Tag Archives: self-righteousness

What’s It All About? Part 2

Meaning2This is my second post about meaning, it being the essential driver of human behaviour. We are meaning-makers, story-makers, and if we do not know “what it’s all about,” we will not move into action. At the same time, the creation of our meaning is complex and sophisticated.

Not only is the creation of meaning complex, but often the information itself is complex. This is especially so with all the information available concerning global warming.

I said last post that I would give some updated information regarding global warming. Here it is.

First, I want to draw attention to a brilliant presentation by Jeremy Rifkin on The Third Industrial Revolution via UBC Connects (20180316) — it is a fairly long video, and a quick summary is available as The Zero Marginal Cost Society (unfortunately both present the information too rapidly to allow good processing). Rifkin identifies that every industrial revolution in the past has occurred with and requires new innovations in communication (management), energy (creation), and transportation (movement). We have that now with the internet (communication), renewable energy (energy), and electronic vehicles plus 3D printing (both logistical), and thus we are now capable of a new industrial revolution. However he remains hesitant because he does not trust that we have the maturity as a culture to undertake this — we must learn to cooperate and collaborate. processes are underway, and are in a race against the impacts of global warming.

Unfortunately, all this has been my primary emphasis throughout this blog.

And given all this, what do I trust? And, what to do? Especially in relationship to global warming. I trust the following links — they are also potentially troublesome — they offer meaning, likely painful! Yet, within the assessment of what I can do regarding global warming, they offer much; they are my attempt to offer appropriate meaning.

Climate change: An ‘existential threat’ to humanity, UN chief warns global summit (20180515)

The current Secretary-General of the UN notes “Everyday, I am faced with the challenges of our troubled and complex world. But none of them loom so large as climate change. If we fail to meet the challenge, all our other challenges will just become greater and threaten to swallow us. Climate change is, quite simply, an existential threat for most life on the planet — including, and especially, the life of humankind.”

Degree sparks necessary debate (20180517)

David Suzuki is often blunt in his critique of the societal issues of climate change, something I appreciate. Yet, as he notes, his bluntness often is subject to ad hominem attacks, rather than depth of dialogue — unfortunate, and part of the distortion that occurs in transfer of information to meaning.

Climate Reality Check (2016)

The Uninhabitable Earth (20170709)

Good information in both. Also scarey!

The Climate Mobilization Living In Climate Truth Guidebook

A draft document developed by The Climate Mobilization, presenting many good links as to the nature of the pending catastrophe as well as practical tips for self-care.

What’s It All About? Part 1

Meaning2I’ve decided to write a post about meaning because it is the essential driver of human behaviour. We are meaning-makers, story-makers, and if we do not know “what it’s all about,” we will not move into action. At the same time, the creation of our meaning is complex and sophisticated.

Some definitions are needed. Data refers to patterns within energy transmission. Information refers to a measurement of a signal (data) between a sender and receiver, from point A to point B. For data to become information, the data must be perceived by someone; information requires both data and perceiver. Information is a derivative of consciousness; it is not the same as meaning, and in fact, information has nothing to do with meaning.

Meaning is the fit between self and non-self; if the perceived data relates to who we perceive ourselves to be (the fit) or in some way challenges who we are, we make meaning of the information. I’ve previously talked about how we do this, the TIC process, as one of the major limitations of meaning. We translate (T) the data in to something we recognize, we interpret (I) the data on the basis of our existing filters (preconceptions), and then we corroborate (C) the data by checking the significance, the fit, with an existing group we trust.

Another way we create meaning is if the information interests us. Davis in That’s Interesting! proposes that social theories (at least) are interesting because they challenge the underlying presuppositions of the reader, potentially altering both the common sense and the scientific view of reality. For me, this is an interesting idea in itself as it leads me to ponder what happens when the presuppositions are firmly held, as in the conflict between the environmental movement and the deniers of global warming.

Obviously there are all sorts of ways in which this process of meaning-making can go sour. One of the major ways is that in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. This limits meaning! We bypass much of what we might actually need to know because of too much information. For me, it is a form of trauma, leading to overwhelm and apathy.

And we respond to it in the many ways associated with acedia:

  • we become fearful of overwhelm (“It’s too much.) This is especially true when we approach the issue of global warming. There is so much information and the information is so painful to absorb, we give up.
  • we become lazy (“I’ll look at it tomorrow.” “Somebody else will fix it.”)
  • we become self-righteous, especially if our corroborative group is also in denial. At its extreme, we actively sabotage by creating dis-information.

Even more frustrating is the nature of information dissemination. I’ve just been reading about Edward Bernays and the manipulation of Public Relations. He was the key figure in the early-mid 20th century responsible for the massive increase in public propaganda following the Second World War — advertising.

Bernays sold the myth of propaganda as a wholly rational endeavor, carried out methodically by careful experts skilled enough to lead “public opinion.” Consistently he casts himself as a supreme manipulator, mastering the responses of a pliable, receptive population. “Conscious and intelligent manipulation,” “invisible governors,” “they who pull the wires which control the public mind,” “shrewd persons operating behind the scenes,” “dictators exercising great power,” and, below them, people working “as if actuated by the touch of a button”—these are but a few expressions of the icy scientistic paradigm that evidently drove his propaganda practice, and that colored all his thinking on the subject. The propagandist rules. The propagandized do whatever he would have them do, exactly as he tells them to, and without knowing it. [Propaganda Quotes]

In reading this, I’ve also been aware of the changing parameters by which people engage in modern thinking, highly illustrative of both how information is transformed into meaning (especially via the TIC process), and the relationship between power and knowledge. An attendee at a recent Flat Earth Convention discusses just this theme: “those in power control what is considered to be correct and incorrect knowledge.” It fascinates me that a conference on the “reality” of a flat earth exists in today’s complex world! I wonder what else I am missing.

Two areas of changing parameters are most obvious to me:

  • the whole of the consumer industry with its so-called advertising processes. I like to think that originally advertising was meant to inform (perhaps my naiveté); now I simply see it as propaganda and manipulation.(my meaning).
  • the hidden algorithms that underlie many processes that presume to offer me choice: online filter bubbles that act in ways that provide information based on my previous choices. These  occur in the hidden background of many well-known websites, and essentially restrict my corroboration to what I have already chosen.

Give all this, what do I trust? And, what to do?

One of the maxims I am using these days is: Be at peace; come back tomorrow! By this, I do not mean “I’ll look at it tomorrow” or “Someone else will fix it.”

I actually mean I’ll do what I can today and be at peace with what I have done! And then see what tomorrow offers for me to explore and do, again peacefully.

Another interesting idea for me is how to disappear in this digital age. There are certainly people who want to disappear, and there are also people who specialize in this process, especially when it is legal to do so; I also imagine many processes by which people disappear for illegal actions.

Next post, I’ll give some updated information about global warming — the primary intention of this blog is to challenge the human issues that drive climate change.

I hope that this additional information will help you to make greater meaning in your life!

What Are We Thinking?

DroughtSeveral articles have recently struck me as indicators of where we currently are with respect to global warming. Some of the articles focus on the impact; two focus on the insanity that drives us. What are we thinking!?

I remain convinced that the major issues underlying global warming are those of:

  • acedia — our laziness, fearfulness and self-righteousness that prevents us from engaging in the most important issue of our species. There are, of course, reasons (good reasons, many of which were addressed in my earlier blogs), but reasons don’t count! Results count.
    • it is our acedia that stops our cooperation, the attitude that: “I’m willing to work hard on these issues if to my advantage, or if you are!” We see this with our international agreements — Russian, Turkey, and the United States (accounting for about 30% of the greenhouse effect) not engaged in the Paris Agreement. And the Paris Agreement is only an agreement to do something about the problem; if Canada’s duplicity is any example, we are a long way from actual results.
  • evil — this is not a topic we as a culture want to address, yet it is undeniable to me that evil exists. It shows up in greed and in the disinformation processes that feed our inactivity.

Many small positive actions occur, many, but we still have not reached our own tipping point as to when we will move rapidly to resolution. Perhaps we will do so in time to prevent catastrophe for our civilization, perhaps for our species. Perhaps not.

I almost need to laugh, perhaps cry!

Cape Town water supply near ‘point of no return’ as reservoirs run dry (20180118)

A number of articles within this link point to the impact of global warming. Cape Town (South Africa) is considering mandatory limitation of water usage. China is refusing to be the dumping ground for plastic waste, especially plastic bottles, thereby forcing other countries to deal with their recycling products.

Who is Guilty of Climate Crimes? (20180216)

The basis answer is that we are all guilty. However, some aspects stand out: the extreme right, the fossil fuel industry, the media, and the major industrial countries (Canada, my country, included).

Arctic temperatures soar 45 degrees above normal, flooded by extremely mild air on all sides (20180222)

The highest weather station in the world, about 400 miles for the North Pole, has warmed to 43°F in the dead of winter! In addition to feedback loops that further increase Arctic warming (and loss of more ice), thus impacting the entire weather system of the northern hemisphere (the jet-stream impact), there is also the massive release of methane from permafrost and seabed melting, the rise of sea level (as the Greenland ice field melts), and the slowdown of the global ocean conveyor belt effect. These are just some of the effects; we simply do not know what tipping points will be reached and when.

Coral reefs will transition to net dissolving before end of century (20180223)

Another factor in loss of both beauty and a basic food chain component — in addition to warming being destructive of coral, the acidification also is weakening the underlying sedimentary structure of the reefs. Our world food supply is thus at risk.

Climate science deniers’ credibility tested (20180301)

This is the greatest crime — the controversy created by the massive disinformation processes we have unleashed in the past 50 years!

More Insanity

What a week in attempting to sort out what is important and what is fluff! Charlottesville and the terrorist attack in Spain are certainly not fluff, but they distract from deeper issues. One of the major difficulties of current politics is that there is so much rancor and uproar that it obscures the very real dangers that exist. This is the nature of more insanity — logical and ethical issues get lost in emotional issues.

Years ago, when I was working as an anesthetist, especially when I was doing intensive care, I was very aware that bad news usually came quickly, and good news only slowly, if at all. I certainly wonder at the possibility of good news following all these cultural and political machinations; we live in such strange times.

In any event, I’m going to start with a couple of positive links this time, then global warming and politics.

Time for Truth and Reconciliation (201708)

As usual, Jack Kornfield speaks from compassion and wisdom; such is needed in our culture (internationally) at this time. If we are to survive as a species, we must learn compassion and cooperation.

This Technology Could Stop the World’s Deadliest Animal (20170814)

Modern technology astounds me at times — this is an example, the management of the mosquito. As well, the article details the attempt of the scientific community to act into a cooperative ethical stance — I applaud this.

Wildfires are a climate change wake-up call (20170817)

Definitely a call to action in British Columbia (where I live), and it should be a call internationally since fire knows no political boundaries. Greenland is an example.

There’s an Unprecedented Wildfire in Greenland. That’s Bad News for the Arctic. (20170811)

Yes, Greenland. I’ve been to Greenland; I’ve never thought of it as having forests, let alone forest fires! Nor had the scientific community to any great extent. Such is one of the unexpected outcomes of global warming.

Trump’s embrace of white supremacists eclipses his blow to U.S. climate resilience (20180818)

A fairly good review of the current climate situation, especially in geopolitical terms.

The other terrible thing Donald Trump did yesterday, you know, plus the neo-Nazi stuff (20170816)

Beneath the angst and conflict is the reality of how destructive our political environment has become. We humans care about the angst, but the science of global warming does not!

Interactive Timeline: Everything We Know About Russia and President Trump (20170807)

A detailed look at the complex issues (for those who want to track them)

A Guide to Russia’s High Tech Tool Box for Subverting US Democracy (20170813)

Again for those interested, this seems to be a good review of the current complexity in Russian international politics.

Emotional Management (especially Anger and Rage)

Emotional Management, especially Anger and Rage

(This program is currently posted to the blog and is no longer available as an email service; the posts are listed on the Headings line as  Postings > Anger Management > postings.)

I originally offers this set of posts as a free email program for anger management, but the information and tasks are suitable for any emotional issue. Simply use your own issue whenever anger is mentioned.

As part of my commitment to social change, I am offering a free email program on anger management. I believe that there is a huge amount of anger in our culture, some overt but most hidden. It is only by managing our own lives that we will be able to respond to the difficult days ahead.

Please sign me up: Angry? How to change your life in 90 days.

Please go to Postings > Anger Management for the complete series.

Hi.

Thanks for showing interest in the Angry? Change your life in 90 days program.

First of all, let me congratulate you for showing this interest. As I reflect on the state of our current world, I am surprized that so few people are willing to admit how angry they are. Recall all the stories of road rage, the frequent mass shootings, and other forms of anger — these are instances that show what is happening to us as a culture, of how angry we really are as a people. But it must be the other guy, right?

In my own case, I grew up in a family in which alcoholism was rampant, and for me, childhood was an extremely painful affair. (I suggest that anger is a major component of alcoholism; one of these days I will do a post on that to my blog.) Yet for most of my early adult life I was not aware of how angry I was. It was only when I got into my 40s that I was able to acknowledge this to myself. That is long past for me, although I do remain angry with the insanity of our culture — that has created (and for the most part currently denies) the issues of global warming. The major difference though is that I am not caught in my anger.

Be that as it may, this program is not about global warming. It is about how to work through your issues of anger, so as to achieve the kind of life you want to live:

  • how to recognize when you are angry,
  • how to be more peaceful, and
  • how to have better relationships, amongst other components.

And, as opposed to my usual writings, it is not about understanding anger, nor why you are angry — overall, that kind of understanding is the booby prize. This program, this set of emails, is about skill development, and what to do, not what to think.

The program will provide you with 30 emails over approximately 90 days, one email twice a week, usually Mondays and Thursdays. Why 90 days? Well, two of my previous mentors, both world-class therapists, indicated that change requires approximately three months of consistent application (one said three months, the other 13 weeks!) — after 25 years of practice in my own practice, this is also my own experience.

Can this really change your life, for the better? Absolutely. I am not saying that everything will be fine in 90 days; I am saying that in 90 days, you can be consistently moving in a new direction, one where the light at the end of the tunnel is not just another train.

Be aware it will take work, probably at least an hour a day, perhaps more. And it may bring up a lot of pain — after all, you are angry for many good reasons, and your anger likely protects you from this pain. But at the same time, I do not intend it to be too onerous — you won’t do it if it is. I strongly believe that people learn best when they are having fun; thus, I will do my best to keep it light. Still — it will require effort.

So, are you still interested? If you are, click the following link, and send me an email. I will then enrol you in your new life — and for the next 15 or so weeks, you will receive emails from me, emails that will give you relatively simple tasks, opening up new directions for your life journey. After all, what else do you have to do with your time besides becoming a better person.

Yes, please sign me up: Angry? How to change your life in 90 days.

Not sure? Check out a sample.

Please note that the emails will come with the following subject line: MacQuarrie Email Program #xx — Title, the ‘xx’ referring to the number and the ‘Title’ the topic of the particular email. Usually there will be a brief note, together with a read-only Word document for the topic — this file will be the main body of the lesson, as a Word document to allow easy printing. If needed, I can supply a pdf document instead.

Note also that, in these emails, there will be occasional attachments, and links to my blog. Mainly these will provide diagrams that I believe you will find useful in understanding the tasks (the diagrams will also be in the Word document), but the separate image files may be of some use to you also. Simple emails are not a good way of sending such information, so look out for them please.

The Blowing Out Process, Part 1

MacQuarrie Email #07 — The Blowing Out Process, Part 1

A time bomb needing release.
A time bomb needing release.

Two more emails (plus a summary email), and then we start the process of skill development as to how to explore and manage your anger. I hope by now you are starting to recognize that the concepts thus far allow you to get a handle on your anger, but I also imagine you want more specifics — coming!

As mentioned, the concepts of the previous emails became the process I call Blowing Out®, a method of utilizing unpleasant experience so as to create positive outcomes. For most people, when something unpleasant happens, they get stuck. The something reminds them of their past (their values, beliefs, memories, expectations, what I call their VBMEs), and they feel powerless. They label the something as some kind of conflict, and they don’t feel safe. Perhaps they are angry, or some such emotion, but lacking safety, they are also afraid or say to themselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way” — the sailors in action. So they stuff their energy — but eventually that doesn’t work, and they become a time bomb of some kind (the pressure cooker). This goes on over time, and eventually they explode outwards (family violation or social massacre) or inwards (depression or suicide). Not a pretty scene, but common in our society.

Create safety, then release in any way that works.
Create safety, then release in any way that works.

Safety for all is absolutely essential.

In my personal pain, I too recognized that this process of getting stuck did not work, and that the most important aspect was safety — for all! Instead of blowing up or blowing down, I discovered that I could blow out, like blowing out a candle — but instead of blowing out the light, I could blow out the darkness of my pain (the basis of my first book Blowing Out The Darkness).

We get stuck essentially because we mismanage our energy! First, because we are not safe (both with ourselves and with others around us), and second because we do not safely discharge our emotional energy — we generally dump it on someone else in some inappropriate fashion. We somehow believe that we have to resolve the conflict before we can manage our energy.

This is not only nonsense — it is also a recipe for disaster. We hold the energy inside ourselves; the conflict is outside. We can separate ourselves from the conflict, and manage our energy — in so doing, we can then decide if the basic issue is what others are doing (the conflict), or is it what we are doing to ourselves (our powerlessness) because we are caught in issues from our past.

Don’t take my word for this. Think about how you feel and act when you get to the edge of your rage. In some fashion, is this not how you act?

Task: So your task for this email is to think about what else you could do with your energy. And test out these possibilities; don’t just think — act! safely! Re-read Email #2 What is Anger? so as to really get No SAD and STOP. (You have probably noticed that all the tasks I assign are really focused on observing yourself — not for the purpose of self-criticism, but for recognition of how you actually create your own experiences. Over time, this will become your most important skill.)

Some hints: you can discharge energy silently, or you can make lots of noise. You can discharge privately, or you can do it in the presence of others. But if you are going to do it when others around, those others must agree to the parameters of No SAD and STOP — otherwise, they will not likely be secure and because of that, you will criticized! As such, it is very likely that you will shut down, and the time bomb scenario will resume.

The second most important aspect of Blowing Out is that the conflict must be resolved. Even if you discharge your energy, all that you will be doing is emptying the pot. It is essential that you then stop the pot from filling again.

My stance is that I can empty the pot in 10 minutes (I likely need another 10 minutes to process what happened that the pot was stirred — powerlessness or conflict?). Stopping the pot from filling again may take weeks or months of work — but I can keep the pot empty while I do this work! I need not stay stuck with a full pot — ever!

Coming next: The Blowing Out Process, Part 2.

Acedia and the Climate Lie, Part 2

The desire to give up! Caught in despair.
The desire to give up! Caught in despair.

The Climate Lie

I take this term from what I read in The Climate Mobilization website — it refers to:

Our society is living within a massive lie. The lie says, “Everything is fine and we should proceed with business as usual. We are not destroying our climate and, with it, our stability and our civilization. We are not committing passive suicide.

The lie says we are fine—that climate change isn’t real, or is uncertain, or is far away, or won’t be bad enough to threaten humanity. The lie says that small changes will solve the problem. That recycling, bicycling, or closing the Keystone Pipeline will solve the problem. The lie allows people to put climate change in the back of their minds. To view it as someone else’s issue—the domain of scientists or activists. The lie allows us to focus on other things. To proceed with business as usual. To be calm and complacent while our planet burns.

… [The lie is] sustained by people living within the lies. Our lie is a lie co-created by the government, corporations, the media, and the people. These organizations encourage the lie, but it only exists because we, the people accept it and choose to live within it. The basic lie is “We should continue with business as usual, for everything is fine. There are three  major ways that the Climate Lie operates: intellectual denial, emotional denial, and environmental tokenism.

I agree that all this is the climate lie, and I suggest the problem is even bigger — it should be called the Culture Lie, subsuming scientific materialism and consumerism.

The Difficulty of the Climate Lie

It is so hard to write about — it is so big, and so entangled, that I cannot do justice in this small space. Yet I strongly urge the reader to take the time to read the key documents on The Climate Mobilization site. They are well-written, but long, and require a lot to time to digest.

And that is the weakness — the intricacy of the Climate/Culture Lie is such that the average person is likely to give up — it takes too much effort. Frequently I give up — I am forced by time and despair to accept descriptions that I cannot adequately validate nor can I understand their complexity, but yet the descriptions seem to make imminent sense in how they describe the complexity. Examples for me include my attempting to understand the older Keynesian economics and how they were replaced by neoliberalism, both of which have led to the destructive consumerism of modern culture.

Acedia and the Lie

It is this giving up that pushes me towards my own acedia, and I suspect underlies the vast acedia of our culture. In my PhD research, I proposed that the internal conflict that precedes acedia is a force field of many factors. On the positive side are the processes that could lead to resolution (phronesis): wisdom (sophia), discipline, hope and playfulness, all of which are disparaged in our present culture.

A balance of forces, heavily weighted to acedia
A balance of forces, heavily weighted to acedia

On the acedia side are the ways in which we treat ourselves. Inherently we are pain avoiders (basic biology), but our cultural models generally push us to self-deprecation (especially self-criticism when we do not fit the cultural models of size, shape, success, etc.), familial trauma (as families struggle with many internal and external demands of success, personal satisfaction, finances, etc.), and cultural trauma (in the many subtle ways in which we struggle with the failed promises of technology and economic life). And from this stance, we treat the planet: we allow world hunger, the maltreatment of women and children, the subtle maltreatment of men (witness the farmer suicides of India), environmental disaster after disaster — the list goes on.

What a mess! It is the mess that requires long-term correction to take us to a culture that intrinsically values all human life, and all of creation.

But the first order of priority is to stop global warming, and its immediate antecedents, the fossil fuel industry in its many pervasive forms. If we do not do that, the rest doesn’t matter.

I have therefore joined the Climate Mobilization in its pledge of action.

Coming next: Acedia and Evil.

Acedia and the Climate Lie, Part 1

The noon-day demon, blocking all joy!
The noon-day demon, blocking all joy!

If you are like me, you probably have never heard of the concept of acedia. I had not until I started my PhD, this despite more than 50 years of extensive reading. In this post, we look at the nature of acedia, and how it is the cultural norm; next post, I will tie it into how we maintain the Climate Lie.

What is acedia?

Why has no one heard of it? For one thing, the word has been in and out of the English language since its inception in ancient Greek, frequently labeled as archaic; its history is documented in my book Acedia. Originally it was a monastic term, and it did not survive the philosophic shift from religiosity to scientific materialism. Acedia described the condition of objecting to the effort of living, of being loving or charitable.

It was replaced by terms ranging from ennui to depression — less depth and breadth though; acedia is a better choice for me. I came to regard acedia as any combination of laziness, fearfulness and self-righteousness, all terms that block the individual from authenticity or spiritual maturity. And even these terms are easily misunderstood, usually with scorn — as noted, acedia objects to the effort of being authentic.

When people encounter a painful situation, they inherently want to resolve the pain; they want to authentically feel good and be satisfied with life. They ponder the issues, and if they have enough wisdom (as depth of understanding of universal truths, what the Greeks called sophia), they move to resolution (so-called practical wisdom, or phronesis) — and feel good. If not, they are usually in some kind of internal conflict — they want resolution, but they also want the pain to go away. If they have enough discipline, they work through the issues, again to resolution. If not, they shift to avoidance — still, if they have enough hope, they again find a way to move to resolution. In all of this, the skills of awareness (recognition) and of playfulness further aid in movement to resolution.

AcediaEvolution

If none of this occurs, they move into some means of numbing the pain, some form of acedia manifest as laziness, fearfulness, or self-righteousness so as to overwhelm or transmute the pain into something familiar, some way to avoid. Then they cycle back into the patterns, with a different kind of pain, but one that they can mask.

It works! If it didn’t, we wouldn’t do it.

The problem is that acedia does not lead to long-term resolution, just avoidance. And in our culture, it is not easily challenged; it is judged inappropriate, but not shifted. Nor do we as a culture give much value to any of the needed skills: wisdom (sophia or phronesis), discipline (except for engaging in sports), hope (wishful thinking, yes; authentic hope, no), or playfulness (when do you really authentically play?).

Acedia as cultural norm.

So how has this become the cultural norm? I suggest that since the beginning of civilization, we have traumatized ourselves and each other. In The Parable Of The Tribes, Schmookler links the inherent difficulties of domination with the very nature of civilization. Since the very beginning (about 12,000 years ago), civilization has been a two-edged sword, with empire as the foundation. To have an empire means winners (dominators) and losers (subjects). The Greeks developed democracy, but were a slave culture. Fast forward to the Renaissance with the development of science and the Industrial Revolution, and industrial slavery and the rise of alcoholism. The 20th century brought technology and the valuing of women, and consumerism. The 21st century has given us the valuing of diversity, and global warming.

Look around. How many people do you know who are truly happy? How many alcoholics do you know? What about domestic violations? Or world hunger? Or the numerous political-economic betrayals of the past 50 years? We have a strange culture, certainly not a mature one.

We live the Climate Lie, the Cultural Lie.

Coming next: Acedia and the Climate Lie.

The Threshold of Anxiety in Global Warming

As anxiety diminishes, people engage more.
As anxiety diminishes, people engage more.

So what are the factors that block engagement in global warming?

In a recent podcast The Big Man Can’t Shoot, journalist Malcolm Gladwell identifies the need for social approval as a major factor in effective choice. Gladwell tells the story of a legendary basketball player with only one flaw: his success rate at free throws from the foul line was only about 40%. He was coached by a colleague whose success rate was 93%, and was able to improve himself to 87% — a huge advance and one that could make him almost unstoppable. The catch: he had to make “granny shots” — underhand throws rather than overhead shots, that are the standard of the league. And he wouldn’t do so — because he would look “silly.” Nor would other players, again because they would be breaking the unspoken norms of play — even though they would be better players!

What Gladwell identified was what I call the threshold of anxiety that must be overcome when one’s behavior does not match the common deportment of the peer group, the so-called peer pressure that exists within any group, even when unspoken. The threshold level varies from person to person, but always is a factor in the decision to act. This means that for any individual, a certain number of their trusted peers have to act in a certain way before they themselves will undertake the action.

Translating this to the need for massive mobilization in response to global warming, there is potentially a large body of the public waiting for others to act before they themselves will engage significantly. Many of these people will be those I identified in my last post as those people who are chronically overwhelmed by too much stuff. Salamon in Living In Climate Truth goes into more depth as to how individuals use intellectual denial, emotional denial, and tokenism to avoid action to maintain the Climate Lie that all is well, and someone else will resolve the issues. Or the individual believes that nothing can be done, and settles into low-grade cynicism, contaminating others in major ways.

Potentially when enough others have shifted into effective action, there could then be a snowball effect in response. But when? Will it occur soon enough to forestall disastrous effect?

I suspect not. To use myself as example, I started hearing about environmental issues in the 1960s and 1970s, and had enough background in science (degrees in physics and biophysics by that point) to know that we humans were doing significant damage to the environment. But I was “too busy with other issues” in my life. Fast forward to the 1990s when I had a small acreage in Ontario, land that I actually regarded as sacred — I knew “activists” who were challenging government regulations, but “I wasn’t an activist.” Then in 2009 when I finally got it, I was in deep despair for months, and only in the past year did my resolve crystallize. So if it has taken me this long, what chance do we have as a species?

Yet, if I accept this line of reasoning, it is likely that nothing effective will happen. I must act into the assumption that many are waiting in the wings simply for the snowball effect.

There is no question in my own mind that I am angry at the complexity and frequent ineffectiveness of my culture. I am not angry at individuals; I am angry at the systemic morass we have created — but if I allow my anger to take over, I will burnout. It’s a no-win situation. I’m very good at anger management, including my own. So, often I fall back on simple affirmations such as “Let Go; Let God,” or “High Intention, Low Attachment.”

What I don’t know how to do is how to get people to engage. Currently, I am reading Joe Romm’s Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga for some hints. Many days I’m convinced I am a slow learner.

Coming next: The nature of acedia.

Acedia underlies global warming

It's all too much.
It’s all too much.

Have you ever asked yourself how we have ended up with the problems of global warming? Or what stops us from solving these issues? We have avoided resolution of the issues for more than 50 year now. The superficial issue of global warming is technological, but what keeps us stuck is emotional?

First of all, the issues are incredibly complex; they overwhelm our political, economic and ethical systems (see Reason In A Dark Time: Why The Struggle Against Climate Change Failed — And What It Means To Our Future) — witness the repeated failures or only limited success of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change COP meetings, most recently in Paris, December 2015 — a non-binding agreement to limit global warming to 2°C, hopefully to 1.5°C. Scientific American in April 2016 indicated “The average global temperature change for the first three months of 2016 was 1.48°C” — and that does not include normal overshoot as the system stabilizes (see here for excellent visual representations of how all this has occurred since 1880).

But it’s only 1.5 degrees — so what. Well, look around at the superstorms and the changing weather patterns. They are only the beginning of potential “natural” disasters, at a temperature increase of less than 1.5 degrees. The earth is a very finely balanced ecosystem, with many feedback mechanisms to ensure stability, and we are exceeding the limits of these systems. It is likely that, by 2°C, we will have irreversible changes, including loss of at least 33% of all species on the planet (not yet us, though). By 3°, we could well be into run-away feedback loops that are not reversible, with almost certain loss of civilization for thousands of years, and perhaps our extinction.

But why? I know the issues are complex, and the propensity of modern life is to leave it to the experts. But why have we gotten to this dilemma in the first place? And why are we so passive about global warming? The scientific community is in agreement (at least 97% consensus), but the political morass wages on. Given all this, why do we not stand up and demand change? We actually do, in small ways: witness the Occupy movement, Avaaz, the many activists, but there is not the overwhelming process that we really need. Nor do the many small ways seem to be coming together in coordinated fashion.

So for the next few postings, I am going to be exploring what I believe is blocking us. Essentially I will propose that various features of acedia have been a major part of the problem.

It is possible that in the next few postings I will seem to be critical of almost every human being (including myself) in Western civilization. That is not my intention, but I do want to identify processes that affect almost everyone. Perhaps what I am identifying could be called “the elephants in the room that nobody talks about.” If you feel criticized, please understand that I have the deepest compassion for the struggles of living in the modern era.

The vast majority of people I know are good people — they do many good actions, but they are simply overwhelmed with too much stuff: too much information, too many demands, et cetera. In my book Acedia, I referred to a TED talk on apathy, and also suggested that the numerous subtle difficulties of modern life have become a form of trauma, constantly wearing us down. And in all this, to pay attention to the demands of global warming has just become another demand, especially when confused by the dis-information regarding climate change.

I believe that these people get on with their lives hoping that somehow the “experts” will eventually fix the problem, but I remain doubtful. Over time, I have moved to the stance advocated by The Climate Mobilization as noted in my previous post: the personal costs will be high, but the risks are simply too great.

I suggest there are three mechanisms at play:

  • collective behaviour of groups: in order to act (and overcome fear of criticism), human beings need to exceed a certain threshold of anxiety
  • acedia: a human characteristic is the risk of laziness, fearfulness, and/or self-righteousness as a way to avoid painful experience
  • evil: a more important human characteristic is that which deliberately sabotages movement towards health

In some fashion, acedia is part of all three. I will be commenting on each of these in the next few posts.

Coming next: The threshold of overcoming anxiety

Jamieson, D. (2014). Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed — and What It Means for Our Future. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.