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Note from the New President of Science for Peace

It is an honour, and a daunting responsibility, to be president of Science for Peace. It is also somewhat ironic since I work in a field generally decried as unscientific and anachronistic, for I am a psychoanalyst working with both children and adults. Contrary to much “received wisdom,” Freud’s intellectual integrity provides a model for our difficult times. As he amassed clinical data, he continually enlarged and revised his psychological theory in the direction of increasing complexity. Freud’s framework is analogous to the conceptual frame of ecology in that it contains multiple points of view that are like various map projections – intersecting perspectives that provide overlapping and varying explanations, depending on the particular questions that arise.

Most pertinent for the present, Freud’s psychology is centrally about the capacity to perceive reality and about the ability to act ethically in accord with reality. Especially helpful in understanding the current situation are extensive clinical observations about aggression. Interfering with a reality orientation are resistances, conflicts and defenses (such as denial), wishes, and difficult and overwhelming feelings. Freud’s psychology contrasts much with the predominant behaviourism and biological reductionism of North American psychiatry, in many ways the complementary psychology of neo-liberalism.

From psychoanalysis comes attention to the individual person. We live in a terrible time, threatened on many fronts, but it is individual, powerful people who are responsible for dangerous and unconscionable decisions. A small group of powerful and phenomenally wealthy people profit from conditions that threaten extermination -state militarism with its range of nuclear and new weapons, climate change interacting with reduced biodiversity and extreme water scarcity, and the re-ordering of the world economy which leaves millions of people utterly destitute, uneducated, ill, and vulnerable to needless premature death.

While it is urgent to halt these trends, to massively transform the way we live, it is also necessary to understand the multiple interactions, to know history, to maintain a perspective of safety for future generations. There is an ample history of quick fixes with their catastrophic effects – biofuels, the green revolution, massive water engineering projects that devastate entire ecosystems, nuclear energy with its radiation legacy that will last millions of years, iatrogenic illness due to zealously promoted pharmaceuticals. Every decision and choice of action needs to be assessed against the background of the deep racism and hypocrisy of the dominating global North.

Here, briefly, is a case example. Listen to Wangari Maathai (Green Belt Movement, Kenya) describe her birthplace in the Rift Valley: “At the time of my birth, the land around Ihithe was still lush, green, and fertile. The seasons were so regular that you could almost predict that the long monsoon rains would start falling in mid-March. In July you knew it would be so foggy you would not be able to see ten feet in front of you, and so cold in the morning that the grass would be silvery-white with frost… Because rain fell regularly and reliably, clean drinking water was everywhere. There were large well-watered fields of maize, beans, wheat, and vegetables. Hunger was virtually unknown. The soil was rich, dark red-brown, and moist.”

Monocropping has transformed much of the Rift Valley. Kenya is the main source of flowers for Europe, with profits going to transnational corporations. The energy use is likely enormous for both transportation and refrigeration. Pesticides and water pumping severely deplete the soil and water. With these economic shifts come mass displacements and internal migration to intolerable living conditions. Kibera, a slum in Nairobi is now home to 800,000 people. In one section of this slum, there are ten working pit latrines for 40,000 people, while in another section there are two public toilets for 28,000 people. Yet the current political unrest is attributed only to “tribal” violence, and the British government imperially tells its citizens to help Kenya by buying flowers.

With all the bad news, it is heartening that Science for Peace brings together people committed to working on all these injustices and global threats.

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