Dakota Access Pipeline, Psychoanalysis, and a Call to Action

Sunday, December 4, 2016
Cayucos, California

Dear Readers,

What could the Dakota Access Pipeline and psychoanalysis possibly have in common? It is likely impossible to simply define the goals of psychoanalysis or psychodynamic therapy. However, a word like “integration” would likely satisfy psychoanalytic theorists of all stripes and colors. For the Freudians, a successful psychoanalytic process would achieve ego control over the superego and the id. However, the ego, or self, would be integrated with those other two structures. In other words, the person would have a good sense of their conscience as well as their primitive instinctual drives. The more contemporary psychoanalytic thinkers, like the Relational psychoanalysts, would herald a balance between love for self and love for other. Like the Freudians, they would consider access to one’s internal world while remaining in good contact with the external a sign of a successful transformational process.

Like occurs when studying psychoanalysis, investigating philosophy requires students to make choices in belief systems. Choosing between monism and pluralism represents one such decision. However, and here is why philosophy, like psychoanalysis, can drive you crazy, you can kind of choose both of those. I tend to be a monist myself, but am fine with using abstraction to break apart singularities for consideration. For example, and comporting with Vedanta philosophy, we tend to view ourselves as existing within sacs of skin. But a surgeon could remove your arm, and you’d be fine. If you were deprived access to air, you’d be dead within a matter of minutes. So why is it that we tend to identify ourselves as existing within the sac of skin when, in truth, the air around us matters much more than our limbs?

Therein lies my transition to what’s happening in North Dakota at this moment. Thousands of Native Americans, Veterans, and others are protesting the construction of a 1,170 mile pipeline intended to transport oil from Canada through the Dakotas. The protesters camp out at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, trying to prevent the risk of the volatile Bakken crude oil fouling the water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation just downstream.

Notice the importance here of avoiding primitive us versus them thinking. Major oil companies want access to the cheaper oil. They want to profit, in accordance with capitalism, and they want to supply the needs of consumers of petroleum. The Sioux nation lived there literally centuries before oil was even discovered as a source of energy. Moreover, the era of oil is ending. It is a finite resource. It is contributing to climate change. This week’s Economist features special coverage of the “age of petroleum,” predicting its eventual ending (if global warming doesn’t end humanity before then).

Returning to the idea of integration, consider the competing needs here. Consumers want oil. Oil companies want profit. The Sioux wants their water supply protected, and of course treaties (violated endless times) should have prevented this pipeline project from going through in the first place. Again, this is not about choosing sides. It’s about looking at the big picture. It’s about integration.

Clearly, the overall best outcome is to divert or, better, stop the pipeline from proceeding. The age of oil is over. The sooner we face that, the better. Other options exist for satisfying energy needs, and even for oil companies to make profits. (The smarter ones are already diversifying into wind and other forms of energy). So, if you think about it, an integrated solution exists that can satisfy everyone.

Meanwhile, please think, as I am, of any way to contribute to the effort of those protesters. The represent the integrated solution. I find it worrisome how little media attention has been paid to the protest, considering that beginning tomorrow the federal government will try to remove the protesters using water cannon in already freezing weather. Head out there if you can afford the time or the travel. Donate money to the cause if you have some to spare.

This one cultural event symbolizes so many dis-integrating features of individuals, groups, societies, and the world. Any way you can help stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline will represent, believe it or not, a step towards integration in all ways.

With hope,


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