I blog about environmental and social justice issues because I am very concerned about the health of the interdependent web of life of which we are a part.

Melting Arctic ice.......beautiful and frightening!

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Denial Isn't Just A River In Egypt

I just finished reading The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (2008, Vintage Canada.)    Wow!  What a terrific  novel!   I recommend it highly - but be warned - I cried throughout.

Why do I think it is awesome?  Reading , one feels - I felt - as if I were living through the siege of Sarajevo by the Serbs - I felt the grim gray weariness of trying to stay alive through constant shelling and sniping when no location was  safe -  I felt as if I struggled to stay human -  decent- loving - kind human, that is,  while others were trying to expunge any trace of me from the city.
Somehow the novel made it easier to understand the savage disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.  Or, more accurately,  reading it gave me incentive to do the necessary research to understand.  
After Bosnia and Herzegovina had declared independence from Yugoslavia, the Serbs—whose strategic goal was to create a new Bosnian Serb State .... that would include parts of Bosnian territory—encircled Sarajevo with a siege force of 18,000 stationed in the surrounding hills. From there they assaulted the city with weapons that included artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs and sniper rifles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Sarajevo
Interestingly, in spite of the indictments and convictions by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, some people deny that genocide or ethnic cleansing or plain old massacres were carried out.  An apologist for the Serbs  lives in my city  He states that "Galloway can cook his fiction the way he wants, but this is his ethical stand, and I am allowed my moral outrage because of the evidence that I have..."   http://www.swans.com/library/art15/wtrkla03.html 
In the article linked to above, the author quotes from a book written by Edward S Herman and David Peterson and presumably includes it in his  "evidence."    Unfortunately,  the book is seriously flawed. The conclusions and evidence  in The Politics of Genocide, so approvingly quoted,  have been thoroughly refuted by George Monbiot among others.   For example, "The extent of Herman’s and Peterson’s cynicism in their misuse of source material is simply breathtaking." http://www.monbiot.com/2012/05/21/genocide-denial-expert-assessments/
Apparently the apologist believes  what he wants or needs to believe. 

He isn't the only one.   
As the sociologist Stanley Cohen puts it in a classic study, ‘One common thread runs through the many different stories of denial: people, organizations, governments or whole societies are presented with information that is too disturbing, threatening or anomalous to be fully absorbed or openly acknowledged. The information is therefore somehow repressed, disavowed, pushed aside or reinterpreted. Or else the information “registers” well enough, but its implications – cognitive, emotional or moral – are evaded, neutralized or rationalized away.http://www.monbiot.com/2012/05/21/genocide-denial-expert-assessments/
Hmmmnnn - this sounds familiar. Fundamentalist Christians refuse to believe the world is older than 6,000 years.  They deny the theory of evolution and decry it as "only a theory"  regardless of the evidence.   (For some reason, they tend not to denigrate  gravitational theory as "only a theory" . )

And, of course, climate change deniers cling to their denial in the teeth of the evidence and thousands of articles published in peer reviewed journals.

So how do we climate activists reach people in denial?  Reiterating facts doesn't help: the information is too disturbing and threatening .  We can only hope  - attempt to touch  deniers hearts and their emotions - move them to action through the love they have for their children - and not give in to  despair.

PS  The National Library in Sarajevo was shelled  and almost destroyed at the beginning of the seige.  "The deliberate destruction of libraries, civic records, and cultural institutions was commonplace duiring the peruod of conflict in Yugoslavia, and was not confined to Sarajevo"  (The Deliberate Destruciton of Libraries in Wartime: Sarajevo and eBeyond, Hansel Cook)   Destruction of libraries aids in the subsequent denial and erasure of the history of peoples.

Climate change denial leads to extremes too.  In North Carolina, it is illegal to predict sea level rises based upon climate change models.  " These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly. …” http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/2012/05/30/nc-makes-sea-level-rise-illegal/

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