Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Greatest Enemy of Progress:

A bit of a revelation shared here this morning. After my TEDx presentation in Hilo here a couple of months ago and a few follow up encounters I've had to admit that there were some very fundamental issues pertaining to climate change(and of course our debt issues, and resource depletion as well--it's all the same problem, after all), stuff that I'd really made the mistake of overlooking. . .I think most all of us made the mistake of overlooking. . .kinda on purpose a lot of times.

Let me posit a new meme, a prime requisite for engendering progress. . .

The greatest enemy of progress in the modern world isn't ignorance, but rather cynicism.

In speaking to a lot of people, one finds as the polls confirm, that the number of people who are in denial about the big issues of today are really pretty sparse, less than 1 in 5, and generally hold their views not because of any sort of thoughtful position but rather of selfish kneejerk ideology. They're unreachable, of course, but their rhetoric can resonate with a larger population--desperate to dismiss the evidence. Still, honestly, in speaking to people, this sort of stuff doesn't account for the main reason for their unwillingness to act.

Here's why progress is stalled.

1. People dismiss the data not because of the lack of persuasiveness of it. They don't get even as far as looking at it. They feel justified in dismissing the data even before looking at it because of the lack of evidence that "the evidence" seems to be persuasive to the very people that claim to find it persuasive. We are accustomed, hardened even, to a perpetual onslaught of sales pitches-- of people talking their book. To to be able to sniff out and reject claims on the basis of the apparent integrity of the one espousing them may be cynicism, pure and simple-- but in our culture it's also a very valuable survival skill. It's especially worth considering in this case, as there is a large moral component to all of our pressing issues, and there's an reasonable expectation that one who was in possession of such important truth would, well, "walk the walk." And there's very very very few examples of this, especially among "leading spokes-people," whatever that might mean. . . oh yeah, I guess I mean those people who have enough affluence and free-time to spend more than their share of time holding a microphone. Strike one!

2. Now, of course-- it doesn't help a damn bit that very often those ( talking the talk, not walking the walk) very often get involved in all sort of commercial ventures somehow loosely attached ideologically to "the issues"-- and set out in an obvious attempt to maintain their current unsustainable lifestyles by peddling "sustainable living." Whether pimping alternative energy, green building, whiz-bang technology, setting out to be some kind of eco-fabulous talking head, selling homeopathic tinctures that offset CO2-- or whatever, anything other than cutting consumption. . . Well, you know, people don't really like hypocrites, especially hypocrites that are selling stuff. Now sure, there's a certain amount of commerce in all of this stuff as hypocrites have a vested interest in buying stuff from other hypocrites in an attempt to try to give their cute tricks some credibility, but the larger audience doesn't buy it-- they see right through it, or at least think they do. For them it's simply further evidence that the "issue" is a scam. Cynicism Strike two!

3. Now here's the real kicker: The thoughtful individual who is mostly informed of the data, but full aware of 1 and 2 asks themselves. . .Wow, I'd really like to try to make a difference, but to do so will require some hard work and meaningful sacrifice. But I can't do it alone, and if I make sacrifices while others do not I gain nothing and only lose in both the short AND the long run. Sure! Straight up, clean game-theory here, and they're absolutely right and rationally justified in holding such a position.  This is, in fact, not an attitude held of ignorance at all, but rather a well informed one.

Strike three! No wonder we're not getting anywhere. Whoops, rather to say, no wonder we're actually losing ground.  Those of us who would set ourselves up as "advocates' for a better world would do well to realize that we're not very convincing-- and the reason we're not very convincing isn't that A) our facts are weak, nor B) people are too stupid to understand our argument-- it's that we ourselves come across lacking integrity and commitment personally and that we belie our own message by our actions and lifestyles.

We will not make any progress until we realize at the core of all these issues is a willingness to sell out the future for short term gain. We will not make any progress until there is meaningful economic justice and equal opportunity, across nationality, sex, race, or class. We will not make any progress until there is meaningful economic equality. This inherent fairness is critical, as it's simply impossible to ask those to choose against themselves for the greater good while others in positions of privilege exploit the greater good. . .and in fact profit by the fact of lack of justice and the crises engendered by it.

This is why it's patently obvious that guys like Al Gore and other eco-fabulous jackasses like that are the absolutely worst spokemen for "sustainability"-- and they'd do us all a great service if they dried up and went away. I mean, come on! Let me tell you some thing for certain-- if we actually get there, I promise you this: A sustainable planet can't have any Al Gores on it!

So, those of us who would want to strive for a better world had best attend to our own affairs first, and once we've been successful enough to possess a solid enough display of integrity to defeat objections 1) and 2) by our own commitments to justice, only then are we in a position to take on objection 3). Otherwise, let me suggest, or "shout out" actually, you're not helping a thing.


canders said...

Thanks for your thoughts and all that you do to help inform and inspire the rest of us. I do not, however, believe that you enhance the value of your contribution by diminishing the value of others'. A reasonable person would have to conclude that Al Gore has done a great deal to move the center of gravity towards a more sustainable planet, even though he may not satisfy your particular criteria for "authenticity." Lighten up.

mgtdOcean said...

Jay, Interesting post. I wonder what category I'm in? Married, near 50, no kids. My rational self says what do I care if the world changes I have no progeny. Just by not having kids who then have kids, etc, etc. I'm orders of magnitude "greener" than my childhood friend who's brood now counts to 21. So it really doesn't matter what I do when most humans breed like rabbits. The downfall of humanity is the lack of understanding of a logarithmic function that is human population.

Yeah and Al Gore is an interesting messenger, talking about climate change while jet setting around the world in a private jet.