Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue?


I have spoken elsewhere about the label “Doomer,” and I’ve come to believe that this frame is outdated. Instead, I would like to suggest that we must stop asking ourselves, given the lateness of the hour, why there are those pessimistic about the future, and begin asking, instead, why there are those still blindly and enthusiastically optimistic about it. Could this be a disorder, in itself? Here’s my proposal:

Panglossian Disorder: “The neurotic tendency toward extreme optimism in the face of likely cultural and planetary collapse.”

Panglossian Disorders and Their Subtypes

Temporal Subtypes:
Scarlet O’Hara-ism- “I’ll just have to think about that tomorrow.” A strategy of denial that allows the person to temporally compartmentalize the feared event(s).
Futurism: “Sure, that will happen, but it will occur after all of us are long dead.” A belief that something that might happen in the distant future is no concern in the present.
Y2K features: “They said everything would collapse with 2000, and it didn’t.” A belief that any prior concern about societal problems that didn’t occur demonstrates the impossibility of any others happening in the future.

Angry Subtypes:
Rhett-Butlerist Features- “Peak Oil? Planetary Collapse? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Aggressive denial of information not in keeping with one’s world view.
Kill the Messenger Redirection: “Why are you telling me this? What kind of sicko focuses on these kinds of facts? You need help!” The belief that those who bring bad news are doing it for malevolent reasons.

Narcissistic Subtypes:
Rigid Cheney-ism: “The American Way of Life is non-negotiable.” The belief that any undesirable change can be avoided by a sheer act of will.
Survivalistic features: “Hey, if the rest of the world is doomed, I don’t worry about it, because I’ve got mine.” A belief that personal preparation is adequate.

Religious Subtypes:
Religiosity: “God/The Planet/Mother Nature loves humans. He/She/It would never permit massive die-off.” Or “If that happens, I just put my faith in my Savior.”
Neoliberal Econo-manic Tendencies: “The market will sort it out.” A belief that market forces control all— including geological realities.
Nascarian Features: “People love their automobiles. A solution will have to be found to keep us driving.”

Subtypes with Denial or Minimization as the Central Feature:
Pure Denial: “That can’t be right. It’s just impossible.”
Minimalization as a primary defense: “There may be some shortages, but I doubt it will be as bad as you say.”

Subtypes with Histrionic, Helplessness, Acquiescence or Submissive Features:
Submissive Features: You’re probably right. [Shrug]” Too hard/scary to think about… A response that acknowledges the reality of the threat, but is emotionally frozen or unwilling to devote emotional time and energy to the matter.
Histrionic Features: “I just don’t know anything about that. Oh, Golly, I hope you’re wrong. That’s all I can say. Oh Golly, I just can’t think about it.”

Subtypes with Delusional or Magical Thinking:
Meglomanic Features:“This simply won’t happen to me.” A belief in one’s specialness, which will save them from the consequences affecting those around them.
Paternalistic Features: “The government/corporations will sort it out.” A belief in the infallibility of organizational structures to resolve problems they aren’t willing to even acknowledge.
Doubting Thomas Features: “Peak Oil is a scam by the Oil Companies to raise prices!” Minimizing the possibility of the crisis by the belief that some one or some group has ultimate control over its happening.
Pure Cornucopian Features: “The more we need, the more they’ll be.” A belief that continued progress and provision of material items for mankind can be met by advances in technology.
The Flintstonian: “The stone-age didn’t end because they ran out of stones.” A belief that modern innovation is eternal.
Frank Zappa-ism: “As soon as things get really bad, they’ll come up with something.” A belief that necessity is the mother of invention.
Magical Thinking: “Don’t worry, we can build a car that can run on air!” Proposes solutions that are clearly outside the realm of physics.
MacGyver-ism Features – A belief that massive planetary problems can be solved with ordinary/common items found readily at hand. Eg.: “Pig dung will be the next fossil fuel.” Or “Coke Cans can be turned into solar panels.”

The Panglossian View

Borrowing Voltaire’s character Pangloss in his novel Candide, we might speak of a Panglossian Disorder as the belief that “all is well and everything in the world is for the best.” In adopting a Panglossian philosophy, Candide accepts situations and tries not to change or overcome obstacles. Instead, he passively accepts whatever fate has in store, and shrugs off his personal responsibilities. The name Pangloss is actually a pun: pan = Greek for ‘all’, relating to the whole universe (English); and ‘gloss’ (English) = both an explanation and an interpretation, which is deceptive in its external appearance. There is also a medical definition: Panglossia: abnormal or pathologic garrulousness, usually of a trivial nature.

While I was initially rather ‘tongue in cheek’ in proposing a new diagnostic category called “Panglossian Disorder” which I defined as “the neurotic tendency toward extreme optimism in the face of likely cultural and planetary collapse,” the more I thought about it, the more sober I became. We can easily see why those who might be gloomy about the future could feel hopeless and take the path of inactivity. On the other hand, this same fear of disaster can motivate constructive action in an attempt to mitigate the effects. Not so, however, for those who see no NEED to take action, because they live in the best of all possible worlds. Indeed, I might argue that it is the very blind hopefulness and inaction of the masses that leads many of my readers to assume a more hopeless posture toward world events.

A Panglossian perspective denies the need for constructive action, and leads to complacency and a worsening of our world’s woes. I’ve come to think about the Panglossian perspective as not optimism itself, but as a defense against pessimism. This defense takes many forms, as I’ve described above, and I’d like to describe why so many of us NEED a defense against pessimism, and how, unfortunately, my profession of psychology has been so instrumental in fueling that defense.

Depression as Epidemic

Depression in the US has reached epidemic proportions. In contrast to a half-century ago, when it began well into adulthood, we now see depression in our children and adolescents. We can speak of clinical elements such as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Basically, depression is a disorder in which a person feels thwarted or is thwarted in pursuing her or his most important life goals. Unlike simple unhappiness, depression can be thought of as a sort of ‘burst balloon’, in which inflated desires are deflated fully and completely.

There are those who argue that this condition is caused by a radical imbalance between the “I” and “We” of our culture. As we’ve shifted away from a connection to our communities, our natural environment, and the responsibilities these entail, and focused increasingly on consumeristic and narcissistic pre-occupations, we’ve become cut off from a sense of meaning and richness. Paradoxically, we’ve also become more cut off from self-directed community aspirations that build virtues not found in modern psychological language—features such as “character” and “soul.”

Self-Esteem

Education, according to Herbert Spencer, “has for its object the formation of character” and yet today, our focus is not on building the character of our nation’s children, but settling instead for promoting their “self-esteem.” Whereas character is a complex of attributes that determines a persons moral and ethical actions and reactions, self-esteem is a feeling of pride in yourself and your inherent personal worth. While character is an active process of development, self-esteem is a passive satisfaction with what one has already achieved. Character is interactive with the world, while self-esteem is internal satisfaction with oneself.

The problem with this frame in our self-congratulatory back-slapping, is that while it promotes an “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” attitude,” it overlooks the question of whether collectively, WE’RE Okay, and if we aren’t, what is our social responsibility to change it.

In other words, the message “feel good about yourself” appears to be removed from why someone SHOULD feel good about themselves and the cultural imperative to do something to feel good ABOUT. This is a perversion from what true self-esteem is: a positive feeling in RESPONSE to effective action. What is being promoted is what Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D. calls “unwarranted self-esteem:…feeling good as opposed to doing well in the world.”

In the US, self-esteem is the primary outcomes assessed in youth development intervention evaluations today, and questions about self-esteem are the only positive (versus problematic) measures of mental health currently included in national surveys, according to Dr. Seligman. We want to know, essentially, “How do you feel about yourself?” rather than asking “How do you engage with the world around you?” We’ve come to believe that children who feel good about themselves will come to care about the people and planet around them. This has proven to be a faulty, incomplete analysis, but one that works well if our goal is to encourage consumers to buy products that make them feel better about themselves. Our schools tell our children how important it is that they feel good about themselves, and the television commercials they watch tell what to buy that will make them feel better and even more ‘special.’

The Exalted “I” and the Problematic “We”

The imbalance between the “I” and the “We” has shifted so dramatically, in fact, that we blame our families and our developmental milieu for thwarting our “potential.” Pop psychology is filled with popular bestsellers that have told us for twenty years how to get the love we want, how to overcome toxic parents and how to triumph over the effects of our wounded past. This focus on the historical forces that have limited us, sends us the implicit message that the “We” in our world has constricted the unfolding that would have otherwise taken place, and is central in understanding our current troubles in life. Implicit in it, is an image of some idealized culture, family, planet that is loving, patient, reliable, safe and kind. It’s a world that loves us and all we are capable of, and we are mad or sad that we didn’t grow up in it.

Because of this ‘loss,’ we can’t be all that (we imagine) we are capable of, because we’ve suffered damage as children. We know, from research, that the rate of things like suicide attempts, drug abuse, smoking, drinking, and being overweight are all elevated in those who have experienced abuse as children. Therefore, we make the leap that says that if we have been badly treated as children, and continue those self-destructive acts, we are not to blame. We are victims of circumstance. And if we turn inward, and away from the world in an attempt to recover from such a cruel series of events, who can blame us?

Psychological ‘Cure’

We’ve become a society of “discontents,” looking for satisfaction. We turn both inward and gaze backward in our attempt to find a ‘cure.’ Our view is fixed, frozen, and reified. It is both suffocating and reassuring. We don’t seek to participate in the world, because the world is to blame as the source of our troubles. “Lifestyle” is what we start to search for, as a trade for being stuck with a “life.” We cling to our professional identities because they provide us with a sense of self. We project a “professional image” because image becomes more important than who we actually are.

We read books to assure ourselves that “bad things happen to good people,” because these “bad things” appear somehow to be an undeserved punishment that someone else has inflicted on us, instead of just “what happens.” We attempt to distract ourselves from feeling anxiety and discomfort, with television, movies, music and internet. Cybersex and ‘mind fucks’ take the place of messy entanglements. We seek out those that will match us in our values, social class, religious beliefs, our fashion sense, our views, and we scorn those who fail to mirror us. We get married hoping to find someone who will “really know us,” and we divorce when they actually start to, and have the nerve to tell us what they see. We look for a community to worship that is equally “fitting” of us and what we need and expect our spiritual leaders and our God to be sympathetic and undemanding. If not, we keep looking.

We are freed from the constrictions of being born in a particular place, during a particular time, in a particular climate, growing particular foodstuffs, surrounded by a set of particular people. We are free to be You and Me, and we get to mold it, as if we are the creative force itself. We no longer have to believe in a creator, because WE are IT.

The Anxious Creator

Yet, we are an anxious, restless creator, always trying to tweak our self-created images. When we imagine that there is such a thing as a Magic Muffin,’ and the world we currently live in, isn’t it, we happily join a “Second Life” that will show us pictures of rain forests so we can pretend we aren’t losing the real ones. We can construct our world of make-believe friends and make-believe communities, because the face-to-face kind are just too much trouble or require social skills we just don’t have. We can always click off or change our screen names or change our image if we run into make believe interpersonal difficulties. That’s harder to do in “real life.” And, as if to make it all more real, we have Second Life Shrinks we can visit to talk over our Second Life problems.

We reject the notion that we are “stuck” with a genetically impacted body type and we diet and exercise, or seek out plastic surgeons to shape our body to “look just right.” We reject the aging process or the dying process itself, and instead choose the magic of the knife or the “fast freeze” to save our special selves until we can live forever. And always we are told that true contentment and satisfaction comes from this special candy bar, this marvelous diet, this fabulous lifestyle, this new therapeutic approach.

And yet, we still aren’t told that if we do succeed in ‘healing our wounded child,’ we still remain children–frightened, lonely, isolated, misunderstood. And so we keep looking for the right therapist and the right cure.

The Insanity of Being Our Own Creator

Therefore, if the real world collapses around us, it isn’t our fault and it isn’t our problem. We don’t ask if what we do and what we devote our lives to, is “sane,” and whether or not it ultimately benefits not only ourselves, but also our world. We only want reassurance that we aren’t “crazy.” Fitting in and not standing out is a hard enough job. So many of us have lost an internal compass that is grounded in an external reality, and have settled, instead, for trying to believe other people when they tell us over and over “You are really okay.” And, as long as we don’t look outside or don’t believe those who tell us that our world is dying, we just might believe it.

This stubborn self-focus and pathologizing people and actions become culturally endemic. We begin to see all acts of great charity as a “reaction” against a cruel parent or early poverty. Social activists are “angry people” with a “father complex” they try to resolve by trying to change the world. We diagnose Mother Teresa as having a “Savior Complex” or worse. No one works so hard to heal and repair the world, Tikkun Olam, unless they have some sort of psychological disorder. A notion of a common commitment to the civic good is a distant, quaint concept. We do so only if our “neurosis” drives us to it. And we’ve watched the show “Survivor,” so we know that nice guys and gals finish last.

The Matrix Around Us

It is, therefore, while simmering in the pot of this cultural soup, that my readers write to me at www.peakoilblues.com. They describe a sensation of having lived in a ‘Matrix,’ an illusionary world constructed in a movie by the same name, and have woken up to find themselves in a very different reality. Unlike those who continue to mourn the “paradise lost” of their pained childhoods, my contributors have woken up to confront real troubles in the world in real time. They have stopped looking into their past, and started to see a future that is both horrifying and compelling. Instead of seeing a “wounded child,” they see a wounded planet that they are killing.

In contrast to the Panglossians among them, who find such a view all too much to bear, they look directly into their futures and feel the despair. For indeed, when we absorb the full impact of our current world situation, and our place of having contributed to it, the sane response is, at least initially, despair. Doom, dreadful fate, or utter ruin, isn’t a view that they embrace joyfully, but one they are left with, when they recognize that the solutions are not individual, but collective ones. Here, we feel ill equipped, because collective solutions seem to fly in the very face of our “I” world views. Those “I” solutions, like changing a light bulb, appear inanely inadequate, and the more they are put forth as collective solutions, the gloomier my readers become. They recognize that we won’t “buy” our way out of this one.

It shakes them to their very core, as they realize that they ARE an element of their planet, and THEY are fully responsible for their futures, even more so then their past. They shake, they grieve, they feel the shock. Gradually, then, they wake up to realize that they are still standing on the same wounded planet. They begin to face and learn to manage the anxiety they feel. They start to grow themselves up. No, they soon won’t be able to eat bananas on their cereals if they live up North. No, there is no single solution they can buy, to remove the Great Turning. They do not live in a Magic Muffin, but here on the Earth, in a particular place, in a particular time, and they are surrounded by a particular set of people. They have a body, a set of skills, a set of world views and no one will rescue them. They don’t need to believe in a god, only that they aren’t him/her/it. What a shock to realize that we are born in such a unique place and time, and that our wealth has left the rest of the planet barren, starving, and terribly polluted. We overlook the fact that it takes intense strength to feel so vulnerable, so blind, so frightened, so inept. And for many, they do look inward once again and they grieve hard, for months or sometimes years. But the grieving subsides and in its place remains the multiple decisions about how to act now, in the real world.

Most have attempted to enlist the cooperation of those around them in examining the extent of the problem, and pondering the solutions. Many have been met, instead, with a variety of Panglossian defenses. They see that for so many of their loved-ones, they cannot allow psychological room for the inevitable despair and pessimism, without feeling overwhelmed. These wounded souls, “at risk” for pathology, wounded as children by an unkind planet and careless parenting, cannot bear to view that which is outside themselves—TPTB, government, Big Daddy, the planet—as deeply flawed. And, if it is flawed so dramatically, it isn’t their fault, and it isn’t their problem. We are okay, and the world is okay. It has to be. We have enough to worry about, thank you very much. But what’s wrong with YOU?

And as our economy falters, oil supplies shrink, and the climate chaotically changes, our Panglossian world becomes even more steadfast in denying the change. Our job loss, political or banking scandals, mortgage defaults, are all “individual problems,” that have individual solutions. We want to discuss them in the privacy of our bedrooms or our therapists’ offices.

“But please,” we beg our therapists, “Don’t wake us up. Don’t tax us in confronting the real world around us. We are too overwrought to look outside ourselves. We are too worn out. And besides, none of what you say is on the television, so how can it be true? Help us, instead, to manage this anxiety we feel, that has no name. It floats all around us, depresses us, and depresses our children. We tell our children that they are Okay, but still they feel pained, anxious, worried, upset. We need a cure, Doctor, a pill, a meditative chant, and we need it now!”

As conditions worsen, fear or simply laziness may prevent us from examining whether in our individual case, the “personal is political,” and to reach out to those around us in both discussing our pain and brainstorming solutions that go beyond our individual problems.

Meglomanian Panglossia

Alternatively, we remain like the battered child, convinced that ultimately, WE have caused the abuse, and, as a result, WE have the power to stop it, if and when we feel strong enough or well enough to do so. If we get around to changing that light bulb, or buying that hybrid, the Tsunamis will stop. If we stagger our toilet flushes, the drought will stop. As soon as we find our next job, land that promotion, get back on our feet financially, the US dollar will recover and the depression will lift. If we encourage subsidies of ethanol, our addiction to oil will lessen. Getting back to “normal” is right around the corner. The Emperor has fine clothes, after all.

We do not, and cannot step back and connect the dots, because we might not like the picture that emerges.

Therefore, what I’m proposing is that unlike true optimism, a Panglossian perspective is a reaction to pessimism itself. While a true optimist can consider and plan for a negative outcome, a Panglossian perspective cannot. They aren’t wearing rose-colored glasses, but dark sunglasses that not only block out the harmful rays of the sun, but the sun itself. The view is rigid and unyielding. For some, the Panglossian view is an angry one, once more denied their ‘paradise lost.’ For others, the Panglossia takes the form of helplessness and vulnerability. Still others insist that they are ultimately in control of the entire planet, and what happens to it, is up to them.

Being Sane Is Not Enough

Now, for those of my readers who ask whether or not they are going crazy, as they see a gloomy future when those around them see “the best of all possible worlds,” I’d like to suggest that you are asking the wrong question. Being “sane” is not enough. Your actions are what matters now. Imagine yourself like Herr Shindler in Shindler’s List, looking at your watch and saying “I could have sold this. I could have saved more.” (Thank you, DRS, for that powerful metaphor.) You are living in an insane time, and you can’t use the thinking of those around you to guide you in what to do. You have to start thinking and acting for yourself. You have to start looking around you for like-minded souls, and to be able to accurately identify those who are wrong-thinking, not to pathologize them, but to recognize them as living in a dream-world created for them by psychopathological corporate forces.

As you sit at your Thanksgiving table, open your ears and your hearts, as you listen to the Panglossians among you, and speak your simple truth, without attempting to alter this powerful delusion. It is not your job to fight this delusion. You cannot. But you can speak only for yourself and say what you see, and then listen. Maybe this year, maybe next, you may be thought of as the sane one after all, and they may come to you asking again for how you think, what you know, what you’ve done. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Mental Illness and Sanity
Ultimately, it is important to look beyond whether someone is optimistic or pessimistic about the future, and ask, instead, whether this perspective leads an individual to self-directed action, and whether this action ultimately benefits the planet. It isn’t enough to live in a binary world of the “mentally ill” and those “not otherwise specified.” Looking squarely at personal or planetary problems requires more than people who aren’t crazy. A focus on mental illness will not bring us to a greater understanding of what is sane, even if it does provide mental health practitioners clients and grant monies. To define sanity, we need new and larger questions involving notions that go beyond profits and unlimited growth.

We need to be able to calm ourselves down and stand apart from our cultural norms. To be truly sane, we need the ability to grieve hard for the damage done all around us, to focus in on the Party Train as it speeds toward the abyss, and to work for collective change without any assurance that it will do a bit of good. We only adopt such a label when we develop that internal compass that directs us both inwardly and outwardly. It also, to quote airline advice, requires us to put on our own oxygen mask before convincing others to do so.

Sanity, to paraphrase John Seed, is pulling our legs back away from the bus tires, and not calling it being “good to our legs.” It means shrinking our Global Footprint and not calling it being “good to the planet.” We ARE a part of the planet, even though the planet is not us. Learning to live as part of the global community sanely is no longer an option. To paraphrase Matt Savinar: if we don’t deal with our global reality, it will inevitably deal with us, whether in Panglossian delusion or not.

We, as therapists, do not need to be heavy-handed in our approach to our Panglossian clients, but neither must we remain silent about what we know and predict is coming. Here is where our therapeutic orientation and skills come in. Depending on their theoretical perspective, some of my Peak Oil savvy colleagues will approach these issues differently. Some, fearful of the impact on their clients (and themselves), will decide not to approach these issues at all. Should we speak up if a client tells us their plans to build a house on swampland, but don’t know it? Will it destroy the therapeutic milieu to usher real life into our offices?

In psychoanalytic therapy, Panglossia may be regarded as an obstacle to progress that must eventually be confronted and interpreted at the right time. These therapists might want the client to appear emotionally ready or have some degree of insight into their problems before confronting them with TEOTWAWKI. In the Humanistic and Existential therapies, Panglossia might be seen as part of a cyclical pattern of life, death and rebirth, and clients may be helped to understand their place in this cycle, and their roles and responsibilities. In cognitive-behavioral therapies, Panglossia would be seen as another in a set of mal-adaptive behaviors used to cope with a stressful situation. Therapists would assist individuals in examining their current thoughts and behaviors and devising strategic ways to make changes. In all cases, the Peak Oil savvy therapist must be clear about the fact that Panglossia IS a defense, and to be firm that such denial IS acting against the best interests of their client.

Panglossia isn’t limited to clients, however, and it effectively dulls therapeutic skill. Increasingly, those who are aware of the coming dangers report seeing therapists who are, themselves, suffering from the Panglossian condition, and ask me what they might do to help snap their therapists out of it. Friends, this isn’t your job, any more than it is to educate your therapist about racism, sexism or homophobia. Therapists will begin to take these issues seriously when you begin to entrust your therapeutic dollars to those who do. Ask yourself how a Panglossian-diluted therapist can discourage you from some actions and encourage you in more useless pursuits.

Physicians and psychotherapists, Heal Thyself! Ask yourself whether your bright optimism is designed to help your clients or to help keep your own spirits up. Don’t expect to be able to be effective in Peak Oil if you are in your own chaotic state after just finding out about it. Take some time to go through your own turmoil and grieving process, and develop your own internal compass about how to proceed.

Confronting major life changes such as Peak Oil, Climate Change, and Economic Collapse is, but a first step in helping the client assess their current life situation and design a new life plan. But as always, put on your own oxygen mask first, find your own sense of sanity and self-direction, before you begin to treat others. Model sanity.

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About Kathy McMahon

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse. She's written for Honda Motors, and has been featured in American Prospect, Greenpeace International, the Vancouver Sun, Freakonomics, Itulip, Ecoshock Radio, and Peak Moments Television.

Comments

  1. This is such a totally useful analytical post. A Professional therapist saying what I feel but cannot utter in so many words.

    PO is like that thing everybody looks at and sees what they want to see. It reaffirms their worldview. However since it is not just a talking point but hard-cold reality such a central fact leads to revolution, war, political action, not a lot of talk show B.S., crying therapy and self help literature as my generation-Xers- has suffered through as you so aptly show.

    We peakniks are in the majority now regardless of our numbers. A majoriuty of one is enough when truth is on your side. In the Russian revolution the mensheviks and the bolsheviks meant the minority and the majority literally in Russian language, as the two parties called themselves although the Bolsheviks were a samll splinter group and the Mensheviks had all the odds of winning on their side originally. Who do you think won the Russian civil war and formed the new government? The bolshies of course. Reality and time is on our side here. Fantasy web life is over in our global fossil fuel matrix.

    Bring it on – hasta la vista baby.

  2. Kevembuangga says:

    “Don’t expect to be able to be effective in Peak Oil”

    Huh?
    What is it to be “effective in Peak Oil”?
    Isn’t this yet another (more subtle) form of denial?
    The whole article doesn’t even approach the *real* question:
    Who will die, WHEN? (and how, as a bonus question…)

  3. Fantastic article!

    This is an incredibly useful and insightful piece, which illuminates many problems that peak oilers are going through.

  4. Ellen Anderson says:

    I have 10 years as a small chicken flock keeper in Central Mass and am just learning about dairy goats. Also learning to drive my draft horse, raise Jerusalem artichokes, motorize a recumbent bike. These are my personal and very theraputic responses to the doom. I am also working on a relocalization group in my small town and would like to print out this post to be shared with other members. It strikes just the right tone, I think. Would that be OK with you, Kathy? Perhaps you already have it available for publication somewhere?

  5. Hurray! Good on you! Just as PO finally penetrates (just barely) the mainstream media, you have challenged mainstream psychology/psychotherapy, etc., to “get it” that denial of the state of the world and impending collapse of civilization IS causing depression. The emerging field of ecopsychology has been banging on this door for at least a decade with regard to environmental destruction. Thank you for a great article. I’m going to have my ecopsychology class read it.

    Thanks for this site, too. I didn’t know about it until I read your article in Energy Bulletin.

    Kudos,

    Suzanne

  6. This is wonderful, funny, deadly serious, incredibly sad.
    I missed the Religious Sub-type of Rapturism.
    Thank you much for your work.

  7. Louis Grenier says:

    Beautiful article, simply beautiful.

    That’s the paradox. Is this beautiful article beautiful enough to make our World beautiful once again, not so much as it once was, but in a new way, a new form.

    This will sound very corny. We need to explore beyond Earth, to bring back perspective and new teachings.

    These new explorers, well need not to apply (techno geeks) but rather: philosophers, artists, and psy with some practical sense to work beyond Earth (Moon as a starter).

    What do you think? Any other option?

  8. Hello All,

    Thanks for all of your help and kind comments. You are free to publish this article and use it, as long as you credit its website source. I’d be flattered if you did, especially now that you’ve (you know who you are) made it even better.

    And Susanne, I owe so much to Ecopsychology, who’s sane comments fell on my deaf ears for so many years.

    I’d welcome the subcategory “Rapturism” John, and would be happy for you to articulate it further, since it might well end the WAWKI. (Axis of Evil and all that and especially that endorsement of Guiliani by Pat Robertson because Bush didn’t go far enough “…in bringing about the Apocalypse.”)

    And for all of you, what have you heard from others that I’ve left out? I welcome your comments…

  9. One problem is the assumption that PO = TEOTWAWKI. It is possible to understand PO, acknowledge that some very difficult times lie ahead, and still reject the assertion that civilization is about to end. There are multiple possible ways to accomplish the powerdown, and some of them preserve a technological society that resembles the one we have now – just with a lot less wasted energy. It’s not insanity to believe those futures are at least as likely as TEOTWAWKI.

  10. The first ever psycho-therapeutic thing I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot) that actually made any sense whatsoever. Congratulations, Kathy, you may think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not – I mean this when I say that if this (above) was the standard that the average shrink applied to their diagnosis, then there’d been some point in psychoanalysis, psychiatry, etc.

    One thing: self-esteem. The truth is, we esteem ourselves – and above all our cars – way too much. We ALL need to ditch the idea, the philosophy and the phrase. We need humility, not self-esteem, and we need it so as we can actually cope with what is coming, Peak Oil or no Peak Oil. The meek really will inherent the Earth. Especially the Amish.

    Have a look here:

    http://despair.com/sampler-packs.html

    (quote):PRIDE- What was once one of the 7 deadly sins has become the very foundation of a new American religion of self-esteem. Narcissism itself has been recast as “the greatest love of all.”(unquote)

    And here:

    http://despair.com/indeca.html

    (quote)Treasured by biblical translators for millennia for its enduring metaphoric powers , Rust is poised to enjoy a reverential renaissance thanks to the pending collapse of the financial system(unquote).

    In your (above) piece, you make mention of:

    Paternalistic Features: “The government/corporations will sort it out.” A belief in the infallibility of organizational structures to resolve problems they aren’t willing to even acknowledge.

    Actually, this is maternalism. Given how everyone is supposed to hate, fear and despise anything paternal, the concept (of paternalism) is now little more than a smoking ruin.

    I note, with good humour, that your taxonomy of the indices of Panglossian Rhapsoditis needs some additions, and I refer the reader to the book “the Peter Principle”:

    Rigor Cartis: an abnormal interest in charts, flow charts, written description of hierarchical organisations with dwindling concerns for the realities therein represented.

    Rigor Cyberis: how some (ie: me) spend way too much time chasing news about events online and typing out responses on blogs with dwindling concerns for the realities therein represented.

    Structurophila: Referred to above, this is described as MacGyver-ism – (A belief that massive planetary problems can be solved with ordinary/common items found readily at hand. Eg.: “Pig dung will be the next fossil fuel.” Or “Coke Cans can be turned into solar panels.”). Heirarchiologists would recognise that this is actually a downsized version of Structurophilia: an obsessive concern with constructing things, especially the planning, the construction, the maintenance, the reconstruction and so forth, the while having an increasing unconcern with what those built objects are actually built to do. The extreme version of this is Gargantuan Monumentalis, which started in Egypt millennia ago, was observed in the Former Soviet Union but nowadays afflicts the modern American housing market most especially those in California and certain Nevadan gambling centres. It has also been observed in certain “evangelical” organisations. It is true that Structurophilia has been referred to, by the uniformed, as a type of Edifice Complex. However, any precise differentiation between Structurophilia and the Edifice Complex has to note that the Edifice Complex usually involves a number of elaborately interrelated, interconnected and overly complex attitude. The Edifice Complex tends to afflict philanthropists who wish to improve education, health services, religious instruction (etc). They consult extensively in order to accomplish these goals only to find multiple, contradictory hierarchies and thus conclude the only thing they can all agree on to “solve” the problem is to erect a building.

    Inscriptular and Digital Codophilia: an obsession for speaking in letters and numbers rather than using words: “FOB is at the NYMEX for the IPO of the SIV on 802″. By the time, if ever, the listener realises that Frederick Orville Blamesworthy is at the New York Mercantile Exchange for the Initial Public Offering of shares in the Structured Investment Vehicle and will return on flight 802, said listener has long lost the opportunity to observe the speaker did not really know very much.

    Papyromania: an obsessive desire to accumulate papers on any given subject, the modern version is Virtual Papyromania, where one acquires endless online studies of any given subject.

    Sesquipedalian Obscurantism: One who is inordinately infatuated with polysyllabic obfuscation, preferring never to employ a less complicated syntactic arrangement of descriptive terminology when there exists a single expressive unit that amalgamates and condenses the multiplicity of the inherent ideation into any simpler phrase. Among the manifold objectives of multisyllabic, holophrastic verbalism are those of rendering the author’s meaning indisputably precise yet simultaneously incomprehensible and demonstrating through superior orthography and lexical awareness that the writer is manifestly more erudite than the reader/listener.

    Cachinatory Inertia: telling / emailing jokes instead of getting on with the task at hand.

  11. Excellent article. Confirms what I’ve believed for a while; I’m not going crazy, everyone else is.
    Best wishes to you.
    Gordon Sturrock
    founder VeteransAgainstTorture.com and Squadron13.com
    member VVAW, VeteransForPeace

  12. Kevembuangga says:

    Tim > One problem is the assumption that PO = TEOTWAWKI.

    Of course not Peak Oil alone…
    But with Peak Water, Peak Population, Peak Soils, Peak Garbage, Peak Mineral Ores, Peak Fish, Peak Warming, etc…
    What are the chances?
    May be you should read a bit more about the *causes* of these various peaks : http://www.kevembuangga.com/perry/
    Meanwhile, time to dance : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NeMC1Fl3J0

    :-)

  13. H. Michael Sweeney calls this disorder “metanoia”, the opposite of “paranoia”. Having examples of “subtypes” is helpful in seeing the range of matanoid expression. We link you your article on our metanoia wiki page at: http://slaves-anonymous.wikidot.com/metanoia

  14. dantreecraft says:

    Dear Kathy,

    I’m astonished, flabbergasted, incredulous, a little embarrassed, even ashamed – but mostly – thrilled [!] Not only has a psychologist found something really useful to do, but in fact she’s stumbled and/or waded into some of the most important work I can imagine anyone possibly doing at this point in time. Let me sum up my feelings, by saying, “Thank you.” That’s a bit too terse a summary to get at my sense of thrilled gratitude, but it’s a start. We don’t need to risk maudlin here.

    I’m in for a dime. This a great service you’ve begun. I’ve been one of those morose heretics who’s bemoned the fact that my only real, [fellow-traveling] friends seemed to be Derrick Jensen, Jim Kunstler, John Micheal Greer, and my wife – she being the only one of my slim coterie with whom I could actually commiserate regularly. Meanwhile, Dr.Pangloss’s tribe seems to be EVERYWHERE, if not everyone.

    Nearly ten years ago, I heard [the late] futurist, Robert Theobald expound on the problems of humanity-on-the-planet, and thought no one I’d ever heard, previously, articulated the deplorable situation as well as he had. ‘Twas thrilling. But then – he attempted to articulate the outline of a solution to the vast global predicament [mess]. Off he went – into “La-La Land!” Pangloss?… Hell! He Sounded like Pollyanna, spayed, and on methadone! He was as clueless as anyone. I was crushed. From that moment till this, I essentially gave up and gave in — to watching helplessly, and alone, as 99.9% of our species haplessly, but relentlessly, continued to pursue our terminal Ponzi game with The Creation’s family jewels. Can any of you out there spell d-e-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n? [duh] Yeah. If you can’t spell that by now… Seems like about half the people I know are jacked up with Dr. Pangloss’s Little Helpers.

    So, at age 58, having stewed, since before I could spell “un-sustainable”, over the hellish planetary mess we’ve merrily been making, I finally have arrived home, at this, your wonderful “Doomer’s” party! I’ve been a pretty-lonely, feckless, aware self-contemptuous, willing-and-otherwise participant in the ongoing mayhem. I’m sure a few members of this tribe know what it’s like.

    Jim Kunstler’s “Clusterfuck Nation?” Now, I think I finally get it. I get it my way, anyhow. We’re HERE, NOW, somewhat unfortunately, but, at least we know we aren’t here all-by-our-heretical-selves. Heretics need love too – at very least – companionship. Rabbi Kunstler [bless the keenness of his perception, and the shapliness [!] of his prose] let me know I wasn’t all alone in my gloomy assessment of our plight, but, still, I wanted to be more intimately in touch with someone(s) than “Kunstler.com” was capable of.

    Meanwhile, I fume and fester here in Spokane, Washington, an aging tree surgeon with a car, a diesel truck and chipper, four gasoline-addicted chainsaws, a gas-heated house, credit-cards, a mortgage, a food-alcohol-toiletpaper habit, a dog and cat, and a wife in Vermont for her second multi-week, United-Airlines-enabled continent-crossing rescue mission to help bail out her churchmouse-poor daughter’s “sinking boat” [two adults with accelerating "MRSA" staph, and a high-maintenance 21-month-old baby boy]. As Zorba put it – “The whole catastrophe!” [there must[!] be a “God”] Some work to do,’eh?

    I don’t know Who else there is to do the “blessing” around here, so I guess I’ll do it myself. Bless You, Kathy. And your good idea. And the will to bear it. And breathe life into it. And nurse it. Thank you.

    Dan

  15. Ale Fernandez says:

    Hi,

    Have you thought about using a creative commons license on your pages? If you’ve not heard of it, it’s a kind of soft (but legally enforceable) copyright that allows you to specify the uses you’re happy with. That would give automatic publishing rights to your readers without you having to say them explicitly every time. The license you’d need the way you described it above is simply called “attribution”. You can select licenses and create widgets or just a copyright line to include on your site via http://creativecommons.org/license/

    Hope that helps, brilliant article, I may print it out too, for transition cities here in Bristol UK.

    Ale

  16. Mike Bendzela says:

    There’s a built-in assumption that “therapy” is a science.

    It is not. It’s a complete pseudo-science:

    http://www.amazon.com/House-Cards-Robyn-Dawes/dp/0684830914/ref=pd_sim_b

    http://www.amazon.com/THERAPYS-DELUSIONS-UNCONSCIOUS-EXPLOITATION-WALKING/dp/0684835843

    In short, therapy is all talk.

    It’s what humans do: if we were ducks facing catastrophe, we’d be shitting in the water, because that’s what ducks do, shit in the water; and even if shitting in the water turns out to be the cause of their problems, the ducks will just shit more in the water in response.

    Likewise, look at all this energy we’ve pissed away discussing this shit on the internetss.

  17. Rapturism – the perennial position of those who have experienced a harsh, non-inviting, poorly attaching (shameful) childhood. It arises at the transition from magical thinking and concrete thinking (a la Piaget). Where Black and White Self Righteousness combines with delusions of specialness. Narcissism and Borderline made religious (not spiritual). Hummed to the tune of “My day will come . . . “

  18. There’s so much in this article that deserves attention. We are in a time when thinking of the welfare of the group is difficult because we’re too busy surviving. As one example, I drive a car with terrible gas mileage — because it would cost fifteen grand to get a new one.

    Most people don’t analyze their situation at all — it would be wrong to call them optimists since they don’t think they have any control over whether things will get better at all. I think this Panglossian optimism stems from complete powerlessness — it’s like playing the lottery as a way to earn income.

    One thing I would add to your list is the Apocalyptic mentality that believes it’s perfectly OK if half the world freezes and the other half starves, since that will only hasten the day when everyone will be at each other’s throats and the Apocalypse will occur. Since this mentality has been documented to be very well represented in the White House, I think it’s fair to say that there is no longer any such thing as “benign neglect” of social problems — if they’re neglected, it’s for a reason.

    Don

  19. Thank you for writing this. It put my isolated world in perspective.

  20. Wonderful job you did laying down the issues. Just one quick correction to the following:
    “Magical Thinking : “Don’t worry, we can build a car that can run on air!” Proposes solutions that are clearly outside the realm of physics.”

    Actually, the French have been running cars on air for years:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/988265.stm

    Sorry if this seems petty, but I want to strengthen your article by removing the one tiny flaw you made that distracts from its overall excellence, especially since you make such a definitive statement dismissing it as a possibility.

  21. Kiweagle,

    I couldn’t find that info about the French running around in air cars, but I did find discussion of the car that I’m paraphrasing here:

    “The website for that is a source of great merriment to anyone who is an engineer or physicist or financial analyst rather than a scam artist. http://www.theaircar.com/tests.html – the best is the claimed range of 200 km. Sadly the only performance that had been demonstrated is a range of, not 150, or 100, or 50, or 20, but… 7 km. But by multiplying 7 by 28 to allow for various obvious improvements they get back to 191 km. Brilliant.

    Let’s see – the maximum crude energy (it isn’t even half this in practice) in 340 litres by 270 bars is 0.34*270*10^5 J, so over 200 km that would give us 45 kJ/km. So at 30 kph that is an average power of 1/2 horsepower. Not a great deal to move a car.

    http://www.theaircar.com/Mines_reports.html

    is a semi independent report with some rather caustic observations. I don’t know why they only quote this one paragraph

    “1.5 General conclusions

    MDI has developed the global design of the 34p01-4 engine, which is not running yet. A significant work for optimization and control is still necessary to lead to an available prototype. Moreover, the electrical consumption of accessories needs a specific design.”

    Obviously what they really need is a beam axle for the front suspension.”

    …and when asked for clarification:

    “Well, I’ll repeat my reasoning concisely. An average power output of 1/2 hp is what you could achieve on a bicycle, briefly. So, do you think you, on a bike, could tow a small car, with passengers, while maintaining 30 kph (20 mph)? That is what they are claiming.

    Secondly, if they can demonstrate a range of 7 km, yet predict a range of 191 km, it seems to me that a more thorough analysis than merely multiplying it up by a series of factors is required. At the moment they have DEMONSTRATED the equivalent of a single trip across town while claiming to be able to drive between states.

    Sure, I’m being critical. I can afford to be. I wrote the first ever vehicle fuel consumption/ performance program for a large car manufacturer, when I worked there as an intern. It’s descendant was still being used 10 years later. I also had a large part in the simulation, design and development and construction and racing of the world champion solar car a few years back.”

    Another chimes in: “Don’t forget the “costs” of compressing the air to begin with. The statement of “zero pollution car” is disingenuous because of the pollution brought about by creating the “supply” of compressed air in the first place….The problem I have with the compressed air vehicle is the fact that:

    1. The compressed air “fuel” requires a boatload of electricity to produce….and the electricity generation process creates quite a bit of pollution.

    2. Air compressors are quite inefficient….especially the 2000 psi variety….and are mechanically unreliable.

    3. The conversion of compressed air from high pressure to low pressure is inefficient…..

    Adding all the “first order” inefficiencies of the “fuel supply” for such a vehicle, IMO, is comparable to the vast waste involved in petroleum-fueled vehicles. I’m not looking waaay downstream into all the other pollution caused by mining ores, welding, chemical production, etc etc etc. Which is why my thought is that claiming the “car is zero pollution” is BS because the car itself might be “clean” but the process of making the fuel (albeit a simple fuel and simple “manufacturing process”) is really really inefficient.”

    So, I guess you could say that the car doesn’t actually run on “air,” it runs on electricity, which is produced by oil, nuclear (as France is), or coal.

    You can read the discussion here: http://forums.autosport.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=65429&highlight=guy+n%25E8gre

    Of course, electric cars ARE a possibility, as GM found out, and later murdered, as pointed out in the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Still, I stand by my point: Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.

    Thanks for your kind comments, anyway, and do send me more info if you have more recent links.

  22. Thanks for this. This is the obvious place to put my studies. Really exciting. You rock. Keep up the good work!

    Now, why do you not mention the notion of this being the beginning of the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth? This I think is a major part of the psychological mass despair and escapism going on. From what I can tell most self-respecting biologist and all self-respecting paleontologists agree that this is the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth. Look for example here: http://www.actionbioscience.org/newfrontiers/eldredge2.html

    From that article:
    * First major extinction (c. 440 mya): Climate change (relatively severe and sudden global cooling) seems to have been at work at the first of these-the end-Ordovician mass extinction that caused such pronounced change in marine life (little or no life existed on land at that time). 25% of families lost (a family may consist of a few to thousands of species).
    * Second major extinction (c. 370 mya): The next such event, near the end of the Devonian Period, may or may not have been the result of global climate change. 19% of families lost.
    * Third major Extinction (c. 245 mya): Scenarios explaining what happened at the greatest mass extinction event of them all (so far, at least!) at the end of the Permian Period have been complex amalgams of climate change perhaps rooted in plate tectonics movements. Very recently, however, evidence suggests that a bolide impact similar to the end-Cretaceous event may have been the cause. 54% of families lost.
    * Fourth major extinction (c. 210 mya): The event at the end of the Triassic Period, shortly after dinosaurs and mammals had first evolved, also remains difficult to pin down in terms of precise causes. 23% of families lost.
    * Fifth major extinction (c. 65 mya): Most famous, perhaps, was the most recent of these events at the end-Cretaceous. It wiped out the remaining terrestrial dinosaurs and marine ammonites, as well as many other species across the phylogenetic spectrum, in all habitats sampled from the fossil record. Consensus has emerged in the past decade that this event was caused by one (possibly multiple) collisions between Earth and an extraterrestrial bolide (probably cometary). Some geologists, however, point to the great volcanic event that produced the Deccan traps of India as part of the chain of physical events that disrupted ecosystems so severely that many species on land and sea rapidly succumbed to extinction. 17% of families lost.

  23. Kathy, I’m tempted to write, “Where have you been all my life?” I’ve been looking for a sociologist or psychologist who might shed some light on the basis of this rampant denial for a documentary I’m producing. We must talk. An on-camera interview could be in order. Thanks for this insight!

    Dave Gardner
    Producer/Director
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
    http://www.growthbusters.com

  24. Louis Grenier says:

    Kathy:

    Matt Simmons is invited often to speak about peak oil and the impact and the mitigation on CNBC.

    My wish is that someone will read your post and, through the network, get you invited to speak about your topic on CNBC.

    That would be a significant outreach manifestation.

    Louis

  25. Hey Louis,

    Thanks for that….but if you see my name on CNBC, here’s wishing you have a full tank of petro, a basement full of food, a capacity to grow your own that spring, and no (and I mean NO) debt. Alternatively, I suppose, I could be the sell-out, talking about the 3 easy psychological steps to “Acting smart during hard times.”

    I was having this conversation recently with a PO colleague. When the mainstream media accepts the notion of PO, overshoot, the evaporating value of the US dollar, mass extinction, and the dozen or so other very very serious problems we are facing as a planet, and has more than one or two spokespeople all given 45 seconds to talk about it, the hour has past, and it was time to go into a deep, long sleep hours ago.

    I watched the History Channel show on PO, and it was a great way to go insane (hint, hint to those of you “still glued to the boob tube” as dear ol’ Dad used to day). We’d have the program saying “We’ve got serious problems” and the commercial sponsors saying “Buy this ‘boner drug.’” Then the program would come back on and say “We’ll face massive difficulties shortly” and the commercial would come on and say “Here’s a sporty new auto for you to drive!” and the show would come back with the biggest fattest lie “The Oil companies are working madly to find and refine more oil” and the commercial would add “Is your 401k performing?” It’s taken like a ‘Horror Movie’ to quote Sally Erickson in her brilliant piece on her blog at http://www.whatawaytogomovie.com/2007/11/13/build-an-ark-build-it-now/. We shut off the program and say “Wow, that was a trip!” and go on with our day.

    At least in the US (and the rest of the world can speak for itself) we do not have news. We have ‘edu-tainment’ at best. We have propaganda usually. One doesn’t have to be a wack job to say so. One only has to understand the simply workings of how finances and corporations run the current monopoly we call “Media,” and how consolidation has just “consolidated” the problem.

    But, I take your comment as a sincere complement, Louis, and I thank you for it.

  26. Louis Grenier says:

    Kathy:

    I talked about your article (Panglossian of course) on a Peakoil chat (PeakOilchat.com) and they started reading it.

    They will read it in the next day of so and they may add more comments than the 25 so far.

    A diverse bunch of folks with down to earth conversation.

    They may come up with something worhtwhile for you to consider. Watch for Telkola, J-Mobile.

    Just a thought. Alike the Richter Scale for earthquakes, you may wish to consider a logarithmic Panglossian scale for the PO reaction disorder and keep a track of politicians rate of desillusional dogma somewhere for people to comment and discuss.

    It may be a therapeutic element for discussion – like cartoonists producing caricatures in newspaper column editor pages.

    :)

    Louis

  27. Hey Louis,

    Thanks for mentioning me to Peakoilchat.com. I always like to hear new ideas. I’d like an example of that political logarithmic scale, just so I’m sure I know what you are meaning. Would this mean I’d have to read political rhetoric? I might need my own Peak Shrink if I do that too much.

    As far as we shrinks being a bunch of pseudo-scientists, Mike, I think it is very interesting that no one makes that argument when they apply it to “marketing experts” (psychology as applied to consumer purchase) or PSYCHOPS (psychology applied to military uses such as torture) as only two examples. But you are right about us spending a lot of energy being “all talk” on the internet, and pooping like ducks in the water, because that is what ducks do. There was also that one about the itsy bitsy spider I used to sing a few years ago, that I also liked, about the futility of it all. We are, as you point out, “meaning making machines,” so we talk and talk, and hopefully, something shifts, and we talk less and start doing more. Will it work? If you want guarantees, buy a toaster.

  28. Hi Kathy- I was thinking about your Panglossian Disorder recently, and decided to give a presentation on it at our local sustainability group (Crum Creek Sustainable Community of Swarthmore PA). It is very useful to have a point of leverage to explain why it is so difficult to convince our neighbors that it is time to begin think about living without cars. As soon as one speaks about PO, one is seen as a kook, but then if one happens to be a psychologist with a doctorate and one points out that labeling one as a kook allows one to label the labelers as DISORDERED with the Panglossian Syndrome. That is what I mean by a point of leverage- an antidote to the marginalization phenomenon,

    Sorry that is not more articulately expressed, but you get the idea.

    I still haven’t been able to reverse the marginalization effect I have been subjected to by my views, but I’m hoping to use your Panglossian Disorder on a regular basis to convince my neighbors that they need to wake up. If they wake up, I will no longer be a freak.

    Sarah Chenkin

  29. Hi Sarah,

    Let’s be honest. All “prophets” are freaks, kooks, weirdos, doomers, bummers, etc. We are forced to wear that Scarlet Letter the minute we stop the “happy talk” and begin to read the writings on the wall aloud. As psychologists (and I’m happy to hear you are one and are writing to me) we have lived with a certain level of observational powers, “objectivity” or at least some modicum of control over our reactions to others, and this, alone, can leave us accused of being “insensitive” or “uncaring” when the order of the day is to become just as emotionally upset as the speaker about the subject they want us emotionally caught up in. “Emotional Contagion” we can call it. Nevertheless, we have to still carry on.

    With Peak Oil, I find myself watching the active process of denial, distortion, minimalization, and the other elements of Panglossian Disorder. I’ve started to change my strategy. I used to intensify my OWN emotional response in order to try to break through that denial (if one thing doesn’t work, just do MORE of what didn’t work…) So I’d provide more facts and figures, raise my voice for emphasis, speak faster, get more upset, etc. For those of you who’ve tried it, it doesn’t really work, does it? Nope. At least not for me. It doesn’t work because of the “Matrix” frame that most folks live in, plunked in front of the TV for hours every day, listening to main stream media, and partaking in the hundreds of ways to distract oneself from feelings, reality, etc.

    I’ve tried to catalog here the variety of arguments used to defend against such painful news. The new one I’ve come across is “I refuse to live in FEAR!” Here, the speaker has just listened to information that makes them afraid, and so they have defaulted into a retort that tells the speaker “I no longer am listening to you, because it provokes fear in me, and that feeling is intolerable.”

    I suppose the best response is to simply acknowledge the implicit communication and move on.

    If we are to be “prophets,” (and of course, to LATOC and other alternative media readers, that sounds absurd, doesn’t it? We predict the future by simply staying informed?) then let’s “predict.” Let’s say, for example, as I did two years ago, “There will be massive defaults on home mortgages…” Then, as a party trick, we can point out to our listeners “Two years ago, I wrote in my blog that there was going to be massive defaults on home mortgages, and you laughed at me, as you happily refinanced. Now, you are facing default. Are you curious what ELSE I think is coming down the pike?”

    I have recently tried to “reach out and touch somebody” as in “HEY, HEY, DON’T GO DOWN THERE!! THERE’S SNIPERS DOWN THERE!” and of course I was rewarded (not) for my efforts. Now, I prefer to simply right my “prophesies” here and suggest that if the listener is interested, they can read what I think. I doubt most of them even remember the URL.

    And that, Sarah, is the way it will remain. We watch the changes come about. We watch those we love (and some of whom we NEED to get on board) make funny faces at us when we try and share our truth.

    Most of us (me included) don’t have the stamina to be Mother Teresa’s. The time is very, very late. The denial is very very powerful. Maybe donating 10% of your time to speaking to those destined to not believe you is the best you can do. The rest of your time, use your words to find those who are ALREADY on board, and believe me, they are out there, fitting in, looking “normal,” and Preparing with a capital “P.” When you find them, you can motivate each other to keep on track in your preparations and mutual support. I’ve also found that “Doomers” have the BEST SENSE OF HUMOR. I’ve laughed ’til I’ve cried on more than one recent get together.

    Sarah, if my article works for you, use it. If you’ve figured out a really good way to use it, let me know, and I’ll share it with others, or write a blog entry about it.

    Thanks for writing.

  30. I have a friend with whom I argue (discuss) from my “doom” perspective. She says she believes that things are very very bad out there. But her defense is that there are so many people in the world who are doing wonderful things and have wonderful ideas that she wants to “align” with and “feed” the Good and not support and enable the negative. I think this is some kind of New Agey panglossianism.

  31. DEXTSPEELVE says:

    Hello all!

    I’m a newbie here.

    So i’d like to ask you if a world financial crisis affected someone among you?

  32. I could only hope that I have this disorder– so that people can stop calling me such a Positive Patty. I think the whole world could get a dose of this and be just fine.
    -Sylvia

  33. Psychologizing the opposition is unfortunate and has a very bad pedigree. Don’t do it.

  34. Out of the mouths of babes………

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qkGoqAZrqI

    DARWIN LYRICS by Low Anthem

    1. Charlie Darwin

    Set the sails I feel the winds a’stirring
    Toward the bright horizon set the way
    Cast your reckless dreams upon our Mayflower
    Haven from the world and her decay

    And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
    Fighting for a system built to fail
    Spooning water from their broken vessels
    As far as I can see there is no land

    Oh my god, the waters all around us
    Oh my god, it’s all around

  35. Very much appreciate this piece. I’d like to invite you to check my website, where I locate addiction as being central to the evolutionary predicament in which we find ourselves. In particular, here, the Prologue of my book-in-preparation titled “Beginning With Fire: Addiction, Human Nature & Evolution”

    http://rogetlockard.com/bwf/prologue.php

  36. Marie Long says:

    Excellent article, Kathy. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time trying to diagnose people who refuse to face the reality of our times. Your outline of the many forms of denial of PD helps me to understand better rather than to simply resort to general pathologizing (the u.s. is so psychotic, people are dumb) and general explaining (she had a terrible childhood). Just before retiring three years ago I obtained my MFT license in California and then moved to Indiana. I’ve been increasingly aware of the world situation for about 20 years and it pains me greatly that my closest people have PD. Still, I agree with you that it is useless to continue to bang one’s head against the wall trying to make people understand. Now I’m writing and making self-sustaining (gardening, etc. etc.) a challenging endeavor. I continue to seek fellow travelers.
    thanks,
    Marie

  37. Brad Brookins says:

    Kathy,
    Your response to Sarah on 4-15-08 was particularly helpful. I think I am developing an answer to my question, but the answer is doing nothing to resolve my problem.

    I am a pastor in a small, rural UCC congregation in southern Wisconsin. To describe my folks as “Panglossian” regarding climate disruption, economic/social collapse and resource depletion (PO) would be a very generous understatement.

    In my mind there are clear and persuasive theological directives for addressing these issues. Care for the Creation and care for the neighbor are foundational tenets in most major religious systems. My congregation doesn’t disagree with this, they just don’t think you should talk about it in church (and by extension, since I represent the church, I really shouldn’t bring up the topic elsewhere either). You’d be surprised (or not) how often they fall back on the comfortable dictum of not discussing politics or religion. We must never offend those who might disagree. Getting along, making nice and avoiding conflict are strongly held values in this part of the country. The purpose of church is to comfort the afflicted, not to afflict the comfortable. It is dangerous relationally and professionally, I have discovered, to buck that.

    I am dealing with my own anxiety regarding the future—some days (tho not many) better than others. We have moved to a farm and we are re-arranging our lives and learning what we can. I fear for the future my two daughters will inherit. Often I feel an intense sadness over the wanton destruction of the creation I see around the world. But I’m dealing with that, sort of. The world will be a better place once the experiment we call industrial civilization is permanently retired, whether or not I survive to see it.

    My presenting problem, however—the one I’m not resolving, has to do with my job. I am a real basket case at work; here the anxiety is unrelenting. I feel like a prophet with his tongue cut out—Like Jeremiah in the muddy pit. I can try to speak (and I have on several occasions) but I know in advance the range of reactions. Most just won’t get it and most of the rest will get angry at me for violating the code of pastoral peace and sweetness they have come to expect of their “leader”. “How dare you wake the sleeping!”

    This by itself, I suppose, in not insurmountable. I might (tho I doubt it) be able to find a setting more amenable to what I need to say and do. The problem is that I like these people and I care about them, personally as well as pastorally. I have baptized their babies and buried their mothers. When the shit hits they will be hurt in ways they can’t imagine. I know there is nothing we can do to prevent that, but I believe together we could at least mitigate the pain that is coming. Together we could at least think about our children and their children.

    The problem is this is all I can think about anymore. Everything else that is expected of me, including those things that were useful in the old world and might be useful in the world to come, seem like so much ‘extend and pretend’. We are living out of context, stuck in a 1970’s “morning in America” delusion. Supporting that illusion feels like a lie. But they can’t hear the truth; or maybe I can’t competently articulate it. In either case, this course is becoming intolerable. We haven’t gone over the cliff yet but, like the rest of the culture, we are dancing blindfolded on the edge.

    If you have any ideas for coping, I’m willing to listen.

    Thanks a lot for your blog, by the way. It has been very helpful. I’m not a huge fan of virtual communities but I’m glad this one is here.

    Brad

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  40. Wow. This is an incredible article! Thank you. I have had it on my list to come back to your site and read it through and through but haven’t had the time. Every time I do make it here, however, I have my mind blown wide open.

    I especially appreciated your take on self-esteem. It answered a lot of questions that I have had as far as working with my clients during this time of transitioning my approach to a more PO friendly model. I’m really starting to see that the more deeply I immerse myself in and integrate what I’m learning about the psychology of PO and what that means in terms of health, the more effective I can be with my psychotherapy clients.

    I believe that the more we can understand the deeper issues relating to PO, the more accurately we will see into the challenges that our clients are enduring and the more helpful we can be. Truth is (at least my truth as it stands today :), whether they know it or not, it’s impossible to ~not~ be effected by the realities brought on my PO and in some way, each person’s challenges are reflective of the dis-ease of the culture we are immersed in.

    Thanks again! Your work in incredibly helpful to me!

  41. This article, while having some relevant points of interest also carries within it the same foundation of dogmatic belief systems that are decried in the article itself, mainly, that there are the educationally appointed purveyors of correctness who KNOW what is ‘real, possible, logical, reasonable’; those that *don’t* go along with these educationally consensus reality approved dogmas are obviously maladjusted in some psychologically significant way.

    What’s interesting to me is the criticism of others for their ‘lack of correct adjustment’ to the global situation when the most glaring issue facing the planetary society is utterly ignored: that of the rising awareness of how the balance of power has been long placed squarely in the hands of a group that clearly meets the descriptor ‘psychopaths’. How many films, books and graphic novels have been created that depict the uselessness of bands of individuals creating peaceful, intelligent communities while predatory individuals are a very real threat to *any* creative and farseeing options that might be created? Isn’t it possible that part of this ‘Panglossia’ is a recognition of the way *power* distributes itself in the human social patterning and that this predator based psychopathology is a very real dilemma that, so far, *nobody* seems to have a coherent response to?

    Currently the *only* advice for dealing with the increasing engagement with narcissists is ‘total No Contact’, yet as so many write on the burgeoning number of sites dedicated to recovering from relationships with narcissists point out, if there are other factors involved (such as children, economics etc) then No Contact may not actually be possible; expand this out to the social sphere and consider how No Contact is possible with *persons of ‘authority’* who are psychopathic narcissists? With GUNS? And *no actual effective way open to an individual of controlling these armed/politically sanctioned predators*?

    Revolution has been amply demonstrated to be an utterly useless act, unless one actually enjoys going around in circles which is what the word *means*. You think that because there are individuals who refuse to make the personal ‘political’ that they are *avoiding* the issue? What about the issue of those who avoid the reality that *revolutions don’t achieve genuine social EVOlution*? That politics- and in particular, ‘democracy’- is glorified mob rule wherein minorities are subjugated to the interests and whims of the dominant culture, whichever that may be?

    To my observation, the planetary culture is deeply struggling with the issue of heteronomy- the belief that, for whatever reason, one individual or group can dominate and control another individual or group. THIS is the foundation upon which the entire mess has been built, to my observation; the *beliefs* that individuals play by, which includes the belief that certain perspectives elevate one to a position of superiority over another. What difference does it make if an individual believes what they believe *if that belief is not harming another*? Does it *directly* harm you if an individual is an unrelenting Scarlett O’Hara, or is it simply offending your *own personal heteronomy* regarding How Things- Including Other Individuals- Should Be? WHY do *all* individuals have to ‘wake up’; is it not *their inalienable right* to live whatever way they wish, *even if that way of living leads to their own extinction*? Where is the rule that says ‘all individuals are capable of evolving out of their mindsets’? Where is the rule that says ‘it is our *duty and right* to ensure that individuals *conform to the proper standards of behaviour as decreed BY US’? This is the stuff of the new movie The Giver; a bunch of righteous individuals who KNOW what is ‘best’ for others, to the point of removing the free will in order to ensure that ‘best’.

    ‘Model sanity’: who defines this sanity? You? The dominant paradigm? The propagandists *behind* the dominant paradigm? What platforms and dogmas are being employed to substantiate this ‘sanity’, the thin veneer of rationalisation for yet another application of heteronomy? I’m certainly not interested in a ‘sanity’ that seeks to constrict that which is inimitably sane for another yet makes no sense to me, provided that the simple parameter of ‘do no harm’ is applied; autonomy is the awareness that one’s own authority begins *and ends* with one’s own Self. Everything outside this is co-creation, again with the parameter of ‘do no harm’. How profoundly *harming* is it to insist that an individual come into a state of ‘awareness’ that they actually may have absolutely *no desire to inhabit*, but are decreed into because *someone else* thinks that it’s the only acceptable form of ‘sanity’?

    Ugh. How about instead of finding new ways to label and constrict individuals, those with the ability to see further into the pattern figure out *effective strategies for dealing with the narcissistic psychopaths that currently dominant every sphere of social endeavour*? How about a more effective strategy than ‘go ‘prepare’ for the collapse and *hope* that a bunch of marauding predators don’t eventually find you’? How about something better than a future based on historically failed ways of being as societies?

    I have had much personal experience as a child with what happens when individuals, whose ability to function is entirely dependent on the unchallenged veracity of their belief systems, have those belief systems challenged. I am not in favour *at all* of insisting that such individuals ‘need’ to be ‘woken up’ to anything; I’m totally ok with the concept that *large numbers of individuals currently populating the planet are not actually capable of evolving through this next phase*. Where is it absolute that such individuals *must* make the shift? “These therapists might want the client to appear emotionally ready or have some degree of insight into their problems before confronting them with TEOTWAWKI.” Who are this therapists that are making such huge decisions for their client? At what point did the therapist become *god* in that they can decree what is and isn’t ‘right’ for this other individual?

    How about removing the heteronomy from one’s *own* eye before consider the issues of another? There are so many other elements for me in this consideration, I just can’t begin to express them…

Trackbacks

  1. [...] previous entries, I poked fun at Panglossians, the merry among us who are content to spin yarns about the magic of technology and pontificate [...]

  2. [...] previous entries, I poked fun at Panglossians, the merry among us who are content to spin yarns about the magic of technology and pontificate [...]

  3. [...] to respond by minimizing it, denying it, or letting me know that it can’t be that bad (see Panglossian Disorder) (3) I feel that you are dismissing the seriousness of what I’m saying, so I provide you with [...]

  4. [...] devastation? I’ve hammered this point home in a number of posts, the most widely read being “Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder?.” Now, a trenchant social observer provides a clear outline of how that may well be so, [...]

  5. [...] devastation? I’ve hammered this point home in a number of posts, the most widely read being “Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder?.” Now, a trenchant social observer provides a clear outline of how that may well be so, [...]

  6. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  7. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  8. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  9. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  10. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  11. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  12. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  13. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  14. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  15. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  16. Living In The Moment « Jon Barrett says:

    [...] She also identifies a new mental health problem with a range of sub-types which she terms “Panglossian Disorders” , defined as “the neurotic tendency toward extreme optimism in the face of likely cultural and [...]

  17. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  18. [...] Video: “Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or– Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? ” http://www.peakoilblues.org/blog/?p=132 [...]

  19. [...] Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? [...]

  20. [...] psychologist, years later.  I presented to him Kathy McMahon’s Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue?  He didn’t seem all that amused, although I found it hilarious.  He just didn’t get [...]

  21. [...] in the evening. I’ve wanted to tape Kathy since reading her tongue-in-cheek blog about Panglossian disorder several years ago. Right now she’s on a Pacific Northwest speaking tour. Great synchronicity [...]

  22. website says:

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    Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? – Peak Oil Blues

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