Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The need to feel what we believe

Back in March, copyright law professor Lawrence Lessig praised the campaign of US democratic candidate John Edwards. He said that Edwards had the ability to make people feel what they believe.

Ideas, like science, take a back seat to conviction in politics, love and relationships. As Stephen Colbert points out, it is all about "the gut." The failure of liberalism is real: people talk about the impending environmental crisis, there is ink spilt, and then what?

It's not that people don't think environmental issues are important. It's just that thoughts alone aren't felt deeply enough. And right wing governments can ignore humanistic values because reptilian feelings like self-defense, fear, greed and hatred can break up ideas about the environment. Pulling strings on these feelings has been a successful strategy since the Reagan revolution, and neither liberalism nor environmentalism has yet to mount a compelling counter-strike.

What's an environmental group to do? Deepen the feeling people have for the environment. Deepen values that support environmentalism. And spread the virus like a warrior.

There are many ways to do this. Easily the most self evident, contagious bit of environmental communications in the past five years is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. You watch it, you get it. Feelings of middle class entitlement fade and environmentalism is felt. But Joel Makower's latest article, The Mushiness Index, points to a study that states that 82% of Americans have neither read Gore's book nor have seen the movie. Tipping Point? What tipping point?

Gore's movie is not enough. Until people are immersed in alternative stories, stories that have comparable or greater, compelling content as Gore's movie, our base feelings, ignorance, and self-centered fears are where our attention - and convictions - will lie. And the Stephen Harpers and George Bushes of this world can ride out ice storms, can ride out the floods, can ride out the melting of the polar icecap. Some Westerners will get richer, and the complex ecological system that is our home will fall around us.

Environmentalists have to support the feeling of wholeness, the feeling of love, the feeling of justice. And they can win: anyone who has had a heart, who has had a deep love for another person, or who has encountered a Desmond Tutu or Dalai Lama, anyone will say that love conquers. Love is conviction, love changes everything. But it takes warriorship to win. We should be distributing Gore's movie, and making similar ones. That is what we do best. The science will bear this out.

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