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Inadvertent Subversion

I just noticed something on the local TV (9am show, Ten Network) that disturbed me for two completely different reasons.

They interviewed film maker and Orangutan activist, Stephen Van Mil, who discussed "the devastating effects of Indonesian deforestation to plant palm oil plantations, a commonly found substance in our grocery items." I have seen these plantations, and it is the typical 'monoculture' so loved by big business, keeping everything nice and simple and sterile. Nice for business, deadly for native animals. Disturbance number one.

Van Mil appeared on behalf of, who are running a petition to get food products properly labelled so we can decide for ourselves what we want to buy and avoid products that kill animals. Excellent. I immediately went to the site and signed the petition. I hope you do too if you are in Australia; these are dedicated and caring people worth supporting. But now for disturbance number two.

As the interview went on, they asked him what hope there was for the Orangutans. "There is hope," he said (this is my paraphrase from memory, not having recorded the segment). "At Copenhagen there will hopefully be a climate change treaty, and we will be able to force business to buy carbon emissions offsets, so they will be able to pay Indonesia to leave the rain forests in place."

Oh dear! After grimly pondering what chance the Orangutans have for emerging from the other side of the coming ice age (a snowflake's in you-know-where), which Copenhagen can only hasten and intensify, I started to wonder why so many wonderful people comply with social expectations aligned with belief in the harmfulness of the ultimate and essential food of all life, carbon dioxide.

This is a genuine mystery. I am not talking about corporate cogs in the big business wheel here, I am talking about really good, really sincere, really caring and generous people. Here's what I think is happening. At this point I shift from discussing any actual case to talking hypothetically and in general; I don't know about the circumstances of the people I mentioned above, so I cannot say anything in their particular case. My thoughts were triggered by it, but they are about our behaviour as human beings in general. This is only a guess, but it accords with human psychology and I think it is on the money.

Some folk will have already been convinced by the fraud itself, of course. The discredited 'hockey stick', the temperature records that are altered retrospectively, the unverified computer models that predict disaster but fail to predict the climate as each new year passes, and so on. So yes, of course a lot of people are persuaded by that; and unless you already have reason to suspect dishonesty (which most of us don't), buying the story is understandable.

Then, of course, the susceptibility of the human mind to social pressures is well known, and some folk will gravitate to belief in the hoax because their friends already believe it. After all, the horrific damage that will be done by the hoax is not obvious unless you look closely, and most do not. Everyone seems to believe this thing, so surely, we unthinkingly assume, it must be more or less right? That explains some more of the mystery.

But is that all there is to it? Surely if all else were equal, some would be convinced, some wouldn't; yet almost everyone in the 'friends of the Earth' camp supports the beliefs promoted by the fraud. Why? I think there is a second psychological factor at work here. Good people come upon some terrible effect of human behaviour, and they want to stop it; they have to, they need to stop it. And they are right. I can only admire them for their kindness, their generosity of their time and energy, and their compassion. But what happens next?

The structure of the proposed laws and treaties is such that an alignment is created between the intentions of the ringleaders and the needs for solutions on the parts of those who have the welfare of others at heart. The problem good people face is this. No one is listening to those decent and caring people who want to save the wildlife; politicians are doing nothing useful, as is mostly the case. But a treaty is in the offing! — a treaty that will hold out hope for the threatened wildlife: the cavalry has arrived! How can anyone of good will oppose that? So what happens is, if the good folk have not already 'bought' the hoax (been persuaded by the dishonest 'facts' and models, etc., or by the need for social approval), then their need to believe in order to get help for the wildlife (or whatever in any particular case) kicks in and our treacherous human psychology makes us believe no matter what the evidence. If belief is necessary for what we need to have, for the things that affirm our deepest essence and allegience, we believe. All human history has repeatedly taught this lesson, that despite our exceptional brains, we aren't actually very good at sifting truth from falsehood: emotion usually trumps reason.

So the lie against the very food of life itself gathers adherents by conscripting good people, using their need for solutions to other (genuine) problems as the leverage. And, having once been conscripted, the good folk are now made complicit in the fallacy, they now have their own deeply personal reasons to continue to believe and to keep the lie going, and so their previousy pure efforts are subverted for a deeply malevolent purpose. None of this ever reaches conscious awareness, of course; if it did that, one would risk going mad (as, I believe, one well-known historical figure did). So from then onwards one is committed to noticing and believing every little thing that seems to confirm the lie, even the most trivial such as a very hot summer day; and equally, one is committed to overlooking or finding some fault in even the most compelling evidence of the fallacy of the belief, such as the utter failure of the models to reproduce the actual behaviour of the real atmosphere. And, of course, saying this to anyone who has been 'got at' by the fraudsters would be a dire insult, so there is no practical way to encourage a person to break free of the illusion.

The subversion has one final part to it. There are always some people capable of resisting psychological and social pressures, who have not fallen for the hoax. The ones who have and the ones who haven't, all good, admirable, generous, loving people, are therefore set at each others' throats, their good works being frittered away in in-fighting, whilst the chief fraudsters escape with their reputations intact and their bank accounts accumulating the ill-gotten gains of their evil.

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