In March of 1974 Lacan delivered a lecture in Milan that was premonitory in referring to a threat that no one was paying much attention to at the time. He addressed himself to an audience warning them that psychoanalysis had to face up a fact that was changing the history of humanity. He expressed it in terms that left no room for misunderstanding: something impossible to bear was being imposed on the planet, producing suffocating effects. A manifestation of the real that was literally beginning to suffocate us. Perhaps nowhere else in his work was Lacan more explicit about his vision of the future as the advent of unprecedented destruction. “Due to the fact of incessantly removing things that should only have descended from heaven, humanity is now being devoured by the real,” is how he expressed it in that lecture.
Almost half a century later, that prophecy has been fulfilled, without the appearance of any real will to prevent it in time. Science began with observations of the heavens because the heavens were the eternal guarantee of an unalterable law, imperturbable to the action of human beings. The heavens formed the basis of science because the stars and planets do not speak, and therefore do not have an unconscious. They are governed by a logic that is not affected by the symptom. As long as science kept its eyes fixed on the heavens, it did not have great consequences on earth. But from a certain moment, men began to interest themselves in the application of science to the terrestrial world. This did not happen by chance. To a large extent, the Reformation played its part by giving blessing to enjoyment in this world, thereby giving the green light to capitalism, which no longer encountered objections to unlimited prosperity in life on earth rather than that promised in heaven.
Now, in 2021, it remains surprising that psychoanalysts, determined to engage in all forms of discontent in civilisation, continue to maintain an inexplicable silence about the most serious thing that is happening to us: our own extinction. We have not taken Lacan’s words in their true and most profound consequence, especially when today we already have all the irrefutable evidence of his clear anticipation. We have not intervened in the most decisive debate that we are faced with. The political, the vicissitudes of gender, the disorders of a civilization affected by the dissolution of the Name of the Father, the loss of the highway and subsequent deviations, the processes of segregation, of racism, the ongoing deterioration of the social bond as a consequence of the phases of liberation of hatred, the pandemic, none of those crucial issues have ceased to be the object of our debate, and we have taken a position. We must celebrate that an instrument as powerful as the concept of the symptom in all its modalities has allowed us to give a new intelligibility to the contemporary configuration of life. But all this immense effort continues to take place on the basis of something that until now we have not fully understood: the belief that the world that we inhabit, with its unstoppable dislocation, was heading towards a destiny of loss of which only future generations would be witnesses.
We were wrong.
For some reason whose conjecture I cannot formulate, we have closed our eyes to the fact that the time for talking is coming to an end, because man has irreversibly altered the real of life, pushing it into an apocalypse that we have not quite recognized: a kind of denial that we ourselves are part of. We have reached a tipping point in the climatic order that is no longer possible to reverse. All ecosystems are seriously damaged. The boreal forests, the melting of the layer of permafrost that kept the pockets of methane in check, which in being released are now becoming an unpredictable bomb, the decrease in ocean currents, especially the Gulf Stream, the melting of the Arctic ice-cap that allowed the deflection of the solar rays, the evidence that the Amazon, one of the largest receptors and purifiers of carbon, is reversing its function and becoming a powerful emitter, all these signs taken together leave room for no other conclusion than that we have crossed the limit. At this rate, the temperature of the planet will return before long to the state it was in ten million years ago, when human life had not yet appeared and would have had no chance of survival.
Faced with this evidence, we must assume that psychoanalysts have been taken up by the same denial that affects the rest of the world. Without a doubt, our capacity for action on this cataclysm is practically irrelevant, but it is surprising that it continues to be a blind spot in our saying. It is no longer possible to talk about the planet in terms of the symptom because this concept is only valid on the basis of the reality of discourse. What will happen if the tipping points that have been surpassed bring us closer to the possibility of the end of all discourse?