The Power of Imagination

While the bushfire wind blew and the sun was obscured by dust, I cleaned the oven (with a scarf around my face) and listened to Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami. As usual (for his books), it was a bit odd. A bit troubling, even.

The main character, who calls himself Kafka Tamura, reads a book about Otto Adolf Eichmann – a chief architect of the Final Solution as enacted by the Nazis in WWII. Apparently, at his trial, Eichmann showed no remorse. He simply saw himself as a bureaucrat, given a problem and expected to find the cheapest most efficient solution. In the back of the book about Eichmann, Kafka Tamura’s friend has noted that it’s all to do with imagination – that: with imagination comes responsibility.

I immediately linked this idea to Climate Change and Climate Change deniers. Perhaps they have no imagination. If this is true, they can not see the future the scientists paint. They can not picture anything different to what they already know and understand. Perhaps this is the gap that needs to be bridged.

When applied to Eichmann’s “practical” (awful!) approach, you can sort of apply
the imagination void idea. Like a robotic machine set to fix panels onto a car, Eichmann is assigned a task and doggedly sets about achieving it to the best of his ability. He does not question the intended outcome. He does not question the morality of his occupation. He simply sees himself as a cog in a clock, progressing a bigger picture which has nothing to do with him. He did not see himself as responsible. He could not understand why he was being singled out in the trial.

So I am imagining myself with no imagination. Eichmann used numbers to work out his plan. (Surely then, he had to imagine how it would work?) In the case of Climate Change too, the numbers are predictors. They build a picture out of evidence gathered and then make forecasts based on modeling. The facts laid out, even in their barest form, possibly require some imagination to truly be absorbed. Perhaps the sea level rise as a number is too abstract. Perhaps the idea of weather causing food production shortages is not picture enough. Perhaps islands being drowned resulting in massive population migration does not compute.

Tonight I attended a lecture by Prof Sharon Friel – Director of the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) and Professor of Health Equity at the Australian National University. She spoke about Climate Change and its effects on human health. She spoke about society like the big machine that it is – one cog effecting another. She spoke about voices and how to be heard. Afterwards, there was a panel discussion and questions from the audience. On the panel was Dr Arnagretta Hunter. She raised imagination as a key source of hope for the human race. I can’t remember her exact words but she brought it up three
times. And in the context I could see her point too. It takes imagination (or empathy) to see the plight of the Islanders or the farmers and to be moved to act. It takes imagination and creativity to solve the problems that we create for ourselves. Imagination steps in to find solutions when policy-making falters.

But, even despite tonight’s discussion, I am losing my grip on the idea that lack of
imagination is a player in Climate Change denial. In Murakami’s world of magical realism, the spheres of literature, dreams, metaphysics and reality all coexist in a much more similar space than they do in my life. Imagination is a living force in Murakami’s fiction, as are dreams. In Kafka on the Shore, imagination was unfettered by policy or private sector investment.

My own imagination has failed me. I cannot imagine that people truly continue to disbelieve the science behind Climate Change. Ian Walker (another panel member) basically said the same thing. Compared to five years ago, the numbers of people denying that it is happening are fewer and fewer. The cause is still being denied. But is that doubt real or not? To my mind, it is easier to imagine that these people don’t WANT it to be true (and maybe, on reflection, that’s what denial is). As Al Gore said all those years ago, it is an inconvenient truth. Like a philandering husband. Or a criminal loved one. Or admitting that your job is killing people. These are things most people prefer not to think about.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!        5
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once        10
That make ingrateful man!

Shakespeare King Lear Act III Scene II

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