A note on climate sadism

Think about middle-aged journalists and right-wing politicos tweeting at Greta Thunberg to inform her that they've just booked a long-haul flight with zero guilt, or would be quite pleased to see her have a fatal accident. 

Or, think about right-wing men buying SUVs to "own the libs". Or soul-dead contrarians relishing the latest heatwave as a great chance for a lovely day at the breach. Or Trump responding to the perturbation of the polar vortex, induced by global warming, by wishing for a bit of good old-fashioned global warming.

Now think, more gravely, about Jair Bolsonaro calling indigenous people "animals", threatening to crush them in the interests of capitalist development, escalating deforestation. Cheerfully, ebulliently trashing one of the earth's last survival systems while unleashing racist violence not seen since the days of the dictatorship. And then, when ranchers take advantage of the political mood music to set fire to the reservations and precipitate the worst rainforest fires in history, blaming the NGOs for it. Far-right trolling is always very meta.

There's something profoundly strange about climate sadism. It usually starts with an assertion of ruthless, competitive, indifferent self-interest. But it is far from really being indifferent. It is, to the contrary, both paranoid (climate change is a scam, the Chinese are mugging us off) and deeply invested in the reaction that it provokes (ha ha, carelord tears are delicious). This is a good reason to pay close attention whenever anyone talks about 'self-interest'. As Freud suggested, there is no self without others, no self-interest that is not an interest in others, no individual psychology which is not also a mass psychology, and no 'I' which is not peopled by everyone else in one's life. Everyone contains masses, love objects and hate objects, and all 'self-interest' is wrapped up in passionate identifications, with all the ambivalence and aggressivity that comes with that terrain. And when it comes to sadism, as Lacan argued, it is always enacted for the other's gratification. Trolls don't have to enjoy what they do, because they are instruments of the greater pleasure of their collective. 

With climate sadism, contrary to what we usually hear, assertions of brutal self-interest are a decoy. What is at stake is passionate libidinal attachment to the group, and its collective loves and hates. And the group cathexis is organised by an ideal: let's say, the ideal of accumulation without limits, petromodernity for eternity. And since denial never destroys the truth, but merely represses it, this is often subtended by a dark, supremacist fantasy: even as everything goes to hell, racial and national dominance will secure the future for those quick and ruthless enough to make hay will the sun burns ever brighter. 

And yet. There is another indestructible truth of the situation. No matter how brutally the resources of the planet are marshalled to protect racial and national boundaries, the collapse of earth's systems would not respect those boundaries. We face the prospect of a collapse of the food chain and the exhaustion of fertile land, the depletion of oxygen as marine life is killed off, the flooding of major cities as sea levels rise, unliveable temperatures and extreme weather making large parts of the world uninhabitable. A few might be spared severe hardship and danger, but this will not be a pleasant world. The troll's logic is: it's funny that you people care whether we live or die, so I'll enjoy the look on your face as I destroy the future of all, including anyone I have ever loved, and even my big stupid self, and laugh about it. Climate sadists are masochists in denial.

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