Tag Archives: diversity

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 2

distrust04

These posts explore a précis I did of George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (2014), starting 20170122. In reading the book, I was surprised by some of the research that he encountered. Hence, I believe it important to disseminate his findings.

Chapter 6. The jury of our peers. How we follow the people around us. We watch the behavior of others to identify an appropriate response to situations (the bystander effect or pluralistic ignorance). If no one is responding to a crisis, then it must not be a crisis! However, caution must be noted with the slippery we.

Again — trust! But in attempting to generate inclusion and response (the ‘slippery we’), it is easy to alienate those who do trust the “message.”

Chapter 7. The power of the mob. How bullies hide in the crowd. According to self-categorization theory, we seek to establish similarity with the groups that we identify with, and differences against the people who are not like us. This leads both sides to under-estimate the diversity of views within their own ranks and those of their opponents. One of the consequences is that the in-group often develops a sense of superiority. The advent of the Internet has produced entirely new areas of communication, and has allowed frequent outright bullying of the out-group because of the anonymity provided.

The noise of our culture distracts from awareness. Here, for me, Marshall identifies one of the major complexities of modern living — we have too many people, many of whom are  formulating logical and ethical difficulties (of which a major one is global warming) as emotional issues. And in so doing, they add huge noise which confuses the system.

Chapter 8. Through a glass darkly. The strange world of climate deniers. For conservatives, climate change has become an issue at just the right time to replace the Red Menace bogeyman that had so long been the mobilizing enemy.

Disinformation! Marshall suggests that a major transition in the climate denial store occurred with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is a fascinating hypothesis, and one that is consistent with the emotional issues.

Chapter 9. Inside the elephant. Why we keep searching for enemies. In the end, many struggles come down to there being identifiable vested interests; however, we usually forget that we are participants in those interests. The real difficulty is your own immaturity, especially our inability to deal with our own shadows.

In a super-wicked difficulty, we are the participants. This is the central thesis of this blog — that the major issue is our acedia, our unwillingness to engage in the painful struggle to maturity. For me, Marshall correctly identifies that we “need to find narratives based on cooperation, mutual interests, and our common humanity.”

Summary #1. Those who passionately accept or passionately deny climate change have one thing in common: they are regard each other as a major threat. However, in between these two conflicting groups, the vast majority of people find it difficult to give any importance to the issue at all; they happily identify that there is a problem, but otherwise, they give it a little  consideration.

An accurate assessment of the complexity.

Chapter 10. The two brains. Why we are so poorly evolved to deal with climate change. Our psychological evolution has prepared us to respond strongly to four key triggers (PAIN): personal, abrupt, immoral, now. Climate change triggers none of these. We can understand the difficulty of climate change with our rational brains, but this does not trigger the emotional brain into action. Climate activists maximize the data without impacting the emotional brain; climate deniers activate emotions, and minimize the data; whereas the group in the middle are aware of the data, and are waiting to see the emotional responses generated as social cues.

Again, an accurate assessment of the complexity.

Chapter 11. Familiar yet unimaginable. Why climate change does not feel dangerous. There are two main drivers of risk perception: 1) dread risk, intergenerational and irreversible, a sense of powerlessness in the face of involuntary and catastrophic impacts, and 2) unknown risk, invisible and unprecedented, an anxiety that comes from the uncertainty of new and unforeseen danger. Because climate change does not have the stigma of attack, and extreme weather events have a degree of familiarity, the uncertainty of climate change does not instill dread or danger. Rather, there is leeway to “believe what you want.” Climate change does not feel threatening, unless you choose to feel that it is.

See the next comment.

Chapter 12. Uncertain long-term costs. Why our cognitive biases line up against climate change. Climate change lacks salience: it is abstract, distant, invisible, and disputed. It requires the acceptance of short-term costs to mitigate higher but uncertain losses in the far future. In addition, disinformation has created uncertainty. To mobilize people, an issue needs to be emotional; it needs to have immediacy and salience — our decisions are directed by largely intuitive mental shortcuts (cognitive biases). It is possible that no amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standards of living.

Sad! As I look around at this very moment on a cold but sunny day in Canadian winter, I do not feel threatened, and I can easily fall into the numbness of “what’s the big deal.” Yet, intellectually, the complexity of the issues overwhelms me, and I truly believe we are shortly destined for extinction. We do not seem capable of managing such complexity.

To be continued.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 1

distrust02I’m going to spend the next few posts examining a précis I did of George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (2014)[1]. Marshall has been a major figure in the international environmental movement, and his book seeks to answer the question of “why, when the evidence is so strong, and so many agree that this is our greatest problem, are we doing so little about climate change?[2]

I encountered his book last year when I was attempting to come to my own answers about this question, and I was surprised by some of the research that he himself encountered. Unfortunately, amongst other sources, the book has only added to my sense of how deeply we are stuck as a society.

However, if we do not find a way through the morass of global warming, the outcome is less than desirable. Hence, I believe it important to disseminate his findings.

I do it also because The Climate Mobilization group to which I belong is developing a process called Crisis Reading groups, providing reading to explore the morass. Although this book is likely too long for this process, a précis of the book might be useful to them.

There are 42 short chapters in Marshall’s book; here in this blog I intend to cover 8-10 chapters per posting, and hence there are likely to be six or so posts on this topic. As format, I shall first list the notes I kept on a given chapter, and then follow each note with reflection as to what I believe to be its importance.

So . . .

Chapter 1. Questions. How is it possible, when presented with overwhelming evidence, that we deliberately choose to ignore something while being entirely aware that this is what we are doing?

As a culture, we both demonstrate awareness of the problem, and ignore the necessary action. In spite of all the rhetoric and disinformation, I continue to believe that the evidence is overwhelming, and that the major problem is the complex nature of our acedia. But understanding is the booby prize. We are currently on a tightrope between disaster and response; I wonder when we will overcome the massive difficulties of response, as well as what environmental disaster will be needed to initiate this mobilization.

Chapter 2. We’ll deal with that lofty stuff some other day. Why disaster victims do not want to talk about climate change. Following the survival of threat, people choose to emphasize the positive, and minimize the negative.

Obviously a survival mechanism, and an useful one for acute issues. The fact that “we survived,” then means that we can feel good about our resilience and the likelihood that we can deal with the next issue. However, it makes it difficult to recognize that there is an underlying chronic problem — a narrative of recovery is more hopeful than impending doom.

Chapter 3. Speaking as a layman. Why we think that extreme weather shows we were right all along. We interpret events in the light of our prior assumptions and prejudices (confirmation bias). We fail to recognize that weather (short-term experience) is different from climate (long-term pattern). Because we are familiar with weather, we tend to interpret climate in a manner that confirms the current weather. For example, cold weather means cold climate; however, periods of cold weather are simply part of the instability of global warming.

Familiarity confuses us! The convincer for people is their own interpretation, confirmed by discussion with the group they trust. It is so difficult to create change because the need is to change the pattern of trust, not the kind or amount of information.

Chapter 4. You never get to see the whole picture. How the Tea Party fails to notice the greatest threat to its values. For many Republicans, the nature of climate change fits perfectly into a set of pre-existing ideological grievances about the distribution of power. They are outsiders driven by their values, defending their rights, and deeply distrustful of government and corporations.

They too want change! Marshall maintains that Republicans, even those as entrenched [my intentional wording] as members of the Tea Party, are seeking the same thing as staunch environmentalists [who, of course, are not entrenched] — they want good information in an age of information overload. Personally, despite having six university degrees, all of them in some kind of science, I do not trust modern science — for me, it is so entrenched in scientific materialism.

Chapter 5. Polluting the message. How science becomes infected with social meaning. Attitudes on climate change have become a social clue as to which group the individual belongs. [NB: the TIC model.]

Science, as imperfect as it is, is not a social issue — it is one of our best attempts at truth. I’ve previously written about Whom Do You Trust, and the TIC Process whereby people are entrenched in their own trust issues. One of the ways, then, of dealing with information overload is to use social cues to group (and assess) information, thus creating a bias of data based on the group presenting the data. Again, trust is the basic issue.

To be continued.

[1] Marshall, G. (2014). Don’t even think about it: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

[2] Marshall, G. http://climatedenial.org, accessed 20170121.

What values would be important in our future? (Part 3 of 3)

Values are the core of living.
Values are the core of living.

This is the third posting on what I believe a mature culture would value. In the previous one I commented on

  1. the primary need to value children,
  2. the need for a cultural story, a mythic narrative, that honors wisdom,
  3. an educational system that provides deep support for life-long growth, and
  4. practical skills that allow living with diversity and resolving conflict.
Further thoughts

I’ve been re-reading a book that had a important impact on me as to how I view culture: Rupert Ross’s Dancing With A Ghost: Exploring Aboriginal Reality. Reading it in the 1990s, I was deeply impressed with Ross’s suggestions of the profound maturity of Aboriginal culture (much of which was destroyed by European domination), a culture that was non-technological and subject to the risks of living in wilderness.

At that time, I created a workshop I called Reality, and how we live it. In it, I contrasted what I called The People of the Ladder (European-based) with The People of the Wheel (Aboriginal-based). I suggested that both had value (technological civilization versus emotional maturity) and both had deficits (the costs of domination versus the risks of starvation). If we are to survive, we now need integration of the positives of each of these, and reduction of the risks of each.

To continue — the next value I suggest is:

Governance based on planning for the “seventh generation.”

Overall, our current governance, at least in democratic countries, is based on political systems. The term comes from polis, meaning “affairs of the cities,” thus organizing groups of people to achieve desired ends. Its origin was part of the development of democracy, a system of governance meant to access the wisdom of the people. Beginning in 1952, MacIver[1] suggested that “modern specialization of functions and interests, and the consequent growth of great interest groups, and of vast and powerful organizations devoted exclusively to their advancement, has destroyed the very basis of social life” (p. 77). Utterly true for me. And given the lobbying of commercial interests, modern political systems certainly do not plan for the long-term future.

I make a huge distinction between statespersons and politicians; to quote James Freeman Clarke[2], “A politician thinks about the next elections — the statesman thinks about the next generations.” A mature culture must focus on the needs of our entire planet, over many generations; in general, as a people, we are not skilled in the management of such diversity and potential conflict. The issues are incredibly complex, but there are modern models available to deal with complexity; a blog is not the place to go into details, and I recommend the interested reader to explore Gaian Democracies, holacracy, and community development processes. There is also much of value in Ross’s book; he was a practicing lawyer when he wrote the book, very aware of how European governance had destroyed Aboriginal culture.

To quote from my book Acedia, The Darkness Within:

A mature culture would actually be a no-party democracy, with individuals elected on the basis of perceived wisdom, and with interlocking regional governments, up to a world government. Individuals would be elected on the basis of perceived wisdom by appropriate regional groups to form a regional level of government, that government deciding within itself who would be the proposers of legislation and who would be the devil’s advocates. Essentially, the government would function to be a sophisticated cooperative body, attuned to the needs of the populace it served, yet focused on what the populace needed long-term, not as based on election requirements. Sophisticated electronic communication, including frequent high-level polling of needs and ongoing values, would allow the government to stay in touch with the populace. (p. 202)

A judiciary system based on justice circles, not just legality.

As indicated about, I am re-reading Dancing With A Ghost. Somewhere in his book (I have not yet found the specific reference), Ross tells the story of a discussion between a white judge and a native elder, in which the elder says to the judge: “We know you have a legal system; we are just not sure it is a justice system.” Our European-based legal systems in general are adversarial; they do not support community.

And we need community; if well-developed, it is the basis of cooperation. The best example I have seen has been the use of justice circles — attempts to restore all parties to be in community at peace with each other, and such that the contraversial actions which led to disputes are not intentionally repeated. I also believe that such attempts to create justice is not perfect, and that there will be occasions where individuals repeatedly:

act contrary to the needs and desires of the group. I suggest that, here, more senior groups (groups to which earlier decisions might be appealed) would have the power … [to ostracize such individuals] from the group, perhaps [for the individuals] to live in enclaves not subject to the standards of the general culture. These alternate cultures would be free to develop their own standards, but would not be permitted to impose their standards on the main culture. If desired, individuals in these substitute cultures could transfer back to the main culture, but a requirement would be they demonstrate they have sufficient intention and maturity to live within the main culture. (MacQuarrie, Acedia, p. 203)

A question: Would these six values that I have proposed be adequate to ensure a balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of the culture? Almost certainly not; I would call them necessary, but not sufficient. What is really needed is ongoing attention to the character of the culture. This would be the prime intention of the ongoing pursuit of wisdom: good judgment of the needs of the evolving present moment.

Your thoughts?

To be continued.

Next postings — I was going to explore how governance would function. Instead, I will explore what community would be like.

[1] MacIver, R. M. (1952). The ramparts we guard. New York, NY: Macmillan.

[2] Wikipedia. (2009, December 11). Statesman. Retrieved December 23, 2009, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statesman

What values would be important in our future? (Part 2 of 3)

Values are the core of living.
Values are the core of living.

This is the second posting on what I believe a mature culture would value. In the previous one I commented on a) the primary need to value children, and b) the need for a cultural story, a mythic narrative, that honors wisdom.

As I reflect on why I am writing this blog today, I came across an interesting quotation: “Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose. Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life… ~ Martha Postlewaite.” At some level, I am attempting to do both, to save the whole world, and to create a clearing in my own life. My mythic narrative is such that I want to leave a better world for my grand-children, and my own life has been about emotional growth in honor of spirit; I believe we all want this, to support our children and to grow in spirit. So these values speak about what I want as well as what I believe we need to bring to conscious awareness for our survival as a species.

To continue — the next value I suggest is:

An educational system that provides deep support for life-long growth.

We must recognize that every human being has the right to education, not just a few years of schooling, but a life-long pursuit — because education never ends. Such a system is the basis of the pursuit of wisdom. It must start with the recognition that the education of women is a major key to our survival as a species — women are the life-givers, and in general, are far more capable in the pursuit of cooperation then are men.

In such a system, people would meet in small groups, at least weekly (with children present), to discuss life issues of importance, learning from themselves and from skilled mediators, learning how to resolve difficulties and cooperate with each other. It cannot be a top-down model of what people should do; it is not an effective means of learning. People would mentor each other, challenging both themselves and the systems within which they live. Easy, no; essential, yes.

Practical skills that allow living with diversity and resolving conflict.

What do you do when you are in conflict with someone else? The vast majority of people do not like to engage in conflict; I certainly don’t. but I at least have learned that conflict is normal — it is the essential fabric whereby we come to like and value each other (if we were all the same, it would be really boring!). But it is not easy.

In the best of circumstances, we have billions of people on this planet. Each one of us is different, and entitled to living space (food, shelter, education, health, etc.). And each one of us is emotional; when emotion-laden differences arise, we call it conflict. Frequently I have said to people: We are emotional; we can have clarity — it’s optional. And it requires ongoing effort to be able to think clearly about issues when emotions run high. Despite the dictates of modern psychology, I am a strong advocate of Blowing Out®, the system[1] I developed as a method for moving through emotional issues so as to have clarity in conflictual situations.

So often I hear people say that we should not be in conflict, that we should be able to resolve issues peacefully, and other admonitions as to how we should behave. I have very little use for shoulds, other than they being an indicator of conflict (see my earlier blogs on this subject). Every human being has thoughts and feelings about the struggles of life, and in general each person has their own experience, some having had more difficulty in life than others. Some have more power. Cooperation in diversity and conflict means that we work to provide justice for all, not just those who are in power. It means that all have a voice in providing such justice. Given our current maturity as a species, this takes incredible time and effort for resolution; perhaps as we growth in authenticity, it will take less time.

Your thoughts?

To be continued.

[1] described in my book Blowing Out the Darkness