The world would be so much better if everyone were just like me, who did things like I did and understood the world the way it is – just as I see it. If you are not like me (and those in my community … whom we can all agree are right), then you need to change your behaviour – you need to be fixed. And if you resist, dare to argue and attempt to threaten our cosy, contrived consensus, then you will be deplatformed – you won’t exist.
Welcome to interpersonal relations in the Age of Stupid. Not only am I certain that I am right and everyone else is wrong, I have been empowered to silence those who dare disagree with me (empowerment through disempowering others). But I would much rather change their behaviour … like missionaries of zeal, I must convert them into followers of my tribe.
There seems to be no outrage or indignation today about how bands of political zealots are seizing opportunities to force their ideals upon others. Why are people now tolerating this? Can we no longer resist the tyranny of the activists in the present social-political-media environment?
For the record, behavioural change can be societally beneficial (as seen with the recent decline in smoking levels), but it will not succeed if it is imposed. Except for the most vulnerable or impressionable, people need to decide for themselves how they should act. Also, zealots have been trying to impose behavioural change for as long as religious cult volunteers have been knocking on my door. Now, though, with the support of our likeminded tribes and social media blow-horns, we can express our offensiveness from the comfort of our own devices in the quiet of our sofa (and rather than feeling slightly embarrassed, we are applauded for our intolerance). Demanding that others must change the way they act to align with our ideals has become normalised into some global bitchfest. We used to accept when people went to churches across the street – now we seem to think it is OK to set up barricades in their driveways and burn their churches down.
Deplatforming social media accounts is the village mob’s latest torch.
An “impositionist” is a person who does not hesitate to impose his or her personal values on others, to attempt to change how other people behave and restrict what others can say or do. If someone speaks out of step with the tribally approved consensus, then banishment (deplatforming, ostracising, silencing and mobbing) is an acceptable practise. Based on a righteous belief, reinforced by their tribes, that others don’t have a right to disagree or act differently, the intolerant actions of such impositionists have become socially inconspicuous in weak political environments.
Before we consign this narrow-minded approach to the social justice campaigners or the extreme right, be aware that demanding behavioural change has become mainstream. Those who seek to determine a consensus, claim to speak on behalf of “the” science or support banning or sanctioning radical thinkers do not see anything wrong with their actions. The European Commission even had research funding programmes to develop tools to promote behavioural change in Europe.
Scientific consensus has become the new fundamentalist dogma used to hammer down the heretics and excommunicate the undesirable deniers.
Imposing behavioural change used to be called “nudging”, but it was more subtle and less self-righteous then. Social media has turned that subtle nudge into a hard shove as discussions shifted from societal goods to moral identification. But the self-righteousness of zealots imposing their beliefs on others lacks discernment. If we all think we are right and the others are wrong, where is the line of reasonableness between people trying to “pray the gay” out of their nephew and activists like Greta telling me I must not buy a new jumper? Sadly we are blind to our own prejudices, reinforced by our tribes and fail to understand that tolerance starts at home.
Some may argue that I am equally intolerant and my writings are an attempt to impose behavioural change (against the tide of ‘environmentalist rectification’). This may be true if I were to ban anyone for disagreeing with me or refuse to accept scientific evidence or rational arguments. I worry that so many believe that there is such a thing as a scientific consensus (listen to “the” science). There isn’t. Consensus-making is a political process and science is tasked with continuously challenging such positions (Popper’s falsification method). The day I attack someone for challenging a consensus or using such a fabrication to impose behavioural change on others, you have my permission to shoot me.
A Necessary Evil … or just an Evil?
But Mr Monger, behavioural change is necessary in times of crisis. We are in a pandemic where we need to restrict the way people interact or we will see even more severe loss of life. We are in climate crisis where if people continue to consume the way they have in the past, we will “face extinction”. Biodiversity loss is happening at such an alarming rate that our planet may soon not be able to sustain life. Chemicals and plastics are disrupting our endocrine system threatening our very means to reproduce.
Yes, never let a good crisis go to waste. But I have been around long enough to see every generation terrified by some clear and present Armageddon crisis, from the Population Bomb to nuclear wastelands to the Ice Age to mass sterilisation to Skylab to desertification to threats of massive global famines… The sky has been falling for as long as Malthus has been thumping on his Bible but somehow we have survived. Today’s crises are even less the real deal and simply more overstated apocalypsisms juiced up by social media tribes, over-funded activist groups and 24-7 news corporations marching an algorithmic parade of prophets of doom with a love for the microphone through their studios. Problems are simplified then amplified, audiences are petrified and our activist heroes are deified at time of weakened governance structures and widening participatory empowerment. As issues evolve, any discussion is polarised into a moral-political conflict. (Even science, I am now told, is political.)
But (and this is a big “but” under the present curse of narrative oppression), I have also seen how the scientific community has continuously innovated, found sustainable solutions and not only averted these predicted apocalyptic “crises” but improved the quality of life while reducing environmental exposures and emissions. We are growing more food on less land (with less toxic inputs), producing cleaner energy, managing waste and improving air and water quality.
“Not good enough!” it seems and it is now the scientist who has been found to have threatened humanity and set fire to the planet. Solution: Less science and more public participation. The European Environment Agency, in a last-ditch effort to restore credibility to their woeful version of the Precautionary Principle, urged that science must devote its time to rectifying the problems caused by … science.
So in this more sophisticated time of crisis (where the impositionists know so much more than the rest of us), we are not even seeking the innovators and engineers for their solutions – we are just going to get everyone to stop doing anything we don’t like. We are going to save the world by changing the way those awful polluters behave. And while we’re at it, let’s just reset capitalism (… surely nothing good ever came from that oppressive ideology!). Yes, never let a good crisis go to waste.
Human rights and individual freedoms matter little to the environmental activist (who despises and blames humanity for any and all crises they perceive and sees human sufferance as the only solution). But before one is to demand behavioural change, ensure climate justice and levy charges of ecocide on others, the model human, the enlightened non-polluter, must be established. It is a purification process. So we see concepts like “zero waste”, “zero carbon”, “zero pollution” as redemptory targets. A holier-than-thou harbinger for humanity. Before we impose behavioural change on others (before we wield the knife), zealot hands must be cleansed – purified.
But the moment I put on a shirt, eat something or brush my teeth, I am polluting – I am imprinting my foot upon Mother Nature’s battered throat. The zero-sum game is up – I need to accept that I pollute – and anything else we say after that is mere green-washed placations by wannabe sustainability experts (who swear “this time, it’s different“).
The sad reality is that far too often, those imposing green behavioural change on others, the zealots and the ideologues, are acting more on passion than facts and evidence. And this passion is intransigent and uncompromising. I have argued elsewhere that environmentalists are the biggest threat to Mother Nature. Rather than taking ever-changing inputs and pragmatically adapting to find the best technologies and innovative solutions, environmentalist are driven by dogma (natural is good and synthetic is bad) and insist on their cultist strategies “come hell or high-water” (literally).
Zealots provide unidimensional arguments with simplified, politicised solutions. Climate change is caused merely by the rise of anthropogenic CO2 emissions thus the answer is easy: humanity must go carbon neutral and … with a flick of the switch, presto, the problem will be solved. And how will we do that? The answer is again easy: you will have to change your behaviour (… be more like them).
Whatever happened to dialogue, listening and searching for common ground?
The environmentalist narrative (everything natural is good; anything man-made is evil) fits this simplified context perfectly – humans have to change (or go extinct). The planet can only heal itself when man (re: capitalism) gets out of the way. The hypocrisy though comes in the selectivity of what we will need to sacrifice to save the planet. When cosmopolitan zealots from Extinction Rebellion demanded bans on things they don’t like, use or need (meat, cars, air travel, children, agricultural technologies…), I suggested the best means to reduce our CO2 emissions was to ban pets (… they eat a lot of meat). Not only do zealots have no capacity for self-reflection, they also have no sense of humour.
The Trust Antidote
We don’t enter into any decision or relationship without trust. We listen to people we trust and doubt evidence or claims from those we don’t trust. Surprisingly trust is quite an unstudied field, hard to define and widely misunderstood. As an emotional concept, there are many elements that underlie how we trust, including familiarity, kinship and narrative (tribal) affiliation – in other words, trust is value-driven. We trust those whose values we identify with (which helps explain why scientists are so quickly distrusted). Agency is also an essential trust element – people trust decisions they are allowed to make by themselves.
So when impositionists try to change how people value and behave, is it any wonder that the trust relationship is broken? If we trust those people or situations we are familiar with, an external action imposed from outside of our community is rightly deemed untrustworthy. If kinship (shared values, activities, stories, histories) underlies our trust relationships, then those outside of this relationship will never be authentic. I can understand how impositionists have convinced themselves that their way is the only path worth taking, but regardless how urgent the crisis (even the extinction of the human race), those ignorant others need to take the decision themselves, freely and within a context of open dialogue.
I shake my head sometimes at how otherwise intelligent academics don’t get why some people won’t accept their path to behavioural transition. Why, after 20 years of imposing Western democratic ideals in Afghanistan, did the Taliban come back so quickly? Why did racial tensions increase following the Black Lives Matter campaigns? Why are so many failing to vaccinate? How did Donald Trump receive so many votes in the 2020 US election? You cannot impose your values on others and expect a trust relationship to develop. The biggest problem with Prohibition in the US wasn’t Al Capone, but the culture the temperance impositionists made allowing for such characters to flourish.
Worse, when impositionists fail (when groups refuse to adopt the values they are imposing), rather than going back and trying to develop trust relationships, they harden their resolve, ostracise those refusing to change and create further division. Making it hard for vaccine-hesitant people to travel or go to work will hardly foster dialogue or trust. Guilting or shaming people who like a nice BBQ won’t make them all happy vegans. Banning all plastics in Europe won’t reduce waste or clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It will, however, make our society a little more fascist. Impositionists don’t believe they need to be trusted … they need you to feel afraid.
Whatever happened to dialogue, listening and searching for common ground?
When trust relationships break down, impositionists rarely reflect on their actions or assume they should not try to force their values on others. They are certain they are right. The problem isn’t them – the problem is found in those not like them.
It’s your fault!
In an excuse-driven world, our leaders can easily forego responsibility by blaming others.
Blaming others for the multiple crises we are presently using to identify ourselves can create a lovely excuse for one’s own mismanagement. Telling the public that the forest fires in California are due to climate change has covered up decades of poor forest management and energy infrastructure neglect. The recent floods in Germany and Belgium had more to do with poor floodplain management and an absence of crisis communications than any climate issue. The failure to successfully impose Western democratic values in Afghanistan was apparently the fault of the Afghan leadership. The COVID-19 pandemic was a failure of risk management with valuable time wasted during the crucial early months. Western leaders jumped to imposing debilitating lockdowns on their populations (blaming their populations for “acting irresponsibly” in social settings) rather than introducing risk reduction measures earlier that could have protected their most vulnerable populations. Now as cases from variants continue to be stubbornly high, it is the fault of anti-vaxxers (and Facebook “misinformation is killing people”).
The precautionary principle fits the “It’s your fault” philosophy. Rather than promoting innovations to address problems and providing populations with further social goods and prosperity, precautionary regulators are merely removing beneficial products and forbidding activities. If climate change is a threat, the solution is to impose measures that will change public behaviour, banning certain food and agriculture practises, restricting transportation and shopping habits. And you cannot complain because it is humanity’s fault we now have climate change. This is not an issue of some self-righteous zealots trying to make others act like them – this is about regulatory authorities abandoning their responsibility to manage risks and promote scientific solutions, opting rather to impose behavioural change on their populations.
Many environmental ideologues are cloaking their impositionism as a form of participatory democracy. Representative democracy is broken (bought and paid for by Monsanto … apparently) so we need to replace it with “citizen assemblies“. This is another word for people like them getting together in small panels to impose their fear-driven precautionary ideals on people like us. Sweet.
Most worrying is how the ultimate precautionary solution is now being talked about openly by PR-hungry business leaders who are contemplating a “capitalism reset”. Capitalism has been able to encourage innovative solutions, promote sustainable products and raise capital needed for global change, not by imposition but by opportunity. The Cold War was a clear contest between Impositionism and Capitalism and no matter how clever leftist intellectuals are in their wordsmithed revisionism, imposing change on a suffering population will never succeed. Capitalism brought innovative solutions and technologies that developed multiple COVID-19 vaccines in record time and the means to produce and distribute billions of jabs in less than six months. To say that this system has failed and we need to reset capitalism is a moronic consequence of well-fed activists with nice gardens thinking behavioural change is the only instrument in the regulatory/social toolbox. The behavioural change we need is to return to seeking innovative solutions and stop listening to such idiotic ideologues.
So how did we get to such a situation? Why has there been no reaction?
Locking most of the global population up for 18 months, encouraging random fears and imposing arbitrary restrictions, letting mental health and domestic violence issues proliferate and strangling economic means has created a social experiment that will likely take generations to play out. Those who have comfortable gardens and won the lockdown lottery are busy judging others and demanding behavioural change.
The rest of us have stopped giving a fuck. And this is a problem.
In the last year I have seriously considered quitting my job in the academe three times, have given up good opportunities and done things I know that I shouldn’t have (like publishing this article). While this may be anecdotal and perhaps limited to a small part of Northern Europe, I see so many others who have also stopped caring (that quiet nod that screams “Me neither“). In the June exam period, I created a “cookie jar experiment” to see how many students would cheat on their exam. I then consulted the ones who did not even bother trying to not get caught on their motivations for cheating. My university did not appreciate the long report I filed on the loss of respect among the student body toward the academic institution.
Last year, when I coined to term ‘Docilian’ to describe a large risk-averse population that waits like sheep to be kept 100% safe within a precautionary political culture, I thought the appropriate reaction would be for others to step up, lead, be responsible and fill the void. I was looking for wolves, the risk-takers, to create the opportunities needed for any significant recovery. Instead we got more inertia, despair and self-interest. And the sheep got more righteous against those outside of their herd. If you were not docile, you were part of the problem (… and needed to be fixed).
This IdontGiveAFuckism will not last, but how will it evolve? History would suggest this is an environment ripe for political extremism before we recoil to a new mean. When people tune out and can’t be bothered to stand up, injustice escalates. Too many docilian sheep and too many others lacking respect, trust or care will create an environment ripe for oppressive reactionaries (while most of us are distracted consuming K-Pop … “Hey, those young people do what they’re told with such professionalism!“).
I grew up in a different musical culture.
Before you accuse me
Eric Clapton recently sang a piece (written by Van Morrison) – Stand and Deliver – that riled up the impositionists. The rock legend had taken a strong position against the lockdown arguing that we no longer have a sense of rebellion – we are passively letting others control our lives. Things worsened when Clapton had a bad reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine – arguing that the authorities have not been forthcoming on the negative effects of the jab. The media reaction against his position was, well, predictable. He fared even worse within the science communications community where the most repulsive vigilante resorted to personal attacks. So much for empathy.
Having an influential voice and speaking out is something you are only allowed to do today if you are speaking on behalf of a consensus determined by some social-political elite. Sure enough, Clapton was branded an anti-vaxxer for wanting more transparency on the risks. I suspect he is revelling in this rebel role. When Eric said he should never have gone near the jab, he was referring to his neuropathy that set off the side-effects. Someone should have warned him instead of the constant streams of assurance of how safe the vaccine is. I don’t think demanding honesty instead of blanket exuberance makes one an anti-vaxxer, but such is the world today.
Anyone who questions a path or value of the declared “consensus view” is accused of being a denier – today’s equivalent of a heretic. I have been called a climate denier because I have argued that the well-lobbied green solutions would not be effective and will likely add more CO2 to the atmosphere. I found that my critical stance on Europe’s failed coronavirus risk management approach was enough to earn the title of a COVID-19 denier. I prefer to be called a sceptic but heretics have an important role to play in tempering the dogmatists.
Clapton later teamed up with Van Morrison again to re-record The Rebels as a duet, asking “Where have all the rebels gone?”. Good question. Morrison’s last album is an effort to save live music. Indeed, standing up to the impositionists, rebelling against their diktats and resisting their behavioural changes takes an enormous strength in a social-media led, consensus-driven world. As Eric and Van keep standing up and the mob fails to silence (deplatform) them, hopefully more rebels will come forward (and not worry so much about their Likes and algorithms).
Shame on you Eric – you surely are a disgraceful MAGA anti-vaxxer (that needs to be fixed)!
Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.