When the Captains Are Insane

I’ve just finished reading Moby Dick, my first time through the unabridged version (aided, I admit, by audiobooks and the necessity of long drives to work.)

ImageAs the book progressed, I felt myself becoming increasingly alarmed by the insanity of Ahab. It’s as though the famous million chapters of “whaling 101” that so expand the book were designed to cushion the reader from the full terror one experiences on contact with a psychotic level of revenge-seeking. The digressions into whaling culture and history and technique reminded me of the mental habits and hobbies of some children raised in homes with abusive alcoholic fathers, the way bright or sensitive children may try to cope with the murderous craziness of the men and avoid full blown dissociation by becoming devoted readers or obsessive chroniclers and listers of all the items in the family home. The immersion in details like how many salt shakers are in the cupboard, or in writing tweets or blogs or journals about how mom prepares a ham, are designed as a form of psychic relief from the terror the child feels every time he hears the door open and knows by the footstep that it’s him, back again from the bar with a 12 pack under his arm and another in his bloodstream.

As Moby Dick progresses, the sense of foreboding grows, the sense that we may indeed be on a horrible self-destructive voyage. That the insane leader is deliberately propelling the Pequod to a watery doom.

This kind of leadership reminds one a lot of the way the leaders of this country are doing worse than nothing, are in fact actively obstructing the emergency measures that will be needed to prevent the planet we live on from becoming uninhabitable. We are facing a dire worldwide emergency, and yet the members of Congress and the Administration distract themselves and try to distract us with anything they can do to prevent any serious coping with the situation.

I read a chilling piece by David Roberts about the impossibility of predicting the full extent of climate change. Not for the bogus right wing reason usually invoked as a defense of doing nothing but allowing corporations to keep destroying the environment, that “scientists don’t all agree it’s real” lie. (Basically, just a few corporate whores with Ph.D.s go along with the fictions about both the environment and science belched out by the fossil fuel and auto industries.) But rather, it’s not possible for scientists to predict climate change because so much of the eventual horrible outcome will depend on whether we can find in time the political will to take the necessary steps to minimize (not “prevent” — that ship has sailed) catastrophe.

Robert points out that the problem for scientists is that they tend to be rational people. They don’t know how to add the “social science” piece into their models, to predict just how willing the people of the planet will be to take the science seriously. Hence, many of the current predictive models assume that things will be bad, even cataclysmic, but not AS cataclysmic as they will be if we keep doing nothing but to keep on going full bore in our collective efforts to raise the temperature of the planet as much as possible.

Alas, that’s exactly what we will probably do. Because the behavior of our “leaders” in Congress and the Administration, a largely bought and paid for bunch, seem as determined as Ahab to steer our ship, our floating home, directly into the worst possible catastrophe.

In grad school I trained in both clinical and community psychology. In the former, your work generally involves assessing and treating “psychiatric” patients or clients; in the latter, your focus is on helping construct a psychologically healthy community. If I view the climate situation as a problem in community psychology, it would involve issues such as how a community might be brought to face, acknowledge and deal with a public health problem in the face of the inevitable resistance, the people who want to say nothing needs to change, that we’ve been drinking the water from the polluted spring forever and despite the fact our children get sick and die in oddly high numbers, we’re fine. (There will always be people who stick to and defend old, bad ideas until the bitter end.)

On a community basis, one has to deal with the problem of how to know when it’s time to move beyond endless “debates” once it becomes pretty well established that there is, in fact, an emergency, that there is a way to fix it — but it means we have to make changes. This is often a case of government action and changes in laws, combining with public education efforts, advertising, creating new resources for people, and the like.  Getting people to accept the use of seat belts was once such a problem (which, judging from some of my head-injured clients and the whole state of New Hampshire, it still is); learning to treat domestic violence or alcoholism not as inevitable ways of life, fodder for stand-up comedians (when I was a kid, every comedian had their “funny drunk” imitation), was another.  The efforts involved helping people to become aware of and to accept the fact that these are self-destructive ways of thinking and acting and must change.

But reading Moby Dick while watching Congress do nothing but obstruct, watching an administration that seems to want to avoid upsetting voters or contributers or Congress by treating climate change as the major national security emergency that it is, suggests the inadequacy of a simple, logic-based approach to the problem. Because like Ahab, it increasingly seems that we are being led by a group of insane persons. And so the question arises, at what point does the community decide that these people are no longer fit to captain the ship?

And what do we do when we finally accept the fact that our leaders are insane, that our system for selecting leaders is gamed to guarantee that the insane and the corrupt will almost always be those in power, and that they are charting a course to our civilization’s doom?

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Climate change, Politics, Public affairs

One response to “When the Captains Are Insane

  1. Pingback: Weekly (sort of) book review: The Swerve | States of Mind

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s