Murder and Forgiveness
The sickening murder of English MP Jo Cox on 16th June sent a shock wave through the country.
All who knew her seem to have admired and respected this woman who said, in her first speech as an MP last year: “While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel round the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us.” Her death gave these words a painful irony. Her husband and many others have voiced determination that the spirit of love, compassion and commitment to service which Jo Cox clearly personified would not be extinguished by the brutality of her killing. But in the visceral OH NO! evoked by the news, was there also despair, a sense that what is best so often succumbs to what is worst?
Versions of Murder
Is there too an awful truth in Stalin’s observation that a single death is a tragedy; but a million deaths are a statistic? Last month’s newsletter mentioned Laurie Penny’s New Statesman article and the difficulty we have in relating to the many millions of people suffering terribly in the Rajasthan heat. Then there is the persistent difficulty people have, accepting the relationship between extreme weather and human activity. There follows the thought that those promoting, profiting from and obfuscating the reality of ecocidal activity are committing or suborning murder. Finally, and so often a bridge too far, is the contemplation of our own involvement in the destruction, even when we long and strive for a kinder world.
Kindness, Dehumanisation and Getting Unstuck
We move the focus now to work by CPA and its members, some of it already mentioned in our members’ forum and AGM on 18th June. July’s newsletter is mostly about work by CPA and its members, some of it already mentioned in our members’ forum. James Barrett has written this thoughtful piece about kindness. Amongst the helpful ideas it contains is the importance of a pause, which can be an essential ingredient of humanity and a container for crude, defensive reactions. Sally Weintrobe’s work on the culture of uncare is so relevant here. Both give us perspectives on the “othering” of sacrifice zones or distant people, recently highlighted by Naomi Klein. For anyone willing to look at a disturbing example of the latter this Guardian piece features the work of psychologist Paul Stevenson, exposing the treatment of refugees at the Australian detention camps on Nauru and Manus.
Can there be any development beyond recognition of our capacity for both humanity and inhumanity? One possible answer is offered by Marina Cantacuzino who spoke at CPA’s Members’ Day. Her Forgiveness Project and book of the same name has won acclaim from Desmond Tutu, Emma Thompson, Robin Shohet, the late Anita Roddick and many others. The title may evoke suspicions of sentimentality or religiosity, but this would be a mistake. Her opening comment to us was that anger, in response to the Iraq invasion, was what got her started. Marina combines her journalistic skills with a strong grasp of psychology as she explores what a complex, conflicted and messy subject forgiveness is. She, like George Marshall, accents the fact that humans are hard wired to respond to stories but stresses how double-edged this is, particularly in a digital age where hate can be amplified so widely and at such speed. Her key points include what a tyranny pressure to forgive exerts, how much anger forgiveness can evoke in other victims and how waiting for a perpetrator to ask for forgiveness is putting power in the wrong hands. Perhaps her most memorable comment was that forgiveness is about giving up all hope of a better past. The project has put down roots in the aftermath of war and terrorism, in prisons and in cases of domestic abuse. The conversation with her on 18th June moved easily into the field of climate change, with its violence, massive social justice issues, conflicts and confusions around responsibility.
Socially Constructed Silence? Protecting Policymakers from the Unthinkable
Last month’s letter observed that politicians and scientists too are under immense pressure to fudge reality. Paul Hoggett’s and Rosemary Randall’s article of the above title for Open Democracy gives invaluable depth and substance to this concern and its very serious effects. The paper shows how the shrinking away by most climate scientists from the explosive implications of their findings effectively colludes with “policy makers who are reluctant to embrace the radical changes needed.” You can read about their research on our website in the article Outriders of the Coming Adversity.
This important piece of work can, for instance, be seen as adding a key psychological dimension to Clive Hamilton’s Guardian article back in May, in which he weighs the arguments about the success and failure of Paris.
Exploring the complex interrelationship between the psychology of humans and the impact of social structures in relation to climate change has been a core theme of CPA since its inception.
More on Confusions Around Responsibility
Linked to what has been termed here the nexus of denial is another challenging theme – that of responsibility. Again, mainly for the benefit of readers who are not in the CPA members’ forum, here is an interesting critique from one of our members, Maggie Turp on Naomi Klein’s attribution of responsibility for climate change to corporate entities:
"I also found the Naomi Klein piece interesting and engaging. One point we might wish to debate is Klein’s explicit attribution of the failure to address climate change to political and economic structures in which people are either victims or perpetrators. She explicitly rejects the idea that it is, either wholly or partly, a problem of ‘human nature’ and strongly implies that, in the case of a power reversal, ‘victims’ would behave differently from those who currently hold power.
"Without wishing to undermine the social justice argument, I do not accept this assumption and find little evidence for it in situations where the formerly oppressed have become the new rulers. On the contrary, I believe the problem to be fundamentally one of human nature, compounded by political systems. I find it important both as a person and a practitioner to own this and to seek to identify and elucidate those aspects of our human make-up that are fuelling our headlong rush towards disaster. It seems to me that this is what Sally Weintrobe’s careful and detailed work is about and something that we need to hold to rather than seeking to blame political and economic systems - which are also, in the end, human creations. Any thoughts?"
Exploring the complex interrelationship between the psychology of humans and the impact of social structures in relation to climate change has been core theme of CPA since its inception.
Another jewel from the CPA Members’ Day
The role of the arts in climate engagement has been a point of interest, the earliest landmark being the launch of David Buckland’s Cape Farewell project in 2001. CPA has highlighted the work of Peter Gingold, but this interface was ripe for development and our chance came when Julian Manley introduced us to Tessa Gordziejko and her Imove Arts performance “Breath[e]LESS” – a poetical-musical story-telling. What we knew in theory was possible and necessary, some of us present experienced for the first time as a reality. Tessa gave us new ways of engaging psychologically and emotionally with climate change and gave us a sense of how the arts can bring the subject of climate change more fully to life. Many of us have been deeply moved by this beautiful and haunting video with pianist Ludovico Einaudi
Our forthcoming events
As we pass midsummer and our Member's meeting/AGM, we are looking forward to our events in the autumn.
It's not too soon to make a note of these in your diary, make friends or colleagues aware of them and, please BOOK YOUR PLACES! We are promoting these far and wide but if you have thoughts about particular groups we can contact, please get in touch.
10th September Facing Climate Challenge and Collective Anxiety, Inspired by the visionary work of Harold Searles (1918- 2015) with Renee Lerrzman - Sally Weintrobe - Joe Dodds
30th September (in conjunction with BCPC) Radical Climate Justice Polly Higgins and Donna Orange In Conversation + Book Launch
19th November The Psychology of Climate Action: New Perspectives on Leadership, with Caroline Lucas MP - Professor Paul Hoggett - Professor Andrew Samuels- Sally Weintrobe - Richard Black - Cate Lamb
1st October: The day after the Donna Orange Book Launch on 30th September she is a major contributor to the 2nd Biennial Trauma Dialogues Conference in Bristol
We are also contributing to Medact's Annual Forum 2016: Healthy Planet, Better World
There is no newsletter planned for August, but normal service will be resumed in September.
On behalf of the Executive Committee
Editorial support from Judith Anderson, Paul Hoggett and Chris Robertson
image source: The Forgiveness Project - Marina Cantacuzino