Neuter the Rabble.

NEW SLAUGHTERLast Thursday night, during the blizzard before last, I drove out to the high school here in beautiful, misunderstood Edina to catch weatherman Paul Douglas’s act on climate change. The operative cliché for “my people” is that they’re all self-absorbed, hyper-competitive materialists restless-to-bored with any conversation or endeavour that doesn’t add to shareholder value in the next quarter. Nevertheless, over 100 fellow citizens slogged their way through the right-angle sleet to hear what Douglas had to say.

Being that he’s spent the bulk of his career on TV, his name and face are familiar to every Minnesotan over the age of 15, and sure enough there were people posing with him for souvenir pictures in the lobby before the “show”.

And it’s a pretty good show. Douglas, TV performer and demonstrably shrewd businessman, has a polished, credible and engaging act laying out the known reality of climate change. I doubt there was a skeptic in the theater, but the impact of deniers, willful ignorers and utter know-nothings is stark in his story of building effective consensus. (His shtick was the main attraction in a night raising awareness of Edina’s various green initiatives, for which, as Mayor and MC Jim Hovland proudly pointed out, the city — of preening, avaricious capitalists (not his words) — has already won national acclaim and regard as a leader.)

Having followed Douglas’ career since his KARE-11 days, through WBBM in Chicago, back to (and then out of) WCCO, including more than a half-dozen businesses along the way, his evolution into a prominent consciousness-raiser for climate change is surprising only in a couple of ways. There’s never been a question he is smart enough to grasp the metrics of true science, the only issue was whether he’d take the career-risk of actually proselytizing for what he knows to be true.

But he has. Perhaps most aggressively after realizing that his days with network affiliate TV were over, but he has. And it’s dramatically more than any of his meteorological colleagues left behind at any local station dare to do. In case you haven’t noticed human-caused climate change is a taboo in local weather reports … and not much less on The Weather Channel.

Douglas makes only passing reference to his experiences dealing with nervous news directors skittish about injecting anything into weather (or any element of news coverage) that comes with so much as a hint of political provocation. As he says, “Everyone on TV wants to be loved”. And you’re not creating love (translation: ratings) if you’re making some people irrationally angry.

But who, at this point in the climate change discussion, are we making angry? As Douglas and everyone who is actually conversant in science, peer review, climatology, core samples, etc. fully accepts, the “debate” over human causation is over. (Has been for years.) Those who continue to deny it, citing transparently fraudulent counter-studies (usually underwritten by the Koch brothers or other carbon producers), have no credible standing on the matter. They can make noise, bluster and rage, but from the perspective of everyone who can read a graph on carbon dioxide release, that crowd is the rhetorical equivalent of a drunk armed with the same handful of bogus bar stool talking points.

But as we’ve just seen in the Senate vote on universal background checks, an absurdly small minority of irrationally angry/misinformed citizens still has powerful influence over the well-being of the … vast … majority.

How to reverse that dynamic?

Ninety minute seminars for the choir will only do so much. Likewise, simply writing campaign checks to sympathetic politicians for election season ads has obvious effectiveness issues. Not the least of which is that the crushing majority of ads during a campaign cycle are little more than noise and annoyance to viewers.

My suggestion, both for gun control and climate science awareness, is an experiment in the full, sustained impact of … theater. Paul Douglas long ago learned and honed the techniques of performance. You have to engage and sustain an audience to get your message across. In terms of building broad cultural awareness, what if we combined the talents of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, two industries full of people who “get” the science and the consequences of doing nothing. (Add to them the military and insurance companies, two other entities long past the point of denying climate change.)

Given Hollywood’s progressive attitudes, I have to believe writers, directors, editors, actors and camera people, would fall over each other to be a part of a campaign producing PSAs on the reality of human activity on climate, pulling back the curtain on the disinformation industry, and the modest lifestyle changes that can be made (not to mention the employment opportunities in renewable energy). Ditto, a sustained campaign to further delegitimize the NRA, with the intent of rendering it inconsequential to the election prospects of Bible Belt and rural legislators.

The commonality of climate deniers and ardent gun “enthusiasts” is striking.

And the money for it? How much did Hollywood and uber-liberal fat cats pour into the 2012 election? How fast do musicians volunteer for the latest disaster relief telethon? How much of this kind of work could be had pro-bono? How much (if any) could the networks be pressured to provide at discount through their affiliates? (Okay, forget that one.)

Point being: The vast majority of the American audience is receptive to both messages, particularly on guns. The demographic downside is minimal. You’re not exactly pissing off the well-educated, top dollar crowd. Moreover the artful, entertaining application of humor, visuals and message association would likely have a solidifying effect among the young, much as gay rights has enjoyed, largely due to representations in the entertainment industry.

It’s one thing to ignore the angry rabble. It’s something better to neuter them into insignificance.






23 thoughts on “Neuter the Rabble.

  1. Jim Leinfelder says:

    “Give me liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely
    according to conscience, above all liberties.” -John Milton

    Ever since Milton’s famous tract, Areopagitica (1644), articulated a concept of truth winning the day in a world where all ideas are free to be aired and evaluated. And ever since the children of the enlightenment such as Mill and Locke and this country’s founders have believed in a free market model for expression that would yield the very results you call for. Milton continued: “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for…that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.”

    But Milton didn’t envision the internet and the stove piping of predigested opinion and facts cherry-picked to reinforce them where fervently-held beliefs do not sally out and meet their adversaries. There is no free market of ideas anymore. There are parallel universes of belief and prejudice that cannot even agree on the epistemological basis for knowing what is factually “true.” And, of course, in our current political atmosphere, it hardly matters. Pandering to the least-evolved lobe of the brain, the amygdala, would appear to be the coin of the realm among our most fervent acolytes to the gospel of the free market when it comes to matters such as pollution, energy policy, water preservation, gun violence, an equitable economy, etc.

    But when it comes to Milton’s version of a free market of ideas, there is sneering, lip-curling, spitting disdain.

    1. Priscilla Montague says:

      OK, but why?

      The Children of the Enlightenment were eager to find common grounds for things such as truth. Why is that no longer the case? (maybe because they were the elite of their time, and whatever else us internet users might be, we are hardly the elite)

      Is it self interest/material interest? Do people seek to influence others for gain? For power or control?

      Is it the idea of “markets”–can you actually find truth via a market approach? Is it the kind of thing that you can have a vote in order to determine truth?

      Is there some kind of a conflict between the idea of markets and contestation?

      Personally, i do not think that all that many people are seeking truth. I think that they are seeking comfort/re-assurance/security/status. I do not think that they go on the internet to seek truth–they go on the internet to satisfy needs–for things, for social grooming/status, for fun.

      Sometimes they search for information, for the answers to questions, but that isn’t always the same thing as truth. particularly when the truth makes them uncomfortable. When it jars with what they think they know.

      1. I continue to believe, based on long experience with the sub-set of angry “truth-seekers” that grievance is one of their primary motivations and easy access to media a key accelerant. Hence the “high opinion/low fact” syndrome so common to modern internet/social media discussions. The beauty of arch-conservative talk radio, which gave birth to FoxNews and myriad websites, is that it marketed precisely what a large audience wanted to hear, and a great deal of that was based on grievances against other cultural groups … racial, liberal, etc., actual facts be damned (and mostly ignored). The sometimes off-putting quality of “mainstream news”, namely that you will hear things you don’t like and are discordant with your private belief system, are simply stripped out of the modern conservative narrative. All is reduced to black and white … and guess who is white?

        “Truth seeking” for far too many has been replaced with fundamentally nonsensical rhetorical sparring. The point is to score a win, or inflict damage on a cultural adversary, in a public arena. Actually understanding the metrics of science is perilous because it too often leads to confirmation of “liberal opinions”.

        1. PM says:

          And, lets not forget, that there are those on the left who are more than willing to attempt to create the same sort of “institutions” for their own partisan advantage. They have no more regard for the “truth” than does Rush. But the phenomena did start on the Right, and they have embraced it with the most fervor so far.

          I do have to wonder at the role played by some of the intellectuals of the post modern bent, who started to challenge the idea of there being one truth back in the 1960’s and 70’s. Although many conservatives derided the whole po-mo thing, they seem to be embracing it when it serves their purpose–which, of course, simply serves to demonstrate the power of the post modern critique in the first place.

          1. That of course is true. We’ve all witnessed our share of left-wing nitwittery. But … the mass marketing success of a lefty meme machine shamelessly indifferent to facts has been a much tougher sell. If anything — again in my experience — the cliched lefty reaction to any kind of error is near instantaneous and not exactly collegial correction and admonishment. Thus proving true the adage about every lefty’s certainty he’s smarter than the next. But … the net effect is more accuracy, not less.

    2. PM says:

      But why? Is it that people are no longer interested in the truth? Is it that Milton and Mill, and all the other children of the enlightenment were elites, and had very different priorities from the current denizens of the internet?

      Is there a conflict between the idea of finding truth and markets? Or maybe that truth is not something to be determined either thru conflict/contestation, or markets, where people “vote” with their $$$?

      I do not think that the search for truth is the driving force behind the internet (maybe more of a search for porn, as Austin has noted). I think that most people tend to search for comfort as opposed to truth–they might want re-assurance, or maybe status, or an outlet of some kind for their frustrations.

      And, of course, a lot of people want money/power. That part is at least consistent since the time of the enlightenment.

        1. Did you read the first comment to that one?

          As I was saying yesterday, I see Jeff Zucker-ization in the (latest) “new CNN”. They’ve been going all-live, all-breaking for most of their existence. But the ability to do it in their backyard really brought out the worst of Zucker’s problematic notion that all news can be delivered as if it were a morning chat show. Next: A terrorist bombing style and cooking segment.

  2. LeftyMN says:

    Milton , Locke and Mill lived in an era when news travelled slowly, and the response to news or analysis of problems and arguments pro and con could be carefully considered. (One wonders how long it took Milton to pen Areopagitica, I doubt it was in a 24 hour period from one Lawrence O’Donnell show to the next) Today we have a supposedly insatiable need for immediate news, immediate analysis,immediate answers and solutions, which lends toward “bad news” pushing out good. Editing, filtering, or stepping back to consider are no longer in vogue it seems.

    1. More to the point, we’re all expected to play our own editor, which is a significant part of my complaint with “the rabble”. Their editing ability is stuck on “reaffirmation”.

      The upside though is the instantaneous blowback on Reddit, CNN, The New York Post and everyone else who screwed up on the Boston story. Shame — a very powerful corrective — was applied in a very public way.

    2. PM says:

      following on Jim’s post of Dowd, and Lefty’s post…

      it used to be that the wisest people were those with the most access to information (libraries, books, time to read, whatever). Now, with the internet, that is no longer the case–we all have equal access to information.

      There is a new definition of wisdom–knowing what to ignore. being able to discern/judge/choose.

      Be your own editor, as Brian put it.

  3. Joe Loveland says:

    You know, I sense that a lot of liberals are only supportive of battling climate change in so far as it doesn’t create any significant personal pain for them.

    Try to do some of the things that really need to be done in order to slow the pace of CO emissions, such as a significant carbon tax that impacts liberals’ utility bills and commuting costs, and a lot of liberals would oppose, I bet.

    I might be wrong about that, but I don’t think liberals are taking the threat of climate change sufficiently seriously either. Not as many of them are denying it’s existence, but acknowledgement without serious action isn’t especially helpful when immediate and dramatic change is required.

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Well, it seems to me that, as Jimmy Carter learned, if you sell carbon footprint reduction as dour self-abnegation, you’re going to lose. It has to be couched in terms of finding and supporting alternative ways of doing pretty much the same things we like doing in order to get any traction.

      1. I don’t remember Carter’s tone particularly well, but the conventional wisdom seems to be that he was a little too “we have to eat our vegetables.” Obama goes with more of a “we have to produce the fuels of the future in America to build our economic destiny instead of letting the Chinese and others get ahead of us.” Americans seem to be more drawn to that second kind of competitive appeal.

        But tone aside, there is this more wonky question: To achieve the shift to alternatives, is it more effective to a) directly subsidize alternative fuel manufacturers or b) align the incentives (carbon taxes and/or cap and trade) in a way that will make businesses want to adjust in order to serve the regulatory-driven change in demand?

        Economists say the latter approach is more effective, but, to get back to my original point, those policies will, by design, result in higher costs for traditional fuel sources, and I would guess that liberals using traditional fuel sources would howl almost as loud as conservatives would about that. To make those kinds of changes, liberal leaders will need to cross liberal voters.

  4. PM says:

    I come at the whole climate change thing a bit differently. I have no doubt that climate change is real. i have no doubt that some significant portion of it is man made.

    I am not, however, convinced that all of the dire predictions that have been made are likely to come to pass. Further, i expect that some of the changes will be positive–just as some areas will experience drought, others will get more rainfall.

    Finally, I am not at all convinced that our smartest move is to try to prevent climate change. It may well be smarter for us to adapt to it, instead. This is particularly true if climate change is inevitable.

    As an example, if sea levels really are going to rise many feet, I doubt that it makes much sense to build dikes around every city. Rather, let’s focus on moving people. I expect that would be far more cost effective.

    That said, i think that the idea of a carbon tax has a lot going for it, even if it does not stop global warming. We need to tax something for revenue, so why not non renewable sources of energy? (and, of course, reduce the other tax sources). Why not promote conservation? I imagine that whatever positive effects it would have on climate change would be far outweighed by the other positive externalities, such as reducing pollution, reducing imports of oil, and increasing energy efficiency. It would be quite similar if effect to a broad based consumption tax, because all carbon based energy used in the production of transportation of goods and products would be subject to the tax.

    1. Well, as Douglas and others explain it, if we turned off the carbon tomorrow, it’d take 100 years before it cleared out of the atmosphere. So there’s no point pretending we aren’t going to be impacted in a pretty serious way, well beyond where we’re at now, especially if the methane trap in the vast tundra melts and breaks open. Getting the military — and insurance companies — to lay out for the public their simulations of how increased desertification, rising sea levels and the social unrest from repeated high intensity weather catastrophes might accelerate political instability might be another facet the marketing geniuses of Hollywood and Madison Avenue could play with.

    2. Joe Loveland says:

      If the policy goal is merely the survival of a generation or four of humans, mitigation of effects, rather than reduction of causes, may well be the best decision. But if the goal is long-term planet stewardship, and as hippy-dippy as that may sound to some, that’s a poor strategy. If we just keep pumping CO into the air as much as we feel like, we can mess up the planet pretty badly.

      1. PM says:

        I think that it is hard enough to plan a generation in advance. I simply do not think that it is possible to plan 4 or more generations in advance. Further, i do not think that it is wise to even try, because there is simply too much that we do not understand. Any attempt like that reeks of hubris to me.

        1. I get what you’re saying, PM. It is undeniably true that we can’t guarantee that any CO-reducing policy passed today will stay in place for 4 generations. But that’s true of any policy issue, and that lack of such a guarantee doesn’t stop us from doing our best to point our generations’ policies in the right direction, and hoping that our actions set a precedent that influences future generations do the right thing.

          It’s not speculative to say that if you reduce CO for 4 generations, man made climate change will be less than if we continue to trend upward on CO-spewing for the next 4 generations. Just because we don’t yet know the precise implications of man made climate change, doesn’t mean we don’t know how to address the man made causes of climate change.

    1. The revelatory moment for me doing a magazine piece on Michele Bachmann’s Sixth District fans was their near total disinterest in constituent service. Schools, bridges, good roads, enough cops … couldn’t care less. Why? Because the world is going off a cliff into the fiery maw of hell and none of that matters. What they saw in her was a beacon of pure truth in the face of Sodom-like immorality.

      Needless to say they had no interest in methane traps.

      Apocalyp-ism breeds nihilism.

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