Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Paradoxical Response II

Writing in today's Guardian, the Blessed George appears to have cottoned on to the effects elicited by the Paradoxical Response:
A recent paper by the biologist Janis L Dickinson, published in the journal Ecology and Society, proposes that constant news and discussion about global warming makes it difficult to repress thoughts of death, and that people might respond to the terrifying prospect of climate breakdown in ways that strengthen their character armour but diminish our chances of survival. There is already experimental evidence that some people respond to reminders of death by increasing consumption. Dickinson proposes that growing evidence of climate change might boost this tendency, as well as raising antagonism towards scientists and environmentalists. Our message, after all, presents a lethal threat to the central immortality project of western society: perpetual economic growth, supported by an ideology of entitlement and exceptionalism...[Jeez]
And could it be that the rapid growth of climate change denial over the last two years is actually a response to the hardening of scientific evidence? If so, how the hell do we confront it?

Perhaps by not pursuing bizarre ad hominem attacks, on a group basis, of sceptics who happen to be in their sixties and seventies, such as Clive James (I can't be bothered to explain the tortured logic)? Perhaps by not using language such as this in the first paragraph: "Climate change denial is spreading like a contagious disease." And we know what we should do with disease, and perhaps on occasion, its carriers, don't we?

Having looked at the evidence and thought about it quite a bit, I do believe, albeit without the enthusiasm shown by others, that man-made global warming does exist. However, neither I nor anyone else knows with any certainty how dangerous it's going to be. And given I keep hearing the shout "burn them! burn them!" whenever I read pieces like this by people like George Monbiot, I'm deeply sceptical that their proposed cure is going to prove any more palatable than the potential affliction. Yes, I suppose I must have succumbed to the full-blown Paradoxical Response.


Bunny Smedley said...

If I didn't already admire the understated elegance with which you manage to demolish overblown silliness to such remarkable effect, this post would push me over the edge - the effect is apparently so casual, yet so complete!

Although both climate-change puritans, plus those patrician environmentalists who so clearly like wolves and glaciers so much more than they do e.g. fecund third-worlders, both give me the creeps, I'm a product of my upbringing (parents born 1925 and 1930 respectively) to the extent that I switch off the lights when I leave a room, rarely throw away food, and can't imagine just throwing away an item of clothing. Which is to say, I'm in touch with the mystic, tribal, 'I believe', gleefully irrational and compulsive aspects of my 'environmental participation'. Would that the Monbiots of the world could say the same.

But I can't resist asking, having avoided doing so at least twice today - can you please let me know the secret of your productivity? Getting my hair cut was, frankly, the big achievement of my day - and it wasn't even a very good hair-cut, either.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Nicely done. (But I confess that "critic" Clive James - a paid opinion-maker no more important or responsible than, say, Julie Birchill - delivering "an essay about the importance of scepticism" kind of riles me more than any climate-change puritanism. I must just be in a bad mood. Like Bunny I turn the lights off.)

Gaw said...

Bunny: Crumbs - thanks!

My folks were born a bit after yours but nevertheless we enjoyed things like baked bean omelette and ice on the inside of windows. All for eternally good reasons. Whilst I don't go to these lengths, all the johnny-come-lateleys telling us to do this sort of thing to save the planet, are very irritating. It's quite nice though that they've made a virtue out of miserliness.

Re productivity, it seems my energy's returning. And as I'm not working and the kids are at nursery I have nothing better to do than churn out random stuff.

I'm sorry to hear about your haircut, the impact of which I do not underestimate. It's a major event for T, but thankfully one that happens only every few months.

Gadjo: If 'critics' aren't going to write about this sort of thing there doesn't seem to be a lot of point to them. But that might be your point. But then what's the point of us? Get a fridge-leftovers omelette down you - that'll cheer you up.

Brit said...

I find I just cannot read a whole Monbiot article. My brain gets angry and then shuts down in protest.

Gaw said...

Yes, Brit, that's a typical presentation of the symptoms of Paradoxical Response.

It's as if someone, sidling up to you to persuade you of something they believe to be eminently reasonable, instead starts belabouring you around the head with their brolly. Understandably, you flinch when this gentleman next approaches and eventually just run away.

Brit said...

There's nothing paradoxical about that as a response to Monbiot.

But yes, I agree that the Paradoxical Response is part of the hearts-and-minds problem for the warmists, but it suggests an irrational "la la la fingers in ears" behaviour, which could equally be brought on by repeatedly hammering of a message which was unpalatable but also true and reasonable.

The problem here is that the likes of Monbiot have, from the start, insisted on a direct and iron link between scientific evidence which we could accept (or at least, accept that we laymen have no grounds to be sceptical about them) on the one hand; and a whole load of other assumptions varying from debatable to preposterous to non-sequiturial, about which we all have every right to be sceptical (turning the lights off will make a difference, capitalism is evil, America is bad, package holidays are killing the planet etc).

If you insist on the iron link, you can't complain when people who are sceptical about capitalism being evil also question your more reasonable claims.

(That and all the exaggerated crap about sea levels and ice caps and things being underwater in 10 years time and using a warm spell in April as evidence of climate change then keeping shtum when we get another typical crap August.)

Gaw said...

I do think there is a seed of reasonableness in the arguments of the climate change lobby. I don't think anyone thinks it wouldn't be a good idea to save energy, for all sorts of reasons. Can we save a lot of it? It would be nice if we could.

But rather than try to meet people on this comprehensible ground they've thrown the kitchen sink (under which they hid a lot of unpopular ideological beliefs) at us.

Rather than making us respond more warmly to their protestations, this has, paradoxically perhaps, made us respond aggressively.

And what's interesting is that Monbiot is now about one logical step away from realising how disastrous his form of advocacy has been.

However, I dare say should he reach such a conclusion it won't deter him too much. I suspect he's riding to hounds for the chase rather than the kill.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I don't know why I got pissed at Clive James, except I 'spose he's doing the job I would dearly like myself ;-) I ate the fridge-leftovers omelette - and I like didn't warm up again either, yeah? - and now i feel a lot better, thanks.

Gaw said...

Gadj, why don't you just tell everyone in Romania that you actually are Clive James and see how you get on? Why would they disbelieve you? You might be on the telly quicker than you know.