Santa Barbara psychotherapist and author Christopher Bollas coined an interesting term back in the 1980s — “the unthought known” — and when I came upon it the other day I started thinking that in 2019 and beyond, this phrase could have an important role to play in our global thinking about climate change and how it will impact out lives and our descendants’ lives in the near future — and over the next 30 generations.
What does it mean? It’s when you feel something, you know something, but you have no name for it. It’s what we absolutely know but cannot allow ourselves to think. That’s “the unthought known.”
Because we know it, but we don’t want to think about it, or at least not think about it too much. Or maybe we know it, but we can’t ”allow” ourselves to think about it.
Take climate change, for example.
Take the future of humankind in relation to the coming impacts of runaway global warming worldwide.
As things stand today, in 2019, most climate scientists and climate activists suffer in varying degrees from ”the unthought known.” Because their careers and their incomes depend on continuing to give interviews and produce written reports and academic papers that say everything is going to be alright, don’t worry, we humans can fix anything, and with technology by our side, we can surely fix whatever climate change throws at us.
These well-paid professors and scientists and hard-working public activists want to keep their jobs (and their nice incomes) and don’t want to jeopardize future employment opportunities. So they go along with everyone else, with their peers, with the media, with their bosses and supervisors and agents, and pretend that everything is going to be okay, we can solve the climate problems coming out way, just don’t worry about it.
But they people, actually, they worry about it. They suffer from ”the unthought known” but in fact they know, they know. We are doomed, doomed. Not now, not in 12 years and not in 100 years and not even in 200 or 300 years, but they know that humanity is doomed, doomed in say, 500 to 600 years, 30 or 40 more generations of man and then time’s up, Game Over, the final countdown, The End. They know this. But the reason they cannot articulate this or say this in the open in public or in the public prints in newspaper opeds or online on the internet or on personal blogs is because they cannot allow themselves to think about it. Even though they absolutely know what’s coming down the road.
That, my friends, is ”the unthought known” as it applies to climate change.
Ask Dr Collas about it. He knows. He will dish.
Ask Margaret Atwood or Roy Scranton or Naomi Klein or Michael Mann or Amitav Ghosh and Jeff Vandermeer or Paolo Bacigalupi or Liz Jensen or George Monbiot or Amy Brady or Annaleen Newwitz or John Abraham or Elizabeth Kolpert or Elizabeth Rush or Megan Hunter or Marshall Herskovitz. Ask Nat Rich and David Wallace-Wells. Ask Greta Thunberg.
They know. They are aware of the unthought known. Ask them.
I want to call it ”the unknown thought,” but that’s not the correct term. It’s ”the unthought known.”
And there’s reason it’s the ”unthought” known.
It’s because we can’t handle it. It’s too frightening, it’s too scary, it’s too horrible and too terrifying to ”think” about. So we put it away and it becomes The Unthought Known.
You’ve learned a new term today. What are you going to do with it?