Friday, December 2, 2016

How advocacy groups work

My nephew sent me a link to this article a week ago.  Took me a week to read it and I don't pretend to understand much of it.  The following section did explain a great deal to me that I had always suspected but could never put into words as well as this.

Keystone XL was less central than abortion, but still “a top-tier election issue for the 2014 elections for the United States Senate, House of Representatives, governors in states and territories, and many state and local positions as well.”8 In case you missed the fuss, Keystone XL was a proposed oil pipeline. The environmental lobby, and the American left in general, devoted extraordinary efforts to preventing its construction. As far as I can tell, the possible environmental consequences were minor; there are many more important environmental policy questions which the movement has fought much less hard. Although notionally environmentalists’ concern was possible spills, everyone understood that Keystone was symbolically about global warming, and therefore really about global warming—even though everyone also understands that in practice it would have had almost no effect. Other policies affect carbon emissions far more, and might have been altered with far less effort. So why did the left choose to draw a line in the sand at Keystone XL?
In “The toxoplasma of rage,” Alexander suggests an explanation.9Advocacy groups deliberately choose bad examples because those generate the most controversy. The one they promote is obviously wrong, so the Tweedledum side objects loudly. However, the general principle is considered correct by everyone on the Tweedledee side, so they feel they have to defend it. Their specific arguments are perforce lousy—even if the principle is right—so Tweedledum senses blood in the water and closes in for the kill. But the underlying, broader issue seems critical, so Tweedledee will defend the unconvincing symbolic example to the death. The brutality of the ensuing battle generates huge publicity for the cause. (And also, to be cynical, donations to the advocacy organization, and advertising revenue for the media that cover it and fan the flames.)
If you want to signal how strongly you believe in taking victims seriously, you talk up the least credible case you can find. A rape that obviously happened? Shove it in people’s face and they’ll admit it’s an outrage, but they’re not going to talk about it much. There are a zillion outrages every day. A rape allegation will only spread if it’s dubious enough to split people in half along lines corresponding to identity politics. People start screaming at each other about how they’re misogynist or misandrist or whatever, and your Facebook feed gets hundreds of comments in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS about how my ingroup is being persecuted by your ingroup.10
A commenter on a post related to the Dakota Pipeline asked how he could become a professional protester, having done it voluntarily for years.  My response was this: You need to put yourself in a position where you can profit by your activism. Neil Young, Leonardo di Caprio, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth May and Niki Ashton come to mind. Or start your own NGO, find something highly divisive to be against that you are unlikely to have any real impact on, enlist the help of people like the above named and the money will start flowing in. You can even partner with other anti-everything NGOs to get name recognition. 

Of course, as a 'true believer' it went right over his head, so I am sure he will always be a useful tool of whatever NGO or other organization has figured out not only how the system works but how to work the system.

12 comments:

  1. Yeah, followed the link to the original article. The reason that it's hard to understand is that it's pure bafflegab bullshit trying to pass itself off as serious analysis. That's my two cents worth!

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    1. That was kind of what my nephew felt too. There were bits and pieces of it that made sense but as a whole, I think Dan called it amateur academic. As in don't give up your day job .

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  2. Jim Hansen's comments on Keystone XL from 2013: 'The draft review suggests the climate impacts of the pipeline are limited because the project will not substantially "induce growth in the rate of extraction in the oil sands." This narrow analysis misses the mark. Researchers now say that the Alberta tar sands contain 360 to 510 billion tons of carbon — more than double that of all oil burned in human history. While only a fraction is considered economically recoverable right now, we humans are genius at finding new and better ways to dig junk out of the ground. Digging begets more digging. Once the big spigot is open, TransCanada will have every incentive to milk the massive tar sands basin for all it is worth.'--James Hansen, "Keystone XL: The pipeline to disaster"

    This may or may not be valid, but it's a sensible analysis and, frankly, if I were to bet on Hansen's understanding of global climate change vs. just about anyone else, I'd bet on Hansen; he's been right so often. He is right about milking the Alberta tar sands. Plans are being made to ship that stuff, literally, to all four point of the compass, even north, through the newly opened (climate change!) Northwest Passage.

    Also, read some of the rest of Mr. Alexander's blog, wherein he suggests that Trump's white supremacism isn't so bad. Not impressed.

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    1. Your comments confirm the author's thesis that the protest over Keystone was not about the pipeline but about climate change. As to the author being a white supremacist or not is a red herring to the subject. Henry Ford was a rabid anti-Semite but also a great industrialist.
      The Alberta oilsands are a favourite target because they are close to home and TV cameras, and one can protest in comfort. The world is not going to suddenly stop using hydrocarbons as fuel. The anti-everything NGOs know this is a war they can fight forever and keep the money rolling in.
      As long as the anti-everything crowd can keep Canadian oil bottled up with the only market being American oil companies they can continue to buy it at a steep discount. They will keep surreptitiously financing opposition to any pipelines that will give Alberta oil international access. If DAPL is delayed past a certain date, those companies which have contracted to ship oil via that pipeline get to renegotiate the contracts. Do you suppose they have a vested interest in ensuring the Standing Rock protests are successful at least until that date is passed?

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  3. Sadly, my brain is too fried right now to form an opinion. Maybe I'll have another look at the article after we finish negotiating the sale of our house with a buyer's agent who can't get a purchase contract right even after three tries...

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    1. I do hope you got your house sold and the paper work completed - properly.

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  4. I call bullshit on that article.

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    1. I will not be reading anymore by the writer, that is for sure

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  5. With the pipeline in North Dakota, I don't understand why it first heads West and then crosses the Missouri river twice before heading East?? Could it be the white people in Bismark didn't want it to foul up their water??

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    1. I think it acts as a collector from several ND oil fields before heading south east. It was routed past Standing Rock south of Bismarck rather than north of Bismark as originally proposed because Bismark white folks didn't want THEIR water endangered. How endangered anyone's water would be is a matter of conjecture but the distain for the Sioux Nation was pretty evident.

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