Friday, July 14, 2017

What , me worry?

Why is nobody worried? This is the enigma inside a conundrum, the thing historians will one day truly puzzle over. Why did they all just sit there as if nothing was wrong? How was such mass denial possible?

There is the obvious psycho-social pathology that accompanies every instance of collective cultural denial; the disavowal, the ideology, the sublimated and repressed trauma. There is the pervasive anti-intellectualism and religiosity, the supremely confident paranoids with their fantastic meta-conspiracies, and then there is the post post-modern cynicism and nihilism that sees mass extinction as another cartoon or reality tv show. So there is that...

But there is also the tragic failure of The Movement to communicate in a coherent fashion. When Trump says he might or might not re-consider pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, as if he were having trouble deciding which sandwich to order (The reuben would be OK but if I had the meatballs, that would be ok too), it probably reflects their own general ambivalence- it might even sound rational and "balanced"! This is because Movement messaging has been ambivalent, vague, and has too often lost relevance in an attempt to achieve "balance" (not too alarmist, not too casual).

But here's the deal: If you call 911 to report your house on fire, you can't ask the firemen to stop off at the convenience store for a pack of smokes. And expect to be taken seriously. This is the messaging failure of the Movement; they want us to "Do the Math" and understand the unfolding crisis, or catastrophe, or emergency but then they ask us to sign a petition of march holding a sign. Your children's lives are threatened, mass extinction and civilization collapse loom... so you should write a letter to the editor and go to a public utilities commission meeting. The disconnect is not just confusing, it is self-defeating.

This was the problem with the Standing Rock slogan Water Is Life. And all the concern with sovereignty and treaty rights. Or making dust coming off coal trains a big issue. For those trying to get a grip on the actual severity of the crisis this is a signal not to get too worried. We can deal with coal dust, we can deal with Native rights, there are plenty of processes in place, no big emergency. Messaging needs to be consistent and plenty alarming. People need clarity around the scope and scale of the crisis. Honest, clear, consistent messaging.