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'Why Don't They Get It, These Morons?'

Sina Odugbemi's picture

If you look around you today, lots of activists and experts want to change the world. They have all manner of pet schemes for the improvement of the world in one regard or the other. Usually, they mean well and they are often right. They have done the analysis, crunched the numbers, written the books, papers and blog posts. They know they are right.  All that remains is for the morons to get it.

These activists and experts - - take the climate change/green movement/planetary emergence activists as an example -- are often in the clamorous grip of  a holy impatience. This epic impatience manifests in a number of ways:


  1. They ask political leaders to show 'leadership' and 'do the right thing', even if the parliamentary arithmetic is dire, that is, the votes are simply not there for the change sought.  If the hitherto admired political leaders do not decree the change sought --government by proclamation! -- they get denounced as worse than useless. Nothing else they've done matters.
  2. They stop being civil. In  addressing those who disagree with their aims, or simply are not yet persuaded, they exhaust the vocabulary of denunciation available in the most comprehensive thesaurus available. Ad hominem attacks often replace reasoned contestation.
  3. Finally, these activists and experts often disdain public opinion. The attitude is: 'Why don't they get it, these morons?' Which is unfortunate. For as Lee Wasserman wrote in the New York Times recently about the killing of the climate change bill in the United States Congress, it is difficult to upend entrenched interests without public pressure forcing legislators to act. You have to get public opinion on your side. And that takes patient, persistent work. You have to get people to focus on your issue, care about it, want to do something about it, and be willing to push for change. There is a science to that, as well as an art. Insulting those you need is certainly not going to make change happen.


It seems to me that the epic impatience needs some discipline. There is work to be done. How about epic persistence?


Photo Credit: Flickr user kk+

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Submitted by Nigel Martin on
The writer is almost commiting the error he accuses others of committing. He builds up a straw man and then burns it. The reality of activism is much more complex than his simplification. Yes, there are poor stategists; yes; their anger often clouds their judgement; yes it is frustrating to deal with those in power and who are also in denial and for whom honest debate is not an option. Bur behind those activists who lash out in legitimate anger and frustration there is a huge civil society army, quietly and effectively making change. There would be no International Criminal Court but for the the quiet diplomatic skills of hundreds of activists. There would be no Land Mines Treaty. Apartheid would probably still be with us. Women would still be second class citizens without the right to vote. Slavery would still be rampant. The UN wouldn't exist. The WTO would rule..unopposed. Yes, the moment of significant social change is often identified by that moment at which goverment takes action, but inevitably it takes action only because thousands of citizens have worked quietly (or not quietly) for years to build up the required political will. That being said, I sense growing fear among citizens and activists. Up to now, the issue has been human development. Today, it is changing to a struggle for human survival. There is a growing sense that time is running out for us all and this does feed into fear, anger and frustration.

Submitted by Josh on
We could banter back and forth until eternity about climate change. Why? Because it's always changing. What we need to banter about realistically is how much of it is truly the human footprint. Let's start by stopping the destruction of rain forests and making a better transport system. Who could argue with that? However, the craziness of cow crap (methane gas) and all the other obsurdities just helps cloud over the REAL problems. We also need to start by admitting that a theory is just that...a THEORY. It's not the absolute truth as scientists would have us believe. Let's get all the junk out of the closet and start working from cold, hard facts. Or is there such a thing any more? Activism is a good thing as long as it's backed by fact or honest humanitarian intentions. There are many problems in this world that need to be conquered through activism. Unfortunately Mother Nature has a mind of her own and I don't care how much activism you throw at her, she still going to do what she's going to do. If you're living in the way...I'm sorry. There are some things you can not change!

Submitted by Wini Dagli on
I totally agree with Nigel. It's a question of survival for the many. I've experienced the worst flooding here in Manila last year and I tell you, it's difficult to just say 'be patient and try to understand' when you can see that public officials and even the international devt community aren't taking this climate change issue seriously. Let's not paint an ideal picture that those who are on the other side of fence or other side of the world are all doing their job and that we as citizens from the South just have to be patient and that everything will fall into place at the right time.

Submitted by stepen masty on
Sina is a man of rare taste and good breeding, so how can one disagree with his being upset over angry tub-thumpers? Well, annoying and even counter-productive as they are, there may be a motive in their madness. We subsidise anger. The howler gets on television faster than the moderate gentleman or lady, then he gets more visibility and more donations. Media sells entertainment, not sense. The stinker who exaggerates the threat of anything ends up first in the queue for state funding, while the respectable expert who - God forbid - says there maybe no problem is guaranteed to be ignored. Never before, to such a degree, did the squeaky wheel get the grease. Were we so cursed to live long enough (thankfully, i shan't) every science research grant will be awarded by public votes phoned in to a game show, hosted by ambitious politicians and salted with air-headed supermodels hired to plug, say, research into retinal therapy competing against professional sports figures paid to plump for new cardiac stents.

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