"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Sunday, May 11, 2008

In the Clearing Stands a Boxer

From "Unequal Democracy" by Larry M. Bartels (emphasis added):
American beliefs about inequality are profoundly political in their origins and implications. Well-informed conservatives and liberals differ markedly, not only in their normative assessments of increasing inequality, as one might expect, but also in their perceptions of the causes, extent, and consequences of inequality. This is not simply a matter of people with different values drawing different conclusions from a set of agreed-upon facts. Analysts of public opinion in the realm of inequality--as in many other realms--would do well to recognize that the facts themselves are very much subject to ideological dispute. For their part, political actors in the realm of inequality--as in many other realms--would do well to recognize that careful logical arguments running from factual premises to policy conclusions are unlikely to persuade people who are ideologically motivated to distort or deny the facts. While it is certainly true, as Jennifer Hoschschild has argued, that "Where You Stand Depends on What You See," it is equally true that what you see depends in significant part on where you stand.
Or more succinctly from "The Boxer" by Paul Simon:
I have squandered my resistance
for a pocketful of mumbles,
such are promises,
all lies and jest,
still a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest.


John Fleck said...

This is precisely the problem, and why you're notional news media cannot do what you seem to think or hope it can do.

Michael Tobis said...

Maybe, but I wish you would put the idea to the test like they have finally started to do in New Zealand, rather than dismissing it as hopeless.

I don't know how Limbaugh will spin this Heartland story if it ever gets big enough that he can't ignore it, but I'd sure like to find out. I am sure he will convince most of his audience to look the other way. But not everyone.

At present the cumulative emissions of BS need to be counteracted. The air we breathe is polluted with the past efforts of denialists for equal time. It will take some time and some effort before many people back down.

I realize that unmasking televangelists as predatory and insincere has had less immediate effect on the size of the affected audience than one might expect, but I'm sure it didn't help their cause in the long run.

I simply don't understand your defeatism. It's one thing to say "my paper won't carry it because it would reduce circulation" but it's another to say "they shouldn't carry it because it would reduce circulation".

The source of denialism is information the public needs and is not getting. I fail to see any other way of looking at it.

1) important information is needed 2) such information is not present in mass media therefore 3) mass media fail to provide the service they claim to offer and 4) collective decision making is badly dysfunctional.

I don't see why you think this needs academic study. The whole idea of a free society is predicated on accurate information.
Silly me, I always thought this is what "eternal vigilance" meant, as opposed to being armed to the teeth and willfully ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something here? If what John (and Andy Revkin and Nisbett?) seem to insinuate is true - that large parts of the general public is seemingly immune to processing information about our environmental and resource challenges that is communicated to them by traditional channels... Wtf??? And so what? What exactly is the proposal for an alternative strategy?

Are we supposed to just throw up our frustrated - and apparently impotent - hands and simply wait for nature to deliver some sort of unequivocal, visceral message to inevitably and finally force us out of our collective stupor?

I was always particularly struck by one of Peter Schwartz's (et al) "scenarios" in this paper... Their "scenarios" aren't predictions but rather cognitive tools that allow you to imagine "what if" outcomes... The scenario that particularly struck me: "After a string of hurricanes hits South Florida over the course of two years, the government faces pressure from other parts of the country to abandon the Florida Keys rather than to continue to rebuild and 'throw away good money.'" That probably struck me because it was so stark in suggesting how "nature" might actually "interject" into the debate... In that section of the report they muse how climate change may "act as a forcing function in pushing for a resolution to this ideological tension" regarding the proper scope of the state given these environmental threats.

Yeah, well, um, those kind of scenarios would certainly get the public's attention, accelerate policy debate - and probably make moot any denialist talking points. Golly gosh, what a great landscape that would be to urgently debate our fundamental collective beliefs about governance! Oh, and just by the way, it might be occuring at a time when it is largely "too late" to take on gradual mitigation efforts but require emergency measures instead...

Heaven forbid, though, that we should expect much of our media - because some of the the public doesn't absorb the messages sent? We won't get all of their attention via media because some have ideologic blinkers on?

Seriously, I don't get this stuff about "framing", the stuff about mass communication being ineffective... I guess I am just ranting/venting, because - for the life of me - I am not seeing what the proposed alternative is!

Furthermore. We HAVE made progress in shifting public opinion... We ARE making progress... Not universally, but it is shifting... And the ongoing "case" for effective responses to issues like climate change and peak oil only get stronger and stronger corroborating evidence from the field(s) as time goes on... Michael, John, Andy, Joe Romm, RealClimate, etc. - stay the course. You are making progress and it is our best alternative. The last thing we need at this time is weird navel-gazing about the futility of modern communication... bwtfdik...

Dano said...

I'm a Fleck fan, and I appreciate what he does, but he can't make the 80% part of the 80:20 rule pay attention. He also can't say out loud or shout from the rooftops that 80% of the populace is x, y, or z. So I'd reiterate to Tidal that 'collective stupor' is what we put up with every day. It is part of the human condition. It is what the committed minority tries to overcome every day, despite their reluctance to get out of bed many mornings. If they didn't do this, we'd have no teachers either.



Anonymous said...

If we accept that there are problems, then the next question should be, "How can we most effectively deal with them?"

Things to consider when we think about how to be effective:

The Buddhists say that we can only see things clearly, if we look upon them dispassionately.

The Hindus advise us to act with as much perfection as we can but then to balance this with an utter commitment to unequivocally accept how things turn out.

And the Buddhists, again, remind us that the source of all of our unhappiness is simply our unwillingness to accept how things are. Many folks think this means that we should not work for change but this isn't so. These are (or should be) entirely separate questions.

So, what is one to do with all of this advice?

Well, I think that acting idealistically and working for a better world is incumbent on anyone whose consciousness has risen to the point where they can see the need.

But I also think that one needs to separate themselves from the action periodically and sit back and look dispassionately upon the whole scene and think about how it is all likely to come out.

If we care too deeply about a thing, we become obsessed and in our obsession we become less and less effective.

If we care too deeply about a thing, we can no long separate our actions from the fruits of our actions. And if those fruits don't turn out as we'd wished, we experience unhappiness in spite of the fact that we've done our best and could not logically, therefore, be culpable.

Balance in all things, then.

I read, I think and I Blog to try to make the world a better place. But, I also look dispassionately upon it and I don't think it is going to turn out well and I am, therefore, taking action to protect myself and my family. I care deeply about how it all turns out but at bottom, I am happy here in the midst of impending chaos. It will be what it will be - and I will do what I can to change it.

I do my best to make it better and, in that doing, I buy myself a ticket that says I am free of responsibility for how it all turns out. I care about the poverty and misery but I also work and plan to make sure that I am well positioned to be able to watch these next decades unfold from a place of safety. See the world clearly but do not lose yourself in it.

Or, as Muhammad Ali sad, "Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee."