In this previous piece on climate change here, I discussed how humans have a difficult time, considering average value set/v-Meme evolution, scaling climate change and Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) to understandable mental dimensions. Climate change happens around the world, and the natural ways that average folks understand things is going to be anchored down in the lower v-Memes — meaning long-term narratives and episodic anecdotes are going to have to line up with the message regarding doing something about AGW now.
This is not easy — climate isn’t weather, and there’s a ton of noise around any given hurricane whether it’s a function of climate change or not. I introduced the idea that the way climate change WOULD work up front would be episodic — biasing extreme events and creating thicker probability distribution tails on the right side of the probability density function. This interpretation is actually turning out to be correct. Hurricane Dorian essentially erased Grand Bahama only a month ago, just as Mexican Beach, FL was erased by Hurricane Michael in 2018. My best guess is that this pattern will continue, until various ecosystem boundaries (ecotones) move to the point to create different actual weather patterns. Naturally, we have no idea when that is — which is why it is imperative to act quickly.
But empathetic evolution DOES take time. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start the process, as the larger issues of global coordination are going to require those more evolved people.
And at the same time, I DO realize that this all sounds very elitist. If “those people” were just “more like me” then the world would be a better place. Uggh.
Just so you know, I’m not backing off the deeper empathetic evolution/education/bildung message. But at the same time, it’s also important to understand the role of Authority in providing external forcing and mirroring models to large sectors of the population. Who the Authority is, and where they speak from — be it a moral authority, a practical authority, a problem-solving authority, a deeply-held belief/tribal authority — matters.
Fascinatingly, no one has demonstrated this more than Donald Trump. Having a narcissistic psychopath in the White House has brought out profound v-Meme devolutionary changes on both Left and Right. As I write this today, evangelicals are exultant that Trump is talking about religious persecution at the UN — the same day the UN has reserved for discussing the Climate Crisis, where my personal hero, Greta Thunberg, is excoriating the nation-states with inaction. And while, at the beginning of Trump’s term, I would have argued against inherent racism in American society, today, I’m not so sure. It could be that I am influenced by external messaging (no man is an island! – and my politics of course bend to the Left ) but I actually think that Trump’s chronic divisive messaging pumps energy into those darker Tribal/Magical impulses on both Right and Left.
As I’ve said earlier, though — the Bad Guys are supposed to be bad. There’s not much to be done with that. Empathy-disordered relational disruptors gonna disrupt. It’s what they do. No one’s figured out how to fix ’em yet. What’s more pernicious about the Climate Crisis is that the Good Guys really aren’t very good. They just don’t get it, and are ensconced in enough privilege of whatever stripe you need to call it that they just go on their merry way.
I attended the students’ Climate Strike on Friday, in Moscow, ID. For those familiar with my bio, I’ve honestly been fighting for the environment for the last 30 years. Mostly forest, river and salmon protection, and mostly with a regional focus. I always felt that my backyard was my problem. And there’s no question it is an incredible backyard, and worthy of protection — the Clearwater Country of N. Idaho is part of the last great expanse of forested wilderness in the Lower 48. I only reluctantly would allow myself to be pulled into larger rainforest and biodiversity issues, mostly because I maintain a philosophy of ‘boots on the ground’ and keeping it real. Which is a whole lot easier to do when reality is only 2 hours drive away.
Short version — I drove to Moscow, looked at the rapidly aging hippie population, talked to a woman-hippie-gun nut-supporter (we get all kinds out here!) and bided my time. Then the Moscow High School kids showed up, and I started crying. It’s been pretty lonely out here fighting for the big picture, and to say that it’s not been alienating would be a lie. Persisting for so many years on an issue, to many, instead of being viewed as a positive attribute, in a post-modern society — especially a Northern European one, is viewed as a character disorder. Pile on the only interpretation available to most people — narcissism and a desire to prove oneself better than others – and a background culture based on sklavenmoral — a Swedish word I just picked up from friends’ Daniel Goertz and Emil Ejner Friis’ book Nordic Ideology (highly recommended) about the Scandinavian predilection to never act like you’re superior than your peers (think of every Garrison Keillor Tales of Lake Wobegon story you’ve ever heard) and I’ve pretty much ended up alone in my proximate community.
So when the students came walking up, with their signs, I hugged an old friend, and cried. And, through the tears, the old activist wiring started kicking in, and I started snapping pictures. First, with my micro-camera. And then, in full activist brain, with my iPhone.
And then I Tweeted out about four pictures, with short bursts of emotive argument. And one went viral. They were my first live Tweets, and I literally had no expectation.
410K impressions, and 15K engagements with the Tweet, and my picture of the Moscow students, with the tagline — ‘Moscow, ID — the whole school’.
Virality is an interesting phenomenon. I didn’t really understand it until I watched the numbers in my Twitter profile start ratcheting up. And, naturally (well, for me) I started discussing the structural and complex systems aspects with Mel Conway, the inventor of Conway’s Law and one of my primary Twitter buddies.
Uh, naturally. Just a quick insight — yes, some of the ‘Influencer/Authority’ insights that have come out of folks like the MIT group on Collective Intelligence by Sandy Pentland appeared to map to some of the observed behavior. But as interesting was the anecdotally observed effects of non-major influencers — people with 500-1000 followers. These kept things going.
Look — I’m not going to call that a scientific analysis. It was me watching the Twitter feed. But it appeared far more egalitarian than one might think. Which, of course, would map with the social structure of the current Climate Strike movement. And politicians, just so you know — LOTS of young women. At least 2:1 over men and boys. At least. Mel suggested getting the JSON tags and examining them. Good idea.
For those that know me, I don’t cry easily. In fact, I don’t cry at all. Well, once a decade. It doesn’t take me long to shove those feelings down in my gut and get back to work. I went home. Out of the 4 or 5 photos (can’t remember) I tweeted out, only one went viral. I was left attempting to unpack why that was the case. Short version — appropriate synergistic differentiation, with a message that fed into what people need to believe — that everyone, even in small-town America, cares about AGW.
The next day (Saturday) I got up, and decided to see what the half-life of 4M+ young people marching all over the globe was. The answer? Maybe about Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. By Saturday, CNN had cleared ALL mention of the Climate Strike off their front page, with one small entry down below a page scroll. By afternoon, even that was gone, subsumed by drone videos of sharks shadowing sea kayaks, and a death of a N. Korean defector woman in South Korea from starvation. In July. Along with 24/7 ‘Trump’.
That was CNN, though. So I dialed it over to MSNBC. There, Chris Hayes was interviewing a Native American teen activist, Tokata Iron Eyes, asking her why she was protesting AGW, when oil country workers could lose their jobs. She set him straight about the size of the crisis. But I was left shaking my head. This is the leading “liberal” media?
I didn’t even bother to go over to Fox News. But I thought I’d check in that ostensibly liberal bastion, NPR. Below is the web content from NPR around 1:30 PM on Saturday.
What to think of this? The old activist in my head ALWAYS immediately starts the conversion equation. X level of interest transfers into Y amount of media. 400K Twitter Impressions means 15K ‘Likes’, means ’20 follows.’ But think about the implication of this. In the one ‘objective’ news source, 4 million people in the streets deserve essentially no recognition or analysis of movement dynamics less than 24 hours later?
And the MOST IMPORTANT stories is the obituary of a classic Washington insider who died on Tuesday? Including multiple hours of lionization and eulogy? Look — I’ve listened to Cokie, who took off for the greener salaried fields of ABC from NPR for the last 30 years of her career, making bank. Yes, Cokie was smart. But she was no war zone journalist, engaging in acts of transcendent heroism in desperate circumstances.
She was the consummate player — and maybe that was needed to get more women into journalist positions. But top-of-the-fold after 4 million (mostly) children scream about the potential lack of a future and cataclysmic destruction that awaits their adult life? The mind, and the v-Memes — all low empathy, Insider/Outsider dynamics — the NPR staff desperate to ‘be like Cokie’ did what their value set had programmed them to do.
OK — and we might want to give NPR a pass — a momentary lapse of reason. But are AGW and 4M kids in the streets less important than obesity problems with your cat? NPR’s story placement makes the mind reel. It’s not that the ordinary folk always get it right — I do believe in the wisdom of crowds, FWIW. But when the Good Guys create noisy spaces for focus, and in this case, supercilious hero worship, it’s no wonder that those temporal and spatial scales of the less privileged stagger along. And we wonder how Trump can be so successful appealing to populist trigger themes and dog whistles.
By today, NPR had recovered, at least a bit. Greta was top of the fold, after the best Global Holistic/Childhood Egocentric pieces of messaging I have ever heard.
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”
Stunning. Of course, the rest of the media (well, except for Fox News) were leading with Greta. Independent leadership can win out. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. (Egocentric) Coupled with Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! (Global Holistic — large scale grounding.) Wow. Just wow.
What’s the point of all this? As Lene’ Andersen and Tomas Bjorkman explain in their book, The Nordic Secret, bildung and the path to a larger, responsible authority has to start with those that have it. The Nordic Secret started because, in the days of their shrinking empires, the leaders decreed that it would. The Bernadottes, who were there at the beginning of the transformation of Sweden into a constitutional monarchy, are still there as the royal family. Yes, we have to focus on development at the bottom. That need never goes away. But the elites have to realize that sublimation of their own need for status and narcissistic supply is what is required to create the world that must be born. Because, especially in the U.S., they’re the ones giving the marching orders.
Short version? Our Good Guys need to be better Good Guys (and Gals). And they’re not. My message to them? Level up. Authority matters. External definition and mirroring empathy is still a real thing, and you’ve been granted this moment in the sun. The planetary clock is ticking.