Will we have enough gas, electricity this winter? The psychoanalyst Claude Halmos responds to our anxieties of lack

Y Will there be snow at Christmas? Evocative of decorated fir trees and landscapes in white coats, this question, which became the title of a film, opened the door to dreams and hope. Much less poetic, the one that arises today, “Will we have enough gas, light this winter, and at what price?” “, arouses concern and even, among many consumers, a concern that adds to all those that, in this difficult period, already weigh on them.

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What anxiety is it?

Of an anguish that arises every time the danger of a shortage appears, and that is less noticeable in what those who experience it say (because many times they have a hard time recognizing it, and especially talking about it) than in the behaviors it provokes. in them. It is energy, in fact, that pushes them to make reserves (obviously impossible, when it comes to energy) of the product that could be lacking, and this – it must be emphasized – even when it is not absolutely essential.

We recently had an example of this with mustard: as soon as it was announced that due to the war in Ukraine and of the drought in Canada (the world’s leading supplier of seeds), this seasoning could run out, it has become impossible to find. Consumers rushed to buy it, and in quantities that most of the time were unrelated to their usual consumption.

We were surprised, or offended, but the fact is that this rush to empty the shelves deserves to be questioned. In fact, it is customary to attribute it to the importance, for daily life, of stored products (water, pasta or toilet paper, at the time of childbirth, for example). But, in the case of a staple product like mustard, this can leave you stumped.

How to explain this reaction?

A “fear of scarcity” is often mentioned, but reactions to the prospect of scarcity are very complex and require, in order to be understood, that we distinguish between two notions that are often confused: fear and anguish. Indeed, we can speak of fear when the feared danger is real (“A thief entered my house, I hear him, I’m scared”); and anguish when it is imaginary (“I don’t know why, but I’m always afraid that a thief will break into my house”).

This distinction, important for psychic attention, also exists because the prospect of scarcity provokes both fear and anxiety.

The consumer who rushes to the supermarket is actually moved by the –legitimate– fear that the prospect of scarcity of this or that product awakens in him, and the consequences that this would have for him and his family. But also -and most of the time without realizing it- because of the anguish that the idea of ​​missing something arouses. And he tries, through accumulation, to fill in advance a void that is actually double since it is part real and part imaginary. This fear and this anguish that, combined, push him to act, work in a very different way: fear, obviously, can increase according to the importance, vital or not, of the object that could be missing. But the anguish of lack is not tied to reality, and the reasons why it increases for some are essentially related to the way in which the notion of lack resonates in their personal history. And this explains both the disproportion between the size of the stocks they constitute and their real needs; and the fact that they can even constitute products whose real importance is secondary.

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