In a recent piece circulated on LRO under the title of “Our Blind Spot”, Gustavo Dessal highlighted the striking absence of attention to the question of climate change in our discourse. It is almost as if the more glaring the evidence, the more this question begins to occupy the entire horizon of our times, the more difficult it becomes to grasp and the less we are able to confront it or even to know how to begin speaking about it. The scale of the problem and the urgency of coming up with a solution threatens to render any response inadequate, futile before we have even begun, as if it is already too late and we are chasing a lost cause. The threat to our planet and to our very existence as a species thus continues to go largely unseen and unsaid.
Psychoanalysts might at least be expected to know something about the logic of denial and willed blindness written into our approach to these questions. Our clinical practice as well as our formation teaches us about the different modes of defence and denial available to the human subject, under the modalities of disavowal, repression or foreclosure. Whatever the material conditions of climate change, we might still have something to say about the subjective logic of denial, which is not simply a matter of lack of information or awareness about the situation but rather entails a more profound not wanting to know anything about it that inhabits each one of us and would first have to be acknowledged if we are going to be able to confront this question.
It just happens that the circulation of Gustavo’s text coincides with the launch of a series of conferences on climate change hosted and facilitated by psychoanalysts of the Lacanian orientation bringing together speakers from a range of disciplines under the title of “An Effort of Ecology”. This series of conferences poses the question of the possible contribution of the analytic discourse to the challenge of climate change. In what way does this concern us as analysts, what might we have to contribute to the question, and above all, how to define the specificity of a psychoanalytic orientation in taking up a question whose parameters reach far beyond our own particular field? And do we really need more fine words on this question? Surely the time for speaking is already behind us and what is more urgently required at this point in time is rather practical measures to address the way we are so destructively consuming the resources of our planet?
In this light it is somewhat ironical that one of the first presentations at the launch of this series was devoted largely to questions of etymology, and more particularly to the etymology of the term ecology itself. Pascal David traced the etymology of this term to its root in the ancient Greek Oikos, the same root that we apparently find in the term economy, the ancient art of household management. Given that they stem from the same root, it would be interesting to trace the divergence of these two terms ecology and economy to the point at which we find ourselves presented today with the false choice between saving the planet and saving the economy.
Tracking this root Oikos through the series of terms household, hearth, home, habitat, David led us to the question of habitation. The etymology of the term ecology thus opens directly onto the ethical question of the manner in which we inhabit our earthly home. He went on to contrast modes of habitation in agricultural civilisations according to principles of care and cultivation with those predominant in industrial societies, which treat the earth as a resource to be exploited according to principles of domination and possession. These two terms, domination and possession, could in turn be taken as master signifiers of the two discourses that have shaped the modern era, precisely the twin discourses of science and capitalism.
The coupling of these two terms domination and possession also serves to bring into view a striking parallel between the mode in which we inhabit the earth and the mode in which we inhabit what we blithely refer to as our own bodies. It is precisely the notions of mastery and ownership, habeas corpus, that frame the modern experience of having a body, supposedly one of the essential properties of the speaking being. The coincidence between these themes in turn suggests that we might revisit the fundamental metaphor at stake in the primal mythologies of our relation to Mother Earth.
Whatever the contemporary relevance of these mythological and Oedipal references, the very notion of metaphor itself would highlight a third essential reference in this domain of habitat and habitation, that of our relation to language, fundamental to our status as speaking beings, both inhabiting and inhabited by language. The three modes of habitation constituted by our relations to language, to the body, and to the earth, might then provide us with a minimal Borromean framework for considering our situation as speaking beings and for articulating some of the ethical questions tied up with the way we inhabit this planet that is our home.