I mentioned to a friend that I had foolhardishly bought a ticket for a full showing of the nine and a half hour long Holocaust documentary Shoah. He responded that it would be effective aversion therapy for a Holocaust denier. Now personally I have never thought of myself as a Holocaust denier, but I guess there must be a reason why I have decided not just to subject myself to presumably the most upsetting and depressing celuloid experience of my life but also to pay a much delayed visit to Auschwitz this summer. Maybe, deep down, without knowing it, I am a Holocaust denier. Or maybe my interest is more casually macabre, like this guy (or on another level WG Sebald may have something to do with it). Perhaps we all are Holocaust deniers, in that most of the time, we go about our daily lives not reflecting upon the import not only of that most base of human achievements, but all the horrors that we know full well are going on around us, some of which we know at some level that we are deeply implicated in (and the means we increasingly use to try to escape from this reality allow us to also avoid our ethical responsibilities: a friend’s facebook profile reads, ‘Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine…’…hmm, no need to worry about the ethical consequences of what we do all day at work then). Perhaps, as someone wise once speculated, we simply choose to be blind.
As Zizek pointed out, some traumas are too, well, traumatic to be integrated into the human psyche. There is no rational or appropriate response to knowledge of the Holocaust. It simply defies our categories of knowledge and belief, shatters the coordinates of our reality. In a very similar way, there would be no appropriate response to the coming horrors of climate chaos, and no visible means by which we can alert ourselves, those we love and those who do not exist yet in order to somehow prevent it from happening. So we all, at some level, deny it is happening.
Speaking of the holocaust, the French philosopher Raymond Aron articulated very well how ideology works today: ’“I knew, but I didn’t believe it, and because I didn’t believe it, I didn’t know.” Sven Lindquist said something similar: “You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.” George Marshall of the Climate Outreach Information Network makes a similar point with reference to Climate Change: we need to stop calmly telling people about what is happening and concentrate on showing them how scared and angry we are. Actually, he didn’t say scared, I did. Here is a video in which he explains what he means; you can find much more of this sort of thing here: