The Corpus Callosum

Peak Psychology

Psychology is turning out to be a rather important field these
days.  Nate Hagens has a post on The Oil Drum, The Psychological and
Evolutionary Roots of Resource Overconsumption Revisited
.  He
reviews the evolutionary psychology of poor economic
decision-making.  Calculated Risk has a post, Scientific
American: Bubbles and Busts
. It’s based on an article in Scientific
American (The
Science of Economic Bubbles
), in which behavioral economics is
discussed.  Both posts have a similar theme: human psychology is
such that people are not always rational when it comes to individual
financial decisions, or to decisions pertaining to economic policy.

In a way, both posts are pessimistic.  They both argue that we are
susceptible to certain systematic errors that increase the likelihood
of financial misfortune. 

At least one psychologist has decided to do something about it. 

The American Prospect has an article, The
Peak Shrink
, about a psychologist who is blogging about the
stresses of Peak Oil, and the simultaneous economic shakeup, and
environmental collapse.  She documents this on Peak Oil Blues Blog.

The psychologist is Kathy McMahon, Psy.D.  Her current post is a
lengthy treatment of the stressors that she anticipates as a result of
the economic/energy/environment crisis.  Some of these are obvious
(unemployment/eviction/homelessness), some less so (domestic
violence).  She concludes:

If we remain frozen in our own economic hardship, (an
understandable but deadly pre-occupation) we will lack the objectivity
to move ourselves into a position that offers us maximum flexibility
and options. Most of us, like in the last great economic collapse, will
feel bewildered and frightened by our situation and the events that
will swirl around or over us. Some, fully cognizant of their place in
history, will show true innovation, mitigation, and community
leadership. Knowledge is power.

I’d rephrase that slightly, to say the wisdom is power.  Knowledge
by itself is only the foundation. 

From the material in her post, it follows that mental health
practitioners would be well advised to familiarize themselves with the
challenges that are unfolding, and to be realistic about it. 
Reflexive “positive thinking” is not going to be helpful; it may even
be harmful. 

In fact, this beings me to one of my pet peeves about so many of my
colleagues.   Positive thinking is fine, as far as it
goes.  But I vastly prefer to encourage realistic
thinking.  Thinking realistically about the situation, it makes
sense to have people prepare for crisis. 

As a therapist, it is important to think about how to approach
this.  It often is unwise to give direct advice, particularly
unsolicited advice.  This, of course, depends upon the context,
and there are many exceptions.  But it is necessary to be
thoughtful about which exceptions are valid, and which are pandering,
and which are serving the agenda of the therapist instead of the

If I were to give advice, though, I would advise people to be
thoughtful about their assessment of risk.  It is easy to develop
a fixed belief that catastrophe is coming.  Likewise, it is both
easy and temping to develop a rigid belief that things will all be OK
fairly soon.   There is no shortage of people claiming to
have debunked climate change and/or peak oil, or who run around
screaming about green shoots of economic recovery. 

Try to stay flexible in your thinking.  Decide, on as rational of
a basis as you can, how much of you current resources should go into
preparation.  Store food and water.  Make contingency plans
for essential transportation bus/train/bike).  Figure out to what
extent you could telecommute, or otherwise work from home.  If you
need to make preparations for that, do so now.  It may be fine if
you still have high-speed Internet, but don’t assume that this will be
the case.

Most importantly, form relationships with people in your
community.  Join a CSA
Get to know people at the farmer’s market.  Start gardening. 

All of these things may turn out to be unnecessary, but none of them
would hurt.  And if they turn out to be not strictly necessary,
they can be helpful even in the absence of a catastrophe. 


  1. #1 Roland Branconnier
    June 29, 2009

    Dr. McMahon’s article entitled:”Greater Depressions: Social and Behavioral Trends of Economic Collapse” is excellent.

    George Santayana said: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

    Overcoming our irrational cognitive biases requires knowledge and hard work. To learn what those biases are and how to overcome them, I recommend reading:

    Shermer, Michael. The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics. New York: Times Books, 2008

    Shermer can supply the knowledge, the hard work is up to you!

  2. #2 kuran-i kerim oku
    July 10, 2010

    Dr. McMahon’s article entitled:”Greater Depressions: Social and Behavioral Trends of Economic Collapse” is excellent.

    George Santayana said: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

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