[Marxism] Mass psychology explanations of global warming denial

ehrbar at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu ehrbar at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu
Sat Mar 17 12:14:54 MDT 2012

timgli sent the following URL to the ecosocialism list,
but I am sending my reply also to the marxism list:


This blog seems ignorant of an extensive literature about
the sociology of emotions which is very relevant here.  The
article which was for me personally the most concise and
striking introduction into this literature is the book
chapter "Self-Processes and Emotional Experiences", by
Morris Rosenberg, pages 123-142 in the book _The
Self-Society Dynamic: Cognition, Emotion, and Action_,
edited by Judith Howard and Peter Callero, Cambridge
University Press 1991.

A more recent collection about these issues is the book
_Theorizing Emotions: Sociological Explorations and
Applications_, edited by D. Hopkins, J. Kleres, H. Flam, and
H. Kuzmics, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt and New York, 2009.
Look especially at the contribution by Helena Flam, "Extreme
Feelings and Feelings at Extremes."

None of these articles speak about climate change denial in
particular, for this you should read the monograph _Living
in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life_, by
Kari Marie Norgaard, MIT Press 2011,

It is amazing that capitalism, the home of alienation, has
developed such deep knowledge about emotions.  I think the
original impulse for this research was to better manipulate
people through advertising, and the system-transcending
potential of this knowledge is an unexpected byproduct of
this research.

But this is definitely valid and useful knowledge, and if we
want to soften up the public's climate change denial in
order to promote a mass movement which is rational and not
driven by panic and not derailed by all the other unresolved
resentments of capitalism, we need to be familiar with this

These are not explicitly Marxist theories, but I think the
theory of emotions as social glue can be and needs to be
integrated with historical materialism.  I am thinking of it
this way: historical materialism explains why individuals
*must* live in society, and the sociology of emotions
explains how people *can* live in society.

(a) Individuals must live in societies because they need
products to survive, and products can only be produced in

(b) Individuals can only then live in society if they keep
their raw emotions in check.  This requires self-deception
and the ability to keep unpleasant emotions at bay.

In the view of Siegmund Freud, denial was always bad and had
to be overcome.  By contrast, modern sociologists have known
for some time that a moderate amount of self-deception is
normally a good thing.  But in the present truly dangerous
situation, denial has become suicidal, and creative ways are
needed to break out of this denial without giving up the
civilized ways of living with each other which are
facilitated by this denial.

Hans G Ehrbar

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