Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why Do Men Obey? Gene Sharp’s Observations Applied to Climate Inaction

Continuing my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, and how it all applies to the movement to save the world from a changing climate.

Sharp: “Higher standards of living…in highly industrialized countries may contribute significantly to political obedience and positive assistance for the system….”

This is another huge problem we face as a movement.  People in the fossil fuel industry are basically comfortable, and not eager to rock the boat (in spite of the disaster climate change will ultimately bring to their families).  Combine that with the oft-promoted notion that the brunt of global warming’s effects will hit only the developing world.  (I know people who cite that as a reason people don’t get involved.  To which my response is “How do they know?!  No one knows how bad this is going to be or when it’s gonna happen.  If the mountain snow pack vanishes and there’s no melt water to feed our rivers and our crops dry up there won’t be enough to eat, no matter where you live.”)  (Since the climate is unravelling much faster and with much more severity than scientists had predicted, it’s just foolish not to consider worst-case scenarios.)

Sharp: “Psychological identification with the ruler…People often need something or someone to believe in…the triumphs and successes of the government are felt as personal triumphs by it’s subjects, its defeats are experienced as personal.”

This is basically branding and party affiliation, particularly among the Republicans.  Global warming should be something we’re all working to stop, but since the fossil fuel industry has been a strong supporter of the Republican party,  and since they have a ton of money, they have been able to successfully brand climate change as a hoax within that party.  So lots of Republicans, many of whom are very smart people, consider it a matter of personal pride to dismiss the warnings of 98% of climate scientists.  With these ideological blinders on, a lot of good people vote to stop any progress on the climate.

Sharp: “Many people do not have sufficient confidence in themselves, their judgement and their capacities to make them capable of disobedience and resistance….One consequence of the lack of self-confidence is a tendency to avoid responsibility, to seek to delegate it upward and to attribute greater authority to superiors in the hierarchy than is in fact merited.”

Wait for the president to do it.  Wait for Greenpeace to do it.  Wait for Bill McKibben to do it.  What can I do?”

Or people look around at society and see no one paying all that much attention to the problem (what was it, the #20 issue during the campaign season?), so they doubt themselves and think maybe they’re taking it too seriously.  

Sharp:  “Every ruler uses the obedience and cooperation he receives from part of the society to rule the whole.

Sadly, the role our friends and family who deny climate change play in all this cannot be overstated.


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break Dirty Energy’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

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