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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Psychodynamics/Global Dynamics: The Psychological Costs of Unsustainable Development

The Shadow of the Future, the title of the 2004 ISPSO Symposium, was also chosen by Professor John Caldwell for his Sir Robert Madwick lecture at the University of New England in 1988. His concern was about our demographic knowledge of both past and future, and he acknowledged a debt to the great Australian demographer, George Knibbs, whose own book, The Shadow of the World's Future, 'provided the first estimate of the ceiling imposed by resources on population growth', (p.7). As well as demographic issues of population growth and patterns of migration, global inequities in distribution of wealth and environmental and ecological impact have also become pressing issues, affecting our views of the future. Throughout the Cold War and since, our deepest security needs have been met through a bizarre arrangement of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Human beings have always had to come to terms with their own individual mortality, but only in relatively recent years has the human race had to face up to its possible annihilation and extinction. Heron (1990, p.47) refers to the need for all of us to confront a global agenda. Global demographic trends mask significant variations in different parts of the world. Many developing countries have a high proportion of their population of school age or younger, whilst many developed countries have a high proportion of their population, because of increasing life expectancies, of retirement age or older.In this paper I want to consider the psychological consequences of confronting a future in which apocalyptic scenarios of disaster and catastrophe have become a dominant discourse. Intense and primitive anxieties about survival are aroused and social/global defences have been constructed to contain them, often with disastrous consequences.In thinking about the unthinkable (Kahn, 1963), I propose a concept analogous to the 'organisation-in-the-mind', (Hutton, 2000), or the 'institution in the mind' (Armstrong, 1997), which I shall call the 'global community in the mind'. The stunning, now familiar pictures of earth from outer space, have given us a sense of our shared planetary home, space-ship earth, in all its fragility and vulnerability. We are also more aware of the global extent of our shared inter-dependence. Such an image can also act as an icon, described by Williams (2000) as 'a window into an alien frame that is at the same time the structure that will make definitive sense of the world we inhabit.' A psychoanalytic perspective on these issues, would be an invaluable contribution to complement other understandings that have not taken seriously enough the depth and extent of the anxieties generated nor of the importance of the inner world of meaning, (Maiteny, 2000).