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Sustainability in 60, Stone Faces on the Lawn
Alex Steffen, 17 Mar 05

Worldchanger Joel Makower launched a competition asking for "a one-hour activity that would engage students to learn and possibly apply some of the fundamentals of sustainability."

The winner? Worldchanger Vinay Gupta, who penned a long, interesting rant, complete with the unexpected line:

Picture: of American Suburban Home, two or three cars parked outside. In the front lawn, an Easter Island-style Stone Face.

I mean, what can you add to that?

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Thanks, guys. I figgure my rants have a 20% batting average, but it's definitely one of the good 'uns :-)

GBL is a good read too. I like that kind of "what is going on in a tight nutshell" thing, and the model of private, professional information-collection-and-filtering is definitely intereting to see in that niche... ecological intelligence services.

Posted by: Vinay on 17 Mar 05

Anything with a heavy dose of fear-inducement really doesn't seem to be effective, IMO. Put yourself in the students' shoes - do they need to be subjected to more nightmare scenarios about the world they live in? Don't you all think we all get more than enough of that?

People don't care because they know it won't affect them personally. "Oh, your SUV is so wasteful and polluting" etc. Well, there's no feedback cycle to make anyone actually feel the impact, as it is a miniscule part of a larger system of ongoing processes. And the world's not going to collapse in one big moment, so there's never going to be a time when humanity as a whole is going to have to confront the error of their ways (which, btw, is a near perfect rendition of the "judgment day" myths of Christianity).

It's just the same old approach of religions, cults, etc, of beating people down with hopelessness, then lifting them up with your solutions to all the pain they now feel.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 17 Mar 05

Hey, did you read the idea at length on the link?

I think it's actually pretty hopeful!

Posted by: Vinay on 17 Mar 05

I did read it, Vinay. I don't object to the fact that you're proposing to introduce "Worldchanging" concepts during the class.

I know you don't mean to do it, but I'm simply commenting about a fairly unqeustioned approach to "educate" people about sustainability - starting with doom and gloom, which induces hopelessness, then using that as the basis for introducing solutions to alleviate that hopelessness.

See if this sounds familiar:
These same influence techniques are joined by a subtle undermining of the recruit's self-esteem (e.g., by exaggerating the "sinfulness" of experiences the recruit is encouraged to confess"), the suppression or weakening of critical thinking through fatiguing activity, near-total control of the recruit's time, trance-induction exercises (e.g., chanting), and the repetitive message that only disaster results from not following the group's "change program." These manipulations induce the recruit to declare allegiance to the group and to commit to change him/herself as directed by the group. He or she can now be considered a convert embarking on a path of "purification", "enlightenment", "self-actualization", "higher consciousness," or whatever. The recruit's dependency on the group is established and implicitly, if not explicitly, acknowledged. Moreover, he/she has accepted the group's authority in defining what is true and good, within the convert's heart and mind as well as in the world.

I'm not ascribing malintent on your part or on anyone's, but there are drawbacks to this approach of destroying the ego only to build it back up through dependency on solutions one presents.

Why do we have to spend any amount of attention on doomsday scenarios? Is it really necessary to get people to care or pay attention?

We're completely inundated with fear-induction in today's world -- especially through the media and our political representatives. "The guys in the turbans are going to lay down a suitcase nuke in your hometown. You're all going to die a miserable death - but we don't know when.... Unless of course you vote for me and I'll go after the bad guys."

What would be Worldchanging, at least from the way I see it, is if we found other ways to motivate people without first scaring the crap out of them.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 17 Mar 05

Unless something is so scary that it actually genuinely scares those making the messages - something kind of like global warming for instance........

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 17 Mar 05

Hmmm. So we can't start with the state of the world because that will induce hopelessness? We can't get people to focus on the fact that day by steady day they're destroying their own environments because that's depressing and ego-destroying?

Interesting. For some reason the word "delusional" comes to mind.

Posted by: Zaid on 19 Mar 05

Interesting. For some reason the word "delusional" comes to mind.

Actually, Zaid, what is delusional is believing that doing the same thing over and over again will lead to different results. Environmentalists have tried this approach for a very long time now and it simply hasn't worked. In the meantime, they've helped foster an entire movement of resistance against what they do, principally because people don't like excessive negativity.

I ask again - what is the actual necessity of making people feel bad? Why is there an assumption that we need to make people feel bad, to make them feel guilty, to get them to care and to do something?

Do you think, for example, that by calling me delusional (ie, attempting to make me feel bad about myself) will somehow make me think you're smart and have something to offer? Or do you think something positive, like offering respect, might work better?

My experience in life, especially when dealing with crushingly large problems like climate change etc, is that an individual human being is neither equipped to feel responsible for something like that, nor should they be responsible for something like that.

Fear is not sustainable. Respecting free-will without trying to psychologically manipulate people -- that is sustainable.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 19 Mar 05

I agree with you that the burden of such global and systemic problems should not sit squarely on the shoulders of individuals. Our political systems are increasing pushing the responsiblity for systemic problems on the individual - which is not just silly but also unjust.

I'm not calling you delusional. I'm wondering if the strategy of not wanting to make people feel bad is leading people to a delusional state of mind.

Finally, what do you actually suggest we do?

Posted by: Zaid on 19 Mar 05

I'm wondering if the strategy of not wanting to make people feel bad is leading people to a delusional state of mind.

I think most of us live delusionally to one extent or another. Not laying down the heavy doom-and-gloom is probably not going to change that.

Finally, what do you actually suggest we do?

That's a good question. To get back to the question of delusion, think of how a missionary-minded Christian perceives someone who isn't a Christian. Many times in my life I've been told, "You'll be going to hell if you don't accept Jesus Christ as your saviour." Most of the time, it is said with a smile and with no malice whatsoever. Yet, here they are convinced that I am delusional, then try to get me think about the possibility of eternal damnation to get me to accept their belief system.

I don't know about you, but that does more to turn me off to Christianity than pretty much anything else someone could say to me about it. So, when I see enviros pretty much doing the same thing -- believing others are delusional for not buying their view of things and also painting apocalyptic outcomes if we all don't buy into that view of things -- I can only assume (and have observed) that a great many people will be severely turned off by that approach.

Getting back to fear specifically, I think fear is one of the main causes of our collective disconnect and lack of concern for larger things. It drives people inward, not outward, and makes them much less likely to be altruistic. It also keeps dividing people from one another.

Going back to your question about what to do -- I think the example of Christianity is again instructive. Do I need to fear God to love God, to believe in salvation, to accept Christian ethics, to believe in Christ? Some sects of Christianity feel that one does, but others don't.

Likewise, I don't want to help to heal the planet because I'm afraid of nightmare scenarios. I do it because I love the planet and the miracle of being alive. Fear has nothing to do with it.

I think the most important thing to do is to help people to fall in love with their world and with life. Go on really long walks, even in the city. Sit by leafy trees in the park on a breezy day. Till the soil, pull weeds, plant seeds. Play catch with a dog. Go for a bike ride through the countryside.

Once people fall in love with nature, then they naturally want to do what they can not to harm it, to protect it, to rejeuvenate it. Unless it's personal and it gives them pleasure, then it just seems like a burden and a chore -- and a pretty thankless one at that. Not only will the results be indirect and long-term, and have a high probability of not even occurring, one also gets to see others continue to be wasteful and destructive and feel no consequences for it, all the while giving you crap for resisting that destructiveness and wastefulness in a thousand different ways (eg, ask for a ceramic cup at a coffee house -- oh, the fun!).

There's a reason that Roosevelt felt that the greatest thing we needed to fear is fear itself, and that Aung San Suu Kyi felt that the greatest corruption is fear. It may work on some level, but it comes at a much greater price.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 20 Mar 05



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