Out Of Sight Is Out Of Mind Essay

Working closely with Mental Disability Rights International, noted photojournalist Eugene Richards spent years documenting conditions in pyschiatric hospitals around the world. This photo essay is an excerpt of his book, A Procession of Them (University of Texas Press, 2008)

Hidalgo, Mexico, 1999. Though the sun is beginning to filter in through the barred windows, it’s damp and cold in the men’s ward at Fernando Ocaranza Psychiatric Hospital—no more than 50 degrees. Around the edges of the common room are tangled nests of men lying together in heaps, trying to stay warm. Others shuffle busily back and forth, as if they have a destination in mind. In the middle of the floor, running half the length of the ward, is a pool of urine.

MEXICO. Pachuca, Hidalgo. 1999. Early morning in the men’s ward of the Ocaranza psychiatric hospital, where pools of urine and feces collect on the floor. One hundred and ten men are held in a ward which has only one attendant. The majority of patients at Ocaranza are mentally disabled, not mentally ill. Sixty percent suffer from conditions that do not require institutionalization. The hospital was shut down in 2001 in part because of the publicity generated by Mental Disability Rights International’s supporters.

Attendants prod a group of 15 or 20 naked men down a hallway into a shower room. The patients moan and shiver as a worker bathes them. Then they are herded back along the drafty hall, still dripping wet, and forced to compete with one another for items of clothing: shirts that cover only their shoulders, pants so large they have to be held up. A few pull on dresses, since women’s clothing has been mixed in with the men’s during washing.

At the other end of the hospital, in the female ward, frail, heavily medicated women shudder beneath fluorescent fixtures. An elderly lady who I think might have Alzheimer’s is tied to a wheelchair, her arms wrapped around herself. When I ask who she is, the attendant answers that she doesn’t know “the old one’s” name, only that she’s been here a very long time.

MEXICO. Pachuca, Hidalgo. 1999. At the Ocaranza Psychiatric Hospital, a patient is being bathed against his will. Female attendants pour buckets of ice cold water on the male patients. There are no towels, the air temperature is 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

MEXICO. Pachuca, Hidalgo. 1999. Believed to be 70 or 80 years old, this woman is one of many elderly Ocaranza patients exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Many of the people in Mexican institutions are labeled “abandonados” because they no longer have family or a place to go. Mentally ill or not, they remain here for life.

MEXICO. Pachuca, Hidalgo. 1999. At the Ocaranza psychiatric hospital, a 17 year old, who had been abandoned as an infant outside a church, swallows her whole hand. Released from a blanket restraint, the girl’s only acknowledged therapy is to place her hands under a heat lamp for fifteen minutes.

This was the first of many trips. Over the last decade, I’ve crossed the globe as a volunteer photographer for Mental Disability Rights International, an advocacy group dedicated to improving conditions in psychiatric hospitals worldwide. The kinds of cruelty I witnessed in Hidalgo, I’ve since seen in Kosovo, Hungary, Argentina, Armenia, and Paraguay. Overcrowded, cash-strapped mental health facilities in the United States are bad enough, but the conditions in the Third World are truly nightmarish. Patients are bathed in ice water; some are kept in rooms with no lights, while others are wrapped in straitjackets 20 hours a day. Rapes go unpunished. As of 2005, 25 percent of countries—including China, Thailand, El Salvador, Turkey, and Vietnam—had no laws protecting psychiatric patients, while as of 2002, laws in 15 percent of countries hadn’t changed for at least 40 years. It’s as if there’s a kind of worldwide agreement that once people are classified as mentally disabled or mentally ill, you can do things to them that you’d otherwise never do.

Before arriving at the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Asunción, Paraguay, in 2003, I had heard rumors of an autistic teenage boy named Jorge locked in a tiny cell somewhere inside the facility. I follow one of the workers along a dark corridor to a six-by-nine-foot isolation area with a hole in the floor for a toilet, a piece of foam for a bed, and bars through which food is passed. Jorge, naked, crouches in the front part of the enclosure. When we move closer, he reaches for our hands, throats, and faces, laughing and making loud, guttural noises. Said to have been abandoned by his family, Jorge has been held for four years in this dank cell.

PARAGUAY. Asuncion. 2003. Kept most of every day in a six-by-nine foot cell at the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, seventeen-year-old Jorge, who has autism, is allotted a few hours in a bare, but sunny space.

For two hours every other day, Jorge is let out, barefoot, into an outside enclosure where the ground is covered with broken glass. The attendants don’t speak to him; instead, they look the other way. I see a similar situation at a private group home a mile from the hospital, where a 13-year-old boy lives in a cage barely big enough for a dog. An epileptic since birth, he’s on so many sedatives that he drools constantly. Socks on his hands prevent him from sucking on fingers that were burned in a fire.

MEXICO. Mexico City. 1999. Patient at the Casa de Proteccion presses against the locked door.

PARAGUAY. Asuncion. 2005. Portrait resembling Jesus was scratched onto a wall at the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital by a mute patient whom others fear.

PARAGUAY. Asuncion. 2003. Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital. Seventeen-year-old Jorge, who has autism, has been held for four years in a tiny cell that has a hole in the floor for a toilet and no electricity.

In so many photographs of the disenfranchised, subjects are shot to look wise and dignified, as if there is something ennobling about suffering. We like these images for their optimism—all that serenity makes the squalor more palatable. But all too often, when people are locked up, they lose their dignity. Psychiatric patients rarely look transcendent—mostly, they seem frightened, vacant, miserable. But shooting honest, brutal images presents another problem: That can be too much to bear. We peer in at the patients behind the iron bars and wonder if it might actually be safer with them in there. Once you meet the patients, they’re not so easy to push out of your mind. If you go into the children’s ward, you’ll hear kids screaming, banging their heads against the wall. Those could be your children. That’s the part I can’t show you.

PARAGUAY. Asuncion. 2003. There are forty female patients confined in the acute pavilion at the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital.

PARAGUAY. Asuncion. 2004. Mealtimes at the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital are crowded, noisy.

PARAGUAY. Asuncion. 2005. Among the patients in the acute ward of the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital is a woman who murdered her husband, and another who plucked out a patient’s eye.

PARAGUAY. Asuncion. 2004. Screaming and pulling at the bars, this woman has repeatedly attempted to escape from the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital.

PARAGUAY. Asuncion. 2004. Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital. The forty-six residents of Sala 2 pull their mattresses into the courtyard, so that their sleeping rooms can be hosed down.


MEXICO. Guadalajara. 1999. In the children’s ward of the Jalisco facility, children are housed with adults, tethered to the bars of their cells, and covered with flies.

PARAGUAY. Asuncion. 2004. There are patients who lock themselves up in order to be alone in the acute pavilion of the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital.

(Richards photographed this project with the generous help of Mental Disability Rights International.)

Today I will attempt to answer Tim's question. In so far as it is possible to do so with all things psychological, I shall try to establish the truth of the proposition below.

Regarding the environment, and with respect to humanity's shared, collective psyche, life in the oceans, which forms the basis for all life on Earth, lies almost entirely outside human awareness, i.e.,  it resides in the human unconscious.

Marine ecosystems are literally out of sight and out of mind.

Here's some stuff to keep in mind as you read this essay.

The world's oceans, which comprise nearly 70% of the planet's surface, often function as a waste dump for human activities. Enormous amounts of plastic and other garbage flow into the sea, as does nutrient run-off from human animal and plant production. About 26% of current CO2 emissions (another waste product of human activity) areabsorbed by the oceans, which has resulted in a 30% increase in sea water acidity (lower pH) over the last few centuries.

And you may be surprised to learn something even more alarming. This text is from What ocean heating reveals about global warming, published on RealClimate on September 25, 2013 in anticipation of the new IPCC summary.

The amount of heat stored in the oceans is one of the most important diagnostics for global warming, because about 90% of the additional heat is stored there (you can read more about this in the last IPCC report from 2007).

The atmosphere stores only about 2% because of its small heat capacity.  The surface (including the continental ice masses) can only absorb heat slowly because it is a poor heat conductor.  Thus, heat absorbed by the oceans accounts for almost all of the planet’s radiative imbalance.

Ninety per cent! I shall have more to say about physicist and oceanographer Stefan Rahmstorf's article below.

I took a more metaphorical approach in my June 10, 2013 post The Last Fish — Our Exhausted Seas.

Out of sight, out of mind. What do you see when you stand on the beach and look out at the ocean? You see a broad expanse of blue water — you see the surface of the sea. It is probably wishful thinking to believe that humans might care about marine ecosystems if they could see the carnage below the surface, but if they could see it, the damage done from overfishing would certainly make an impression on them.

My comment echos Woods Hole director Susan Avery's opening quotation. I shall return to this theme later on. This essay is a follow-up to Science Is Hard, Time Is Short. Let's start with a few public reports on the IPCC's latest summary for policymakers.

The Warming "Hiatus" Controversy

Climate change "skeptics" have pointed to a hiatus (or pause) in surface warming of the Earth since 1998. This National Geographicstory summarizes what's been going on.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, this week to iron out the final details of a widely anticipated report on the current state of global warming science. There has been much speculation about how the report will address an apparent decrease in the rate of warming over the past few years, dubbed a "global warming pause."

Prominent climate scientists say that discussion misses the bigger picture. The suggestion that global warming has stopped, says Richard Alley of Penn State, is "nonsense."

A recent paper by climate modelers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography argues that the supposed pause in global warming can be explained entirely by recent variations in the El Nino-La Nina cycle in the tropical Pacific...

Global Warming Hiatus?

Although climate models have been predicting increasing average global temperatures over the next century or so, the past decade has not shown as much warming as most scientists had expected. The year 2012 was no warmer than 2002. The IPCC draft report acknowledges a "global warming hiatus," according to media reports  [the BBC, see the graph below].

"Governments are demanding a clear explanation of what are the possible causes of this factor," Arthur Petersen, chief scientist at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and part of the Dutch delegation that is reviewing the IPCC report, told BBC News.

The Associated Press reported that "several governments that reviewed the draft objected to how the issue was tackled."

Der Spiegelonline called the supposed global warming pause an "Inconvenient Truth for climatologists" —an allusion to the climate change movie made by former U.S. vice president Al Gore, who in 2007 shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the IPCC for his work on the issue.

Global warming skeptics have seized on the news of a potential pause...

A graph showing the global warming "pause" (shaded area, right). The key phrase is "upper ocean heat uptake". Graph from the U.K. Met Office, as cited by the BBC story linked-in above.

I have no interest in the politicization of climate science. I did not find the specific language the IPCC used to address the hiatus, nor do I care about it. We do not need a politicized, bureaucratic U.N. organization to tell us what the climate science says. Their report is meant to present a consensus view of the science for people who will steadfastly ignore it (policymakers).

There is some uncertainty about the cause(s) of the pause in surface warming because science is hard. The best explanations center around the increasing heat content of the world's oceans and the El Nino/La Nina (ENSO) variability in the tropical Pacific noted by National Geographic.

Thus the psychological truth regarding how humans view the oceans and the warming pause are related subjects. To see why, let's take a deeper look at the RealClimate article quoted in the introduction.

The heat content of the oceans is growing and growing. That means that the greenhouse effect has not taken a pause and the cold sun is not noticeably slowing global warming. NOAA posts regularly updated measurements of the amount of heat stored in the bulk of the oceans.  For the upper 2000 m (deeper than that not much happens) it looks like this:

You can easily see that there's been no pause in heat absorption by the oceans up to a depth of 2000 meters . However, consistent with the Met Office graph above, there has been a hiatus in heating of the upper 700 meters of the oceans.

Changes in the heat content of the oceans. Source: Abraham et al., 2013. The 2-sigma uncertainty for 1980 is 2 x 1022 J and for recent years 0.5 x 1022 J

We see two very interesting things.

First:  Roughly two thirds of the warming since 1980 occurred in the upper ocean.  The heat content of the upper layer has gone up twice as much as in the lower layer (700 – 2000 m).  The average temperature of the upper layer has increased more than three times as much as the lower (because the upper layer is only 700 m thick, and the lower one 1300 m).  That is not surprising, as after all the ocean is heated from above and it takes time for the heat to penetrate deeper.

Second:  In the last ten years the upper layer has warmed more slowly than before.  In spite of this the temperature still is changing as rapidly there as in the lower layer.  This recent slower warming in the upper ocean is closely related to the slower warming of the global surface temperature, because the temperature of the overlaying atmosphere is strongly coupled to the temperature of the ocean surface.

That the heat absorption of the ocean as a whole (at least to 2000 m) has not significantly slowed makes it clear that the reduced warming of the upper layer is not (at least not much) due to decreasing heating from above, but rather mostly due to greater heat loss to lower down:  through the 700 m level, from the upper to the lower layer.  (The transition from solar maximum to solar minimum probably also contributed a small part as planetary heat absorption decreased by about 15%, Abraham, et al., 2013).  It is difficult to establish the exact mechanism for this stronger heat flux to deeper water, given the diverse internal variability in the oceans.

I will skip the El Nino/La Nina hypothesis, which argues that a greater prevalance of cold water (La Nina) events in the tropical Pacific over the last decade have caused the flatter warming trend in surface waters (the first 700 meters). This hypothesis is consistent with (does not contradict) the ocean heat content observations made above (see Rahmstorf's post for the details).

Thus, the ocean warming data supports the hypothesis that global warming has not paused at all. Instead, for reasons which are not altogether clear, most of the excess heat caused by radiative forcing by greenhouse gases has ended up in the deep ocean. Rahmstorf writes that we see "two very interesting things" in this ocean temperature data.

That's true as far it goes. But there is a third very interesting thing which he does not mention at all. Let's look at that one.

Because That's Where The Humans Live...

It is striking to those with the awareness to see it that neither Rahmstorf's text nor any of the 111 responses to it (as of this writing) mentions the possible effects of all this ocean warming on life in the oceans, or marine ecosystems. That is the third interesting thing. Nor does the word acidification occur in the text or comments. Comment #47 and climate modeler Gavin Schmidt's response to it are very informative in this regard.

According to this article, “The amount of heat stored in the oceans is one of the most important diagnostics for global warming, because about 90% of the additional heat is stored there (you can read more about this in the last IPCC report from 2007). The atmosphere stores only about 2% because of its small heat capacity…”

If the atmosphere accounts for only 2% of the energy, why are we so preoccupied with the global average temperature?

[Response:Because that's where we live. - gavin]


RealClimate reported on the IPCC summary in a separate post. And now it's time to have some fun, for that post does mention acidification of the oceans because the IPCC does. The oceans are the last topic Stefan Rahmstorf mentions in the post before concluding. Sea level rise and melting of the big ice sheets (Greenland and West Antarctica, the WAIS) are described at greater length before that because these threaten terrestrial coastlines.


At high emissions (red scenario above), the IPCC expects a weakening of the Atlantic Ocean circulation (commonly known as the Gulf Stream system) by 12% to 54% by the end of the century.

Last but not least, our CO2 emissions not only cause climate change, but also an increase in the CO2 concentration in sea water, and the oceans acidify due to the carbonic acid that forms. This is shown by the measured data in the graph below.

Figure 5 Measured CO2 concentration and pH in seawater. Low pH means higher acidity.

Last but not least?

The phrase "last but not least" is a standard way of saying "oh, yeah, here's some other shit going on which we don't really care much about." I know this because I've done it myself in my own writing. And no one thought to consider life in the oceans in the 104 comments on that post either.

Lest you think I am making a mountain out of a molehill, you need to understand that this sin of omission regarding the effect of global warming on life in the oceans is quite common. Here is a general rule for you to consider.

Articles on global warming which fail to mention (1) warming of the oceans or (2) acidification of the oceans outnumber articles which focus on terrestrial surface warming and its consequences by a ratio of at least 100 : 1, but the ratio may be as high as 250 : 1 or 500 : 1.

Moreover, articles which do mention (1) or (2) are usually published by the much, much smaller community of specialists who study marine ecosystems. Climate science is Big Business. Marine ecology is a small niche market.

You can confirm this observation for yourself as I have over the years. (You've got to read lots of global warming articles to spot the trend.) The only reason RealClimate's Rahmstorf talked about the ocean in the first post I quoted is because there has been an apparent pause in surface warming, especially in terrestrial surface warming. Talking about deep ocean warming (to 2000 meters) was merely the vehicle by which climate "skeptics" could be shown to be dummies in denial (which they are).

If life in the oceans is off the radar for climate scientists and the (mostly) knowledgeable readers of RealClimate, you can easily imagine just how much worse the situation must be in non-science press articles written for the General Public. And believe me, it is

As I write this on September 30, 2013, the IPCC release (on Friday the 27th) is still fairly fresh in the public mind. Wait a few days and this environmental news will disappear; the government shutdown is scheduled for tomorrow. If you had searched Google News for "marine ecosystems" or "life in the oceans" on September 30th as I just did, you will find exactly one article on these subjects. (There are literally thousands of articles on the new IPCC report.) It is called Oceans are taking the brunt of climate change, and it was published by The Ecologist (U.K.) on Saturday the 28th.

I will quote that article at length. I did some minor editing and added a few links.

As politicians, scientists and the world's media begin to respond to the latest IPCC report, Jack Wilson reminds us of the critical role that oceans play in mitigating the impacts of climate change and explains just how detrimental this role is to many marine ecosystems...

Following the latest IPCC report released yesterday, the urgency for unified world action regarding climate change is at its foremost. Introducing the report from a high level UN panel of climate scientists, Ban Ki-moon said, "The heat is on. We must act" ...

A significant yet often underemphasized issue raised by the IPCC report is that the oceans are shielding humanity from climate change impacts at significant cost to their own health, and have already absorbed more than 90% of the warming so far. Our atmosphere holds only one two per cent of the extra heat that our greenhouse gas emissions are trapping on Earth, the ocean more than 90 per cent — so by focusing on atmospheric temperatures we have been missing a huge part of the story.

The ocean is the dominant life support system on the planet and is central to our quality of life on earth.

Unfortunately, there is a profound, widespread ignorance about the ocean and its vital importance to everyone, everywhere, all of the time. Even what is known to scientists is not widely appreciated by the public, and certainly not by most policymaking officials. You can rarely prove something to someone who does not want to see it proven, or has financial or ideological reasons to not see it proven.

90% of many fish species are now gone from the oceans and the disappearance of fish species has recently been accelerating.

If this long term trend continues, all fish species are projected to collapse by 2048. By then, around 4 billion of the projected 9.3 billion people on the planet could be without their primary source of protein, creating a global food security problem.

The oceans are home to the greatest diversity of life. As the oceans are changing, the character of the planet will change. It took about 4 billion years for living systems, mostly in the sea, to transform the lifeless ingredients of early Earth into the climate which makes our lives possible. It has taken less than 100 years for us to destabilize these ancient rhythms.

We are witnessing a complete re-organization of ocean ecosystems, with unknown global consequences. The stability of the system is declining. Losing species changes the predictability of the oceans. The ability of the system to absorb shocks and disasters and deal with climate change is diminishing at a rapid rate...

Before turning to the main hypothesis of this essay, let's summarize what we know so far about the human relationship with life in the oceans based on what we've seen up to now.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes it is true.

Identifying The Contents Of The Unconscious

"Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population now lives within 40 miles of the [ocean] coast," writes the author of The Ecologist article. And it's true, humans have a great affinity for coastal regions.

Humankind is in the process of annihilating coastal and ocean ecosystems.
At the root of the problem are burgeoning human numbers and their ever-growing needs. Population distribution is increasingly skewed.
Recent studies have shown that the overwhelming bulk of humanity is concentrated along or near coasts on just 10% of the earth’s land surface. As of 1998, over half the population of the planet — about 3.2 billion people — lives and works in a coastal strip just 200 kilometers wide (120 miles), while a full two-thirds, 4 billion, are found within 400 kilometers of a coast.

Even if humans love living near the ocean ecoystems they are annihilating, it is no small thing in this context to say that humans live on the land. And that explains a lot.

I love it when life among the humans turns out be far simpler than it might appear at first blush. Thus we begin to see why humans are completely preoccupied (when they think about it at all) with how global warming will affect terrestrial life, including farming, rainforests, city life, temperate forests, mountain snowfall, ice sheet and glacial melt, freshwater, floods, droughts, heat waves, you name it.

Embarrassing, isn't it?

Yet, life in the oceans forms the basis for all life on Earth. Let's revisit Woods Hole director Susan Avery's remarks with fresh eyes.

When somebody looks at the ocean they see just the surface of the ocean. It’s just a beautiful sunset over the ocean. Unless you’re sitting in a very polluted area of the ocean, you don’t really notice it that much. So most of the stuff that’s going on is beyond our eyesight. it’s underneath. And so there’s a real challenge, I think, in communicating why this ocean is important to you, personally, and particularly to the farmer in Kansas. And it’s hard to talk about or show the impact that you’ve had on it.

Wise words—so most of the stuff that’s going on is beyond our eyesight. it’s underneath. And so there’s a real challenge. Not only are humans blind to what goes on beneath the surface of the ocean, but they are also unaware (by definition) of the cognitive processes (or lack thereof ) which create that glaring blind spot. In both senses, what goes on underneath is beyond our sight.

Now we see that life in the oceans is literally out of sight and out of mind, unless you're a former cod fisherman in the Gulf of Maine or a marine ecologist studying coral reefs. And never mind that farmer in Kansas. What about the Happy People of Malibu, California or Ocean City, Maryland? Same problem—all they see is the beautiful sunset.

How do we identify an unconscious process at work? As I attempted to demonstrate daily on Decline Of The Empire, we do so by

  1. observing typical (highly generalized, nearly universal) human behavior, and then

  2. identifying and examining the important information which is always omitted, including unstated but crucial assumptions.

What is omitted constitutes the "blind spot" in human cognition, or what Carl Jung would have called "the human shadow."  This is the stuff which lies outside human awareness. Obviously it is very difficult to train yourself to see what typically isn't there. And seeing what's missing often requires that you be more knowledgeable about the subject under discussion than the person discussing it.

Examples of unconscious processes abound. Consider Figure 2 from RealClimate's summary of the recent IPCC report.

Figure 2 The future temperature development in the highest emissions scenario (red) and in a scenario with successful climate mitigation (blue) – the “4-degree world” and the “2-degree world.”

I took the liberty of examining the IPCC scenarios in my recent essay Your Next Stop, The Twilight Zone. You can review it at your leisure if you have not already done so.

What I did not say in that essay was that neither a "2-degree world" (RCP2.6) nor a "4-degree world" (RCP8.5, aka. Business As Usual) seems very likely to me. In fact, I can think of literally hundreds of reasons why the neither the high or low end scenarios will occur, not the least of which is the effect of climate change itself. (It's already too late for the low end scenario.) Be that as it may, the truth (what will actually happen) very likely lies within the stated range of surface temperature increases.

However, there was a related point I did not discuss which speaks to unconscious processes at work in the humans making these projections. Humans concerned about global warming routinely assume that some version of Business As Usual is the path humanity will follow globally in the 21st century. This common expectation is expressed as a mindless extrapolation of 20th century and current trends. Thus you commonly see dire warnings about a "4-degree world".

Thus humans invariably take it for granted that the global economy will grow and grow (and thus emissions will likely grow and grow) over the next 50, 60 or 80 years to take us to a "4 degree world" by 2100. Crucially, this assumption is always unstated, i.e. it is always omitted from predictions of extreme surface temperature outcomes. If you doubt this, look at virtually any article on the subject.

I believe this near-universal omission betokens an unconscious cognitive process at work. Even those we might reasonably expect to question the growth imperative assume it will be fulfilled when talking about the future. It seems that humans in the general case can not even conceptualize a global economy which isn't growing. That was what we learned by examining the IPCC climate scenarios.

Thus I hypothesize that there is a biologically-based "growth imperative" residing within the human unconscious (somewhere inside those Big Brains of ours). This is a very subtle point, but understanding it is the key to fully understanding my writing on these subjects.

Returning to life in the oceans, consider all the discussions you've seen about "peak X" over the last 5 years or so. The variable X is usually crude oil, but humans like to generalize, so you might have also heard about peak credit or peak phosphorus or even peak everything. Humans argue vociferously and endlessly about these peak prognostications because, fundamentally, these disputes are religious in nature (faith-based), at least in our current historical circumstances.

But almost never do you see discussions about the only "peak X" which is an indisputable real-world limit and accomplished fact—peak wild-caught fish.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects that the world’s wild fish harvest will fall to 90 million tons in 2012, down 2 percent from 2011. This is close to 4 percent below the all-time peak haul of nearly 94 million tons in 1996. The wild fish catch per person has dropped even more dramatically, from 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds) per person at its height in 1988 to 13 kilograms in 2012—a 37-year low. While wild fish harvests have flattened out during this time, the output from fish farming has soared from 24 million tons in the mid-1990s to a projected 67 million tons in 2012. Source

What are the unconscious processes going on here?

First, as I hope I've established in this essay, a consideration of life in the oceans is generally outside of human awareness. But it is equally important to note that "peak X" almost invariably refers to some economic entity—some commodity or more abstract medium of exchange having to do with money, debt & credit, etc.

These entirely anthropocentric concerns naturally exclude non-human living things like fish or other animals. What about peak large mammal species? Peak birds? Peak Amphibians? In fact, all of these "peaks" (localized in geological time) have already occurred during the 200,000 years Homo sapiens has walked the Earth, especially during the last 15,000 years. Humans were directly responsible for a lot of these extinctions. For example, consider the late Pleistocene (Quaternary) megafaunal extinctions in which human hunting or manipulation of the environment certainly played a part.

You never read about concepts like those. Once again, for humans it is the economy über alles and other living entities, including life in the sea, be damned.

Let's finish up because I believe I have now answered Tim Barnett's question.

A New Conception Of The Unconscious

When I think about the human unconscious, which I wrote about in The Reality Of The Unconscious and Flatland — A "Good Enough" Theory Of Human Cognition, I always think back to Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and the other 20th century "depth" psychologists. I struggled with what these people were saying for many years.

But over those years, it dawned on me that the conception these people had of the human unconscious was very impoverished, meaning seriously incomplete. Freud's preoccupation with psychosexual issues, Jung's preoccupation with mythology, everyone's preoccupation with the personal contents of the unconscious and psychoanalysis, family issues and so on—none of this could even begin to help me sort out the kind of stuff which required some kind of explanation (for example "the growth imperative"). How could someone possibly explain how humans work without considering their fascination with technology?

To be sure, I've had profound advantages which Freud, Jung and others did not have. There is the World Wide Web, which puts almost the entire human world at my fingertips. There are all these telling environmental crises which would have been completely invisible to people in the early 20th century. There is now a truly global economy, and it's huge. There are now over 7 billion humans on the planet. I have gotten to see the Big Picture in a way which would have been impossible in 1905 when Freud published Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.

Today I explained that life in the oceans is literally out of sight and out of mind, and that observation too is outside the scope of what anybody has ever had to say about the human unconscious, at least as far as I know. Humans live on the land. Thus they do not consider what they can not see. It's that simple, but that simple observation sets a profound limitation on the human future because without healthy, life-supporting oceans there is no human future.

So the next time you're at the beach, take a moment to think about the world beneath the waves.

Dave Cohen
Decline Of The Empire
October 2, 2013


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