Healing the Trauma: from Person to Planet and Back

Today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the contradictions of American society and political culture lay exposed in the aftermath of the chaotic but organized seditious assault on the Capitol building in Washington, DC. On January 6, in the failed attempt to prevent the constitutionally mandated congressional counting an acceptance of the votes of the electoral college from each state, a violent mob invaded the Congress resulting in the death of five people. The vote count was only delayed as Capitol Police moved legislators to “secure locations.”

The insurgency at the nation’s Capitol building laid bare the cultural trauma of living in the United States of America in the early twenty-first century. Things are likely to get far worse before they get better. Incoming President Biden will have to struggle with a super-thin majority in the Senate to legislate in the direction of healing the nation and responding to the multiple interacting crises we face.

Restoring a Traumatized Nation and Planet

The new president must respond to an increasingly severe pandemic ignored by the Trumpist administration; a consequent economic crises at the level of the Great Depression; a climate emergency spinning beyond human control; and the collapse of the many ecosystems upon which human populations rely for subsistence and survival. However, success will come only from the united efforts of many sectors of American and other societies.

MLK understood the subtle connection between personal healing and national transformation. Unfortunately, many Americans still do not. We find ourselves caught between denial of widespread societal inequities and the human and planetary destruction they cause. King’s power of persuasive speech and action resulted in formal and legal recognition that Black lives actually do matter.

 That, however, did not eliminate racism. It only drove it underground until the advent of Trumpist presidential assertions of racist, white-nationalist, and xenophobic hatred. We are left with a traumatized nation, divided by increasingly severe economic inequity, vast political illusions, and collective denial of the very core of ecological necessity.

Healing Ourselves Requires Healing the Earth System

I am torn between recognizing that everything that Thomas Hübl says about our global predicament is true and the highly unlikely prospect that healing the global trauma of industrial civilization can somehow scale up to solve the ecological and climate crises that now threaten humanity and the planet.

How can the world’s population–even just the peoples of the rich industrialized nations that have caused almost a great deal of trauma to the Earth System (Gaia)—in any practical way be healed from the traumas so many experience. The urgency for existential action for survival would seem to trump the desire for personal, community, or national healing. I fear we face a “Catch-22” situation.

To invoke that crass term, “the bottom line” is that we have so little time and so much to do. However many people or even communities are able to heal in the next decade or two, the behemoth of the global corporate industrial-consumer economy plunders ahead. The predicament as I see it is that we must transform and “shrink the technosphere” to heal the planet. And we must transform human social organization in tandem. How can we do that and engage in somatic therapy all within a couple of decades?

Resolving our Existential Predicament

Piecemeal reform is no longer relevant. Massive transformation is required at all levels from personal to global. I will not even mention the plethora of forces resisting the total human transformation needed to heal the earth, many of which involve denial born of fear. I fear a great deal of trauma lies ahead, whatever policy reforms well-meaning politicians can muster.

What seems missing from Thomas Hübl’s insightful assessment of human trauma, aside from the global existential predicament itself, is an explanation of the exact nature of the trauma that needs healing. Somatic therapy works, but it takes a lot of time and hard work. The trauma of the whole Earth System affecting all of us has grown so pervasive that one struggles over where to start, beyond healing oneself, which is far from adequate to salvage ‘a place of our own’ in our self-spoiled home, Gaia.

The best I can come up with is “hopeful realism“—facing the hard facts of our predicament and taking whatever action we have reason to hope will help. We are in for a lot more trauma, which may stifle us or spur us on to collective action to salvage what we can of our Earth habitat and our relations with one another. Acting together may yet prove itself the best therapy of all.

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