Freud on Global Warming

Whenever I think about global warming, and our suicidal rush to destroy the planet, I think of these bleak lines of Freud, which he composed after witnessing a similar headlong rush toward destruction in the form of the First World War:

It would be in contradiction to the conservative nature of the instincts if the goal of life were a state of things which had never yet been attained. On the contrary, it must be an old state of things, an initial state from which the living entity has at one time or other departed and to which it is striving to return by the circuitous paths along which its development leads. If we are to take it as a truth that knows no exception that everything living dies for internal reasons—becomes inorganic once again—then we shall be compelled to say that “the goal of all life is death”…


  1. Linda J December 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm | #

    So don’t worry; be happy!

  2. Rachael Sotos December 18, 2013 at 1:49 pm | #

    Considering your pulpit, and the fact that you have children, you might lend more of your words to somethings more informative and less nihilist, no? What about the old lefty question of the relation between theory and practice? Why is environmental studies a subfield and not the horizon uniting all of our struggles? But thanks for processing.

    • Stephen Zielinski December 18, 2013 at 8:21 pm | #

      “Why is environmental studies a subfield and not the horizon uniting all of our struggles?”

      Indeed. The environmental sciences ought to provide the object domain for critical theorizing just as economics provided that domain for Marx. Both are, in fact, concerned with the relationship between first and second nature. The difference, of course, would be found in the contemporary rejection of productivism. Who, today, would defend “growth for the sake of growth” or the uninhibited use of nature’s bounty?

  3. Benjamin David Steele December 18, 2013 at 1:50 pm | #

    This brings to mind the philosophical pessimism of Peter Wessel Zapffe. His environmentalism was the inspiration for deep ecology by way of his influence on Arne Næss. Zapffe wrote about the impossibility of facing the reality of death, much less fully comprehending it. He thought all of a life was an avoidance of this stark reality.

  4. Joanna Bujes December 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm | #

    Freud was only deep w respect to Western philosophy, which is not all that deep. We seek the resolution of tension, but that tension can be resolved or transformed in all kinds of ways. Death being one.

    I think the death wish as it relates to global warming comes closer to what Hitler was thinking when he said “Better an end with horror, than horror without end.”

    Socialism or barbarism!

  5. Michael O'Reilly December 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm | #

    Freud amplifies his thought later in life and identifies a death instinct in us all. But the “goal” of life is living and when the limits of organic life give out death is–not an instinct–but the absence of life.

Leave a Reply to Joanna Bujes Cancel reply