I'll kick this off with a recent read of mine: The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life by Eviator Zerubavel. I bought this because I think the general topic of denial is very pertinent to any discussion of global risks. When something is scary, people have an incentive to somehow avoid dealing with the facts, and a variety of creative strategies are available to them.
And in the alternative, if you commit yourself in some way to the idea that a particular risk is a big deal, (eg taking a public position, making career choices based on your assessment), you have a psychological incentive to deny evidence that maybe the problem is not so severe after all.
I think it's these dualing incentives that create the structure we so often see around major global risks - one side is busy either ignoring the problem, or if that is no longer working, minimizing it, attacking the integrity of the proponents, etc. Meanwhile, the other side is at risk of exaggerating the seriousness of the problem, ignoring countervailing evidence or important context and of course attacking the integrity of the deniers. Both sides are often sincerely convinced of their own rightness (though there certainly can be scope for cynicism and deliberate dishonesty as well, and both sides will be very quick to point to the evidence for this on the other side, and very slow to examine it on their own side).
While it's certainly pertinent to talk about the specifics of denial in the context of energy supply, or climate change, or any other major global risk, I decided I wanted to step back and educate myself more deeply on the overall phenomenon, and what psychologists and sociologists know about it.
The identification of denial is generally credited to Sigmund Freud, though I think you can certainly find much earlier precursors - when Jesus says in Matthew 7-5
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eyeI think he's clearly displaying some intuitive understanding of how denial and projection work. Still, Freud, as well as his daughter Anna, articulated it more clearly than earlier writers, and it's one of his more important ideas that has stood the test of time. It is still widely used as a framework in understanding addiction and other mental health issues, as well as having become part of daily speech.
I personally became familiar with the idea during therapy in my thirties when it became clear to me that there were things about myself that I was systematically excluding from my own conscious awareness without admitting to myself what I was doing. I have a feeling that it's only the process of clearly uncovering some kind of denial of one's own that makes the general phenomenon clear - people in denial about X sincerely believe, at a conscious level, that they are not in denial, and that X is just not true. They don't allow themselves to look at or fairly evaluate the evidence for X. (I think the more recent literature on Confirmation Bias is a closely overlapping area of enquiry).
In looking around at Amazon for "denial books", I didn't find much in the way of scholarship on the general phenomenon - there's lots of practical books on denial in addiction. Other than that, I guess we are still in denial about denial... One that did come to hand was The Elephant in the Room by sociologist Eviator Zerubavel which I duly grabbed. I can only recommend it in a fairly luke-warm way.
On the plus side, the book is a very easy read - short at only 90 pages of text (plus another 70 of notes, bibliography, and index). It's also very accessibly written, and in general slides down easily, leaving very little of an impression afterward. If you have thought little about the social dynamics of denial, it could be a useful introduction.
From my perspective, the most useful thing about it is as an introduction into a larger literature - particularly given the very extensive bibliography. For example, the book has a very small discussion and some references of the issues of denial in the Jewish community in Germany about the Holocaust as it was developing. This is something I hadn't thought about at all, but it seems to be a fascinating and horrible case study of the potential for denial in the face of disaster. Faced with alarming but ambiguous evidence, some Jews fled, hid or rebelled. Most didn't. It's definitely something I want to know more about.
But, and here I come to the negatives about the book, all I got from this book on the Holocaust was tantalizing hints. The book is just, well, fluffy. Despite the enormous bibliography, the text just fails to ever really get to grips with any aspect of the subject in enough depth or thoroughness to be satisfying. A surprisingly large amount of the text is taken up with popular culture references. He could have devoted a chapter to the issues of Jewish denial of the Holocaust-in-progress, told the story, surveyed the literature on the subject, and really given us a sense of what happened. Instead, we get a series of passing references like this:
When facing a frightening situation, we often resort to denial. In fact, early reports of Nazi massacres of Jews were dismissed by many Jews in Europe as sheer lies. As a result, frightening information often becomes essentially undiscussible. As so chillingly exemplified by the numerous bystanders who silently witnessed the blantant implementation of the "Final Solution," people who live in police states become increasingly reluctant to publicly acknowledge the brutality that surrounds them by discussing it with others.That's it: he moves on. He returns to discussion of the Holocaust another half a dozen times in the book, but always in an equally passing manner.
And it's this way with everything - it's not like he just picked other examples to focus on. He never really gets to grips with any historical example in any detail, he never gets detailed about psychological mechanism of denial, he never gets detailed about the sociological literature on denial. So in the end, I am left to pick over the (thankfully extensive) notes and bibliography looking for more satisfying books to order. In this case, The Terrible Secret is on order - I'll let you know how it goes.