Ahead of a conference on the psychology of climate change denial, Brendan O'Neill says green authoritarians are treating debate as a disorder.
A few months ago, for a joke, I set up a Facebook group called `Climate change denial is a mental disorder'. It's a satirical campaigning hub for people who think that climate change denial should be recognised as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, and that its sufferers - who probably engage in `regular chanting and intensive brainwashing sessions in cult-like surroundings' - should be offered `eco-lobotomies' to remove `the denying part of their brain'. The group now has 42 members. Yes, some have signed up because they get the joke, but others are serious subscribers to the denial-as-insanity idea. `Thank God I've found this group', says one new member, who is sick of other Facebook groups being `hijacked' by unhinged eco-sceptics.
The idea that `climate change denial' is a psychological disorder - the product of a spiteful, wilful or simply in-built neural inability to face up to the catastrophe of global warming - is becoming more and more popular amongst green-leaning activists and academics. And nothing better sums up the elitism and authoritarianism of the environmentalist lobby than its psychologisation of dissent. The labelling of any criticism of the politics of global warming, first as `denial', and now as evidence of mass psychological instability, is an attempt to write off all critics and sceptics as deranged, and to lay the ground for inevitable authoritarian solutions to the problem of climate change. Historically, only the most illiberal and misanthropic regimes have treated disagreement and debate as signs of mental ill-health.
This weekend, the University of West England is hosting a major conference on climate change denial. Strikingly, it's being organised by the university's Centre for Psycho-Social Studies. It will be a gathering of those from the top of society - `psychotherapists, social researchers, climate change activists, eco-psychologists' - who will analyse those at the bottom of society, as if we were so many flitting, irrational amoeba under an eco-microscope. The organisers say the conference will explore how `denial' is a product of both `addiction and consumption' and is the `consequence of living in a perverse culture which encourages collusion, complacency and irresponsibility' (1). It is a testament to the dumbed-down, debate-phobic nature of the modern academy that a conference is being held not to explore ideas - to interrogate, analyse and fight over them - but to tag them as perverse.
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