Tag Archives: duplicity

The Developing Madness

Possibly crumbling.
Our crippled culture!

Over the past few weeks, I have been noting my reaction to a number of sources (below), some political, some ecological. As a result, I am again in a place of sadness at the immensity of the task facing us as a species if we are to survive the coming century. All are worth reading from my perspective; my title The Developing Madness comes from the combination of these sources.

First has been my reading of a free downloadable pdf copy of the book Rethinking Madness: Towards a Paradigm Shift In Our Understanding and Treatment Of Psychosis  (2012) by Paris Williams. As a physician-psychotherapist and a mystic, I have always been interested in the nature of psychosis, especially since I strongly disagree with the medical profession that psychosis is a biochemical disease (although there may be some biochemical based aspects to the disorder). For me, William’s book is superb: well-written and well-researched, persenting a very convincing argument for both mystical experience and psychosis as being responses in which the normal egoic defences of the psyche are overwhelmed by the vastness of unity experience, the mystic having a successful outcome and the psychotic having a less successful response. But the frame provided by this paradigm potentially asks the medical profession to be humanly authentic with patients, rather than technocrats administering medications while focussed on disease as the problem. The issues are complex, but to become humane would require a major revision of our entire society in its valuing of “experts.” At some level that would be both more expensive and very threatening in the age of scientific materialism.

Another source has been a CBC news article ‘It scares me’: Permafrost thaw in Canadian Arctic sign of global trend (2017 April 17) on the melting of the permafrost infrastructure that supports building in the Arctic town of Inuvik, NWT. As a physician, I worked in Inuvik (1971-1972) just after graduation from medical school, so I have some nostalgia and familiarity with the town of Inuvik, and the nature of permafrost; moreover, in 2009, my precipitation into despair came when I recognized the danger of melting permafrost and the developing release of methane (which, compared to CO2, is a more powerful greenhouse gas) — the CBC article gave me a immediate sensory-emotional link to the concept of permafrost melting. As a result also, I checked with a friend who has been part of the United Nations IPCC team who, over the years, has been documenting the risks of global warming via several different models. He notes:

The IPCC AR5 does not include carbon feedback emissions from forest fires, warming peatlands, or thawing permafrost (NOAA Arctic Report Card 2016). . . . The Amazon carbon sink is declining. World wide,there is increasing tree mortality and die back affecting all world forests (IPCC AR5).

All of this means that we are in even more danger of run-away climate disruption, and the multiple tipping points associated with elevating global temperature. We are easily heading for 2°C warming, at which point the developing madness of global warming becomes profoundly serious to the survival of our civilization, let alone our species.

Third has been As coral reefs die, huge swaths of the seafloor are deteriorating along with them (2017 Apri 20). Coral reefs are the breeding grounds of much of ocean life, and also provide breakwaters for many coastal shores — their loss has major impact on food supplies of the world as well as coastal community.

Fourth: Climate Change As Genocide: Inaction Equals Annihilation (2017 April 20). Famine is an old idea for our world, but now we risk planetary famine as failed states accumulate. As a “civilized people,” we are failing to respond, both in the provision of resources to those who need them, and in our response to the systemic forces wherein failed states become the domain of brutal armed combat, providing further blockage of our responses. Such insanity is our future as we continue to ignore the impact of global warming.

Finally I have been impacted by two posts by an activist-artist Ricardo Levins Morales whom I have recently found. The posts I find to be thoughtful, but complex, beyond my knowledge of the political situations of the United States — yet the ideas seem valid in my limited understanding. I recommend them:

· The Broken Mirror, a Fractured Movement and the 2016 Elections (2016 November 6)

· A Future to Fight For: A Conversation with Frederick Douglass in the Shadow of Trump (2017 April 21)

The two posts present a detailed analysis of the many forces that sustain neoliberalism and the failure of American democracy, thoughtfully written.

Most important for me has been what Morales, in the Broken Mirror, calls the Titanic  Compact — it provides a possible frame for understanding the inability of NGOs to cooperate with each other. It sets the bounds of “permitted struggle” — it notes:

The destruction of the mid-century mass movements through repression and funding, smashed the mirror in which peoples’ struggles could see themselves as parts of a common movement. In its place narrowly focused non-profits, licensed by the state, are permitted to each carry a single shard of the broken mirror. . . .  Under its terms we get to fight to improve conditions on the Titanic as long as we do not ask about the direction, speed or ownership of the ship itself. As long as we comply, we can solicit funding from the 1% and enjoy protection from state violence.

Much of this contract is undoubtedly unconscious, but consistent with what I perceive to be happening in many areas. We are so busy defending our small patches to truth that we do not want to see the overwhelming truth of where we are headed, in the developing madness. And we are so busy designing our protests that we fail to identify that we must mature as a species.

Our options are:

  • extinction
  • spontaneous emergence from the chaos (wherever this leads), and
  • deliverated emergence from the chaos (choosing a path of progressive psycho-spiritual evolution, wherever this leads).

At the risk of hubris, only the latter option is likely to resolve our difficulties. Culturally, we must come to terms with power over power, and we must come to terms with our desire for greatness.

What To Do? (Part 2)

Suicide3This is the second post as I reflect on the issues of what to do about the complexity of global warming and the insanity of our culture, especially the increasing incidence of suicide in our culture. It is in response to two articles sent to me by a friend:

I strongly advocate that we are capable of greatness as a species, but we have much growth to do before that will occur — and since culture/society are simply a group of individuals, the change must begin at the individual level. So, in the meanwhile, here are my thoughts.

  • First of all, I applaud Goutham Kumar of Hyderabad for quitting his corporate job to use his skills to develop a series of organizations to provide for the needy. He has truly learned that the nature of service is joy, both for the receiver and for the giver.
    • However, I believe that there is a trap in this story. We have created a cultural myth of heroes who do the hard work of change in our culture, and while to a major extent, we applaud such action, we do not do the much harder work of correcting the systemic issues that necessitate the hero in the first place. It is like attempting to fill a bucket with water, meanwhile failing to repair the large hole in the bottom.
    • And for the many who do not find the resources within ourselves to initiate such change, either the stance of the hero or the underlying work, it can be a major place of discouragement. I suggest that such discouragement is a significant factor in the actions of those who choose suicide.
  • Second, we need a narrative that allows meaning and purpose. Ideally we need a cultural narrative that fuels our maturity as a species, one that will allow us to move towards a civilization that honors humanity (not power), while utilizing technology to supplement our needs, rather than dictate to our needs.
    • As we listen to one another, perhaps we can get beyond the fractious argument between science and religion, hopefully to recognize that both scientific materialism (SM) and religion have growth to do, that both contain truth, and we must learn to have power over power, not just talk about the issues. Commitment to authentic action is needed.
    • Unfortunately our fractiousness fuels much, if not all, of our difficulty to love our enemies.
  • Third, our culture of SM has placed us in untenable positions. We must give up this paradigm. There are other paradigms.
    • Most of us know that there is a problem with our civilization; however, The Climate Lie (that all is well) is active in many ways. It is very difficult to find honesty in the face of our cultural acedia and the duplicity of many political systems. Undoubtedly this fuels the despair that underlies much of the suicides encountered by my friend.
    • At the same time, the paradigm of meaningless requires that we, as individuals and as a species, must do something about the issue, when we have almost no power to initiate change. This imbalance of responsibility, accountability, and authority is very destructive to who we are as individuals.
  • At this point, I run into my own limitations, previously written about in a series of posts: Being a resource looking for a need. I have spent my entire therapy career attempting to influence the growth of others. I have learned some things thereby.
    • The most important stance is that of high intentional; low attachment. I can only do so much, and even there I need a supportive community to achieve change. I do what I can, and trust the process (im my case, I turn it over to StarMaker, my word for creator or God).
      • To the best of my ability, I learn from the outcomes I encounter.
    • I begin somewhere. We need to work our way into any problem — wherever is relevant. Again, I trust synchronicity will define where I need to go.
      • I accept that there is only so much I can do; I have my limitations, and I know when and how to say No.
    • I attend to my own self-care (this requires two-three hours per day usually). I often appreciate the caring of others, but if I do not care for myself, I am unable to care for others.
      • I do a daily exercise program (my yoga practice).
      • I meditate daily (mindfulness is an essential tool on life journey).
      • I write often (my blog is my major place for reflection).
    • To the best of my ability, I am a good follower. If I can support and contribute to the growth of others, I do so willingly.

 

What To Do? (Part 1)

Suicide2I have not made any entries for a while (aside from the anger emails); overall, I have been busy reading about the complexity of global warming and the insanity of our culture, and reflecting on the issues of what to do. I’m prompted to write now because of two emails from a friend who works for a university health service. In each, he provided an interesting reference, and also asks questions about what to do. I’m writing this post as a response to his questions, because I believe the questions (and my responses) need to be distributed to a larger forum.

In the first, He Quit His Corporate Job To Help His City’s Needy, my friend asks how do we get the message of community service across to our sleepy culture, mainly to the student population who will have to carry the work forward. Especially he is concerned with the increasing incidence of suicide within the student population. In the second, Love Your Enemies. What Does It Mean? Can It Be Done?, he reflects on the need to leave bitterness and hatred behind, wherein the author (Brother David Steindl-Rast) suggests a number of practical steps to circumvent entrapment in pain. In particular, the author notes that the opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference (acedia in my language).

From my perspective, both enquiries are major comments on the immense immaturity of our species. Together we have created a civilization of vast technological brilliance, and one that is also intensely dehumanizing. As I have said on a number of occasions, “as individuals we are capable of immense greatness, but as a species we are psychotic.”

Two maxims stand out for me as to their importance.

  1. The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable (James A. Garfield), and then it will trap you our tendency to self-righteousness).
  2. We have found the enemy, and he is us. (Pogo, Walt Kelly).

I also fall back on a set of premises I learned when first at univerity:

  • If your conclusions are wrong, examine your premises.
  • If your conclusions are right, don’t trust your premises. They can still be inaccurate.

One of my truths is that we are a contentious species — we love to argue! (Frequently we call it discussion.) Sometimes, if we listen to each other, it leads to major advances. But most of the time it leads nowhere.

So a second truth for me is that we must learn to listen to each other. We all have a small part of the truth. And especially if we do not listen to each other, we often end up miserable. So my first response to my friend’s questions is that we need to develop systems of authentic listening — likely small groups meeting frequently where we learn to trust each other (Kumar notes that it was “not uncommon for him and his team to bond with those they rescue”). This requires some skill, offering a combination of listening and short-term resolution that satisfies the need for purpose — not an easy combination to develop in our fractured litiginous world. We must develop mechanisms for providing authentic hope.

As I have noted in previous posts, we have made power as the basis of civilization (two posts), not human needs. This has culminated in a society currently based on consumerism and neoliberal politics. Our paradigm of Scientific Materialism (SM) has identified a universe of incomparable beauty, but labelled it meaningless. From my perspective, it is no wonder that those who become lost between the cracks then commit suicide as an escape.

We have also created a world currently on the brink of disaster, including the possible extinction of the human species. We are engaged in a super-wicked problem of global warming and over-population, and as such, our engagement will often seem like two steps forward, and three steps back. We need to support each other in moving forward, not argue about moving back.

Can we recognize that paradigms are belief systems that coalesce to provide a vantage point for understanding reality? (Note: belief systems are not provable — they can be proven false, but never proven correct.) SM is not the only possible paradigm. It arose largely because the scientific method, principally initiated in the 13th century, proved more effective in explaining the mechanics of the universe than did the Ptolemaic methods of earlier days. More importantly, scientific materialism likely developed from the work of Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), who dreamt of the “scientific conquest of nature for man’s welfare.”[1] (Note the theme of power!) But neither science nor scientific materialism disproved older belief systems; it merely provided better explanations, and unfortunately paved the way for the ill features of our modern civilization.

I am a strong advocate of the scientific method; I also strongly disagree with the assumptions of scientific materialism. In order to function well, human beings need to have a sense of meaning that gives them purpose. I have previously noted that my preferred paradigm is Panpsychism, but I cannot prove that it is a better paradigm — however, it does give me a vastly more comprehensive understanding of the nature of the universe. I have also noted that panpsychism suggests that:

God exists (as the totality of sentient beings), and that (as a component of this totality) each individual sentient being possesses free will. We each makes choices about how we live. In addition, God provides the opportunity (e.g., possibilities) for us to live well. Even if God does not exist or even if the universe is eventually found to be meaningless, each individual still has the option to act as if it is meaningful, and to create a myth that will allow him or her to live within what life offers—in a stance of love, in contrast to acedia.

So my second suggestion for my friend is that these small groups must also tell the truth — not that God exists, not that SM is wrong, but that SM is only a belief system, one that is currently trapping us on a path to extinction. That we must find ways to support people as they struggle to develop their own belief systems, ways that validate their ability to support themselves and each other while challenging the powerful forces that sustain SM and its consequences (and meanwhile stepping out of bitterness and anger at how our civilization has developed). Again, not an easy task.

To be continued.

[1] Tarnas, R. (1991, p. 275). The passion of the Western mind: Understanding the ideas that have  shaped our world view. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

The (Mis)Information Age, Part 2

misinformation1

In Part 1, I indicated my interest in the Netflix series: The Untold History of the United States (Oliver Stone, 2012), and my own issues with trust. Here, I continue with commentary on the underlying issues of how we trust, as well as the immense difficulty we have with too much information, or (mis)information.

Cognitive Biases

In attempting to understand trust, I recently looked up the nature of cognitive biases[1]. To quote Wikipedia, “Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment.” Depending on which source I looked up, I found between 180 and 250 distinct biases, ranging from anchoring bias (the tendency to anchor conclusions on the first piece of “trusted” information acquired) to the Zeigamik Effect (the tendency for interrupted tasks to be remembered better than completed ones). I found the list to be fascinating, and recognized that many of the biases would have great survival value in a simple culture.

But ours is not a simple culture. When overwhelmed with too much information, I (and almost certainly any human being) will rapidly sort the information for importance according to my biases, especially my other-than-conscious biases. I know I do this every day — and (perhaps as my bias) I believe I am very sophisticated in my understanding of human communication. Heaven help those who are less sophisticated.

Whom To Trust

As I said recently, I have previously written about the means by which we establish trust (Whom Do You Trust?), and the TIC process that people use. To reiterate (as I regard it as a very important process to understand), people:

translate (T) the new information into language they can understand more easily, they interpret (I) into their own system of meaning, and then they corroborate (C) this meaning with groups that they already trust. For example, if I want to process information about new electric cars, I translate (T) the information into my current understanding of cars, think about (I) what cars mean to me, and then go ask (C) my friends what they think about electric cars.

Thus the fundamental basis of trust is how we select those around us whom we will believe, or at least with whom we will associate. But the group we trust may have their own biases, often in many ways. Examples include the colonial stances of the 19th century and the information presented in The Untold History . . . .

Such biases are especially important in the light of George Marshall book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change that I recently reviewed (7 parts, beginning here).

I recently wrote to a friend, concerning our mutual need to find a way to have the Canadian people mobilize for climate disruption, that we need:

a big frame that allows the conservatives and doubters to engage together with those committed. We have to interact so as to establish trust, not so much with the people like [Steve] Bannon, but with those who listen to him and still have uncertainty. The frame could be something like: ‘What do you want for the future? We are all in this together, and even though most of us have uncertainty, we need to pull together to create a better world. Let’s all talk to each other as if the other has truth in what they are saying: both those who are uncertain about climate disruption, and those who are more certain.’

But I continue to wonder to what extent my own biases and those of others interfere with our ability to cooperate on this super-wicked difficulty.

And if we don’t cooperate, the consequences are immense, if not disastrous.

[1] (A) List of Cognitive Biases, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases, accessed 2017 February 14; (B) Cognitive Bias Codex, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases#/media/File:Cognitive_Bias_Codex_-_180%2B_biases,_designed_by_John_Manoogian_III_(jm3).jpg, accessed 2017 February 14

The (Mis)Information Age, Part 1

misinformation1

I’ve been watching a fascinating series on Netflix: The Untold History of the United States (Oliver Stone, 2012), twelve presentations based on a particular interpretation of documented events during the 20th century, especially events related to the politics of war, specifically the cold war. I find it fascinating because it seems well researched and well presented, and it also reinforces my biases regarding the duplicity of modern politics (and probably ancient politics also). And as a result, I am challenged again to decide if the information is actually mis-information — hence my title The (Mis)Information Age.

Reviews[1] of the series were mixed, with claims that there was really nothing new presented in the interpretations provided, and that there was much selective cherry-picking of the information presented. Perhaps this is true, but I still find that it provides me with much information that I had not previously encountered, and as a result that I have been reflecting a lot on how do I process information in the modern age.

My Experience of Trust

When I was a young boy, if I wanted to know something about a topic, I went to the encyclopedia; if needed, I went to the local library and searched for the topic in the Encyclopedia Britannica — the definitive source of the time. There I would find a concise three to five page article on the topic, and I had a sense of trust that I had now found useful information, actual knowledge of the state of the world at the current time. And that there was not easily a better source available.

Almost certainly this was a gross error, and if reviewed now, the information would undoubtedly be considered heavily biased (male perspective, British Empire perspective, et cetera). However, it was a world in which there was a sense of trust. Such trust was manifest in many ways. Many days as a child, I wandered freely over the neighborhood, perhaps blocks away, with no sense of fear. As a much younger child, I frequently visited with the “neighborhood grand-father,” where together with eight or ten other four-year-olds he would read us stories on Saturday mornings. I also recall going to school alone on the bus when I was seven or eight, perhaps younger. My older brother and I, he then perhaps nine or ten years old, would hop on the bus and go downtown to the Saturday morning movies, alone. When somewhat older, I cannot recall that I ever locked a bicycle or a car; most of the time the house door was unlocked, unless we were planning to be away for a few days.

In the interim, in my lifetime, I have watched the erosion of trust, both within myself, and within society in general. As I am sure you the reader know, almost no one fails to lock their home or their car anymore, or if they do, they worry until they return, fearful that it will be vandalized or stolen. Who today would think of leaving a younger child to go to the movies by themselves? Or allowing a young child to take public transit alone?

Nor do I trust modern communications, especially the media, and also much of professional literature. I have six university degrees, all of them in some way related to science; hence I generally understand scientific reports, but I do not trust many of the conclusions presented in modern scientific reports. I am very aware of the ways in which the language used in reports are heavily biased in subtle ways. Especially I do not trust the writings in psycho-pharmacology or nutrition (I also have a 1000 hours training as a cook, and know the politics of the culinary field).

Thus, I have my own issues with (mis)information.

To be continued (Cognitive Biases and Whom To Trust).

[1] The Untold History of the United States,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Untold_History_of_the_United_States, accessed 2017 February 14

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 7

The need for distrust: betrayal.
Modern complexity is so disruptive of trust.

This is my final post exploring a précis I did of George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (2014), starting 20170122. Much of the information disheartens me, but it also clarifies the possibility of better outcome. The bottom line is how we deal with trust.

Chapter 42. In a nutshell. Some personal and highly biased ideas for digging our way out of this hole. Climate change is a scientific fact. Psychological obstacles are also a scientific fact. A large body of rigorous research based evidence suggests that we need to overcome numerous biases against threats that appear to be distant in time and place. We need to make these obstacles explicit, and recognize that many may be subconscious.

Marshall then offers approximately fifteen suggestions based on the extensive research he has personally done, interviewing many diverse groups as to what has been effective in mobilizing response to global warming, and what has not. [Unfortunately, I find this chapter to be the least useful of the entire book, partly because Marshall’s suggestions have not created a large frame for me — they are more a compilation of suggestions, all pointing at climate disruption. What follows is my attempt to give a frame.]

  • Trust is more important than information; emphasize qualities that create trust by telling personal story, and being emotionally honest.
    • Be honest about the danger, while encouraging positive vision. Activate cooperative values, and stress what we have in common. Relate solutions to climate change to sources of happiness.
    • Recognize people’s feelings of grief and anxiety; mourn what is lost, and value what remains.
  • Build a narrative of cooperation. Accept the spectrum of approaches that all parties bring. Create a heroic quest in which the enemy may be our internal weakness rather than an outside group.
    • Follow narrative rules to recognize the actors, motives, causes, and effects. Resist narratives of in-group and out-group; be wary of narrative takeover.
    • People are best motivated when action reinforces identity and social belonging. Emphasize action that makes us proud to be who we are. Enable communications with built-in interaction.
  • Resist simple frames, and be open to new meanings. Be sure that a wide range of solutions is constantly under review.
    • Never assume that what works for you will work for others. Close the partisan gap by affirming wider values.
    • Keep an open mind; be alert to your own biases. Remember experts can also be biased. Learn from your critics.
  • Never accept the frames of opponents: do not negate, repeat, or structure arguments to counter them. We all contribute to climate change; argument simply detracts from narrative.
    • Argument does not establish trust! The very word “opponent” suggests argument! Work to find a way to include the frames presented.
  • Emphasize the climate change is happening here and now. Be wary of creating distance in time and space.
    • Develop conversations about long-term preparedness, emphasizing a narrative of positive change.
    • Recognize moments of proximity that create symbolic moments, adding to emotional narrative.
  • Present climate change as a journey of conviction. Be prepared to learn from religious sources, which are frequently journeys of conviction; invoke non-negotiable sacred values.
    • Remember that how we respond now will provide the template for future responses.

The essential means of communication is personal story. Good communication is meant to be a sharing which leads to change in both originator and recipient. Modern communications, especially media, have been very effective in creating personal story, but usually have minimized the resources of logic and ethics. The modern means of communication whereby individuals leave comments, often anonymously, has generally become a means of diatribe, rather than dialogue. It is the means by which individuals discharge their emotional energy, but unfortunately is usually ineffective:

  • the individual does not fully release their energy, and
  • generally neither originator nor recipient learn from diatribe.

For effectiveness, personal story must be combined with good information, information that is logical and ethical, and which meets the recipient in a manner that the recipient trusts. Unfortunately, this kind of communication is uncommon. Thus it is essential that communicators work to include the frames of “opponents” — those who, often, are simply attempting to include their frames, and come from a position of argument.

From my perspective, the major need is to find promote cooperation by inclusivity. This requires both personal contact and time for relationship to develop. Given that evolving climate disruption has a time frame, I attempt to work in a manner that hopes/trusts that this effort will be enough! It has been my experience over my lifetime, especially in my career as a therapist, that change often comes in totally unexpected fashion, sometimes in what seems miraculous fashion.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 6

The need for distrust: betrayal.
Modern complexity is so disruptive of healthy living.

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. Much of the information disheartens me, but it also clarifies the possibility of better outcome.

One more post to go to complete this series — it has seemed long, but I believe the ideas to be important. The next post, on the final chapter of the book, will summarize my thoughts as well.

Chapter 38. Intimations of mortality. Why the future goes dark. We all know we are going to die, and we used to be able to cope with the thought that our life was contributing to something larger that would survive this. Now even that has been taken away from us. [Such losses overwhelm us.]

One of the destructive aspects of scientific materialism. Human beings respond to emotional narrative — the glory of the material-based cosmos thrills us with its complexity, but does not provide a sense of purpose. This is one of the reasons I ascribe to panpsychism (philosophically) and panentheism (spiritually) — they offer me greater depth of awe.

Chapter 39. From the head to the heart. The phony division between science and religion. Conviction is a condition of strongly held opinion, reached through a personal evaluation of the evidence. We know what needs to be done, and we know how it must be done. Yet, despite the information at our disposal, unfortunately very little is done. It is a long journey from the head to the heart; and an even longer journey from the heart to the hands.

Both science and spirituality seek to honor the cosmos, and are not opposed (although they have been interpreted as such) — the historic division occurred largely because of power politics of the 13th century, sustained since by the self-righteous struggles of both ends of the spectrum. We need a narrative that includes both, but most importantly we need to stop arguing details when we do not recognize the centrality of our ignorance. Then perhaps we could treat the world, this planet and its biosphere, with the respect it deserves.

Chapter 40. Climate conviction. What the green team can learn from the God squad. Climate change appears to be hopeless because people will never be prepared to make a sacrifice based on rational calculation, but this is not the case with religions, which contain sacred values that are so fundamental that they are entirely nonnegotiable. In religion, the reward for belief comes from belonging to a community of believers, and the cost of disbelief is social rejection. The language of climate change is strongly based in guilt and blame, and contains no language of forgiveness. Not surprisingly, people either reject the entire moralistic package, or generate self-forgiveness to ingenious licensing.

What will it take for we humans to know and honor a value system that treats the world appropriately?

Chapter 41. Why we are wired to ignore climate change . . . and why we are wired to take action. The issues of climate change are difficult to challenge; they are complex, unfamiliar, slow moving, invisible, and intergenerational. They require certain short-term loss in order to mitigate against uncertain longer-term loss. They challenged deeply held assumptions about comfort, about gases that we have considered benign, and that our familiar environment has become dangerous and uncertain. Cooperation amongst large numbers of rival social groups is required for a distribution of losses, and thereafter the allocation of the greatly diminished shared atmospheric commons. We all contribute moral responsibility together with the powerlessness of individual action. Climate change is exceptionally multivalent, lending itself to multiple interpretations of causality, timing, and impact. This leaves it extremely vulnerable to our innate disposition to select information so that confirms our pre-existing assumptions. These constructed narratives become so culturally specific that people who do not identify with their values can reject the issue they explain. The bottom line is that we do not accept climate change because we wish to avoid the anxiety it generates, and the deep changes it requires.

. . . and why we are wired to take action. Nonetheless, we are capable of dealing with all aspects of climate change. We have a virtually unlimited capacity to accept things that might otherwise prove to be cognitively challenging once they are supported by shared conviction, reinforced by social norms,  and conveyed in narratives that speak to our sacred values. We currently feel isolated and powerless, but could readily be mobilized if our concerns and hopes become validated within a community of shared conviction and purpose.

Unfortunately, it is not yet clear at what point we will fully engage in this process. Readers of this blog will know that I do not believe climate change to be a technological issue — it is an emotional issue reflective of our hubris as a species. We have much maturing to do as such.

To be continued.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 5

distrust03
The Central Issue of Our Civilization

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. Much of the information disheartens me, but it also clarifies the possibility of better outcome.

Chapter 31. Precedents and presidents. How climate policy lost the plot. The issue of climate change emerged at the time of unusual optimism, when there were three very recent precedents of proven success and international cooperation: reduction of nuclear arms, reduction of ozone-depleting chemicals, and reduction of acid rain pollution. All were resolved with improved technology. In retrospect, these issues had such strong metaphorical similarities to climate change that policymakers failed to notice the glaring and important differences — the differences between solvable tame problems and multifactorial wicked problems. Unfortunately, these precedents were of an entirely more manageable scale than climate change. As with all frames, these precedents focused the attention, and defined the areas of disattention — thus, climate change could be defined entirely and exclusively is a problem of gases.

Precedents can be unintended disinformation. Only very slowly is our culture coming to recognize the complexity of climate disruption, especially the issues that relate to cultural maturity — my stance that global warming is not a technological issue; rather it arises from the underpinning of our civilization.

Chapter 32. Wellhead and tailpipe. Why we keep fueling the fire we want to put old. From the very beginning, fossil fuel production was outside the frame of climate change. The focus on tailpipe gases ignored wellhead production, including exploration and development. Because climate change is multivalent and wicked, it can have multiple interpretations, but exists only in the frame that people choose to have.

Climate disruption is much more than a greenhouse gas issue. How blind we are to our own follies!

Chapter 33. The black gooey stuff. Why oil companies await our permission to go out of business. The social construction of risk generates CRAP (a.k.a. compulsive risk assessment psychosis). This allows the fossil fuel industry to focus on the future development of technology, especially Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), as a solution to global warming — the optimism of technology and consumerism.

Again, our blindness.

Chapter 34. Moral imperatives. How we diffuse responsibility for climate change. The use of passive voice allows confusion of responsibility. Obfuscation allows governments to create the impression that something is being done, while simultaneously preventing anything from happening.

And unfortunately, some of the blindness occurs by deliberately putting on dark glasses.

Chapter 35. What did you do in the great climate work, daddy? Why we don’t really care what our children think. Professionals assume that their privileged position in the world will immunize their children from the worst impacts of climate change. The choice to have children compels those who have children to write a narrative around climate change in which the overall prognosis becomes more optimistic, their own emissions become less significant, they become less vulnerable, and they accept a world of extreme inequality of future outcomes on their behalf.

Wow. Our biases come to the surface in many diverse ways, especially moved by moralistic slogans.

Chapter 36. The power of one. How climate change became your fault. Climate change is unique in that our individual contributions can be measured down to the last gram; no other global issue has this characteristic. In reality, the promotion of personal responsibility was a narrative gambit to define climate change as a problem that lay at the very furthest end of the tailpipe in the purchasing decisions of the individual. Creating personal responsibility leads to blame and resentment. It is conservatives who have the greatest moral emphasis on personal responsibility; and it is liberal individualists, with their highly individualized values, who are actually the group least suited to working together for a shared goal. Small changes in lifestyle lend license to tomorrow, justifying excess in other areas. What is needed is the power of all, not the power of one.

Guilt is not an effective motivator. There are so many different factors in the way in which narrative is received, and these factors vary from group to group. My experience over the years is that what motivates people is a sense that they can do something in a way that is successful; unfortunately, the super-wicked nature of global warming is such that it will always be two steps forward, and three backwards, and only occasionally will it be four steps forward, perhaps to long-term success. This is not a recipe for engagement.

Chapter 37. Degrees of separation. How climate experts cope with what they know. They cope as human beings, with all the anxieties and inconsistencies of each of us.

As Pogo said: “We have found the enemy. And he is us!” The only way I myself have managed is to bracket my issues. Human like the rest of us.

To be continued.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 4

The need for distrust: betrayal.
Modern complexity is so disruptive of healthy living.

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. Much of this information disheartens me, but it does offer clarity of the issues.

Chapter 22. Communicator trust. Why the messenger is more important than the message. If words are frames and metaphors are meaning, then the person who communicates them is the most important link. Trust is entirely driven by the emotional brain.

From my perspective, this is the essential dilemma — communication is an emotional process, and the messenger is more important than the message.

Chapter 23. If they don’t understand the theory, talk about it over and over and over again. Why climate science does not move people. Denial is due to a surplus of culture, the community one trusts, rather than a deficit of information. One of the best proofs that information does not change people’s attitudes is that science communicators continued to ignore the extensive research evidence that shows that information does not change people’s attitudes. It is personal story that engages people.

Indeed — personal story, but . . . . Over my lifetime, there has been a huge move to engage in emotionality, especially emotional opinion, This personal story engages, but has usually been accompanied by a diminution of logic and ethics. In order to be successful, personal story must be added to logic and ethics — an addition, not a replacement. In addition, because everyone speaks from their own frame with their own metaphors, there have been tremendous turf wars amongst the various contenders.

Chapter 24. Protect, ban, save, and stop. How climate change became environmentalist. The worldview of environmentalists creates a constantly reinforced schema by which climate change is detached from the many other issues (employment, economy, crime, defense) that people care most about. Environmental messaging is not deliberately exclusive; it would like to reach other people, but it is not interested in reflecting other people’s values — it thus excludes them!

War  does not create peace! The turf wars simply add confusion — somehow we need to come together in ways that recognize the commonality of our difficulties.

Chapter 25. Polarization. Why polar bears make it harder to accept climate change. Semiotics is the study of nonlinguistic signs. Climate change, an issue that suffers from a lack of proximity, has chosen an icon that could not be more distant from people’s real life.

The polar bear icon is ineffective! It becomes another component whereby climate disruption is an urgent, but not an important, issue, a distant issue.

Chapter 26. Turn off your lights or the puppy gets it. How doomsday becomes dullsville. There is no easy answer is to how best to communicate the serious threats contained in science in a way that people respect, understand, and heed. In addition, most people in Western culture have a large mental library of failed prophecies of collapse, and thus lose interest in another proposed collapse.

As well, guilt is not a great motivator. “How best” requires personal contact in a manner that the recipient will trust; this is very difficult to achieve in the immensity and complexity of modern culture.

Chapter 27. Bright-siding. The dangers of positive dreams. The downside of positivity, the idea of challenge and ingenious creativity, is driven by a terrible insecurity which requires a constant effort to repress or block out unpleasant possibilities. Bright-siding may promote an aspirational high consumption lifestyle while ignoring the deep inequalities, pollution, and waste that makes that lifestyle possible.

Indeed there are incredible possibilities offered by climate disruption, but the complexity is immense, and essentially requires a major change in our cultural models.

Chapter 28. Winning the argument. How a scientific discourse turned into a debating slam. Political theory is never a good venue for having a rational argument.

Politics is emotional, and usually a morass of turf wars, attempting to preserve the system. Neither scientific discourse nor current politics is prepared for the changes required.

Chapter 29. Two billion bystanders. How Live Earth tried and failed to build a movement. In the absence of a clear objective and a movement that can galvanize an audience into action, concert media creates a global bystander effect, with the audience waiting for us to see if somebody else will do something.

We need a cultural narrative that will motivate.

Chapter 30. Postcard from Hopenhagen. How climate negotiations keep preparing for the drama yet to come. “Setting the stage” is a narrative frame that means that, even when the meetings do not do anything, they are still preparing for the great drama to come.

When?

To be continued.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 3

distrust03These 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. Much of this information disheartens me. Given we are reaching the capacity of our planet to hold our numbers, our limitations as a species are clearly showing.

Chapter 13. Them, there, and then. How we push climate change far away. The timeline of climate change is a creeping problem. The lack of a definite beginning, end, or deadline requires that we create our own timeline — we do so in ways that remove the compulsion to act.

Not an easy problem. Again, as indicated in Chapter 10, we are poorly evolved to deal with creeping problems. Partly it is our inability to cooperate in large groups; partly it is our ability to accommodate to slow change. The metaphor of how a living frog responds to being slowly heated in a pot of water (becoming cooked), although not accurate in the real world, is however so accurate as to how we respond to this issue.

Chapter 14. Costing the earth. Why we want to gain the whole world yet lose our lives. People give an overwhelming priority to the short term over the long-term. However, they will willingly shoulder a burden provided they share a common purpose, and are rewarded with a greater sense of social belonging. If climate change is regarded as an unavoidable condition, we will become resigned to it; if however, it is regarded as an active and informed choice, there are no innocent bystanders.

We need an effective narrative, one that allows us to come together as a common species, and we do not have that yet; we still live our lives with national identities (I’m a Canadian, et cetera), not easily identifying with the commonality of being human. Witness, for example, the issues of cultural identity: Muslim, Christian, Syrian, Mexican, latino — many of which now generate major angst in immigration issues.

Chapter 15. Certain about the uncertainty. How we use uncertainty as a justification for inaction. Uncertainty occurs through many mechanisms: the very meaning of uncertainty varies, and in the view of the public uncertainty means unsure or lacking confidence, whereas for the scientific community, uncertainty means not yet determined with sufficient accuracy]. Depending on the issue, crises are exploited as a means to centralize power and subvert democracy.

The disinformation processes of the past 50 years have been so destructive to our ability to come together; yet even a major sceptic Richard Mueller converted to agreeing that “climate change … [is] based on extremely strong argument” and “is “caused by humans.” And global warming is now a major part of military planning; it is so incongruent — we are such a strange species.

Chapter 16. Paddling in the pool of worry. How we choose what to ignore. Risk can be evaluated by the rational brain, but worry is an emotional perception. What we choose to ignore is just as important as what we choose to attend to, and it is this skill that enables us to cope with the information-saturated modern urban environment.

Indeed — information overload; and the attempt to respond to global warming is often seen as just another piece of information, something else to become numb about.

Chapter 17. Don’t even talk about it! The invisible force field of climate silence. The elephant in the living room is a meta-silence in that we don’t talk about the fact that we don’t talk about it. Ignorance is not knowing, denial is the refusal to know, and disavowal is the active choice not to notice; non-knowledge refers to information that is deliberately not acquired because it is considered too sensitive, dangerous, or taboo to produce. The discussion of information must be balanced by the need for discussion; a series of complex feedbacks mitigates against the discussion of the C-word. The shifting of public attitudes often requires a prolonged struggle by dedicated social movements, often with the central tactic of confronting a socially constructed silence.

Climate Silence! Challenging this is one of the major precepts of The Climate Mobilization — make a commitment to talk about it. This chapter is fascinating, and perhaps the most important chapter fo the book. How do you prepare for a threat that cannot be named? The multivalent nature of climate change makes it very susceptible to avoidance in the numerous ways that human beings have for managing anxiety. The author notes “The lessons of history show that this [global warming] is winnable, but it could be a long struggle.” Unfortunately, we don’t have time for a long struggle.

Chapter 18. The non-perfect non-storm. Why we think that climate change is impossibly difficult. Climate change is exceptionally multivalent; it enables a limitless range of self-serving interpretations; and it is uncanny, creating a discomfort in the discordance between the familiar that has become dangerous. As such, climate change has become a [super-]wicked problem.

“Climate change is very difficult, but don’t perfectly difficult.” Again the multivalent nature of the problem. Unfortunately we use every excuse in the book, not as excuse, but usually as the unconscious patterns of avoiding anxiety. This is especially so in that as human beings we have caused the problem, and therefore we might be [are] hurting the ones we love. Climate change is also an uncanny condition, a problem that is familiar enough, seemingly recognizable and yet dangerous in every aspect.

Summary #2. We scan information for cues as to whether we should pay attention to it or not. Without salience or social cues, climate change lies outside the analytic frame; we respond to our socially constructed stories, and as such, we have no effective overcome.

The complexity of our patterns is amazing, especially our cognitive biases. In reading this book, I am deeply impressed by the incredible sophistication by which we humans manage information (or actively ignore it). Amazing, but in this particular issue of global warming, not necessarily to our advantage, and quite frankly to our disadvantage.

Chapter 19. Cockroach tours. How museums struggle to tell the climate story. Museums struggle to find ways of talking about climate change that are interesting, engaging, and truthful to the science, yet able to navigate the politics. In the age of information overload, they attempt to create a sound-bite. Unfortunately, most of their funding comes from the fossil fuel industry.

Sad! Museums (at least some) could be so much more. What I have noticed in my years is that museums have shifted from places of information for adults to places of entertainment for children. Generally I won’t go to museums anymore — the emotional atmosphere is too frenetic.

Chapter 20. Tell me a story. Why lies can be so appealing. Stories are the means by which the emotional brain makes sense of the information collected by the rational brain. As compared to the complex multivalent reality of climate change, people will accept a fictional story if it has narrative fidelity (that is, based on whether the quality of the information it contains hangs together or not).

Narrative fidelity! I can’t help but be amazed again — we are so sophisticated, and yet so gullible. No wonder the advertising (and disinformation) systems are so powerful. Perhaps I am naïve, but I like to believe that advertising was originally meant to provide information so as to allow reasoned choice — it certain no longer does that in the modern world.

Chapter 21. Powerful words. How the words we use affect the way we feel. Words are heard within defined frames of meaning. False friends are words that sound the same but mean something different, and thus engage different frames. They can create considerable confusion in any kind of communication. For example, global warming was shifted to climate change because it sounded less emotive, and had less connection to the burning of fossil fuels. The second major building block of narrative is metaphor; through metaphor, we engage our most available previous experience to make sense of new information. Metaphors then engage the frames that allow us to think about the next issue.

Indeed words are powerful, and so sad that we have subverted human intelligence to consumerism.

To be continued.