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consequences of surviving war, genocide, sexual violence, domestic
abuse, and other horrific events. As they have argued, trauma is devastat-
ing because its severity breaks into consciousness before the mind can
adequately prepare itself—or, more precisely, in a way for which it could
never prepare itself; as a result, the mind bears the wounds of events it
cannot absorb or understand. Because traumatic experiences in some
sense never fully take place for their victims, they can never move on,
never entirely live after those events. 112 In the era of the Vietnam war and
after, we in the United States have called this “post-traumatic stress dis-
order,” and in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we recognize
that this syndrome continues to afflict soldiers and civilians alike.
But if we take the possibility of severe, global climate change seriously,
and thus acknowledge the near inevitability of the genocides to come,
what happens then? Can we be traumatized by events that have not yet
taken place? If trauma is characterized by an inability to absorb experi-
ence into the ordinary realities of life, could envisioning the horrors of
the future have a similar effect? For a modern Cassandra, such a trauma
would be possible: she would behold events to come with an intensity
that would devastate her. Perhaps a modern version of a biblical prophet
would endure the same. But it is instructive that such figures, announc-
ing what they see, are never believed; those who hear their warnings
melt away, unmoved. That indifference makes clear that for the rest of us,
anticipatory trauma does not seem possible. After all, if we are imagining
trauma, we are not truly living it, nor is it shatering our minds in a way
for which we are not prepared. Perhaps future events can never be as real
to us as past or present ones. In that case, climate change simply cannot
be as vivid for us as the horrors of a certain past.
What, then, is the status of a violence to come? An awareness of the
immense consequences of our ordinary acts today for the lives of our-
selves and others will shadow those acts, giving them a haunting depth.
A truthful look at our current practices—especially at the exceptionally
high rate with which we burn fossil fuels in the United States—should
give us pause. Are we perpetrating a kind of genocide ourselves, just one
that will take place later? Are we participants in a systemic violence that
will work itself out only over the coming decades? Part of the answer
must be no; as I suggested above, climate change is not itself genocidal,
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