If, before 2017, we were all living in what in psychoanalytical terms could be described as ‘fetishist denial’, then from Trump’s election onwards we are living in something that could best be described as ‘apocalyptic fetishism’. The notion of fetishist denial was coined by the French psychoanalyst Octave Mannoni in his famous essay ‘Je sais bien, mais quand même’ (‘I know perfectly well, but …’) where he puts forward a theory all too apposite to our current apocalyptic zeitgeist. According to Mannoni, in fetishist denial the subject is able at the same time to believe in his fantasy and to recognize that it is nothing but a fantasy. If Marx’s definition of ideology was ‘they do not know what they’re doing but they do it’, fetishist denial might be described as ‘they know what they’re doing and they’re still doing it’. The problem, from the viewpoint of psychoanalysis, is of course that the individual’s acknowledgement of the fantasy in no way reduces the power that fantasy has over the individual. Before Trump, faced with the prospect of terrible natural disasters and radical climate change, nuclear wars and even our planet’s destruction, we would usually answer this fear with ‘Je sais bien, mais quand même’. In other words, it was as though the majority of the world’s population was suffering from a global fetishist denial: we knew it but we were still doing it. ‘We know very well that we might be living in the end of times, that a natural disaster could wipe out whole countries or that a nuclear war might wipe out the whole planet, but …’ Then follows a variety of denials: ‘the world is always on the brink of destruction, yet it continues to survive; there’s no such thing as climate change; there’s nothing we can do about it anyhow’, etc. As if out of the blue (as if, that is, decades of scientific research, indicating overwhelmingly that human-made climate change is a fact, didn’t meananything), summer 2017 arrived. The world was hit by once-in-1,000-years storms and powerful hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate) and ecological disasters (from Greenland to California), as if giving material shape to the worst apocalyptic fears of recent years. Then came summer 2018, with lethal wildfires in Greece and record heatwaves and droughts across Europe (from London to Berlin), prompting CNN to claim ‘Deadly heat waves have become more common due to climate change’, while the Guardian predicted that ‘Unsurvivable heatwaves could strike heart of China by end of century’. Here was, once again, the perfect moment for a collective awakening from the global slumber of fetishist denial. What happened instead is something that can be best described as ‘fetishist apocalypticism’. What we can see in these visions of the future and Donald Trump’s apocalyptic geopolitics is an evolution of fetishist denialism. No longer is it a case of ‘we know the end of the world is nigh, and do nothing’. Now it’s a case of knowing the end of the world is nigh – so, we prepare for it. And it is not so difficult to reveal the real ideological core behind this fetishist apocalypticism. The main question seems to be not so much what will happen to the global poor if climate change leads to a post-apocalyptic Waterworld or The Day After Tomorrow, but how the rich will be able to escape. There’s no public interest here, only private. Fetishist apocalypticism doesn’t bother to ask what we can change now in order to avoid the apocalypse. Rather, it’s how can we – or, more precisely, the mega-rich – survive the apocalypse when it happens?
Srećko Horvat, POETRY FROM THE FUTURE