Peak Shrink helps people fight pathological optimism about oil
By Anthea Hudson /

Panglossian Disorder? What on earth is that? And how does it apply to peak oil?

Inspired by the eternal optimist Dr. Pangloss from Voltaire’s Candide, psychologist Kathy McMahon, who calls herself the “peak shrink,” explains on Peak Moment TV (episode 199) that she invented Panglossian Disorder. It’s a condition of people who view the post peak oil future with unrealistic and even pathological optimism, the kind that is usually a front for deep fear, effectively shutting off to the realities of possible major future changes.

“So I think it’s not just optimism,” clarifies McMahon “because people can be optimistic, and they can be pro-social, they can do positive things. But when I talk about Panglossian Disorder, I’m talking about it as a defence. They’re acting like they’re positive, but it’s only as a defence against really contemplating negative things that they can’t handle, because they’re overwhelmed.”

Don’t be a downer

People who react in a Panglossian way can make it very difficult for people who, upon learning about peak oil, don’t view it through those blinkers, and want to warn others and discuss practical solutions.

As McMahon explains, “I think that one of the most upsetting things to people when they first find out about peak oil is the fact that when they tell other people about it, other people are not receptive to it. And they meet them with statements like, ‘That can’t be right,’ ‘Maybe it’ll be bad, but it won’t be as bad as you say it is,’ and all of these sorts of batting back of the information without even looking into it, without even being curious about it.”

Her interest in how people react psychologically to finding out about peak oil stemmed from her own reactions, which seemed so crazy to her. She wanted to find out what was normal, what did people do differently and how did their lives change. So she started her blog Peak Oil Blues, and four years later she has amassed a great deal of information from people who contributed to her research project

McMahon warns people against the impulse to make big changes within the first couple of years after finding out about peak oil. “Don’t make any huge changes.” she says “Do the things that you think are important where you are, but don’t panic and do something dramatic. Let it sink in.” If you act from an urgent “had to do it all yesterday” perspective, you may end up doing things that won’t serve you in the long term.

She also has concerns about health professionals pathologizing people who have emotionally disturbing reactions to finding out about peak oil. She feels people need reassurance that their reactions are normal for the circumstances, and a chance to talk their feelings through, not to be labelled as suffering Post-Petroleum Stress Disorder.

“I don’t want anyone to say that the reaction to peak oil is itself a pathology, because it isn’t,” McMahon says. “The emotional distress that people are feeling, the shock, the anger, the sense of overwhelm — all of these things are completely understandable. And we need to start normalizing them. Because, paradoxically, the more we actually normalize those upsetting reactions, we then begin to calm down.”

Love thy neighbor

When faced with the overwhelming impact of the whole situation, McMahon points out that what we need to focus on is our own small community. Draw a radius around your house, and think to yourself that these people are your neighbors.

“And really have some meaning to the word neighbor,” she says. “The old meaning of the word neighbor is, when they needed something, you were there to give it to them. When you needed something, you called on them. There was a give and a take situation.”

McMahon discusses her concerns for the loss of social skills and isolation present in our current society and how rapidly this decline has occurred. People spending so much time in front of entertainment devices or children who know how to play video games, but not how to engage in imaginative play, or interact properly with other children.

One of the advantages McMahon sees to a future with less fossil fuel is that we are all going to have to become more human and part of that challenge will be becoming more comfortable around other flawed human beings.

“So one of the things I talk about is, we’re all bozos on this bus. Let’s get away from the idea that we have to be some high-level, perfect leader, high-level visionary, and let’s accept the fact that people are annoying. And that’s not a problem that people are annoying. The problem is that we expect they shouldn’t be.”

I asked Peak Moment host Janaia Donaldson about her recollections of Dr. McMahon.  “Kathy has a wonderful sense of humor, which provides a welcome leavening to the dark news around peak oil, climate change, ecosystem collapse. She’s especially tuned to the challenge of partners (usually husband and wife) who have differing responses to the peak oil challenge.”

McMahon has also written “I Can’t Believe You Actually Think That!”: A Couple’s Guide to Finding Common Ground about Peak Oil, Climate Catastrophe, and Economic Hard Times, forthcoming in print and available now as an e-book. You can download it and find more fascinating reading on her blog Peak Oil Blues.

– Anthea Hudson, Transition Voice

0.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 31,508 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
For Those Who Don't Want to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils
Peter White · 14,743 views today · Ranked-choice voting is catching on, and Maine might become the first state to help citizens vote for candidates they actually want.
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 11,827 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 9,852 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
Anarchists - What We Stand For
unknown · 9,514 views today · Anarchism : The word “anarchy” comes from Greek and means “no rulers”. As a political philosophy, anarchism is based on the idea that organization does not require rulers—that...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 9,499 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 5,143 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
Our Obsession With 'Good Immigrants' Breeds Intolerance
2 min · 4,466 views today · Society sets the bar so high to become a 'good immigrant', argues writer Nikesh Shukla, that normal immigrants are demonised. He says non-Brits in the public eye have a simple...
Bird Watching on Lesvos Island - A Poetic Call to Stand With Refugees
3 min · 1,997 views today · Born in Darfur, Sudan and raised in Philadelphia, Emi Mahmoud is the 2015 World Poetry Slam Champion and the Women of the World co-Champion of 2016. From a young age Emi...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,916 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
My Cuba - An Intimate Look at the Pleasures and Struggles of 6 Different People's Cuba
150 min · 1,832 views today · Cuba - diverse, vibrant and complex - is undergoing immense change. But what does it mean to be Cuban in this time of change? Six people. Six films. From the comedy and ballet...
The Important Difference Between Love and Being Loved
2 min · 1,783 views today · We talk of love as if it were just one thing: in fact, it’s two very different moves, Loving and Being Loved. You start to grow up when you stop focusing on the latter and get...
The Untold History of Palestine & Israel
22 min · 1,589 views today · Previewing Abby Martin’s on-the-ground investigation in Palestine, The Empire Files looks at the long history of Zionist colonization, expansion and expulsion of Palestine’s...
Introversion Is Not a Personality Fail
Cat Elz · 1,573 views today · A few years ago, I got into an argument with my now mother-in-law over my supposedly “backwards” ways. My transgression? I did not attend a party of my now husband’s (then...
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 1,404 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
Alliance of 600,000 British Doctors Calls for 'Imperative' Coal Phase-Out
Nadia Prupis · 1,278 views today · Doing so would constitute 'double win for tackling the twin health threats of air pollution and climate change,' report states
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 932 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 898 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
World's Low-Cost Economy Built on the Backs of 46 Million Modern Day Slaves
Deirdre Fulton · 840 views today · 'Business leaders who refuse to look into the realities of their own supply chains are misguided and irresponsible.'
Are You Lost in the World Like Me?
3 min · 797 views today · Animated film by Steve Cutts for 'Are You Lost In The World Like Me?', taken from These Systems Are Failing- the debut album from Moby & The Void Pacific Choir. 
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Peak Shrink helps people fight pathological optimism about oil