There is a scene from a recent “Chicago Med” television show in which psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Charles, played by actor Oliver Platt, ventures into the “future life” of a patient who, with a throat tumor and refusing surgery believes she might not have a future. After reflection, Dr. Charles brings a photo-shopped digital picture of the patient, some decades into the future, and asks her to picture what a potential future life might be like, if she were to have one.
An open-air book shop in a warm climate are the words that leap from her mouth, giving both the doctors and the patient the proof of how difficult it is for individuals who are depressed, anxious and frightened to envision a future as well as the “break-through” moment, in which the patient, just as the medical staff are leaving her room, calls out, “I will go ahead with the surgery!”
There might just be some link between this story and the story behind the top Netflix film globally, Don’t Look Up. The Guardian’s Donna Lu, in a piece dated, December 30, 2021, entitled, ‘It parodies our inaction’: Don’t Look Up, an allegory of the climate crisis, lauded by activists’.
Ms Lu writes: “The film, a satire in which two scientists played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence attempt to warn and indifferent world about a comet that threatens to destroy the planet, is an intentional allegory of the climate crisis.”
Considered “a laboured, self-conscious and unrelaxed satire” and a “toothless comedy” by film critics in the Guardian, (as quote by Ms Lu), the film has been lauded by climate activists who for far too long have been deflated and depressed by the failure of the public and governments generally to actually hear, by actually listening to the crisis faced by humanity, while they dedicated their lives to forestalling that same crisis.
Is the population of the planet, like the patient in the Chicago Med episode, caught in a similar paralysis, unable to envision a future in which there is no future? And is that paralysis blocked by the very monumental diagnosis, and the accompanying projections of more fires, deluges, tsunamis, droughts and famine with rising oceans and a pandemic of starvation and unleashed viruses? Is the apocalyptic ‘vision’ of a future that we are mentally, psychologically and emotionally both unwilling to and incapable of facing the threshold we all have to cross if we are going to come to grips with our own future?
If there is even a grain of merit in these comparative questions, then it would seem that, if we are going to begin to confront our “tumor” and our fear and our anxiety and our hopelessness and our desperation that mankind might actually face a future of desolation, destruction and death, we have to begin the process of “seeing” ourselves in a future that is not imprisoned by our own fears. Is that even feasible, given the weight of millions of people who continue to bury heads in sand, avoiding the prospect of a potential “surgery” that would, while painful and frightening, nevertheless, offer hope of a future which so far we are not seeing for a variety of reasons.
In situations with far less emotional drama and risk at stake, humans have some considerable difficulty coming to terms with those aspects of our own character/personality that seem unbecoming, unfitting, unacceptable and thereby alienating us from ourselves and, naturally, from others. Psychological “projection”* of our worst fears, is one common path to coping with those fears, putting them “outside” of our “ownership” in order to avoid having to come to terms with their import. Like our younger selves, frightened by the dark, the closed closet, the darkened cellar/attic, where ghosts and monsters may dwell, we shudder at the harm those monsters might bring to us. Only today, those darkened basements/attics are no longer a figure only of our imaginations. We have been showered with evidence, warnings, credible and authentic ‘science’ that is trying to tell us we are in serious even epic danger.
And yet, on masks, vaccines, social distancing, single use of plastics, carbon emissions, fossil fuel dependency etc. etc. etc….we (millions) resist the compelling import of the evidence we are consuming. At the same time, another cluster of millions are totally committed to conducting the research, drawing the conclusions, teaching and preaching the message of “self-care” and “planet-care”. And the divide is allegory of the internal divide in our own mind/heart/psyche/spirit.
Seeing the allegory, accepting that it is indeed an allegory, and then moving into action to confront that core truth…those or parts of our lives of very different colours and imports. That female patient had seeped into a swamp of fear, inaction, and essentially terminal fear, not only because she was unaware of the precise ‘condition’ or diagnosis of the lump on her neck. She had to be dragged to the hospital by a close friend, over her strenuous objections. She wore a long and full pale blue scarf around her neck that completely covered her “embarrassment” and her fear, both being incarnate in that lump. She almost, it seemed, saw herself as that lump. It dominated her life to the point where it suffocated her hope. And if and when hope is suffocated, like the frog in the boiling water, innocent and ignorant of its danger until too late, we effectively “die” to ourselves, long before our final breath.
We have all met and known those whose lives emitted a kind of death (of dreams, of hopes, of alternative existences, greener grasses some other place and time) and our experience of those men and women was of encountering a kind of ghost. It can and does happen in intimate relationships; it can and does happen in classrooms, sanctuaries, emergency rooms, operating rooms, court rooms, accounting offices, dentists’ offices…one or other of the participants has for that period of time, departed this orb, this moment, and we fail to be noticed, and more importantly we no longer exist. We call it “being somewhere else” or being “caught up in other issues” or “being overcome or overwhelmed by something bothering you” and we move past the moment. It is only if and when those moments continue to mount with the same people that we waken to our situation, and often then withdraw.
Withdrawal and avoidance are twin sisters, born of the same parents, pride and fear. And the source of our pride is internal, while the source of our fear is external. They both, however, take up residence inside our psyches. Often, this merger renders us luke-warm about who we are, what possibilities might be available, how far to extend our energies in any situation, given the limits of our trust in how committed and trustworthy others are to commit. “Walking on eggs” may be only a slight exaggeration of our situation, but we have all been there.
Our Chicago Med patient has stopped walking: she is now frozen in a self-generated, tumor-induced freezer that has cryogenically, metaphorically and psychically impaled her on the ‘horns of her own petard’ (decision). It takes Dr. Charles and his associates, to thaw that freezing temperature, to bring the patient back to a kind of reality previously out of her psychic and emotional reach.
What will it take to bring the planet and the people on the planet to thaw, if we allow that it/we could be frozen in a similar kind and depth of fear, anxiety, desperation and pride (that nothing so horrible could or would even be possible)?
In the last post in this space, we reviewed the lostness and the frozenness of how one financial observer believes that we have become impaled on an alleged lie about the potential of rising interest rates and tapered Quantitative Easing. We know that the world is impaled in a Mexican ‘stand-off’ on the eastern border of Ukraine, on the ‘stand-off’ of a stolen election, vaccine mandates, masks, social distancing, real reductions in carbon emissions, real decisions on the rape of planetary resources (Amazon Rain Forest, for one), the stand-off in the South China Sea, on the North-South Korean 50th parallel, in Afghanistan, and who knows where this pandemic will take us.
The situations we all face are, together, considerably more complex, without a perceived single “enemy” or person or economic of scientific force, as did the apartheid tragedy in South Africa, nor are they amenable to a single stroke of the pen to ‘transform’ the situations into something we can all agree would be sustainable, fair, equitable, and visionary…it might be feasible and appropriate to suggest, respectfully, humbly and tentatively, that common to all of our existential threats is our shared space in that hospital bed with that Chicago Med patient. Our tumors protrude from all sides of our body politic. Our scarves cover over our bulging protrusions. We all resist even the suggestion that we are in need of medical attention. In fact, anyone who suggests that we might seek help is considered so flagrantly weak and anemic as to be a “loser” and thereby more easily and readily dismissed. We are embedded in our conviction that the way we have been operating for two thousand years, given a few modifications, is essentially “good” and even in some cases “so special that it has become almost sacred. We are locked into a mentality of conflict, competition and zero-sum equations on the geopolitical stage that Britain has not offered to “assist” Canada in defending her interests in the Arctic. And, the global economy is so fragile, without any corresponding collaborative, institutional agency, with muscle to protect us from ourselves.
Indeed, it is and has been our universal willingness and complicity to incarnate that patient in denial and terror, preferring eloquent words greasily attired and seductively delivered by the best “message doctors” we can train and then buy, in all of our various “ideologies” and oligarchies and democracies, and dictatorships, military and civilian, that together, somewhat unconsciously and certainly also quite consciously, put us ‘behind the eight ball” in pool parlance.
Knowing full well that it will be considered specious, quixotic, dreaming and so utterly out of touch with reality to propose it, nevertheless, I would like to lay this card on the proverbial global card table:
That a process akin to, but different from, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, headed by the late Rt. Rev. Desmond Tutu, convened, through the joint auspices of the United Nations, the World Bank, the WHO, the BRIC, NAT0, SEATO, including Russia, China, India, and the several nations which agree to commit to the struggle to address our penchant for burying our heads in the sand, and for distorting reality with it looks unpalatable, and to generate recommendations that would help leaders, at all levels, to wear their/our value openly, honestly, transparently and sustainably.
We need ordinary people to be a significant contributing component of that commission…leaders cannot lead without committed, courageous support.
And then Greta Sundborg’s and the many high-profile activists, in all causes, the environment, inequality, health care, human rights including gender equality, truth-telling including the hard truths, the military hard-power addiction, and the race and religious bigotry…these and more required concentrated, concerted, collaborative, and sustainable action.
And the prices we will all have to pay in order for such a commission to have any relevance and impact is that we will have to surrender whatever pride that impedes our shared willingness to participate. We are proposing a process whereby all participants are and will be considered and defined as equal, not winners or losers, but sharing in a common global reconciliation. It would attempt to explore the various methods of perceiving and evaluating our current situation. It would also attempt to bring together disparate voices, really the voices of those in power and those currently without a voice at the table.
We have been following a “war” ethic and mentality for two centuries plus. IT is conceivable that we might transform our modality to a common, shared intellectual, emotional, spiritual and legal grasp of the truth that faces every single person on the planet, albeit in varying degrees.
Can we “see” a picture of our future together, that so far has remained outside our imaginative reach?
Thanks for getting this far!