well, we’ll go to the meetings. Well, we don’t exactly have to pull out. We’ll renegotiate.” In other words, obfuscating the whole issue, which is very Trumpian and not so surprising.
The idea that we’re members of a single species in deep trouble will make it difficult for Trump to pull out
The reason why it’s difficult for him to pull out of the Paris accord is that there’s a worldwide consensus about it that’s more powerful than any person, even the most dangerous person in the world, Donald Trump. And in that sense, again, we’d like more. It’s outrageous that Trump would try to pull out of a world-saving accord, or at least something in the direction of that. It should really be criminal for a president to do that. But at least we can say that the climate swerve or the species awareness, the idea that we’re all members of a single species in deep trouble, as I put it, all that prevents him from pulling out absolutely and leaves the whole matter unclear.
Shaikh — Is it your sense that there are sufficient restraints on Donald Trump acting unilaterally on either of these fronts, climate or nuclear?
There are not sufficient restraints on Trump to stop him – “total restraints” are necessary
Lifton — Of course there are not. You would have to have total restraints for them to be sufficient with a man like Donald Trump. Of course there aren’t sufficient restraints. And whoever depended upon generals to restrain a civilian in so many different areas? And we don’t know the outcome.
Although we haven’t done enough to prevent climate change, a mindset shift makes it possible to curb the threat
I’m not, in my book or in my work, promising that we’ve accomplished enough to prevent climate damage and real disaster from happening. It’s happening already. What I’m saying is that there has been a shift in mindset that makes possible the actions, the sensible actions, necessary to curb global warming. We still haven’t taken those actions fully.
If we go on using fossil fuels, we will do ourselves in as a civilization by the end of this century
And, you know, at the beginning of my book, I speak of the ultimate absurdity, the ultimate absurdity that if we do nothing but what we’re doing now—and it’s what I mean by malignant normality—just go on using fossil fuels, we will do ourselves in as a civilization, pretty much by the end of this century. Nothing could be more absurd than that. But at least we have a beginning shift in mindset that allows us to take reasonable action. And that’s what Paris was all about.
Impact of Trump’s “malignant normality” in “normalizing potentially bad, evil or destructive behavior” in others
[At this point Amy shifts the conversation to Nazi doctors, which I have omitted from this abridged transcript. Lifton talks not only about malignant normality among Nazi doctors, but about malignant normality among American psychologists and psychiatrists who collaborated with US military torturers in Iraq. Then, in his closing words, Lifton refers to how Trump’s behavior has created a “malignant normality”, which “becomes the rule” and “tends to normalize potentially bad, evil or destructive behavior” among those in his administration and his “white supremacist” followers].
Lifton — Yes, those [US psychologists] were examples of malignant normality, but in relation to democratic United States of America. And with Trump, of course, malignant normality becomes the rule, because he’s president, and what a president does tends to normalize potentially bad, evil or destructive behavior.
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