An intermittently Liberal anthology compiled by Jonathan Calder

Tuesday, December 07, 2004  

Surviving survival
Even opposition movements - the peace movement, the environmental movement - take survival as their slogan. Of course they refer to the survival of humanity as a whole, not to the everyday psychic survival of individuals; but they still reflect and reinforce a survival mentality. They call for a "moral commitment to survival" (as Richard Falk puts it in his ecological manifesto, This Endangered Planet), oblivious to the danger that a commitment to survival, instead of leading to a constructive political action, can just as easily lead to a mountain hideaway or to national policies designed to enable the country to survive a nuclear war.

The peace and the environmental movement call attention to our society's criminal indifference to the needs of future generations, but they inadvertently reaffirm this attitude by dwelling, for example, on the dangers of overpopulation and the irresponsibility of bringing children into an already overcrowded world. Too often they substitute an abstract interest in the future for the kind of palpable, emotional interest that enables people to make sacrifices on its behalf.

In the same way, emphasis on the global dimensions of the survival issue - on the need for global controls and for the development of a "global mind" - probably helps to undermine attachments to a particular place and thus to weaken still further the emotional basis on which any real interest in the future has to rest.

Rootless men and women take no more interest in the future than they take in the past; but instead of reminding us of the need for roots, many advocates of disarmament and environmental conservation, understandably eager to associate their cause with the survival of the planet as a whole, deplore the local associations and attachments that impede the development of a "planetary consciousness" but also make it possible for people to think constructively about the future instead of lapsing into cosmic panic and futuristic desperation.

Christopher Lasch The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times (1984)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 11:22 pm