Malicious bullshitting--the key to global warming denialism?

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Dec 12, 2009 at 18:00

In his diary from Copenhagen, "The Orly Taitz of Climate Change? 'Lord' Monckton in Copenhagen ", Nick wrote about the top of the pyramid of global warming denialism.  I'd like to follow up with some thoughts about the base--not the material base of the big oil and coal companies with so much money at stake, but the large mass of rightwing folks with no material connection, similar to the Birthers, who seem passionately attached to denialism as a kind of belief system.  Digby recently wrote a diary,"Knowingly False", in which she wrote:

Following up on posts of the last few days asking why the global warming deniers are global warming deniers, Mike the Mad Biologist offers up another explanation, which is very intriguing:
    I think Fred Clark at the Slacktivist hits on a key point in these two posts: "It isn't intended to deceive others. It's intended to invite others to participate with you in deception"
He then excerpts Clark's discussion an earlier right wing rumor that ran rampant on the right about Procter and Gamble being a satanic cult (seriously) culminating with this observation:
    Are you afraid you might be a coward? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel brave. Are you afraid that your life is meaningless? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend your life has purpose. Are you afraid you're mired in mediocrity? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel exceptional. Are you worried that you won't be able to forget that you're just pretending and that all those good feelings will thus seem hollow and empty? Join us and we will pretend it's true for you if you will pretend it's true for us. We need each other.
I think that's getting to the heart of this.  And for those who observed the chauvinistic fantasies of the keyboard commandos after 9/11, you will recognize some of the same impulses.

I read Clark's original two posts with great interests, and they contain a good deal of insight.  I think he's definitely onto something quite important.  However, I don't completely buy this argument in one important regard: Clark argues that, for the most part, people just can't be that stupid.  They have to know that what they are saying isn't true.  It's driven by malice, he argues, not stupidity.  I take a more complicated view: many people--including even you and me at some points in our lives--don't really have such clear sense what's believable and what's not, what's self-contradictory and what's not, what's real and what is not.  Most of us in the reality-based community like to think that we're not like that, but anyone who's ever fallen in love knows that's just not true.  Intense dysfunctional relationships make this painfully obvious, but even the fairy-tale version has the capacity to melt what we think we know of the world. And charlatans from time immemorial have found ways to use this and related aspect of human nature to make people believe all manner of absurd things.

My difference with Clark is a significant one, but it doesn't really come to the fore until after one absorbs the insight in his posts, and the thrust of the argument he makes, which I sort through on the flip.

Paul Rosenberg :: Malicious bullshitting--the key to global warming denialism?
Clark's posts were written over a year ago, about believers in the rumor that Proctor & Gambol was involved in Satanism.  Clark's argument about this rumor was that it was driven by collusion to self-deceive.  No one could actually believe it, he argued, and his argument is deeply grounded in his own experience. As he explained:
In my past life as an evangelical for social action, I had a much-photocopied dossier in my desk drawer from the Procter & Gamble corporation. This surreal document was the company's sadly necessary response to the urban legend that the manufacturer of Tide, Crest and Dawn was some kind of satanic cult.

A little background on the rumor: :

To briefly review the details of this absurd rumor, the claim was that some nameless CEO of Procter & Gamble appeared on some daytime talk show and declared his allegiance to Satan. This unidentified and unidentifiable Fortune 100 executive told Donahue/Oprah/Sally Jesse that he belonged to a Church of Satan, and that a portion of the company's profits -- every dollar collected from the sale of Tide and Dawn and Crest -- went to support its evil agenda.

The origin and organization of this slanderous tale seems to trace back to P&G's would-be rivals in a cult-like multi-level marketing scheme that coveted the Cincinnati-based company's market share....

The people Clark was dealing with did not have this motivation, however.  And they are what makes the story intersting and important.

Eventually he gave up on trying to convince people.  Looking back, he writes:

In retrospect, this desperate, shotgun appeal to religious authority demonstrated why the dossier itself was probably futile. It was an acknowledgment that the people they were attempting to convince were beyond the reach of mere fact or reason -- people who did not find reality compelling. The only hope of persuading them, then, was to call upon religious leaders from across the spectrum in the hopes that the pronouncement of one of these random bishops and evangelical pseudo-bishops might be regarded as trustworthy.

If you're forced to resort to such an attempt then you've got to realize that it's not likely to work either. Any audience so far gone as to require this sort of argument is also likely to have already adopted the mechanisms of self-reinforcing stupidity. Thus if they read that Billy Graham denies the rumor, their response won't be "Oh, OK, Billy Graham. I trust him," but rather "OMG! Billy Graham is in on it too!" (cf. "biased media")

So the dossier was hopeless, but I had yet to come to see that.

Eventually, he did see it, and looking backwards, he now concludes:
The dossier/Snopes approach doesn't work because it attempts to apply facts and reason to people who are not interested in either facts or reason. That's not a nice thing to say, or even to think, about anyone else, which is why I was reluctant and slow to reach that conclusion. But that conclusion was inevitable.

In trying to combat the P&G slander with nothing more than irrefutable facts proving it false, I was operating under a set of false assumptions. Among these:

  1. I assumed that the people who claimed to believe that Procter & Gamble supported the Church of Satan really did believe such a thing.
  2. I assumed that they were passing on this rumor in good faith -- that they were misinforming others only because they had, themselves, been misinformed.
  3. I assumed that they would respect, or care about, or at least be willing to consider, the actual facts of the matter.
  4. Because the people spreading this rumor claimed to be horrified/angry about its allegations, I assumed that they would be happy/relieved to learn that these allegations were, indisputably, not true.

All of those assumptions proved to be false. All of them. This was at first bewildering, then disappointing, and then, the more I thought about it, appalling -- so appalling that I was reluctant to accept that it could really be the case.

But it is the case. Let's go through that list again. The following are all true of the people spreading the Procter & Gamble rumor:

  1. They didn't really believe it themselves.
  2. They were passing it along with the intent of misinforming others. Deliberately.
  3. They did not respect, or care about, the actual facts of the matter, except to the extent that they viewed such facts with hostility.
  4. Being told that the Bad Thing they were purportedly upset about wasn't real only made them more upset. Proof that the 23rd largest corporation in America was not in league with the Devil made them defensive and very, very angry.

Again, I'm not happy to be saying such things about anyone, and I'm only doing so here reluctantly, yet this is the appalling truth.

At first, this didn't click for me in  couple of ways.  One is simply that I think people can believe impossible and contradictory things. They do it all the time.  Clark argued:

If a person is smart enough to comprehend this story and then to repeat it, then that person is, by definition, not stupid enough to really believe it.

I used to believe that maybe some people were that stupid. They were acting that stupid, so I went along. I believed that the people I was sending that dossier to were merely innocent dupes.

But in truth they were neither innocent nor dupes. The category of innocent dupe does not apply here. No one could be honestly misled by such a story. The only way to have been misled by it is dishonestly -- which is to say deliberately, willingly and willfully. They are claiming to believe a foolish thing, but they are not guilty of foolishness. They are guilty of malice.

They are just plain guilty.


This story, as with the many others like it, is spread maliciously. The people spreading it are not fools. They are not suffering from a mental defect, but from a moral one. They have chosen to bear false witness, and they do so knowingly.

I don't doubt that this is true of some people. It certainly is.  But again, from my own experience I know that people do believe impossible and contradictory things--and often the only person hurt by it is themselves. In fact, while reading this, I was reminded of a brief passage from Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, "Episode 59: The Harsh Light of Day":

BUFFY: So what I'm wondering is, does this always happen? Sleep with a guy and he goes all evil. God, I'm such a fool.

WILLOW: Well maybe you made a mistake. But that's okay. Next time - what?

BUFFY: Parker said it's okay to make mistakes. It was sweet.

WILLOW: No it wasn't. He was saying that so you would take a chance and sleep with him. He's a poop head.

BUFFY: You're right. He's manipulative and shallow. And why doesn't he want me. Am I repulsive? If there was something repulsive about me you would tell me, right?

WILLOW: I'm your friend. I would call you repulsive in a second.

BUFFY: Maybe Parker and I could still work it out. Do you think we could still work it out?

WILLOW: I think you're missing something about this whole poop head principle.

Indeed.  Plenty of true believers have moments of lucidity when they see through everything they've bought into.  But those moments of lucidity can be incredibly painful... or just difficult to hold onto.  It's all too easy to miss something about the whole poop head principle.  Lots of people have certainly missed it with poop heads like Rick Warren, for example.  You can sell an awful lot of bigotry and hate if you just put on a Hawaiin shirt.  So that's one problem I had--and still have--with Clark's explanation.

But the other problem was simply that I didn't get what the motivation was that Clark was seeing at work.  And that problem he went on solve brilliantly.. What did it for me was the kitten-burning connection-which also comes from Clark's personal experience. That, and how it exemplifies what Clark calls "Thornton Melon morality", after the character Rodney Dangerfield played in the movie Back to School.  Here's Clark on the kitten-burning first:

To try to understand these cheerful gossips, I'd like to turn to an equally strange, if less malicious, group of enthusiasts -- the Anti Kitten-Burning Coalition.

Every once in a while, I am sorry to say, some sick bastard sets fire to a kitten. This is something that happens. Like all crimes, it shouldn't happen, but it does. And like most crimes, it makes the paper. The effects of this appalling cruelty are not far-reaching, but the incidents are reported in the papers because the cruelty is so flagrant and acute that it seems newsworthy.

The response to such reports is horror and indignation, which is both natural and appropriate. But the expression of that horror and indignation also produces something strange.

A few years ago there was a particularly horrifying kitten-burning incident involving a barbecue grill and, astonishingly, a video camera. That sordid episode took place far from the place where I work, yet the paper's editorial board nonetheless felt compelled to editorialize on the subject. They were, happily, against it. Unambiguously so. It's one of the very few instances I recall when that timidly Broderian bunch took an unambiguous stance without their habitual on-the-other-hand qualifications. 

I agreed with that stance, of course. Who doesn't? But despite agreeing with the side they took, I couldn't help but be amused by the editorial's inordinately proud pose of courageous truth-telling. The lowest common denominator of minimal morality was being held up as though it were a prophetic example of speaking truth to power.

Later there was another kitten-burning incident, closer to the paper he worked at, and this spawned a tremendous online response:

One came away from that comment thread with the unsurprising but reassuring sense that the good people reading the paper's Web site did not approve of burning kittens alive. Kitten-burning, they all insisted, was just plain wrong.

But one also came away from reading that thread with the sense that people seemed to think this ultra-minimal moral stance made them exceptional and exceptionally righteous. Like the earlier editorial writers, they seemed to think they were exhibiting courage by taking a bold position on a matter of great controversy. Whatever comfort might be gleaned from the reaffirmation that most people were right about this non-issue issue was overshadowed by the discomfiting realization that so many people also seemed to want or need most others to be wrong. 

The kitten-burners seem to fulfill some urgent need. They give us someone we can clearly and correctly say we're better than. Their extravagant cruelty makes us feel better about ourselves because we know that we would never do what they have done. They thus function as signposts of depravity, reassuring the rest of us that we're Not As Bad As them, and thus letting us tell ourselves that this is the same thing as us being good.

And now we're ready for Thornton Melon to make his entrance:

Again, I whole-heartedly agree that kitten-burning is really, really bad. But the leap from "that's bad" to "I'm not that bad" is dangerous and corrosive. I like to call this Thornton Melon morality. Melon was the character played by Rodney Dangerfield in the movie Back to School, the wealthy owner of a chain of "Tall & Fat" clothing stores whose motto was "If you want to look thin, you hang out with fat people." That approach -- finding people we can compare-down to -- might make us feel a little better about ourselves, but it doesn't change who or what we really are. The Thornton Melon approach might make us look thin, but it won't help us become so. Melon morality is never anything more than an optical illusion.

This comparing-down is ultimately corrosive because it bases our sense of morality in pride rather than in love -- in the cardinal vice instead of the cardinal virtue. And to fuel that pride, we end up looking for ever-more extreme and exotically awful people to compare ourselves favorably against, people whose freakish cruelty makes our own mediocrity show more goodly and attract more eyes than that which hath no foil to set it off.

Melon morality is why if the kitten-burners didn't already exist, we would have to invent them.

And, of course, we do invent them. After a while the buzz of pride we get from comparing ourselves to the kitten-burners begins to fade and we start looking for a stronger drug. Who could possibly be even worse than the kitten-burners?

How about Satan-worshippers?

The posts are brilliant, and you owe it to yourselves to read them both in their entirety.  But in the end, I was left with two loose ends.  One I've already explained--at least well enough to show what my problem.  People really can see through something and not see through it at the same time.  They can and do missing something about the whole poop head principle.  All the time.  Not everyone all the time.  But you know the quote from Lincoln.  That's what he was talking about.

My other loose end wasn't a disagreement with Clark, it was something left incomplete by his explanation.  What was missing seemed immediately obvious to me once I thought about it:  These people had tobelieve that someone else was worse, because they felt like totally evil themselves.  I mean, think about it: fundamentalism is an impossible faith, it's like Calvanism all over again.  You may pretend that you're right with God, and everyone else is not, but deep down-or maybe not so deep-you know that there's no way you can make that cut.  And, in fact, that's pretty much one of the core points of Max Blumenthal's recent book, Republican Gohmorrah.  Which, of course, we've also been watching play out for most of the past year with the C-Street/Family follies.

Look at the nature of the anti-abortion movement.  It's not enough to be anti-abortion--in fact, it's rather trying, since it means that you're accusing millions of would-be--and millions of actual--mothers of infanticide, which by your logic means they should all be tried for murder, and possibly even be put to death.  Following the logic of your argument is extremely difficult, because it's premised on the notion of a horrendous crime on a massive scale, which means you must hold people accountable whose stories simply don't fit the script of being murderers.  They are often deeply conflicted, sometimes deeply regretful.  They simply do not fit the part, no matter how much one might pretend.  And so one has to invent another target--the "abortion industry", which only exists as something distinct because the anti-abortion movement has done so much to stigmatize abortion that it's no longer routinely well integrated into the rest of the medical system.  

And, in a way, the same sort of "logic" is at work with the global warming deniers. They, too, have developed the need for a shadowy conspiracy--even though in this case there is no divisision at all between global warming experts and the rest of the scientific community.  It's enough to simply pretend such a division exists, if one cannot be created.  Others of like mind have spent decades trying to do the same evolutionary biology, too.  The anti-reality cultists need to create a cultist enemy in their own image.  It's the only thing they actually understand.

This is what I mean by "malicious bullshitting."

Bullshitting is not lying, per se.  It's the confabulation of truth and fiction, whatever comes to hand. And when done by a group of people, not just an individual, it has the power to create a social reality more powerful for us as social animals than the reality of the physical world.

Another term for this is "creating a shared mythology."  It's relatively harmless when pimply-faced boys do it with Dungeons & Dragons--all the cultural hysteria notwithstanding.  But, as has been mentioned here before, D&D has realworld coping benefits.  And not just "coping," in a low-ceiling sense of just getting by, but "coping" in the sense of helping you become a more capable, self-motivated and self-actualizing human being.  Which is why it's definitely not malicious.

The same cannot be said for rightwing cultism, however.  It promotes cognitive "skills" such doublethink"

"To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself -- that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink.[1] "

"The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them....To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies - all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.[1] "

So Nobel Prize-winners (not just Al Gore, but scientists, too) are charlatans, and charlatans call them out for their "pseudo science."  What could be more logic for master of doublethink?

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impossible things (4.00 / 1)
Alice laughed. `There's no use trying,' she said `one ca'n't believe impossible things.'

`I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. `When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

I'm not sure I can capture Buffy and Willow's notion of the poop head principle.  Taking the excerpt you've offered, it's what I think of as the head and heart disconnect; there is something that the head knows, that the heart is loathe to accept.  The heart may indeed be loathe because the heart knows from whence the pain comes, even if the head says something like, I think you're missing something about this whole poop head principle.

Going back to to Clark (I read them awhile back), particularly his second/follow up post, he clarifies that he's focused on the rumor propagators, those folks actively spreading the rumor.  He makes the distinction between believing false witness, and bearing false witness.

But those few who may have been innocently duped by such an unbelievable tale -- the very young, the very old, the very insular -- weren't also among those most active in spreading the rumor. They heard it, and they may have believed it, but believing false witness and bearing false witness are not the same thing.

I'm assuming that you are more focused on those believing false witness.  And, that belief confers some amount of ego-balm whereby they create a bullshitters anonymous to which they can belong, and for which they have the special handshake?  

There's A Lot Of Murkiness Here, I'm Sure (4.00 / 1)
But I'm not arguing that people are "innocently duped."  Rather, I'm arguing that these people really are best understood as participating in duping themselves, along with others.  They know, but they don't know.  I'm not talking about the ones that were excluded in that passage, if indeed there is a bright line that can separate them out.  I think my description applies to most of those responsible for spreading the rumor, though some may be a good deal more aware of what they're doing than others.

And I'm not absolving them of malice.  I think they clearly do have malicious motives--though fear may play a more prominent role with many than outright malice does.  Still, indulging one's fears this way certainly qualifies as malicious.  It's just that I tend to think of motives associated with rightwing authoritarian as more fear-driven, as a rule, and those driven by social dominance orientation as more purely malicious.  I think both play a role in what we're talking about here.

The head/heart construct is certainly a useful one.  But poets have used it since time immemorial to clarify what is commonly experienced as being all ajumble.  And it's precisely that jumble that I'm talking about.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
okay (4.00 / 3)
That's why that last (poorly worded) sentence ended in a question mark.  I needed to get clear where along the continuum (which I agree, may not have any bright lines) you were situating.

Clark categorizes thus:

Those spreading this rumor can be divided into two categories: Those who know it to be false, but spread it anyway, and those who suspect it might be false, but spread it anyway. The latter may be dupes, but they are not innocent. We might think of them as complicit dupes. The former group, the deliberate liars, are making an explicit choice to spread what they know to be lies. The complicit dupes are making a subtler choice -- choosing to ignore their suspicion that this story just doesn't add up and then choosing to pass it along anyway because confirming that it's not true would be somehow disappointing and would prevent them from passing it along without explicitly becoming deliberate liars, which would make them uncomfortable.

So my sense now is you're referring to Clark's complicit dupes.  And, that subtler choice that Clark refers to, you seem to be suggesting is doublethink,"malicious bullshitting," or creating a shared mythology.  And, in my mind-in-a-muddle way, I'd ask if this is the same dynamic process we see in other conspiracy scenarios.  If so, then I can connect the fear to something a writer (whose name I cannot recall) proposed in the National Geographic special on 9/11.  To wit, the narrative the conspiracy theorists have constructed for themselves is less frightening than the official narrative we have with all of its unanswered questions, and sense of powerlessness.  Their narrative is more comforting because all of the uncertainties are addressed.  My take was that narrative, once accepted, could then both "predict and control."  

If I think about the enormity of global climate change, and all of the implications and uncertainties associated with it, a "predict and control" narrative, in which others can join for ballast, would have a lot of appeal.  So, for people terrified of the potential for a climatic catastrophe, and unable to conceptualize a response, to be invited to join a group who deny the source of the bad news is seductive.  Of course it doesn't hurt that some with scientific credentials, earned outside of climate science, seem to offer a degree of support.  In this regard Thornton Melon morality is practiced "up" rather than "down."  And, rather than morality it's intellectuality.  Rather than, I'm not that bad, or I'm better, it's I'm not that dumb. I won't fall for this. I can't be duped.

Conspiracy as defense mechanism.  

Now having tortured myself through this convoluted thought process, it occurs to me that those who would cling to a stupid voter meme might be engaging in some Thornton Melon morality of their own.

[ Parent ]
Good Points (4.00 / 1)
In fact, I'm going to have to chew on them for a while.  The uncertainty-reduction factor makes a certain amount of sense.  But my first instinct is that it's a secondary concern--call it a bonus.  I tend to think that feeling superior to scientists is a more powerful motivation.  ("I'll show those pointy-headed sons of bitches!")

In short, I'm back to my core belief in over-determination. Lots of different reasons come together, some are more important for some people, others are more important for others, but the need to create a shared reality with others in their tribe is one factor that can't be overlooked.  And that, in turn, is also partially motivated by facilitating the (fantasized) ability to "predict and control."

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
There Are Perfectly Rational Reasons For the Right To Be Global Warming Deniers! (4.00 / 1)
You don't need to plumb the psychological depths of human irrationality to find the source of global warming denial (among ordinary people, not oil companies whose motives are transparent).

Just ask yourself: What possible solutions are there to global warming?

It's obvious from the start that any solution will require some combination of the following:

1. Massive government intervention in the economy -- regulating industry, imposing taxes on carbon emissions, mandating green technology, providing subsidies and incentives to promote green industries at the expense of old polluting ones, promoting public consciousness of global inter-dependence and global ecology.

2. International cooperation on an unprecedented scale and with real international sanctions for violators. Possibly a global supra-governmental organization, either independent or under UN auspices, and a vast increase in international treaties and cooperation at a bare minimum.

3. Taking the threat seriously requires promotion of science and reason at the expense of feeling and faith. It's "secular" in that sense. Only concerted scientific effort harnessed to industry and society can help.

I could go on and on, you all have your own lists, but this much is clear: from a libertarian right wing perspective global warming is the WORST POSSIBLE THING IMAGINABLE!

It's an existential threat to human existence that requires BIG GOVERNMENT ON STEROIDS!

Tax cuts for the rich and "limited government" and "faith based initiatives" and every other right-wing nostrum are demonstrably worthless for this problem.

Even the most simple minded conservatives see that it LOOKS like a liberal, tree-hugging environmentalist, socialist, internationalist, wet dream! It's everything they distrust and hate all wrapped up in one neat package!

They simply don't want to believe it's true because they sense (rightly) that: 1) if global warming is truly as bad as scientists are saying it will need to be addressed;

2) the kind of world that will emerge from this effort is their worst nightmare.

There will be no room for their right-wing irrationalism and reactionary politics in such a world.

(Of course, if they succeed in blocking action then the world of war, famine and ecological and economic collapse that will emerge might provide a fertile breeding ground for their militaristic nationalism, fervent "end of days" Pentacostalism and other warped views).

[ Parent ]
True, But (4.00 / 1)
Conservatives will happily stand their beloved principles on their heads when it suits them to.  So while I agree that all the above is so, I don't think that it is necessarily conclusive.  Particular since much earlier acceptance would have significantly reduced the extremity of action that's required now.

I'm an over-determinist, remember?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
There Are Perfectly Rational Reasons and material connections (4.00 / 1)
Good points, Cugel.

And, contrary to what Paul writes:

I'd like to follow up with some thoughts about the base--not the material base of the big oil and coal companies with so much money at stake, but the large mass of rightwing folks with no material connection, similar to the Birthers, who seem passionately attached to denialism as a kind of belief system.

The right wing base has material connections, albeit created by big oil. Here is some evidence:
Here's an excerpt:

The event on Tuesday was organized by a group called Energy Citizens, which is backed by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's main trade group. Many of the people attending the demonstration were employees of oil companies who work in Houston and were bused from their workplaces.

This was the first of a series of about 20 rallies planned for Southern and oil-producing states to organize resistance to proposed legislation that would set a limit on emissions of heat-trapping gases, requiring many companies to buy emission permits. Participants described the system as an energy tax that would undermine the economy of Houston, the nation's energy capital.

[ Parent ]
I Don't Think You Got My Meaning (0.00 / 0)
Of course the rightwing base is quite susceptible to astroturfing.  And that's just this point.  All the things I'm writing about here relate to that susceptibility.

In saying that it has to be "created by big oil" is precisely supporting my point, not undermining.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I'm reminded of "lying for Jesus" (4.00 / 3)
Here too.  I get that sense when I debate certain AGW deniers who I know are smarter than some of the arguments they put forth.  People who yesterday had fought me detail by detail over some intricate concept like ice cores and relevance of 800,000 years of CO2/temperature records come back the next day with "well it's snowing and -30 in Winnipeg, so much for global warming!"

They definitely know some of the crap they spew is crap, but I'm guessing they do it in service of their greater deluded good, preventing the socialist take-over of the world or whatever NAU/Bilderberg conspiracy they're fixated on.

tie me up, tie me down (4.00 / 1)
I think some of the deniers are just taking advantage of the good-nature of those willing to engage in argument with them.

They don't care if their arguments make sense or not, it's a win for them to keep progressive activists busy so we can't do anything more productive than chase them in circles.

They call me Clem, Clem Guttata. Come visit wild, wonderful West Virginia Blue

[ Parent ]
Finally (4.00 / 2)
there is a strategic compass-check.

In the land there is a vast reservoir of souls who are being vacuumed up by the loony right unopposed.

The focus should not be on parliamentary knife-fighting, but on engaging the People in their own language.

E.g. Do you ever hear intellectuals and media types standing up unabashedly for socialism? Explaining what it is? Explaining how it's the system we've employed successfully for 80 years? That it is what puts bread on the table of average people? How it is the standard model for government world-wide? Not some alien conspiracy!

Progressives and the rest of the Left need to engage in battle much like the proponents of New Atheism have: on the mythic plane.

This isn't about sea levels and degrees C.

It's about a vision of the future that speaks to peoples deepest insecurities.

The insecurity that global technocratic society doesn't need them and doesn't want them.

That isn't far from the truth.

On Proclaiming One's Reality THE Reality.. (1.33 / 3)
Most of us in the reality-based community like to think that we're not like that..

Please do share, Mr. Rosenberg, how you can be so certain that yours is the reality and that the opposition's is Wonderland?  Surely it's occurred to you that just as the insane absolutely and assuredly do believe that their own reality is the reality and that those 'denying' them their validation are the demented ones, does it even occur to you that the AGW crowd and its party of favorites could possibly be the ones who've gone off the deep end, rationalizing their positions and behaviors each second of the drop?  Extending the disturbia analogy even further, if a disinterested party were examining both sides in the AGW debate for clues as to rationality, who are the ones running around in a paranoid, name-calling frenzy since the East Anglia emails were hacked and released?  I would submit that the disinterested observer would have a tough time differentiating the perpetrators of such behavior from the Mad Hatter himself.

A disinterested observer (4.00 / 3)
would probably go through the following steps in formulating an opinion about a question of science:

1.  Look over the data;
2.  If the data were too extensive or complex to master for a layperson, evaluate the opinions of experts, to see if there is a consensus;
3.  If one found a consensus, accept it provisionally, with the understanding that the consensus may change (as a layperson, you don't have much choice, short of  spending the time to become an expert yourself); and
4.  If someone claimed that there was some fraud or cult behind that consensus, evaluate the likelihood that such a fraud could or would be maintained.

My own view is, applying these steps, one would come to the conclusion was that the consensus supported AGW and that, unless and until the consensus changed, it is probably sensible to adopt it as more likely than not.

Comparing which side is engaging in a "paranoid, name-calling frenzy" would be rather a stupid way for a disinterested observer to formulate an opinion, don't you think?

But, since you mentioned it, I can link to video of the following people engaging in a "paranoid, name-calling frenzy" about the CRU emails:

Glenn Beck;
Rush Limbaugh;
Alex Jones.

Can you link video of anyone who commands an audience of millions on the left, who has engaged in a "paranoid, name-calling frenzy?"  I may not be watching the right cable channel.

[ Parent ]
A Perfect Example Of The Delusion (4.00 / 3)
MinnRick gets to pose as superior to the entire global community of climate scientists!  Pretty heady stuff for the ego of whatever sort of loser he may be.  Because, of course, if he were actually who he imagines himself to be--his vaunted "disinterested observer"--then he would notice, first and foremost, that there was no there there.

From Nature:

Climatologists under pressure

Stolen e-mails have revealed no scientific conspiracy, but do highlight ways in which climate researchers could be better supported in the face of public scrutiny.

The e-mail archives stolen last month from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (UEA), UK, have been greeted by the climate-change-denialist fringe as a propaganda windfall (see page 551). To these denialists, the scientists' scathing remarks about certain controversial palaeoclimate reconstructions qualify as the proverbial 'smoking gun': proof that mainstream climate researchers have systematically conspired to suppress evidence contradicting their doctrine that humans are warming the globe.

This paranoid interpretation would be laughable were it not for the fact that obstructionist politicians in the US Senate will probably use it next year as an excuse to stiffen their opposition to the country's much needed climate bill. Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real - or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.

First, Earth's cryosphere is changing as one would expect in a warming climate. These changes include glacier retreat, thinning and areal reduction of Arctic sea ice, reductions in permafrost and accelerated loss of mass from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Second, the global sea level is rising. The rise is caused in part by water pouring in from melting glaciers and ice sheets, but also by thermal expansion as the oceans warm. Third, decades of biological data on blooming dates and the like suggest that spring is arriving earlier each year.

Denialists often maintain that these changes are just a symptom of natural climate variability. But when climate modellers test this assertion by running their simulations with greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide held fixed, the results bear little resemblance to the observed warming. The strong implication is that increased greenhouse-gas emissions have played an important part in recent warming, meaning that curbing the world's voracious appetite for carbon is essential (see pages 568 and 570).
Mail trail

A fair reading of the e-mails reveals nothing to support the denialists' conspiracy theories. In one of the more controversial exchanges, UEA scientists sharply criticized the quality of two papers that question the uniqueness of recent global warming (S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick Energy Environ. 14, 751-771; 2003 and W. Soon and S. Baliunas Clim. Res. 23, 89-110; 2003) and vowed to keep at least the first paper out of the upcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Whatever the e-mail authors may have said to one another in (supposed) privacy, however, what matters is how they acted. And the fact is that, in the end, neither they nor the IPCC suppressed anything: when the assessment report was published in 2007 it referenced and discussed both papers.

If there are benefits to the e-mail theft, one is to highlight yet again the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers, often in the form of endless, time-consuming demands for information under the US and UK Freedom of Information Acts. Governments and institutions need to provide tangible assistance for researchers facing such a burden.

The e-mail theft also highlights how difficult it can be for climate researchers to follow the canons of scientific openness, which require them to make public the data on which they base their conclusions. This is best done via open online archives, such as the ones maintained by the IPCC ( and the US National Climatic Data Center (

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
On top of Paul's points, you've completed failed to grasp how the human mind works. (4.00 / 5)
In point of fact, the insane do question their "reality," and it's quite helpful to call them on it. I've done it with my schizo-effective grandmother, and, as a bipolar 1 whose experienced extreme delusions, I've had it done to me. Reality and insanity don't exist at opposite poles whose never the twain shall meet. You don't grasp that much about abnormal psychology, and it leads you to a poor grasp of relatively normal, or at least banal, psychology. This is just total intellectual fail on your part.

[ Parent ]
This is of a piece ... (4.00 / 1)
... with other right-wing thinking: namely, that every opinion has equal validity (it's only opinion, after all), and that liberals (and scientists who disagree with the conservatives) only have opinions on their side. They really DO NOT GET the concept of empirical proof, skepticism, and the scientific method. See, on their side, when they say, "This is Reality," they're talking about their biases, and about what "seems like common sense" to them. And they assume the left is doing the same thing. They simply can't conceive of the possibility that their opposition is actually doing something more than that in formulating their "opinions".

[ Parent ]
The deniers' nearly religious zeal can be summed up like this: (4.00 / 1)
"We don't want to live like things are running out."

They were raised, like most of us since the 1950s, to believe that resources are inexhaustible.  Don't take that toaster in to be fixed!  Get a new one!  TV not working?  Throw it out and get one with a bigger screen!  Chilly in here?  Turn up the thermostat!  Blankets and sweaters are for sissies!  It's a lot like that scene in Terry Jones' Erik the Viking, where the deniers refuse to believe their island nation is sinking even as the waves close in over their heads.

Just as King Arnulf continued denying the evidence as it swallowed him up, the global warming deniers will keep claiming that nothing is wrong.  They can't be reasoned with, because for them to accept the truth means they have to accept that they must change the way they live, and they can't fathom living any other way.  They think it will involve giving up everything they've ever known, and that can be incredibly frightening for some people.

Ironically (4.00 / 3)
the root problem is irrational fear.  And now, as a result, fear is quite rational, and being ignored, denied and ridiculed.

When global warming first surfaced as a policy problem, it would have been relatively easy to respond with a firm, but modestly gradual shift in energy policy and consumption patterns that would have barely been noticeable on a daily basis.  To stabilize the atmosphere from 1990 to 2050 would be a 60-year project.  After 20 years of delay, it's now a 40-year project. But the necessary changes aren't linear, they are exponential, as later changes must build on earlier ones, and we've delyed making those earlier changes, so now we're in desperation/depsair-and-denial mode, precisely because we've failed to act when all it required was prudence and steady determination.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
At this point I miss having Jimmy Carter in the White House. (4.00 / 1)
His presidency certainly had its share of bad policies, but trying to get Americans to accept necessary changes in how we use resources wasn't one of them.  I remember during the campaign, maybe it was sometime in 2007, during the Democratic debates, Obama was asked what his family was doing to set an example on climate change.  His response was this deer-in-the-headlights answer, "we switched to energy efficient light bulbs," and then he moved on as if that alone was enough.  It showed a huge disconnect between reality and his perception of the severity of the crisis.

[ Parent ]
fabulous post (0.00 / 0)
You've got some great ideas on diagnosing a serious problem... care to lay out some conjecture on a solution... just what is the best way to talk to a climate skeptic?

? Ignore?
? Engage with latest focus group tested words (clean up atmosphere, appeal to American superiority/exceptionalism, energy independence)?
? Out-crazy?

I'm trying to influence public policy makers in a state where there is probably not plurality support for climate change legislation nor perhaps even a plurality certain of AGW.

I'm undecided on how much energy I should be putting into fighting denialism and how to go about doing it.

They call me Clem, Clem Guttata. Come visit wild, wonderful West Virginia Blue

Well, That's A Tough One (4.00 / 1)
Given that WV's dependence on coal means that economic motives--which are not highlighted in this analysis--play a much more significant role there.

What about synergizing with the fight against mountaintop removal?  Plus, there was a recent report showing that the externalized costs of coal exceeded the benefits, even in coal country in Appalachia.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
thanks for the suggestions (0.00 / 0)
We've got quite the "dossier" building up on all topics related to coal including some targeted debunking on economic issues:

- Economic case against Mountaintop Removal
- Does "clean coal" make economic sense?

Alas, as your diary correctly points out... there's some real limits to how much rational arguments persuade.

They call me Clem, Clem Guttata. Come visit wild, wonderful West Virginia Blue

[ Parent ]
I totally disagree with this whole line of inquiry (0.00 / 0)
In Digby's Update no. 1 to her post she writes:
Update: It has been pointed out to me that part of the fault in this lies with the environmental movement which is arrogant and ineffectual in getting out the word, as well as invested in failure. There is truth in all that. But while I agree that the messaging is obviously not resonant with global warming deniers or they would not be global warming deniers, I'm still not sure that anything would persuade them. I think we're dealing with something more fundamental than politics here, which is why I raised the question.

Emphasis added.

They want us to think that we're dealing here with something more fundmental than politics. (Also, see my response to Cugel, above, which presents an NYT article on organized opposition to global warming that is spearheaded by the oil industry, giving the right-wing masses a rational and material connection to global warming denial.)

Besides Digby, I actually went and read both of Clark's posts, which saved me from the humiliation of arguing with you about the difference between maliciousness and stupidity.

While I think you are right to question Clark's conclusions, my reason for thinking this are as follows:

Clark writes (and you quoted):

In trying to combat the [Proctor & Gamble]slander with nothing more than irrefutable facts proving it false, I was operating under a set of false assumptions. Among these:
1. I assumed that the people who claimed to believe that Procter & Gamble supported the Church of Satan really did believe such a thing.
2. I assumed that they were passing on this rumor in good faith -- that they were misinforming others only because they had, themselves, been misinformed.
3. I assumed that they would respect, or care about, or at least be willing to consider, the actual facts of the matter.
4. Because the people spreading this rumor claimed to be horrified/angry about its allegations, I assumed that they would be happy/relieved to learn that these allegations were, indisputably, not true.

All of those assumptions proved to be false. All of them. This was at first bewildering, then disappointing, and then, the more I thought about it, appalling -- so appalling that I was reluctant to accept that it could really be the case.

Bigger than the existence of malice or stupidity, I think is the notion that we should generalize Clark's account of his experience to the larger social and political world, e.g. global warming deniers.  

C'mon, dealing with people who are susceptible to beliefs in Satanism isn't the same thing as trying to educate people on the need for health care reform and climate change legislation.  

If we believe that countering global warming denial with facts - publicizing scientific studies in the media - will never turn the tide, that doesn't leave many options.  We must continue to try to educate people. There's no way around getting critical mass. It has to happen for change to occur.

I think it's interesting to wonder what makes people tick and act in seemingly perverse relationship to the facts, and I know that you think a lot about these things, much more than I do, but mostly I think that people experience multiple states of mind when confronted with conflicting data. In all likelihood, denial is fed in various ways. Malice, stupidity and being all "ajumble" all fuel the spread of false rumor.

Probably people switch back and forth between various thought processes, or experience these thought patterns on a continuum during daily living as well as taking purposeful actions such as attending a protest event. I think this variety of thought process operates even at the level of corporate management of oil and coal companies and trade associations. They are all "ajumble" over all the money or business they stand to lose. Only in a court of law would it matter if one acted with malice or stupidity.  

You're Misreading Me Again (4.00 / 1)
I'm not saying that "countering global warming denial with facts - publicizing scientific studies in the media - will never turn the tide".  In fact, the tide is already in our favor, and it's clearly much more important to translate latent support into active support than it is to devote all our attention to countering the deniars.

That said, the deniers are part of a larger cultural/political problem that needs to be met on a number of different fronts, and it behooves us to get a lot more saavy about them.

I agree completely that we can't just assume these are all the same people.  In fact, I'd just love to see some really good polling done to get at underlying factors and cross-tabs between different sorts of counterfactual belief systems.  Mostly, of course, I'm  concerned about the right wing, but I'd want to test for 9/11 truthers as well.

Finally, I agree completely that different impulses/motive comingle in states of flux.  We're a long way from understanding what's really going on with people in such situations.  All the more reason to try to start figuring it out.  Sooner or later, I hope I'm successful in getting folks to start doing some polling on it.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Malice AND bullshit, but not the same thing (0.00 / 1)
There's definitely a lot of malice, and a lot of it is well paid.  Public Relations depends heavily on exploiting people's susceptibilities.  In the case Fred Clark diagnoses, plus of course Global Warming (even more so) there is a lot of deliberate malicious exploitation.  

This exploitation works because of people's tendencies.  The tendencies aren't inherently malicious, though they could doom the planet.  Certainly these tendencies get us into big wars, lead us to ignore how much our policies hurt others and have various further grim consequences.  So it is tempting to demonize them.  

But that demonization is exactly the same tendency.  We support our tribe and abominate yours.  We don't get out of the trap by just being stronger, "righter" etc.  

In trying to think through Mike's and Fred's posts I call these "participatory" beliefs -- which basically means they are bullshit, in the sense the "believer" doesn't care that much about whether they are "factually" true.  Instead they are ways to participate in a community.  Often these are people who are frightened, who feel bad about themselves, etc. -- as Fred emphasizes in his second post.  They desperately need a support group, and unfortunately this is the one they have found.  

But we should recognize that we all participate in these rituals of belonging, and not treat them with contempt.  If we're better, it is mainly because our need is not so desperate, and we have learned cognitive and social skills that give us other options.  

So what about the politics?  Just fighting back with contempt and anger will make things worse, even if we win some battles.  We need to find ways to move at least some of these folks into support groups that can meet their needs without corrupting the discourse.  We also need to find ways to directly counter and expose the PR manipulation that makes these desperate folks into tools of any sufficiently well funded and unscrupulous interests.  

Maybe we could get them freaked out about PR conspiracies to control their brains?  That's arguably a step toward reality based fear and loathing.  

Just like I pointed out above (0.00 / 0)
"But that demonization is exactly the same tendency.  We support our tribe and abominate yours.  We don't get out of the trap by just being stronger, "righter" etc."

No, it's not (or at least, not always). This isn't tribal, it isn't about "in groups" and "out groups". It's about being right with the science versus being wrong about the science. This is not a PR fight.

[ Parent ]
rx7ward Has A Point (0.00 / 0)
Though it's not just either/or.  Our "tribe" is a rather ill-defined one since it consists of everyone who takes science & relaity seriously--which still leaves a lot of room for other disagreements, and hence makes us a not-very-well-organized "tribe".... In fact, not really a tribe at all, I would argue.

The point is not necessarily to convince the people I'm talking about, but rather to render them less virulent.  Above all, we should not be panicking about them in a sort of mirror image of their fearfulness.

Somewhere in Criminal Minds, I forget the exact context,Gideon says--with typical understatement--something like, "Then the unsub would be getting into my head instead of the other way around, and that wouldn't be good."

Same here.  Don't get sucked into their headspace. That's the worst thing you could do.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]

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