This is the most deceptive, vicious world. It is vicious, it’s full of lies, deceit and deception.

 Donald J. Trump, POTUS, 6o Minutes interview (2018)

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.

 Harry Frankfurt, Philosopher, On Bullshit (2005)

The English word ‘denial’ had a life before the Freuds. Life since has been emphatically coloured by psychoanalytic theory, where denial names what first generation Polish Freudian Hermann Nunberg efficiently termed a ‘psychological annihilation of reality.’ By all accounts British environmentalists George Marshall and Mark Lynas penned the first reference to ‘climate deniers’ in a 2003 jeremiad for the The New Statesman. They acknowledge the influence of British sociologist Stanley Cohen’s States of Denial (2001), a far-reaching work invoking papa Freud and the denial mechanism to examine states of mind and cultures ‘in which we know and don’t know at the same time.’ While Cohen uses denial to fathom individual and collective disavowals of atrocity and suffering, Marshall and Lynas use denial to spotlight ‘patterns of behaviour’ reeling violently out of step with ostensible acceptance of the scientific consensus on climate change (minimisation or ‘soft’ denial). Such denial haunts us all. The loan from the Freuds via Cohen stuck, perhaps because the dialectic of denial (what Cohen loosely terms knowing and not-knowing) best interprets across stakeholders the staggering persistence of ‘business as usual’ and/or the astonishing deficit of urgency in the face of atmospheric CO2 on a steep climb to 500 parts per million inside 2050. This would mean a global temperature increase of at least 2º Celsius. No members of genus Homo have seen such a world and its current members will wish they had not. 

Climate is critical terrain in the enduring polarisation of America, the roots of which lie in the mounting strife between fundamentalists and modernists at the turn of the twentieth century. The two camps engaged fatefully on the matter of evolution instruction in high school biology classrooms and textbooks. Violation of Tennessee’s antievolution statute culminated in The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (1925), that storied high noon between celebrity litigator Clarence Darrow and former US Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan. To the American Civil Liberties Union, Scopes was a defence of freedom of speech and the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which would not technically apply to states until Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940). To Darrow, Scopes was an attempt to assail superstition in the name of science. At Dayton he thundered away at Bryan: ‘You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does not believe in your fool religion.’ All know the outcome: a technical and temporary win for the fundamentalists (a guilty verdict and £79 fine for Scopes) and a colossal win for science in the public square. Creationist activity since the ‘monkey trial’ tilts away from the biblicism of fundamentalist Protestants and pools in the critique of scientific materialism from the vantage of ‘intelligent design’ or ID. Historian Edward Larson characterises ID partisans as reduced to ‘discrediting the theory of evolution by doggedly looking for gaps,’ a blueprint sketched by Bryan in his closing remarks at Dayton: ‘Evolution is not truth; it is merely a hypothesis – it is millions of guesses strung together.’ When the evangelical right roared back into the public square in the 1970s and 1980s, evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould complained that ‘nothing has changed’ since Scopes. Primitive and latter-day creationists mischaracterise routine scientific uncertainty as symptomatic of mere guessing and inconclusive debate in a ‘rhetorical attempt to falsify evolution.’ 

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