On May 12th 2016, Noam Chomsky gave a lecture at Harvard-Epworth Church, Cambridge, MA. He took a question from the audience, about:
“the cognitive dissonance that many of my generation feel surrounding what we’re told about climate change versus how we’re told to live our lives, in the sense that we’re still encouraged to have children, we’re still encouraged to continue consuming in unsustainable ways, pursue careers, in spite of the fact that we’re also taught in the same institutions that are encouraging us to go on, have careers, live our lives, at the same time that catastrophic climate change is almost inevitable. So, I guess my question is, do you have any advice in terms of dealing with that intense cognitive dissonance and not be paralysed by the sense that there’s nothing we can do, and our generation is essentially doomed to inherit an intractable problem.”
The question begins at 53:12.
I have the same sense of cognitive dissonance in regard to my own decision to dedicate time and energy to painting. Currently, my painting does nothing to respond to the problem of climate change, except to ignore it. My paintings don’t contribute to averting climate change (as a collective effort), nor (to be more cynical) does my painting prepare me personally for a world affected by climate change (by, for example, earning me money). Every time I hear about another flood or drought, I think, “I can’t ignore this any longer”, and yet I continue to paint.
Zizek describes this in a lecture that was uploaded to YouTube on Dec 19th 2014, saying:
“… this gap between what we rationally know and what we unconsciously believe tells us, I claim, a lot about our predicament: namely, how we relate usually to the prospect of ecological catastrophe. It’s a paradox. Basically, we know catastrophe is coming, there will be global warming, whatever, but why don’t we act? Why don’t we do something? I don’t think it’s enough, this simple Left-ist explanation: manipulation, big companies, whatever. I claim: We know, but we don’t believe.”
Zizek goes on to say more. This part of the lecture begins at 54.08
So, why am I painting? Should I be painting differently, or doing something else altogether? I don’t have answers to these questions, and strangely I currently seem to be immune to absorbing the ways that Chomsky and Zizek answer these questions. However, I also don’t expect the issue to go away. In fact, if the science is correct, then it will become more pressing every day, for all of us, and art will be impacted whether it responds actively or passively.