29 Nov 2014. The culture of uncare.

Here is David Wasdell (2014), Head of the Gaia Project, giving voice to a 21st Century dream of taking care. He was speaking on the centenary of Martin Luther King’s death: “I have a dream: That humanity will break out of its state of denial and find the courage to face the harsh reality of now.


The Culture of Uncare

Bob Gosling Memorial lecture, Bridge Foundation for Psychotherapy and the Arts 2014.

                                                                (sculpture in photo by Isaac Cordal)

Here is David Wasdell (2014), Head of the Gaia Project, giving voice to a 21st Century dream of taking care. He was speaking on the centenary of Martin Luther King’s death: “I have a dream: That humanity will break out of its state of denial and find the courage to face the harsh reality of now.That we will rise up and overthrow the collusional power of political and economic vested interest. That we will repudiate the myth of eternal growth, and learn to live sustainably within the limits of our finite world. That we will find a way to stabilize the climate of planet earth before the temperature rises too far. … That as a species we will look back on our current crisis, celebrate the solutions we put in place, and say with pride: “That was humanity’s finest hour!”[i]

We have the means to address climate change with existing technology.[ii] How has it happened that such a modest and obvious dream – that we not destroy the earth, our only home, but take care of it and respect its limits – even needs to be voiced in this way? What happened to our will to act with genuine care?

My argument is that the current dominant culture[iii] in the global north is at war with people’s bedrock capacity to care. I call this culture the culture of uncare, and argue that it undermines care by boosting uncare and by attacking frameworks that support care. I believe we will not address the problem of climate change until those of us who live in this culture break with it. To do this we need to see how immersed we are in the culture which means stepping back from it far enough to see it more clearly and stepping in close enough to experience its effects on us in a direct and feeling way.

I suggest the specific aim of the culture of uncare is to uncouple us from genuine caring just enough to sap our will to insist on change. Our current way of life is largely dictated by the needs of a globalised deregulated economy, founded largely on the principle that the polluter never pays, short-term profit is all and true costs are discounted. The result of this form of globalization is that everyday products we now buy are produced in ways that hugely damage the environment and the social fabric.[iv] How do we live with knowing we are necessarily implicated in at least some of the damage? How do we square this with our ordinary sense of decency, our deep-seated need to be moral caring human beings and our awareness of depending on a healthy Mother Earth for our survival, both literal and spiritual? How do we manage the emotional discomfort when we see the logic of our daily lived lives so often pulling in a different direction from thinking in a joined up caring way about reality?[v]

In such a situation the culture of uncare performs an ideological function. This is to insulate us from experiencing too much anxiety and moral disquiet. It provides us with justifications for what we know deep down is an inherently damaging way of living. These justifications are our cover stories, and usually not thought about at a particularly conscious level. They are designed to screen out awareness of troublesome feelings of anxiety, guilt and shame. Our cultural cover stories enable a damaging way of living to proceed relatively unimpeded in the short term, making the necessarily damaging lives we live within the global economy more palatable and bearable.

I am not talking about an idealized world in which we can live without causing any damage. I am referring to the fact that, currently, large corporations, operating within a significantly deregulated global economy, are causing such damage that life itself is being threatened. We are all implicated in and responsible to varying degrees for this damage by living daily lives structured by the global economy.

The uncaring mindset

A way of life that has been called ‘American’ or ‘Western’ is increasingly recognized to be largely responsible for rising carbon emissions. However, given its rapid spread to all corners of the globe in the period of financial deregulation since the early 1980’s, and given recent shifts in global power relations, calling this way of life ‘Western’ is no longer accurate.

A deep-rooted mindset is at the heart of this way of life. My subject is the way the culture of uncare drives and promotes this mindset. The mindset centrally involves the belief the world is our oyster, there solely for us to exploit, with the justification that we are especially worth it. It has been the subject of much attention in the social sciences. Social psychologists have called this mindset ‘instrumental’ (Kasser[vi], Crompton[vii], Darnton and Kirk[viii]). Sociologists and social commentators have called it ‘consumerist’ (Bauman,[ix] Klein[x], Hamilton[xi], Alexander[xii]) and ‘extractive’ (Klein[xiii]). Psychoanalytic authors have given the mindset various names: ‘narcissistic’ (Lasch[xiv]), one of ‘arrogant entitlement’ (Weintrobe[xv]), ‘perverse’ (Long[xvi]; Hoggett[xvii]) and involving a sense of ‘manic triumphalism’ (Segal[xviii]), with Keene[xix] likening the mindset to the position of the baby for whom mother (and Mother Earth) is an idealized feeding breast/toilet, solely there to provide super sized portions and absorb all our waste.

Each of these descriptions highlights important aspects of the mindset – the sense of self-importance tending to hubris when unchecked, the sense of special entitlement to super-sized portions and super-sized comfort, the narrow mindedness of a purely consumerist position, use of manic defences to rid the self of experiencing unpleasant unwanted feelings and the shallowness of experience that results from this, the drift to regressive more childlike modes of thinking, the growing sense of entitlement not to have to tolerate any conflicts or difficult experiences, and the general corruption of truth and language. Collectively the descriptions add up to a mental state that operates like an organization dominated by uncare. The term ‘uncaring mindset’ covers and includes all these descriptions.

This mindset is tailor made for the new deregulated global economy as it encourages rapacious consumption and it encourages the idea that the polluter never has to pay. Indeed the global economy in its current form could not prosper without such a mindset, one that boosts profits. It would be an oversimplification to equate the uncaring mindset with capitalism. In various guises and within various social formations it has a very long human history. Havel (1986)[xx] discussed how taking care is synonymous with struggling to live in a truthful way: only when the truth is faced can the real cost be counted and responsibility felt. His focus was Soviet-style culture during the Cold War, but he gave prescient warnings to the West that, when not checked by care, uncare tends towards a totalitarian outlook, one that increasingly brooks no interference and no alternative points of view. For uncare, in a triumphal phase, care is increasingly seen only as what drags it down and impedes it.

Nonetheless, mindsets do not arise in an historical vacuum. While the idea the world is our oyster can be found in ancient texts, what is new and historically specific here is a constellation of beliefs around entitlement and idealization. The central belief of people in the mindset is that they are super-entitled to idealized conditions, including inner psychological conditions. My argument is it is this exaggerated sense of entitlement that the culture of uncare feeds. The entitlement is not just to idealized levels of material provision but to an illusory sense of relief from all inner worry and conflict.

This is not a cloud

The uncaring mindset was behind the neoliberal project launched in the 1970’s under Regan and Thatcher. I remember the moment when I recognized the mindset in its new extractive expansionist phase appearing in British culture. Just as we are fine tuned to notice variations in the physical climate, we notice changes in the human climate. Walking in Camden Town in London soon after Thatcher came to power and had pushed through privatization of public utilities I saw a huge advert on a hoarding across the street. It comprised a picture of a beautiful cloud with the words, “This is not a cloud. This is the start of a multi million pound industry”. I stood stunned, my reaction, “No! It may be a new business, but it is also a cloud.”

The ‘cloud’ advert signaled something new and different in the social weather. My antennae had picked up a mood; a climate that now sanctioned by power was finding its voice, one that openly showed contempt towards dissenting voices. This voice was charged with a sense of super-entitlement.

The ad was triumphant, brazen, shameless, and it signaled deafness to considerations other than “the world is there solely for our profit and convenience. It has no other meaning”. I did not understand at the time how deeply and with what a visceral sense of resistance I had registered a new order. Now, looking back over all the ‘cut by cut’ slow devastation of our British culture of care over the past 40 years, I understand my reaction better. A dominant culture, backed by power, sanctions what can be said and not said. I had seen the writing on the wall and it was, “we are just at the beginning, but we can see an end where nothing whatsoever will stand in our way. We are not going to be troubled by considerations that clouds are clouds. Our aim is to sweep all that away.” I suggest one of the sources of our deepest anxiety at the present time is registering that this plan is to consume the earth and, unless resisted, it spells death.

The uncaring mindset, having, broadly speaking, taken hold in the Global North, is now aspired to in rapidly growing economies in the Global South.[xxi] At a global level it is currently having such damaging effects on life systems that unless we reassert our capacity to care and collectively resist the uncaring mindset, we face collective suicide. This is because when a sense of super-entitlement, linked with avarice, is allowed to overwhelm frameworks that hold it in check, it tends to escalate, tipping sustainable systems into instability.

The uncaring mindset trickles down from top to bottom. We can see a sense of exaggerated entitlement divorced from care and responsibility appearing like a fractal pattern at different scales: in how governments frame debates and write treaties, in the assumptions tucked away in economic equations, in our social groups, and within the individual psyche. The mindset has deeply penetrated the culture and etched itself into our minds.

Resisting this mindset involves our struggling with understanding how our minds work and how the culture works on our minds. This is not just an intellectual exercise; it involves our feelings. It involves the recognition that we approach this task with minds most likely already infiltrated by the culture.

At the bus stop

The deregulated global economy, driven by the mindset, established a legal framework that required businesses to put short-term profit first and allowed pollution with no price tag or responsibility to polluters[xxii]. The damage started to mount up. This was inevitable, and unavoidable given such a framework. In 1991 Lawrence Summers[xxiii], then President of the World Bank, said in a leaked confidential memo, “I’ve always thought that countries in Africa are vastly under polluted; their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles… Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the Least Developed Countries?” Here revealed is the uncaring mindset. Zones of sacrifice were to be created and damage was to be outsourced to distant others and disavowed.

This is shocking, but what has also disturbed and shocked me about this memo is realizing ways I too am often caught up in an entitled uncaring mindset that disavows suffering I cause through ‘outsourcing’ it to distant others.

Here is an example where I see myself mentally outsourcing damage, and facing pain when I recognized this. I was standing at a London bus stop. It was spitting rain, blowy and cold. I thought, “I hate waiting for the bus and wish I’d taken the car”. Suddenly I experienced my grand children listening to this. They were now grownup in a world ravaged by storms, but they were also right there next to me, standing very close to me, I in my world and they in theirs. I felt ashamed and part of my shame was feeling I was so much less of a person than I wished I was and indeed feel I can be. I felt trivial and fatuous, like a spoiled brat.

I write about climate change and have often thought that it will affect the lives of my grand children. But this was the first direct conversation I had had with them, one that really factored in their experience, one that I experienced as talking to them face to face and us looking each other in the eye. Experientially, rather than me locating them in the future, and thus psychologically far away from me, I felt them close by; me in a bit of bad weather and them in unspeakable conditions with me saying to them in justification, “the thing is I didn’t like waiting for the bus”. It was so inadequate to me as a reason for not struggling to get my carbon emissions down.

At that moment I brought my grandchildren from being the distanced other – distanced by my having located them in a far away future – to being with me. I did not and could not plan this experience; it was spontaneous.[xxiv]

My thoughts at the bus stop, while not the same as Lawrence Summer’s in his leaked memo, do bear a family resemblance to them. What is recognizably the same is feeling entitled to create a distant other and to out source damage and suffering. My assumption is that although my particular experience of my uncare is unique to me, people are likely to recognize their own experience in my example. This is because we share a culture that affects us in similar ways.

The culture that works to ‘uncare’ us’.

When we care we are in touch with mourning and the need to break with the uncaring mindset. We are aware we need to stop thinking we can damage without cost or responsibility. I now look at some of the ways the culture works to attack our capacity to care. In a talk of this kind I can only give a few examples. My focus in on two main ways the culture uncares us, first by boosting our uncaring side, and secondly by attacking the frameworks that support our caring side.

Boosting uncare

Splitting, idealization and identification

The culture taps into ordinary mental mechanisms to boost uncare. Taking our tendency to split people into groups, it encourages a particular form of splitting. This is splitting people into groups that are superior and groups that are inferior. This splitting involves an exaggeration of differences such that the superior group is worth it in an idealized way and the inferior group is exaggeratedly worthless. The culture encourages us to identify ourselves with figures who represent the superior in-group, playing on our fears of social exclusion and inadequacy. In current culture the superior in-group tends to comprise idealized wealthy powerful celebrity A list figures.

There are countless examples of this cultural pressure to split, idealize and identify. For example, the well-known L’Oreal advert shows glamorous A list celebrities using L’oreal hair products, “because I’m worth it”. This ad encourages identification with an elite superior in-group. It appeals not so much to ordinary female vanity as to a need to feel special, worth it and included in a context where many women have suffered at some time from depression, feeling not worth it. The advert’s appeal is as a magical omnipotent ‘quick fix’ for underlying difficult feelings such as envy of A listers, not feeling ‘worth it’ and a collapse of self esteem, that essential ingredient in preserving human identity. The celebratory women in the ads, women who adorn the manic pages of Hello magazine, most probably have no need to use L’Oreal in reality. It is a cheap brand on the market. Here, it is ‘as if’ one can achieve self worth through buying a cheap pot of cream in a plastic tub. This promotes living in a virtual world.

Stimulating this particular set of mental mechanisms underpins a large number of adverts, magazine articles and TV shows. It promotes the uncaring mindset as the splitting also includes splitting the self into parts that feel superior and other parts that are rejected by the self as inferior. Within this mental restructuring we also look down on the part of us that cares, admits our human vulnerability and needs. None of this is particularly conscious.

Identification with one side of a split is integral to the splitting process. It is when identified with an imaginary A lister celebrity leading an idealized life, feeling entitled to be spared discomfort that that one is caught in the mindset of uncare. It is in this state of mind that suffering is outsourced and one feels no responsibility.

Advertisers understand which psychological mechanisms to trigger to get people to buy products. Splitting, idealization and identification are triggered hundreds of time a day. This is mindset promotion on a massive scale. We may like to think that we individually are immune to this seductive pressure to collude, but the danger here is that this too might be part of the mindset in which we see ourselves as special.

If one walks round any shopping mall or garden centre before Christmas one sees lavish plastic decorations, table place settings and table decorations. People can imagine they are Catherine the Great, eating on gold and silver plate, but behind this mindset, and necessary to it, there lurks the idea of serfs out in the cold. When in reality people feel more like those serfs, this is a cheap way to stimulate fantasy. We mostly buy dreams of fake ‘as if’ security, not products, in the culture of uncare, and this comes with a huge carbon and environmental footprint.

The culture also drives a split between care of those in one’s immediate circle and care of members of wider society. Many people now may show idealized levels of care to family and friends but little interest in expressing civic or political care. One example is a young mother who described to me how she feeds her baby ideally prepared meals from an array of recipe books just for babies, with the food sourced from all over the world. These baby and toddler meals come with a high carbon footprint. In my view this mother’s caring has been subject to various splits and idealizations. The carbon cost is split off, a social political self is split off, and an ordinary good enough mother is split off and denigrated as not good enough.

This way of relating to babies is in turn promoted by the cultural pressure to treat children as special and especially entitled that received a huge boost when the Regan administration deregulated advertising to children in the 1980s.[xxv] I went with one young mother to a yoga class for toddlers and young children, at the end of which the teacher said to the children, “now close your eyes and say, I’m special, I’m special, I’m special”.

It is as difficult for a generation who grew up in the current culture of uncare to see the extent to which their way of living and seeing is culturally determined as it is for fish to see the water they swim in.

Working against deepening experience

The culture of uncare also works to block people from deepening their experience. An example from the media is that when Obama linked Hurricane Sandy with climate change at his last inauguration speech, the main news item was “Beyonce lip syncs the national anthem.”[xxvi] Mass media has become extensively trivialized. Serious news items box and cox with trivia, the news is now often referred to as a show and reality as a category in TV programme making is now entertainment.

Another form of working against deepening experience is the way the culture constantly reminds people that they have no interiority, that they are not people but sets of attitudes and behaviours, and that they have brains not minds and feelings. People’s experience is their mainstay and their main route to gaining knowledge about the world. With experience airbrushed out, or made to seem illegitimate, people may feel less entitled to use their experience to make sense of the world.

Narrowing language

A further pressure to shape us as consumers in the uncaring mindset is the disappearing of words from public discourse. Whereas we were passengers on trains, readers of books, pupils at school, citizens of countries and customers in shops, we are now just consumers of services. On the train we hear, “This service ….”. I saw a billboard for a new academy school being built in East London that described the school as a service and the pupils as consumers. With fewer and fewer words to experience ourselves as a multitude of inner parts each with a voice and entitlements, we come closer to inhabiting the narrow-minded, extractive, entitled uncaring mindset.

Pressure to conform to the mindset needs to be relentless applied by the culture because of our bedrock capacity to care. Care struggles ceaselessly to reassert itself and this why billions of dollars need to be spent, and are spent, on boosting the uncaring mindset and actively disabling care.

The young woman I mentioned who feeds her baby ideally prepared meals once said to me, “I have a beautiful photo of me and my baby; she is nestling her head into the crook of my neck and resting on me. The only way I can describe how lovely and loving this picture is, is to say it looks like an advertisement for baby care, you know what I mean”? Here she reveals, poignantly, that as well as being caught up in the mindset she is able to see it for what it is. It also highlights for me the essence of the culture of uncare. To promote the uncaring mindset, the culture targets love; it splits it into bundles, deforms it through idealizing it, perverting its meaning and reshaping it in order to then exploit it. The perversion at the heart of the culture of uncare is here deeply revealed: perversion targets the desire to love and be loved; it manipulates insecurities about being loved for power and profit.


All the strategies I have outlined are forms of disavowal. Disavowal is where we do see reality but we use psychological manoeuvres to minimize its emotional felt impact. Paul Hoggett (2012) has cogently argued that our disavowal of climate change is best understood as taking shape in a culture of disavowal. This disavowal is heavily driven by mass media, always with the same aim, which is to sap our will to get our carbon emissions down. Disavowal enables us to airbrush out our discomfort at the carbon damage we are responsible for.

Stepping out of disavowal is difficult within the culture of uncare for many reasons, one being that undoing a process of splitting, idealization and identification can feel shocking and jolting. This is because all the unwanted aspects of the self that have been successfully kept at bay or projected into others can feel forcibly returned, and this is hard to bear. I found it hard to bear seeing elements of the same kind of thinking in myself at the bus stop as Summers revealed in his leaked memo. It was far easier for me to see him in the uncaring mindset than myself in it..

Attacking social frameworks of care that enable care and contain destructiveness.

I now look, in brief, at the way in which the culture of uncare actively undermines structures that support care. The most obvious and visible recent example in the UK has been attacks on the welfare state. But I want to concentrate on another sort of attack, which is the attack on our collective ego ideals. Ego ideals are the standards of best behaviour that we aspire to.

The culture of uncare’s underlying aim is to promote a way of thinking ‘as if’ there is no shame and guilt about damage caused by our current way of life and ‘as if’ there is no psychic cost attached. But shame and guilt are important feelings that also act as important psychic structures that help us to know when we have gone too far and need to apply the brakes. Margaret Thatcher knew this very well when the first thing she did was tell us that what we had thought was bad was good, and what we thought was good was bad. She worked hard to frame new cultural ego ideals for the new more rapacious economy she helped put in place by attacking existing ego ideals.

Boosting splitting, idealization and identification with superior A listers also undermines our bedrock caring ego ideals. Dividing people into those that matter and those that do not is an attack on mental structures that support care by helping us see the similarity between people, not what divides us.

Zigmunt Bauman has written about the way parents have been progressively unseated as a voice of authority in this period.[xxvii] Their role is no longer to provide structure by acting as a benevolent superego that would leave us, in Freud’s terms, civilized and discontent. Their role has been largely usurped by a culture acting as a more destructive superego, one that combines seductiveness and punitiveness. All this matters as it promotes regressive ways of thinking and boosts the uncaring mindset. All in all, the structures that support love and containment – including love of reality – have been undermined and deformed for profit. The culture of uncare has undermined structures that support love and care on a scale unknown in human history.

Cultural devastation

We have witnessed devastation of conditions that enable care to express itself. Care has not been vanquished so much as forced to the shadows, not given a place in the sun or at the table. In the culture of uncare care is given little means to live its kind of life on its terms. At a climate conference I attended recently, I saw fine leaders with brilliant creative energy solutions who are being ignored and left to talk among themselves, unable to get a foot in with the media. Care is mostly silenced and only admitted on the culture’s terms in the culture of uncare.

If our caring side is ignored, ridiculed, and given little or no means of expression within social and political structures, that side of us is not lived. The psychoanalyst Jonathan Lear[xxviii] helps to see the true tragedy and poignancy of this situation with his account of Plenty Coup, the Native American chief who, after the destruction of the culture of his people who lost their land said that after the buffalo went, nothing happened. I understood by this that if deprived of a way of life, that way of life does not get adequately lived. For that way of life, ‘nothing happens’.

Slow violence.

The phenomenon of slow violence prevents us from seeing the true scale of how little we are cared for in the present culture. Rob Nixon[xxix], with his concept of slow violence, has expanded an understanding of violence in a profound way. We tend to think of violence as sudden, explosive and causing immediate damage. By contrast, slow violence proceeds by countless small cuts. The damage it causes is very real but the damage builds slowly and is mostly deferred to the future.

One reason slow violence is dangerous is that it fits in so well with the human tendency to disavow reality. We can tell ourselves each cut to care is too small to cause any significant damage. With this we miss the big picture, which is the cumulative damage we are all part of. Slow violence when not acknowledged supports the outsourcing of damage. Slow violence, unchecked, can lead to tipping points when systems become may become overloaded and dysfunctional.

The big story of our time

To undo the disavowal, including the disavowal that slow violence promotes, we need to see the big picture and tell the big story. This is that if the Earth is treated with uncare ecocide will result. The big story less told is that if people are treated with uncare it will significantly damage their hearts and minds. This big story is less told than the big environmental story.

The big story is increasingly hard to hear

The problem with telling the big story about the climate is it is by now so much harder to hear and to bear[xxx]. In my view the most tragic outcome of inaction on climate change – its true cost – is emotional overload. Climate news is now trauma inducing news and feeling traumatized can drive disavowal and psychological regression, both of which make things worse.

It is traumatic to register we are not cared about at the level of our survival.[xxxi] Also, to be offered so little scope within current existing political structures to exercise our collective care. People have a deep need to feel cared about and a deep need to be able to exercise their care, not just individually but as citizens. This makes us human.

Another source of trauma is guilt stirred when we realise we are all implicated in the rising damage we can now see. People by nature are bad at managing their guilt. We can tend to bounce quickly and defensively away from feeling ‘it’s all my fault’ to feeling ‘it’s nothing whatever to do with me’, and can find it difficult to think with a sense of proportion.’[xxxii]

Time for carbon mitigation has now almost run out, and this raises survival anxiety. When people feel their survival threatened they tend to regress and turn to leaders as ‘saviours’ in a more passive and helpless kind of way; even leaders who will in reality aggravate problems and not address them in genuine ways.[xxxiii] They also tend to become more focused on their own immediate survival, wanting to consume and hoard even more, erect barriers and push others out. We are already starting to see these tragic consequences of the previous inaction. We see the cumulative effects of policies put in place 50 years ago.

I believe if we want to address climate change in a genuine way we need to recognise that we are part of a culture of uncare and caught up with the uncaring mindset it promotes. It is not easy to recognise uncare in the self, as when dominated by uncare the problem of our uncare does not really touch us. As Segal (1987)[xxxiv] put it, the damage we do can only be modified when we can visualize the consequences to others and to ourselves of our actions. She also added that powerful defences operate against such insights.

A collective psychic retreat

One reason it is so hard to break free of the uncaring mindset is that in a collective psychic retreat[xxxv] of disavowal blame can feel to be diluted through being shared and passed around, and then we may feel assaulted at any suggestion of having it land back home to be owned by us individually. To absorb that we are individually signed up to and immersed in a damaging culture is liable to be felt as harsh and to be unwelcome, jolting and shocking. I think this is one reason for the collusive silence our social groups maintain about climate change, a silence that is starting to give way to climate conversations now.

We are at the point of beginning to find the collective courage to emerge from the retreat and face the shock. I say collective courage, as I believe we need to help and support each other to do this. Robert Jay Lifton (2014) I think put his finger on what it takes to emerge from the culture of uncare and why we need to help and support each other. Noting the recent swerve towards a general and widespread deepening of awareness of climate reality, he saw this swerve as a shift from what he called fragmentary to what he called more formed awareness. He made a crucial point that formed awareness, unlike fragmentary awareness, has an ethical component. “People … are coming to an awareness that it is deeply wrong … to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for our children and grandchildren”.

Careless talk costs lives

I suggest when we are bemired in the culture of uncare we perhaps do not notice how often when people do take steps towards greater care, negative voices begin. “That’s just a drop in the ocean. It’s all hopeless, here’s the flaw in your argument, that’s all very well, but what about x,y or z?” These kind of remarks when offered casually, as they often are in the culture of uncare, have a destructive effect. It is as though when rising up to take a stand one is given a kick behind the knees.

Recently I have begun to confront arguments like these. I say “careless talk costs life” and I explain that it is easy to crush the life out of a bit of care and de-motivate people when their starting point may already be low. We need collectively to stand up to uncare more vigorously.

There are plenty of signs that people are doing this and emerging from the uncaring mindset. This is enabled by the new imagination I started this talk with. People are envisaging a different way of living and also envisaging themselves living in a different way.



[i] Wasdell, David (2013) Address to the Club of Rome.


[ii] See proceedings of the Radical Reductions Emissions Conference (2013): http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/communication/news-archive/2013/radical-emissions-reduction-conference-videos-now-online

[iii]Culture includes mass media, government messaging, advertising, cinema and the arts. Culture also asserts itself through our social groups and expresses itself in everyday practices of living.

[iv] Journalist Benjamin Carle has pointed out that only 6% of all the items in his flat in Paris were made in France. The carbon cost of a globalized economy with the price of aviation fuel kept low is enormous. Carle pointed out “we are all children of globalization”. Carle, B. (2014). Man falls just short in patriot game to be 100% French. Article by Kim Willsher. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/27/benjamin-carle-100-percent-french-made-in-france

[v] Zigmunt Bauman noted the conflict between environmental concern and our lived lives. See: Bauman, Z. (2013) Participant on Vetenskapens varld lot 23, stv (Swedish public broadcasting channel) aired 23.09.13.  http:/www.svtplay.se/video/1480596/del-23

[vi][vi]Kasser, T. (2002). The high price of materialism. Cambridge, MA:MIT Press

[vii] Crompton, T. and Kasser, (2009). Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity. WWF-UK publication.

[viii] Darnton, A. and Kirk, M. (2011). Finding frames: New ways to engage the UK Public in Global Poverty. Available at: www.findingframes.org

[ix] Bauman, Z. (2007). Consuming Life. Polity Press: Malden USA.

[x] Klein, N. (2002). No logo. Picador: New York.

[xi] Hamilton, C. (2003). Growth Fetish. Pluto Press and Hamilton, C. and Denniss, R. (2005). Affluenza: when too much is never enough. Allen and Unwin: Crows Nest, NSW

[xii] Alexander, J. (2014). Killing the consumer. BBC 4 Four Thought. 29.10.2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04md5b0

[xiii] Klein, N. (2014). This changes everything: capitalism versus the climate. Simon and Shuster: New York.

[xiv] Lasch, C. (1991). The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. Norton: London and New York.

[xv] Weintrobe, S. (2010). On runaway greed and climate change denial: a psychoanalytic perspective, Lionel Monteith Memorial Lecture, London: Lincoln Clinic and Centre for Psychotherapy, published in the Bulletin Annual of the British Psychoanalytical Society.

[xvi] Long, S. (2008). The perverse organization and the seven deadly sins. Karnac: London.

[xvii] Hoggett, P. (2012). Climate Change in a perverse culture. In Weintrobe, S. (2012). (ed) Engaging with Climate Change: Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Routledge: London and New York.

[xviii] Segal, H. (2006). SEPTEMBER 11. Psychoanal. Psychother., 20:115-121

[xix]Keene, J. (2012) in Weintrobe, S. (2012). (ed) Engaging with Climate Change: Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Routledge: London and New York.

[xx] Havel, V. (1986). Living in Truth. Faber and Faber: London.

[xxi] A huge poster hanging on the wall of the hotel of the Indian government delegation to the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos highlighted this. It said: “India. World’s Largest Middle Class Consumer Market by 2030. Join India. Lead the World.”

[xxii] See Klein, N. (2014). This changes everything. Op. cit. who argues this case.

[xxiii] Summers, L. See Philip Arestis, Furor on memo at World Bank. New York Times. February 7, 1992.

[xxiv]There are many examples of creating the distanced other to stay in a psychic retreat. Sociologist Stanley Cohen wrote on the distanced other (Cohen, S. (2000) States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Polity Press: London). I wrote on psychic splitting mechanisms that create in-groups with superior entitlement and distanced out- groups seen as having no entitlement (see Weintrobe, S. (2012). On the love of nature and on human nature. in Weintrobe, S. (2012). (ed). Op.cit. When economist Nicholas Stern wrote the Stern Review – which he has now acknowledged did not take the problem of climate change seriously enough – he used an economic model that gave inadequate entitlement to future generations. This is disavowal tucked away and hidden behind the equations with future generations as the distainced other. Stern is hardly alone in using the assumptions he did. There is widespread disavowal of genuine consequences in the models used by economists.   Stern, N. (2006). Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. HM Treasury. www.National Archives/Gov/UK

[xxv] For a history of deregulation of advertizing to children and its effects, see Linn, S. (2004). Consuming kids: the hostile take over of childhood.

[xxvi] Beyonce admits to inaugural lip syncing. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-21284398

[xxvii] Lasch also addressed this theme. See Lasch, C. (1991). Op.cit.

[xxviii] Lear, J. (2008). Radical Hope: Ethics in the face of cultural devastation. Harvard University Press: Cambridge.

[xxix] Nixon, R. (2011). Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Harvard University Press: Cambridge.

[xxx]It is harder to bear because damage has been allowed to pile up to the point where civilised life, indeed life itself, is now threatened. There is very little time now to turn this round, and to do so at least 4/5 of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground. In this situation, the heavily subsidised fossil fuel companies, from a position of considerable power, have set their sights on extracting and burning as much fossil fuels as they can. For discussion of this latter point, see: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2015/mar/16/the-biggest-story-in-the-world-why-we-need-to-keep-fossil-fuels-in-the-ground-video

[xxxi] A point I made in (2012), The Difficult Problem of Anxiety in Thinking about Climate Change. In Weintrobe, S. (2012). (ed). Op.cit.

[xxxii] I heard a friend make this jump after seeing climate scientist Chris Rapley’s new play 2071 on climate change. At a meal afterwards, discussing the play, she suddenly burst out angrily, “it’s not all my fault! I won’t have it. It’s leadership!” I was very struck by this, as no-one had suggested it was all her fault.

[xxxiii]Note the way that immediately after 9/11 Bush’s popularity shot from 55% to 90%. See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7814441.stm

[xxxiv] Segal, H. (1987). Silence is the Real Crime. Int. Rev. Psycho-Anal., 14:3-12

[xxxv] Here I am applying psychoanalyst John Steiner’s (1993) concept of the psychic retreat to the group. Steiner, J. (1993). Psychic Retreats. London: Routledge.



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