What do we do?

In this course, and more generally, it has seemed that many people believe that substantial change can be effected simply by providing more information. It is our hope that people will change their behavior when are informed of the terrible consequences their actions are having both on themselves, but also the environment, and others. This is not confined to environmental discussions, but politcal and economic policy as well.

The problem is, this information has, and is, available. Despite the common complaint about the bias, which I notice (for Americans) tends to invoke FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh from the left, and CNN, The New York Times and NPR from the right (I feel an excellent example of how the right has been able to muddy the waters in the past few years), there are still excellent articles written about the climate change, economic violence, and political corruption. However it does not seem that any of this is having any effect except to fuel partisan bickering in the US.

The discussions I watch tend to be on the internet, and occaisonally when I’m around cable TV, on the news networks. And commonly it is like both sides are debating with entirely different sets of facts. I once tried to argue for gay marriage on an online bulletin board, only to have the argument made that downfall of the Roman empire was directly attributable to homosexuality. When I expressed amazement, I was told it was surprising I had not learned about it in high school, as it is apparently common knowledge. I proceeded to look up in various indexes accounts of the fall of the roman empire, and saw no evidence. Evidently this knowledge was in a parallel knowledge universe, which I was simply unable to find.

Undoubtedly in this parallel universe, I would find answers to many baffling questions, what good is restricting the rights of gays, why is having guns a pre-requisite for freedom, why should the lives of people in other countries be worth less?

How can we convince someone of anything political when they believe Vietnam was not only required, its results were positive, that Reagan was singlehandedly responsible for the downfall of the evil empire of the USSR, and that global warming is the creation of alarmist ‘activist’ scientists. It is like trying to talk to aliens, it’s hard to find the common ground.

We need something to fight FoxNews. It sounds elitist, but many right wing issues make considerably nicer sound bites. The elitist intellectualism on the left is alienating to those who can’t decipher it, we’re not going to change the world with Chomsky like treatises, or even with friendly pie charts the only people who would read them are already convinced, and those whom we’re presumably trying to convince would dismiss it faster than we would a Rush Limbaugh explanation of why abortion is evil. The source, and the image, now count for far more than the message. The last US election convinced me that changing the world (in North America at last) depends not on better informing people of the statistics and issues, but by appealing to their ego and sense of being correct. People are not voting for George Bush and Ralph Klein because of their elegant writing or complex grasp of issues. People are doing so because they identify with the constructed personas of those leaders, and believe that they themselves know best.

7 Responses to “What do we do?”

  1. jennifer says:

    this is the essence of interpretation: identifying with your audience. interpretation can appear in many disciplines: nature, politics, sports, economics, sociology, climatology, universe physics… interpretation is used all the TIME! And you are absolutely right, Liam, to change the world we need not only to inform people but to inform them in a way that they can relate to and feel safe in accepting the information.

  2. pete says:

    I think a big part of the problem of finding common ground, is trying to move the climate change issue out of the realm of moral arguments (where it resides for many people, based on who they see making the arguments), into the realm of intellectual arguments.

    Good luck doing that in a population with such a poor science literacy. Until that is fixed, don’t expect to see a great groundswell of public support for painful economic changes to halt climate change – until it is way too late, that is.

  3. Hannah says:

    Fight Fox News…hmmm…well you can’t necessarily change people’s views, but you can be the model. Little
    things do spark change. But, speaking of something big…anyone interested in working on a proposal for
    a grant from CBC or something, to create a radio program on climate change? Let’s think of all the
    resources we have at the school…I’m sure professor Ewing would be happy to talk about the problems
    with transportation today – he’s extremely knowledgeable and some of the solutions seem very applicable
    so it’s not like there’s no hope. We also have professors and students from the school of the environment…
    Jennifer? Then we could find someone who was really affected by climate change and a frequent storm (the tsunami?),
    and get their story…what do you think? We don’t have to be in the same city during the summer to work
    on the proposal, we could keep passing it around through the wonderful internet! Talk about
    grassroots started by a blog!

  4. sieber says:

    Maybe Microsoft is becoming the Fox News of the software industry. The latest: the company has withdrawn its support from legislation in its home state, Washington, that would have forbidden discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is all the more shocking since Microsoft leads many software companies in it gay-friendly human resources policies (from Seattle’s alternate weekly paper, The Stranger)

  5. sieber says:

    More on Microsoft and its refusal to support the gay rights bill.

  6. Liam says:

    I found the slashdot discussion on the Microsoft gay rights issue rather interesting, I suppose it reflects the libertarian nature of a lot of internet discussion boards, but the advocates were generally pretty articulate. It’s certainly not something you could expect from some other popular internet sites like Fark.