I’m writing to you from Nashville, Tennessee. This isn’t a work trip though. My parents live in Arkansas, and I flew there on Wednesday afternoon. Now, my mom and I are driving from Arkansas to Vermont. She’s always wanted to drive from Arkansas, over to North Carolina, then up through the Appalachian Mountains to New England during the fall. So, she and I are doing that this weekend. She’s likely missed seeing peak foliage in Vermont, but I bet Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains are going to be lovely.
Despite being on the road, I wanted to share a new term I encountered this week – “a swerve.” Of course, we all know what a swerve is. I’ve had to swerve several times on Interstate 40 between Memphis and Nashville. But the new use of swerve that I came across this week was in an interview with Robert Jay Lifton. Lifton is a psychiatrist and author who has written about some of the most globally traumatic events in the 20th century and how our minds grapple with them, the psychological impacts of the trauma, and how our minds might influence how we perceive such tragedies. Lifton’s book about the people who survived Hiroshima won the National Book Award.
Lifton’s newest book is called The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival. In the book (which I really want to read), Lifton posits that climate change, for many people, is becoming an increasing reality, largely due to mounting evidence (mostly from natural disasters), economics, and ethics. And it’s that shift in viewpoint that Lifton calls a swerve. I can tell you that many of my relatives in Arkansas are experiencing a swerve right now. Here’s a fascinating interview with Lifton.
I’m really not trying to sell Lifton’s book for him, but I thought I’d share the blurbs with you just to give you a sense of what it’s about.
“From one of the foremost chroniclers of the twentieth century’s other great dilemma, we now have these powerful reflections on climate change—they set in useful and vivid context this great crisis, and will be of use to all as we try to think our way through it.”
— Bill McKibben
“In the 1980s, Robert Jay Lifton gave us the term ‘psychic numbing,’ to explain how people coped with the threat of nuclear annihilation by denying or at least discounting it. While denial might be beneficial to an individual, it was potentially catastrophic to society if it led us to fail to act to address the threat. In this important new work, Lifton addresses the existential threat of our day: climate change. He offers us the ‘climate swerve,’ not as explanation but as a source of hope. We can swerve: we can become aware, change our ways, and avoid disaster. For one of our great qualities as humans is that we have the capacity to anticipate the future and act accordingly. Most important, the heart of the swerve is the commitment to telling the truth about climate change, which Lifton does unflinchingly in this courageous and crucial book.”
—Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt and The Collapse of Western Civilization
“Robert Lifton’s brave life, and his succession of masterful books on the most urgent questions of our time, have prepared him for this—perhaps the most urgent and timely of all his works. A rare combination of clear-eyed realism and chosen hope, The Climate Swerve comes just in time to move politics and resistance to the next, necessary level. A treasure still, Lifton is a prophet again.”
—James Carroll, author of House of War
“Robert Jay Lifton’s The Climate Swerveoffers original and penetrating insights into the psychological workings of the human mind as it grapples with the largest ethical issue before us—the reality of human-made climate change. Lifton’s lifetime work as a scholar of mass violence and human survival is brought to bear in his brilliant exploration of the problem that challenges every person and nation on the planet. This is a necessary, timely and urgent book.”
—Peter Balakian, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Ozone Journal and Black Dog of Fate
OK. Onward to Virginia!
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