Comment on: It’s Time to Change What is Possible on Climate
I agree that complex systems can exhibit threshold effects and tipping points; and I do not question that attitudes towards climate change may be catalyzed to tip, or shift radically. However, I query whether we are near any significant threshold (given the whole scheme of things) and whether the ClimateMeme Project (to the extent I understand its objectives and methods) will be sufficient.
My queries are in no way criticism and I highly encourage the Project to continue its work. May my queries suggest what may be missing and possibly later supplied by the ClimateMeme Project or other complementary projects.
My first intro to these concepts was a 1970 paper by my faculty mentor John R. Platt: Hierarchical Restructuring, as relevant today as when I first read it 42 years ago. Many of the memes we feel are essential for the future are actually old memes. We may be missing a few critical memes, but our main challenge is that these memes become permanent residents in more minds.
Reading this essay triggered my memory of a seminal book I often refer to on this issue. Paradigms and Barriers: How Habits of Mind Govern Scientific Beliefs by Howard Margolis (1993), a historical study of times when a new paradigm was ready to propagate but was delayed by incidental “habits of mind” not directly related to the incommensurability of paradigms. Shifting paradigms, core perspectives, and Margolis’ “habits of mind” as studied by Margolis may be more usefully complex than our more simple views.
We are never obligated to use the most sophisticated strategy when a simpler strategy looks viable; but we should not settle with a simpler strategy when there are questions of sufficient action and when other strategies may be available. The specific objective of the ClimateMeme Project, “to map the meme landscape” is an essential first step in any strategy. “Habits of Mind” might be assessed as well as memes directly related to the acceptance of climate change as a threat and that we can do something about it.
I must confess that I have not delved deeply into the meme literature, as my overly simplistic view of a meme at a particle of information that could “stick” in a mind diverted me from further investigation – as well as confusingly different definitions of a meme. I apologize if these references are already known to you.
Goggling Margolis (1932-2009) I see he published 6 books. In 1996 he published: Dealing with Risk: Why the Public and the Experts Disagree on Environmental Issues, which appears directly relevant to the ClimateMeme project.
Threshold and Tipping point are metaphors, as is self-organization. I am sure you explore them at greater scientific depth. I am not yet familiar with “self-organized criticality”, but if studied by complexity researchers their work is probably using computerized models. Are there studies or real exemplars of this? Although shifting the USA to a more healthy approach to climate change would be a significant achievement, climate change is a global responsibility and shifts for each of the populations and cultures is needed. Further, in the USA we are not working with one culture with associated paradigms but a complex mix. A census of meme complexes as proposed will help sort this out.
Catalyzing a shift in frames by memes, an Awakening, doesn’t immediately lead to changed behavior. For many, the shift will result in cognitive dissonance between the new perspective and the old behavior (often strongly reinforced by social networks, media, and jobs). Without explicit support for behavior change, cognitive dissonance usually is resolved by sliding back to the old perspective, to be consistent with old behavior.
My exemplar for this comes in the conclusions in a report of a quality study on Enhancing Human Performance reported in an edited book: Learning, Remembering, Believing (1994) edited by Drukman and Bjork; the third in a series sponsored by the National Research Council. The conclusion reported that after insuring that many leaders of organizations comprehended the results of the studies and agreed that they would make great improvements; they all declined to implement policy changes. They could not imagine any way to change their behavior within the existing climate of their organizations.
Recent books on the mixed roles of emotion and reason in human change questions whether the semantic content of a meme is sufficient. A meme may be like a virus, it has a simple fixed structure as a message, but when in the mind it interacts with the ongoing processes in the mind/brain, which deeply involves the emotions.
A sequence of meta-frames for individuals (not characteristic of cultures) is what I call Adult Stage Development. This has been studied by Robert Kegan [The Evolving Self (1982), In Over Our Heads, (1994), Immunity to Change (2009)] and Spiral Dynamics [Beck and Cowan (2006)- who called their stages, MEMES.] The higher stages are occupied by only a small percent of the human population, a fact (if confirmed) of great significance. Research efforts to move person up stages has very limited success (but stage changes may require totally new social systems as powerful embedment may block change).
Be prepared for a shift in the “opposition” from deniers to adaptors. Adaptation to climate change is rapidly emerging as the new approach of the world elites to the reality of climate change, involving no strong effort to reduce emissions but to assist developing and developed nations to prepare for the consequences of climate change. This is more a strategy to manage the costly climate change enhanced disasters, without any real concern about worse case scenarios. This is also a strategy to accelerate disaster capitalism.
We need to assess the best strategies to work on the larger issues of Earth Change in a milieu of Adaptation. It may be better that we not immediately attack adaptation as insufficient until its own catalyzed frame shifting settles down. It may be that we could progress better if not confrontational with those involved with adaptation; and we may be able to apply meme approaches to adaptors easier if we don’t cause them to suppress our efforts. They will have enough trouble trying to control the hardcore deniers.
Speculation: Obama will take the lead in the global adaptation program and become formal leader after his 2nd term.
Ultimate success re Earth Changes requires a global population far more knowledgeable and competent than the current distribution. Human survival and multi-millennial thrival requires a rapid and significant uplift of the global distribution of cognitive/emotive/performance competencies. Achieving this is the objective of my “UPLIFT proposal”. One component of this project is a global census of all significant factors that contribute to the great diversity of the human population – needed to create a system that accounts for this diversity, and makes use of it. A census of climate memes is a significant contribution. +