Author Amitav Ghosh begins their essay The Great Derangement with a review of the human condition; how we as a species respond to the world around us, especially when it defies our expectations. With the line, “who can forget those moments when something that seems inanimate turns out to be vitally, even dangerously alive?” (Ghosh, pp. 3) Ghosh begins our journey into understanding that the environment is irrevocably a part of our social and biological make-up. How could a person start at the sight of a log which turns out to be a crocodile if they did not know what a crocodile was? In that situation, the offending person would fall prey to the reptile, and the other humans around them would then be engendered to that environment with the memory of their screams. It is experience with the places we inhabit that provides the context for our experiences in them.
Amitav Ghosh tells how their forbears were inhabitants of a region of Bangladesh, near the Padma River, which is observed to change its behavior and the landscape around it rapidly. This change informed their ancestors’ understanding of the region, and their own understanding of the region as they continued their research on it. “Recognition is famously a passage from ignorance to knowledge,” (pp. 4). They continue with the paramount importance of recognition; it is not to be confused with comprehension. It is more instinctual in nature, coming to your senses to what dangers may be around you based on what you or your community may have faced previously. Ghosh then applies this experience with the rising evidence of climate change facing our species globally right now.
The ancestral region of Ghosh’s people acts as a microcosm of climate change effects, because of its already volatile nature to change rapidly. However, with the growing evidence of climate change, there has not been an increase in recognition of the dangers of it among the human population at large.
There is something confounding about this peculiar feedback loop. It is very difficult surely, to imagine a concept of seriousness that is blind to potentially life-changing threats. And if the urgency of a subject were indeed a criterion of its seriousness, then, considering what climate change actually portends for the future of earth, it should surely follow that this would be the principal preoccupation of writers the world over—and this, I think is very far from being the case. (pp. 8)
Ghosh then goes on to explain that the western world is avoidant of this recognition likely because of what drives its society. The concern is less about the environment in which people live and more about what they use in their daily lives. Commodities have become their forests, gasoline their rain, smart phones their foraged produce.
This disconnect is likely fueled by the corporations which act as the quasi-governing forces of the western world. They determine many policies through their generous donations to legislatures, taking a stranglehold on the world’s resources through their power and authority gained via their peddling of products to the common people. Regulations that would act in response to climate change, that would recognize them, would cause those corporations to lose wealth. So they hide from them. It is this hiding, this denial, which Ghosh draws from to coin the phrase, “The Great Derangement.”
These tactics are not new. Many societies have employed propaganda in their communal share of information to either prevent or protect their citizenry from knowing of things which could harm them. For instance, World War II Britain told their citizens that eating carrots would improve their eyesight, when the real driving force here was to encourage them to grow their own foods in the face of shortages, and to hide their new radar system from the Germans by saying their pilots could simply see in the dark, which was why they could shoot down German planes with such accuracy( Spring, K. pp 323). These tales, while not new, have likely led to our current situation of continuing the obfuscation of the dangers facing us. Like it or not, the climate is changing and has been linked to human intervention. Our collective hiding from this fact will not serve us well and could result in the culmination of our extinction.
Ghosh, Amitav. The Great Derangement, 2016. Chicago Press
Spring, Kelly. Today We have All Got to be Fighting Fit’: The interconnectivity of Gender Roles in
British Food Rationing Propaganda during the Second World War. Gender & History,
Volume 32 (2). Pp. 320-340.