Our Society seems to have a Death Wish
Is our Society Committing Both Cultural & Ecological Suicide?
When individuals are overwhelmed and alone and lose touch with the reality that life is wondourful partly because of the struggle they sometimes choose suicide as a solution to their problems. Is this our collective state of mind? Are we over-whelmed? Alone? Filled with despair. Perhaps some societies are, psychologically, like some people who choose suicide as a solution because they just cannot face things and cannot make the necessary changes to live. Perhaps our society is such a society a society with an unconscious, Freudian death wish? Are we committing two suicides at once? An obvious ecological suicide but also a less obvious (to most) cultural suicide where we stop believing in ourselves?
The death drive (“Todestrieb”) is the drive towards death, destruction and forgetfulness. It was first proposed by Sigmund Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. The death drive opposes Eros, the tendency toward survival, propagation, hunger, thirst, sex, and other creative, life-producing drives.
I am teaching history focused on the year 1491 – the year BEFORE Christopher Columbus, to try to help the students understand the ‘clash of civilizations’ that happened. We all know that this was both a dynamic encounter, but one that was also very destructive. As I learned more about the Spanish I was struck in particular by their incredible desire to explore and conquer and spread their culture – the risks they took were incredible and are, at one level, impressive and admirable. Their belief in their own superiority was, in effect, a self-fulfilling prophesy. Confidence bred confidence. On the other hand the results were, as we know, horrific for the indigenous peoples of the Americas. To be clear, in this essay I am in no way showing admiration for how they abused the local population. [although most historians now think most of the deaths, 90% at times, resulted from diseases brought from Europe, over which the Spanish had no control or understanding] However, what I am instead focusing on the obvious fact that a culture that sincerely believes in itself will be, just like a confident individual, more successful and have culture, values and behaviours spread to other peoples.
Pizarro speaking to his soldiers/sailors at the end of his failed 3rd attempt to find fame and fortune. He is about to be stranded on a small island in the Pacific for months, hoping that his friend can get another ship with more resources to continue their explorations.
“Friends comrades. On that side are toil, hunger, nakedness, drenching storm, desertion and eath; on this side ease and pleasure. Ahead lies Peru with its riches, her in Panama poverty. Let each man choose. For my part I choose to go south to Peru.” He then stepped across a line and 13 men followed him.
We appear to be in the opposite phase of history. We seem to have lost total faith in ourselves, our institutions, our religions, our social conventions and norms. In fact, I would go so far as to propose, as a possibility, that we are so filled with self-loathing and so disconnected from our own souls, from each other and from the land and rivers that sustain us that we have a Freudian ‘death wish’. When I look at the society around me I see not only climate denial but denial that we are making decisions out of fear and isolation. The result is we no longer believe in ourselves and our values and we are unable to change: we are deer frozen the headlights of our self-inflicted hubris – the hubris that has us pretend that we will never die. We deny death. Now let’s dig a bit deeper. This is messy because we appear to be denying death in at least 2 opposite ways.
- we as a culture won’t change and pretend that can stay as we are and just get back to the good old days
- equally insanely, we totally despise our roots and consider all our society’s past achievements as evil
Denial path #1 has us continue to worship the God of exponential growth and his representative on Earth the GDP. The results of worshiping this false God are obvious – environmental annihilation. In spite of the fact that the damage from this false God are now clear for all to see, our inability to stop worshiping him means we are incapable of change – once again, we are frozen. Even those who see the destruction do not have the willpower to make the hard choices that are needed – choices like conscious decreases in population and consumption and travel. Not changing is suicide. This form of denial seems to me like a “right wing” form of suicide.
A recent paper entitled “Evolution and Climate Change Through the Lens of Power”  explores why it is that we continue to insist on economic growth when the downside is obvious using an idea that is new to me, the maximum power principle. This idea suggests that if we continue to insist on growth at all costs we are behaving like any animal would, with the obvious end result of overshoot and mass death.
“During the last century, evolutionary biologists developed the idea that power (defined as the rate of energy transfer) is key to the survival and success of species. This notion was formalized as the maximum power principle, which biologist John DeLong has explained as follows: “biological systems organize to increase power whenever the system constraints allow. . . . With greater power, there is greater opportunity to allocate energy to reproduction and survival, and therefore an organism that captures and utilizes more energy than another organism in a population will have a fitness advantage.” The 20th century seemed a propitious time for such an idea to arise, as one species—ours—was in the process of gaining unprecedented power by harnessing the energy of fossil fuels. Coal, oil, and natural gas constitute tens of millions of years’ worth of stored ancient sunlight—energy that’s vastly greater in quantity than any energy sources humans had harnessed previously. Constraints on all sorts of human activities were suddenly lifted. Soon we were out-competing all other organisms and, in effect, taking over the world. During the last two centuries, human per capita energy usage grew eight-fold—while the number of “capitas” also doubled three times over. All this newly available energy found uses in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, transportation, and warfare. Today, just through mining, we displace far more of the planet’s crust each year than do all of nature’s processes (wind, rain, and earthquakes) combined. Human-made stuff now outweighs all of Earth’s biomass. It’s been the biggest power grab on this little planet of ours in tens or hundreds of millions of years. And here we are today, at the top of the evolutionary heap, wielding extraordinary levels of control over the Earth, over other creatures, and over one another. We even have a name for this new era of human super-empowerment: the anthropocene. But, as the side effects of human empowerment via fossil fuels have become more evident, the maximum power principle has turned into a seriously depressing idea to many ecologists. Climate change, species extinctions, resource depletion, and air and water pollution are all evidence of increasing human impact on the planet—and all are side effects of the human power grab. There are technical work-arounds for some of these problems (such as replacing dangerous industrial chemicals with ones that are less so). But, overall, real solutions would require cutting back on our power: reducing energy usage, reducing land use, reducing our extraction of natural resources, and reducing our population.”
Denial path #2 is the opposite problem. We have no more God of growth. We are not for anything, we are against everthing. We find what is wrong, without finding out what is right. We are idealists, but not practical. This denial is the “road to hell paved with good intentions”. Support for this form of cultural suicide is promoted by the likes of Jordan Pederson, formerly of U of T, in his recent speech entitled “ The collapse of our values is a greater threat than climate change “ and also in this short essay by Victor Hansen, from a ‘rather’ right want American website. ]An important note here; I am not saying these guys are right, or that I am right, I am simply asking you to reflect and ponder the idea of cultural suicide as a possible valid explanation for the world you see around you.] This form of denial seems like a “left wing” form of suicide.
Cultural Suicide Is Painless – Old Liberal Ideas Are Being Destroyed 
We are living in the most racially polarized climate since the 1960s. America’s past, present, and future are in the process of being recalibrated entirely through the lens of one’s skin color. Columbus is reduced to nothing more than another racist white Italian sailor of a half-millennium past. Grant might as well have fought for slavery in the mind of today’s campus ignoramus. Apparently, the Antifa thug thinks he could just as easily have written the Gettysburg Address or sculpted a statue of Frederick Douglass. The old liberal ideas of assimilation, integration, and intermarriage are being destroyed by the Left under the specious doctrines of cultural appropriation, or “acting white” or “how we look is who we are.”
Here is where things get really hard. On all my email I have a quote:
Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.
Implied in this thought is the ability for us to notice the pain and the ability to react to it. However, what if, like the title of the article above, we are committing suicide painlessly by not recognizing the problem that we really have is that we no longer believe in ourselves? We no longer believe that humans are an important part, but only a part, of GAIA? What if we are blind to our self inflicted pain and only see “others” as its cause and blame “them”?
I am not alone in pondering these ideas of cultural suicide. Here is an excerpt from a recent research paper  titled “THE LOGIC OF CULTURAL SUICIDE AND APPLICATION TO CONTEMPORARY GLOBAL STRATEGIES” that is suggesting the same possibility that I am.
“A number of works in social sciences and in popular culture over the past several years have viewed the ‘progress’ of modern societies not as a path to a better future but as a kind of ‘madness’ moving towards a catastrophic end of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (the ‘M.A.D.’ policy of nuclear deterrence that has already bankrupted Russia and that threatens global holocaust) or of global climate change that could wipe out the human species along with most others. In a recent controversial article, this author and a co-author noted that current globalization has created a paradoxical ‘prisoners’ dilemma’ deadlock that also seems to lead, deterministically, to a doomsday scenario of social collapse, based on current social science models (Lempert and Nguyen 2011).
Anthropologists and others criticize such deterministic models of ‘doomsday’ scenarios as denying human (‘free’) choice. They argue that there is a way out. They note that humans often negotiate their way out of deadlocks. They note that the recognition of being caught in a prisoners’ dilemma has led to bargaining/negotiation and laws to enforce protection of the commons (in water law and resources law), and could similarly protect humanity on earth and stop system collapse (Hardin 1993). Rather than accepting a deterministic view that behaviors are constrained, they claim that whatever happens must be viewed not as social science inevitability but as a human choice.
In examining such modest issues as survival of the human species and of our planet, we find ourselves also at the center of the debate over deterministic (and probabilistic) explanations that look at behavior at the level of societies versus the question of individual free will. Right at the heart of that is an intriguing social science question that blurs the line between explanations of culture choice and of deterministic models. It is this: If societies can make a choice to overcome paradoxical deadlocks or ideologically or institutionally determined behaviors that could mechanically lead to destruction or extinction, might there also be a choice and/or determined or probabilistic logic of cultural suicide, analogous to what we observe in the case of individual suicide? If so, can we do a kind of ‘crime scene investigation analysis’ of past cases to ‘re-open’ and ‘reclassify’ them as cultural suicides and then see if we can find the same motives and opportunities, today (or ways of intervening before it is too late)?
This author, and others, suggest that some societies, with full information on risks and consequences of different environmental and economic choices and with full benefit of past experience and direct observations, are not only choosing ‘irrationally’ but actually seem to be accelerating a headlong rush to harm. Political scientist Chalmers Johnson, for example, introduces a recent book describing choices that the U.S. is currently making as ‘The Suicide Option’ (Johnson 2010) that will lead to economic collapse, hardship, and possibly absorption by another empire or culture.”
Is there support from the hard sciences for this idea? Yes. Here is a biological example of the same process. In some ways it seems that our behaviour as a species is little different from other animals – we reproduce and consume until all resources are gone. Are we acting like the bacteria in this study? Is cultural suicide part of our evolutionary necessity? 
“An extreme type of negative interactions, in which Paenibacillus sp. bacteria modify the environmental pH to such a degree that it leads to a rapid extinction of the whole population, a phenomenon that we call ecological suicide. Modification of the pH is more pronounced at higher population densities, and thus ecological suicide is more likely to occur with increasing bacterial density. We found ecological suicide in a wide variety of microbes, suggesting that it could have an important role in microbial ecology and evolution.”
So, what are you and I to do? Change, yes, but for life and not against it. Worship a different God, realizing that for humans not to destroy ourselves and the planet the God of GDP growth must be replaced and will be replaced by a God [ie. worldview, value system] where we don’t strive for more, we don’t want maximum power, we strive for balance, for optimal power. Can we do it? Yes. What are our chances, given the reality that the Paris Accord targets are in tatters? Low. But, like the explorers of old who sailed around the world through uncharted waters and who overcame overwhelming odds we can, if we believe in ourselves and in each other so that we are brave enough to change, without throwing out all that is good from the past, transform our society and thereby not commit suicide.
Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he shows nobody. – Mark Twain
- 6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4zZ2ker1iI