287 Comments

I think depression is basically what the doomers ordered in the first place. It's this very Dostoevskian belief that what we need, as a society, is more repentance, more sense of obligation; you see the same thing in the segment of writers on race that runs from Robin DiAngelo griftwards, who claim we are making progress as a society inasmuch as people are getting yelled at. You see the same thing from Covid hawks whose response to questions about when we go back to normal is to claim that we live in an excessively "individualistic" society with no sense of "the common good". (When people invoke "community", it means "you should be taking orders from me, personally.") This is of course not exclusive to the left; until recently I would have thought it was a right-wing viewpoint. But it turns out when you give people orders about what feelings to feel, it does not yield social progress; it yields people feeling miserable all the time.

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Agree. There are just a lot of people who not only seem to enjoy feeling miserable, but they enjoy telling us all how miserable they feel.

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I think social media exacerbates the problem by rewarding alarmism and amplifying it

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I think the right way to look at that phenomenon is that it's *competitive* in nature. It's one-upsmanship. People do that to prove their superiority over their peers who are not as able or willing to face supposed hard truths.

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"I don't want to talk about covid/climate/politicization of SCOTUS/creeping authoritarianism right now, I want to talk about last night's hockey game" --> "OMG you think last night's hockey game is MORE IMPORTANT THAN [pet issue]"

These radicalized people just need to be tuned out.

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Feb 10, 2022·edited Feb 10, 2022

Relatedly, I'm starting to empathize with the people who say "I don't want politics in my video games", especially when they're told in return "there's _always_ been politics in video games, it was just politics you agreed with". Which is true to an extent, but also blasé, since they're usually just referring to things like "all cops are _not_ bad" or "the US military can be a force for good, especially against Nazis". Is that politics? Kinda?

That's not on the same level of "politics" as "this piece of media from 2005 is objectively transphobic because the only trans character in it is a prostitute". That's the kind of statement that makes normies roll their eyes and not want to engage, but also drives the commenter-spittle-frothing that sites like Kotaku need to stay afloat.

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... isn't this telling publishers/developers what to do? if people don't like it, they shouldn't buy it. (or they should push for a mandate that requires every game to be moddable, so they can then mod out the bad politics and/or replace it with the good politics, etc.)

> usually just referring to things like

It's really hard to know who refers to what. (I happily managed to avoid gamergate, all I know about videogame criticism is through a few YT channels. And those videos were all insightful, yet ... my Steam library is still what it was.)

Basically, I wouldn't have bought any new Call of Duty (or Battlefield) games anyway, not because "hurrdurr imperialism bad", but ... because the single player is just more of the same since Cod4 (and Battlefield 3).

And while it's true that Factorio/Satisfactory/Minecraft is "colonialism", it's also almost surely true that they cause as much colonialism as GTA causes crime/violence. (And similarly it's true that female-presenting characters are/were hypersexualized, yet that's not the cause, that's the effect. As *everything* ... literally *everything* has been hypersexualized and advertised with boobs, from beer to funeral homes.)

So, if we're talking about these commenters that make the aforementioned insights, they ... well, they are basically making academic arguments, and they don't matter much. (The points about representation might matter a bit, and the outcome is not less, but more sex. Now every gender-on-gender sex is programmed into games. And it's probably great, but ... dunno, RPGs are not my jam :D)

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"If they don't like it they shouldn't buy it." So if I like Spider-Man, and I want to buy the Spider-Man game that allows me to swing around a full scale replica of Manhattan, but it has one insipid political diatribe that lasts 20 seconds...I shouldn't buy the game?

What will suppliers of games identify as the issue? Will they assume that it was the 20 second political spiel? Or will they stop making games where I can websling around Manhattan?

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What some people seem to want is a planned attention economy: they think everyone should ONLY talk about the thing they think is the highest priority, and if only everyone could be forced to think about things in their order of priority (and some people literally think the US president has the power to bring this about) then our problems would be solved.

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We had this talk recently while visiting some relatives. Perhaps you were at the next table?

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Well, they're "right", but endlessly talking (and ruminating) about it leads to absolutely nowhere good. That's why we have representative democracy so we can delegate this task. (Optionally insert "mom can we get X, we have X at home; meanwhile X at home" meme.)

Of course it's hard to set these internal boundaries. Bad policies can quickly become very stressful personally. (Eg. for immigrants, or same-sex couples, or ... let's say teachers who care about Roe v Wade because they interact with young people who get pregnant twice every day just from sneezing, and so on. Or recently teachers who saw people banning and burning books they used for teaching.)

And if someone wants to be in 0-24 activist mode they're welcome to do that. Get on the bus and join (set up) a camp in D.C., write signs, and get on marching, and don't forget to bring something for sore soles.

And if someone actively wants to avoid this, then they also need to set their boundaries. No need to invite everyone for [random holiday]'s eve. Really.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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I like your comment but disagree with your last sentence. The greatest accomplishment of the state is reducing interpersonal violence. Murder rates in hunter gatherer societies were sky high and there were slot of small wars. The state has socialized people to be less violent, starting in pre school and never really stopping. Humans have fewer violent feelings today than 100 years ago and far fewer violent feelings than 1000 or 10,000 years ago. The state is telling us how to feel, this has placed huge burdens on hyper aggressive men who wind up in prison, but it’s overall a good thing,

Human nature is malleable, but molding it isn’t so easy. The ship turns slowly

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I agree this history is a great thing, but I don't think it is caused by the state telling adults how to feel. Some of the decline in violence is caused by mutually beneficial trade and the spread of ideas. Some is caused by primary education; children are different from adults and I think there is room, within reason, for adults to tell kids how to feel. Much of it is down to not to the *moral instruction* of the Leviathan but its *simple brute force* – even today, when a would-be criminal refrains from committing a crime because they anticipate being punished, that is a rational calculus, not a change in sentiments.

There has certainly been a change in people's moral sentiments over historic time, though it's debatable whether it amounts to humans having fewer violent feelings. Violent entertainment is as popular as ever, and many people still admit in surveys to having at least once fantasized about killing someone. The question is whether state policies of telling us how to feel are driving this; I think they aren't. A huge part of the homicide decline, as I understand it, happened when late medieval and early modern people internalized norms of self-control as a moral virtue. This may have responded to changing incentives *because* of the expansion of state power – it became more valuable for nobles to kiss up to the king than bash other nobles over the head, more valuable to sound convincing in court than to kill someone who had a dispute with you, etc. – but the aristocrats of the time paid a lot of lip service to the value of being willing to kill, as seen in customs like dueling.

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When is the last time you went to watch chickens fight to the death, much less gladiators? Entertainment has become much less violent.

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The generation that started World War 2 and committed the Holocaust rightly felt guilty - they themselves did something very bad or enabled it. But their grandchildren and great grandchildren have no reason to feel guilty about it. Intergenerational vicarious national guilt doesn't make sense unless you have some kind of ethno-nationalist, corporal view of a nation as something that exists apart from the individual citizens who are alive at the time.

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I agree with henry here. War guilt is a psychological tax on modern day germans and japanese, but it gets them to much better foreign policy outcomes than the US or Russia. Better a modest dose of war guilt than iraq, afghanistan and, possibly, the Sino American War of 2027.

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That last is *highly* unlikely to be caused by us, but nice try.

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"...and, possibly, the Sino American War of 2027."

...and possibly, the *last* war.

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deletedFeb 10, 2022·edited Feb 10, 2022
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I think don't think the analogy to corporations cuts the way you're suggesting or that this is really about legalities rather than identity. Corporations do indeed have a perpetual legal existence, but their guilt for wrongdoing is confined to fairly short statute of limitation periods, and only to people they harmed at the time, not future people. There've been a lot of awful things and atrocities committed by humanity over the years, but those are cautionary stories for everyone, not limited to just the people who today happen to live on the same land as the previous people who committed them. Ie, your culpability for things that happened before you were born doesn't, or shouldn't, deped on where you were born. It's not really logical to take pride in the accomplishments of others either, but telling each stories about the past is how we bond and form a shared identity with fellow citizens living today. It's not a question of guilt but rather making sure the set of stories we tell today about the past helps create the kind of society and national identity we want today.

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Celebrating good achievements is not the same thing as taking pride in them. I take no pride in things I didn't contribute to or participate in, but I do celebrate them if I think they are worthy of celebration.

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"Do you take pride in things from good achievements in American history that you weren’t personally involved in?"

For example: If an American wins a gold medal at the Olympics, I should feel proud?

That's a shabby sort of morality.

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But that's how almost everyone feels (apart from hyper-refined, educated liberals) when their country wins Olympic medals. It seems to be an element of human nature.

I'm totally open to the argument that people shouldn't feel any shame at all about the bad things their country has done in the past, *or* any pride at all in the good things it has done. That's how I feel myself, but people like me are definitely a minority and I don't think we can assume that everyone will get to that point sooner or later.

What seems unhealthy to me about the attitudes of some conservatives towards school curricula, for example, is that they're perfectly willing to have children indoctrinated in patriotism and national pride, which is something American schools did without a second thought until pretty recently and is considered perfectly normal in most other countries. But they don't think children should be made to feel shame about the history of slavery, Indian genocide and all the rest. I think it has to be both (within reason) or neither.

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Patriotism (and it's cousin, love of community) is, to the extent that a nation is good - and the US is an exceptionally good nation, a positive emotion because it helps inculcate a duty to adhere to the nation's principles. We should want Americans to support our constitutional order, support our rule of law, respect property rights, elect competent and moral politicians, etc. As long as one's pride in being American is tied to good civic character, it is justified.

Unearned shame is a uniformly negative emotion. And we should expect that the attempt to instill unearned shame on children for the sole reason that they are Americans will lead to disrespect of, and disbelief in, the very things that make the US an exceptionally good nation.

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Speaking of a shabby sort of morality, I take great pride in the Marshall Plan.

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> Do you take pride in things from good achievements in American history that you weren’t personally involved in?

No, that's dumb.

But then again I'm not sure America would be as good a place to live if everyone felt like me.

It's strange how irrational behavior can lead to good outcomes.

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I agree guilt serves an important social function, but demanding that adults express it is still impolite and counterproductive – just like even though there are situations where the polite thing to do is not to say anything, telling someone to shut up is still bad.

As for German postwar guilt – as a Jewish person I'm very grateful for the German (or, at least, West German) postwar culture of memory, but I'm not sure guilt was necessary or sufficient for the focus on economic endeavors. France and Britain also changed their policies after WWII, abandoning their colonial empires, and they're better off for it, despite the lack of comparable widespread guilt. And does Japan really have a comparable culture of guilt to Germany's? I think evidence is mixed.

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"France and Britain also changed their policies after WWII, abandoning their colonial empires, and they're better off for it, despite the lack of comparable widespread guilt."

They didn't do it of their own free will. Particularly the French.

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"I think America would be a nicer, wealthier, and more peaceful country if most of us felt similar guilt around violent things in our history."

So I should feel guilty that my grandfathers fought against Germany (on my mother's side) and Japan (on my father's side)?

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Feb 10, 2022·edited Feb 10, 2022

No. The Nazis and Imperial Japan were bad. In case you were unaware, the US did not initiate the violence with either of those countries.

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But that was violence.

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His comment was made about Japan and Germany so it's pretty reasonable to interpret "violence" as "unjustified violence." Otherwise Henry is taking a pacifist stance.

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Yes, exactly. It is sometimes good to be proud of engaging in violence.

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Climate dooming doesn’t cause depression — depression encourages people to hyperbolize climate doom. The depressed brain is path-dependent and thus wants to “stay depressed,” so it looks for any reason it can find to justify the current state of affairs. I can’t think of any depression-maintenance belief more seductive than “Holy shit the planet is on fire and will only get worse from here!”

As a general rule, the external explanation is never the primary cause of depression — just the thing the brain needs to maintain its story of pain and suffering.

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That's true but it doesn't invalidate Matt's point. Living your life in a way that benefits other people is a very effective antidote for depression, even if the original cause of your depression is something your mother did wrong (or what have you). If the climate weren't changing, it would still be good advice for many depressed people to look for something else that's wrong with the world and work on changing it.

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Your point is valid as far as it goes, and I say that as a (fellow?) person living with depression. But Matt's piece implicates more than just individuals; there is an academia--journalism--twitter pipeline that pumps out misleadingly negative information. It would be more productive for this pipeline to instead communicate that, at the RELEVANT margins, everything individuals and policy makers do can make a difference.

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Yeah, psychologists committing gross malpractice and not being fit to care for your pets is a dog bites man story, so routine it’s unremarkable. They’ve just found a new lucrative grift.

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The hook for this post is a little strained, but the bulk of the points here are on target & worth pointing out.

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deletedFeb 10, 2022·edited Feb 10, 2022
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that’s kind of a trollish suggestion, but it does raise the question of how to compassionately interact with people online when you or they might have distorted thinking due to mental illness. i think it’s probably possible to figure out ways to be better at this.

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I think it's a good rule of thumb, and frequently accurate, to assume that the worst people on social media have psychological problems of some kind. They're just non-famous versions of Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos et al.

If you keep that in mind it helps you treat them compassionately and also gives you a correct perspective on how little they matter. Most people have figured out by now that political debate would be much healthier if we all ignored them (in the context of social media--if you know someone like this personally it's a different issue), but keep in mind that ignoring them is probably also what's best for their mental health.

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whynotboth.gif

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deletedFeb 10, 2022·edited Feb 10, 2022
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I think yes to both in principle, but it can’t really be done successfully at scale. I think engagement works so well as a target because you can easily measure it and it’s directly profitable (ads). Trying to measure optimize for other more nebulous stuff seems really hard.

It might be more reasonable for small scale communities with more human moderation though.

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One thing I think you left out is the impact an individual person can have locally, which can have huge impact globally! Right now there is a big fight in my town over the transmission line connection for 1400 MW offshore wind. Several people showing up to give unequivocal support to the proposed plan by the utility could sway the Select Board to grant the required variances, rather than cave to the NIMBYs and drag out the process for years. That's a huge amount of renewable energy!

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Great column. I think that toning down the doomsday rhetoric has an important additional benefit in that it makes it more likely that the squishy median voter will go along. If you paint a scenario where it is imperative that we all stop flying, ban traditional cars, eat lentils instead of meat, and so on, then a lot of people are simply going to tune you out. Moreover, you'll make it impossible for any Republican legislator to work with you.

Much better to argue for more investment in nuclear power, for subsidies for renewable energy production and EVs, for better building codes and zoning regulations, and so on.

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Great piece. I'm a German journalist who writes a lot about climate change and the energy transition, and the discourse can sometimes be insufferable from two angles at once. On the one side, you have your old-white-male columnists and politicians who engage in climate action delay or outright climate change denialism. And then you have the depressed alarmists who absolutely insist that Hamburg will be swallowed by the sea in a hundred years. Some of these alarmists are climate journalists themselves, which makes industry meetups feel like funeral services.

Now to be clear: I think the denialists are a lot worse than the alarmists. And I think there is a case for alarmism if the stakes are really high (would people otherwise care as much about climate change?) But still, it makes nuance so needlessly difficult (and the job, at times, pretty annoying).

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Thanks so much for injecting race and gender ("old-white-male") into the climate change conversation. I'm super-confident it will help.

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Okay, so I guess I owe a non-trollish answer here. I mostly agree that injecting issues like race and gender into the climate change conversaton is not helpful. A lot of climate activism groups here in Germany have subscribed to this school of thought where the only way to solve climate change is to overcome racism and the patriarchy. My personal stance is that a) this is absolutely not true and b) it's bad strategy. At the very least, it's extremely confusing to see your local Fridays for Future chapter tweet its support for an independent Kurdistan.

But then again, my off-hand comment about "old-white male columnists" is... really not that. Also, let's call a spade a spade here, people. The distribution of capital and societal influence is disproportionally geared towards older white males, in Germany as well as the United States. That obviously affects the debate about climate change in politics and media in pretty dramatic ways! That's not a controversial statement! It's pretty telling that noone was really able to refute what I said, but there seems to be at least a tacit agreement nonetheless that I shouldn't have said it because it's not "helpful", i.e. it might hurt feelings. Is this the snowflake-like sensitivity I hear US conservatives rail so much against? Where is my free speech?

Just to be clear, I don't think the white man is the devil. That would be very weird since I am a white man myself. I think it's interesting that this got desperately derailed into a debate about race when I clearly made a comment about systemic power structures. Now, how those structures came to be does have a lot to do with racism and sexism, but I'm pretty sure that's a debate the pearl-clutchers in this thread want to hear even less.

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Feb 11, 2022·edited Feb 11, 2022

Since you responded this time in good faith, I will do so also.

I believe the derailing was due to your decision to "call a spade a spade" by using the race and gender of the people you see as standing in the way not as benign descriptors but as pejoratives. Is it their color you disagree with? their gender? or their actions?

Using the lens of immutable and heritable characteristics to analyze or explain behavior is the path of division, of ostracism, of prejudice. The history of your country, and of mine, is full of leaders who assigned behavioral attributes to people based on their race, to the detriment of all of us. I bristle when the same lens is used, even when ostensibly in the support of a good cause.

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A reply to my own comment, rather than an edit at this time:

Reihan Salam articulates my view much better than I can. Todays's discussion in the NYTimes with Jay Caspian Kang and Salam is worth the read for those interested in how some on the center-right view the debate these days.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/10/opinion/anti-crt-politics.html

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I agree. I think the issue is that it's hard to articulate societal power structures which ARE founded on characteristics like race and gender without making it sound like an attack on people of those races and genders. This is why this whole CRT debate has completely derailed: Pointing out that America has been (in part) built on racism does not mean everyone is a racist today. I think a lot of people (me included) can be better in articulating that point.

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This is a rather odd line of thinking, given that by far the two largest contributors to global warming are China and India, neither of which are 'white'. And their carbon contributions are increasing, and will continue to increase until at least the 2030s- meanwhile the US only emits 15% of the world's carbon, and that amount has been decreasing. So no, I don't understand how 'capital and social influence' in Germany or the US is relevant to global warming!

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I'm pretty sure the distribution of wealth and power in China and India are also disproportionally geared towards older males from prevalent ethnic groups. This is not about whiteness!

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"This is not about whiteness!" Also you:

"The distribution of capital and societal influence is disproportionally geared towards older *white* males, in Germany as well as the United States. That obviously affects the debate about climate change in politics and media in pretty dramatic ways"

"you have your old-*white*-male columnists and politicians who engage in climate action delay or outright climate change denialism"

I have highlighted where you use the word 'white', is that helpful? Do you need any help moving the goalposts? They can be heavy.

I'd just like to re-emphasize that not only are China and India polluting much more than the US, they're actually *increasing* their carbon emissions, while the US & Europe have been decreasing. So if 'older white men' are preventing America from fixing climate change, they are apparently not doing a very good job at it? Does that change your theories on power distribution at all?

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Come on, you can't possibly be this obtuse. In the event that your post is actually in good faith, here's my last try.

1) Basically every society I can think of has an unlevel playing field that gives an advantage to older males of a certain ethnic/religious group. Often, but not always, that group is the one that's most prevalent. In Germany and the US, those groups happen to be Caucasians/white people.

2.) Just because there are countries with very few people of Caucasian/Western European origin doesn't mean those dynamics are non-existent in those countries. It's better to be a Han Chinese man than an Uyghur woman, just as it's better to be a guy from Utter Pradesh than a woman from North-Eastern India. That's what I mean when I say "This is not about whiteness". It's about being lucky enough to be born into the favored group, with the right gender.

3.) Racism and sexism are obvious drivers that consolidated those power structures, among others. That does NOT mean that White people or Han Chinese are genetically predisposed or something to be racist or sexist or to prevent climate action, which for some reason seems to be the prevalent interpretation of what I said.

4.) What this means instead: The people put into influential positions in politics, economy and media are to a disproportional extent older male people from the advantaged group. This in turn means that the powerful people preventing climate action are to a disproportional extent older male people from that group as well.

5.) When it comes to climate, the proportions become even more distorted. People in positions of power have additional incentive to prevent or delay climate action, because economic and societal change always harbors the possibility of undermining existing power structures. (We're quite rapidly seeing a shift here as the status quo becomes more and more untenable and the possibilities offered by the alternative become clearer by the day, but still.)

6.) India does not emit more CO2 than the United States. That's just a lie. It's not even close. If you look at per capita emissions, the US is way ahead of China as well. (And don't get me started on historic emissions!)

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Glad to see your laser-focus on the issue that matters most.

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The issue that matters most (in this case) is advancing climate policies that can work. Including the gratuitous race-and-gender sideswipe hurts the cause.

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It's possible that isn't true in Germany. I agree with you that American white men are very fragile and political discourse must keep their sensitivity in mind, but it's possible Germans are more robust.

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Gee, I wonder how needlessly disparaging 'old white men' will work in a country where over 70% of the voters are white, there are only two political parties, and the other party is quasi-authoritarian. Let's find out! What's the worst that could happen. No issue is too small to needlessly bring in race and find a way to bash white people for it

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The poster is German. He literally wrote that. American white fragility shouldn't police speech in other countries

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As I said before, I'm super-confident it will help.

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That's just your fragility talking.

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Feb 10, 2022·edited Feb 10, 2022

I think John is right. It was gratuitous and useless to make that comment. The poster has only doubled-down as well ("oh did i hurt your feelings"). Clearly not made in good faith.

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I agree that the "old white man" thing is counter-productive in this context.

But when people say something like this, I don't think people usually mean anything serious by it. It's not even supposed be a 'prod,' it's just a little throwaway joke sorta.

If anything it's sort of a compliment. You wouldn't just throw that in your comment if you felt like you were among a bunch of "old white guys" that fit the caricature.

But to be clear, even though it's usually just a joke in the same vein as "Stuff White People Like," the joke has really run its course at this point and hopefully people gradually cut it out.

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I agree, race, gender, and age are pretty important when it comes to one's biases on this topic! Thanks for your input.

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Sorry if I hurt your feelings by pointing out traditional power structures in the publishing industry

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oooh. Nice. Adding in some condescension definitely helps the discourse.

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Condescension and arrogance are the standard modes of speech in some quarters.

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Maybe I'm just not familiar with the legions of powerful young black women writing denialist columns about climate change

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Yes, but it just derails what should be a constructive discourse.

As in . . . this thread.

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The question is why that is. The fact that if you make a *factual* mildly critical reference to white men, discussion gets derailed, seems to me abnormal. I don't recall this occurring with respect to other groups.

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Feb 10, 2022·edited Feb 10, 2022

I will admit that your point sounds perfectly reasonable, but since the internet makes many things relatively easy to look up, I searched and found this chart on countries with the largest share of climate change deniers:

https://www.statista.com/chart/19449/countries-with-biggest-share-of-climate-change-deniers/

Interestingly, the majority of them are majority non-white and/or in hot regions already (Indonesia narrowly tops the US even!).

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I’m reading this in the very early morning while trying to get my baby to go back to sleep, a time when I often find myself worrying about his future. Thank you for your grounded, nuanced, and well researched perspectives on this and so many other issues.

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I'm reading Eisenhower's "Crusade in Europe" right now about his experiences in the war from 1939 - 1945. It's a great book, but what really comes through is Ike's genius at managing sentiment both directly in his command, within the governments he worked with, and to his best ability, in the Allied civilian populations. He was meticulous in his belief that the only way to win the war was for the Allies to first and foremost believe they could win the war. There are many instances of commanders being removed from positions or reassigned stateside for persistently downcast attitudes or whiffs of defeatism.

Climate change is not an impossible problem. We're not going to get out of this scot-free, but I think the overall benefits of industrialization more than outweigh costs.

To paraphrase another great American general - I am heartily tired of hearing what climate change will do to us. I want you to come back and tell me what we will do to climate change.

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Check out "How Ike Led" written by his granddaughter Susan. It details his leadership and decision-making approach on various events during his presidency.

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Like lots of things, activists have a view that talking about positive things will cause people to let their guard down or something like that. You see it with things like feminism. Women have made huge strides educationally, economically, and politically over the last few decades. But people still talk intersectionality of women like the social conditions of 1940 are still in place.

Same with environment.

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The seemingly prolific belief among some Americans that the Earth will be literally uninhabitable in 20 years is a bit bizarre. The sad reality is that even in the more grim scenarios, the burden will fall mostly on poorer at-risk countries like, say, Bangladesh or the Pacific islands. Life in the developed world may change somewhat, but it’s not gonna be Mad Max.

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Is it prolific? I have never heard anyone in real life express anything close to that view.

Social media echo chambers are damaging to the participants, but we already knew that.

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We can’t get progressives in SF to sacrifice parking spots in order to build homeless housing. We’ve managed to make lifesaving vaccines a political issue. If anyone thinks you’re going to mobilize action to solve climate, I’m selling the Golden Gate Bridge for two bucks and a cup of coffee.

Like most things, technology will bail us out of what, yet again, politicians can’t accomplish.

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Didn't you just point to two things where government action actually has accomplished a lot, even though it's nowhere near what an ideal government response would do?

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I mean, through a certain lens I would agree (govt subsidizing vaccines, SB9/10 in CA). But climate change depends on collective lifestyle change as imagined by most people, and anything that requires that isn't likely to happen.

In other words, we rarely do collective sacrifice well. At best, we can take technologies that are invented (e.g. RNA vaccines) and make them happen at scale in cases where adoption plays to people's instinct towards self-preservation.

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[Halting] climate change will never happen based on "collective lifestyle change." It will happen through heavy investment in solar and wind power so that these becomes cheaper than every alternative. That is exactly what the government has been spurring(and it is succeeding).

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People are quite happy about sacrificing modern comforts and luxury, provided it is other people who are making those sacrifices.

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Manufacturing prowess for the win.

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Politicians make technology more or less likely to progress and be implemented by enacting the laws that create a better or worse legal/regulatory/economic structure.

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I think we’re realizing for a lot of liberals “follow the science” means take the most risk-averse position and gloomy attitude possible, but that is not following the science.

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Nice piece. Part of this, along with anxiety about Covid and more or less everything else, is probably attributable to the shift in the corporate media's business model, which is dependent on "engagement," which is in turn increased by stoking anxiety. Calm people spend their days doing things, instead of "engaging" online. Which reminds me, I gotta go do some stuff, instead of engaging...

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Our brains evolved in a lifestyle when you weren't sure if you were going to eat tomorrow, and it's not totally surprising that doomscrolling about covid, climate, or whatever scratches that itch for some people.

Further, it's not surprising that as our lifestyles grow increasingly pampered and gentle (holy shit, my dad could have been *drafted* to *go to fucking war*), the need to scratch that itch grows stronger.

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I think history shows apocalypticism is actually a pretty typical human response to certain conditions. If you feel: helpless, misanthropic, and generally hateful of the world-as-it-is, apocalypticism is in some ways a coping mechanism.

In other words, I think a lot of the people suffering climate anxiety (not all, but maybe most) are in fact just victims of the post-industrial spike in mental health problems, bitterness, hatefulness, etc., and climate is just the vehicle through which those feelings and sentiments are expressed. If it wasn't climate, it'd be something else. There is a widespread sense among many (mostly upper-middle and upper class) that the world as we know it is a sinful abomination full of detestable people, and it is only natural that an Old Testament punishment cleanse the Earth of our Sodom and Gomorrah

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founding

You've also described much of the Covid discourse.

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Absolutely, that's a great example

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Go to a pentecostal church and you’ll see that mindset transcends class

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I'm beginning to wonder if all religious and quasi-religious innovation since Luther has been a huge mistake.

The Catholic Church is much better at limiting guilt and channeling it in productive directions than its Protestant peers (which usually just devolve into hitting up the guilt for cash for lack of anyone who can prevent the charismatic preacher from going hog-wild), let alone the secular doomists.

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Just make sure to go to one that's still on the wrong side of the tracks and "tells it like it is", rather than one that's gone soft and sold out in search of fancy megachurch popularity.

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I don't think it's a particularly class based issue. There's plenty of similar anti-modernism among Evangelicals (still leveraging the actual old testament) and populist talk radio and whatnot.

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Yes, you are right. My wording was imprecise. I think that while the misanthropy and hateful attitude toward the world is widespread, what I might call "secular apocalypticism" (incl. climate but also other things) is particularly concentrated in the upper classes

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agreed. but to be fair, history also shows there have been a fair number of apocalypses.

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Not to criticize this fine piece, but it would also be good to emphasize that if fears about climate change are affecting your mental health, becoming politically active isn't just going to be good for the climate. It's also likely to be more effective than any other type of therapy.

So if psychiatrists are seeing a lot of patients with this issue (and the patients don't read Slow Boring) they need to familiarize themselves with some of the technical aspects of the issue, and steer their patients towards the type of activism that's going to help. Being confident that you're following the right strategy is very important: again, not just for the climate but also for the effectiveness of your own treatment.

I'm not really a touchy-feely person and I kind of resist the idea that politics should be viewed through the lens of mental health, but we seem to be living in a moment where there's no alternative. Matt is talking mainly about educated liberals who worry a lot about this particular issue but aren't doing anything... but I also think there's a sizeable group of people, especially some of the super-woke, who have mental health challenges of their own and are deeply engaged in politics as a kind of self-medication.

Those people have the right idea, at least, because activism really is the best therapy. But they're not focused enough on whether their style of activism produces the right results. If we could get both groups mobilized for practical action--the ones who are posturing on social media and doing counterproductive things, and the ones who are miserable because they don't do anything except worry--the world would be a better place.

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I think becoming more politically active in the space is about the worst thing a doomscroller could do. Log off, go take a walk, skip a rock on a pond, go to a baseball game, try to enjoy your life.

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There's something to that. The most messed-up person I know reduced her social media dramatically when she got a great boyfriend, and her political opinions seemed to become a lot less extreme. Instead of tweeting constantly about socialism she's living her own life, and that's better.

But the climate is changing, after all! People who care enough to become neurotic about global warming are potentially an enormous asset to humanity, and although it's nice to see them not acting out in ways that just get more Republicans elected, you'd think they should be doing something positive as well. All they need is a little perspective, and maybe a Slow Boring subscription.

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I’m not sure political activity is good therapy. If one is a climate alarmist, your chosen candidates are unlikely to form governing majorities. Even if you are Bloomberg and blow a billion bucks, your personal actions might not have much impact. Phone banking before the primaries is unlikely to put your candidate over the top.

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Well, here's the thing that comes to mind when I look at my woke friends.

A major problem here is that becoming a political activist is rewarding in two different ways. It gives you a sense (possibly accurate, possibly not) that you're improving other people's lives. But it's also a source of sociality: you get to meet new people who think the same way you do and care about the same things. Obviously those are both good for you if you're depressed.

The problem is that when you get disconnected from Weber's "ethic of responsibility" you still get all the benefits of the sociality with none of the political effectiveness. You're just communing with other people who share your ultimate ends, which feels nice but is likely to be worse than useless.

That's why I suggested that psychiatrists (as well as other people) need to think carefully about the substance of these political issues: what is actually going to minimize the increase in global temperatures? And they ought to warn their patients explicitly about this psychological trap: "If you become an activist you'll definitely make new friends and be a happier person... but if it's the wrong kind of activism you can end up worsening the problem you want to address, so think about that."

My only political activities are donating money and textbanking for candidates or voter registration. You do these things alone in your apartment and apart from a little chit-chat on Slack, you don't meet any new people at all. When the textbank team offers a project that seems misguided, like investing time in a candidate who's clearly going to win or clearly going to lose, you don't feel you're letting your friends down by watching a movie instead. I don't claim to have the world's best political judgment but because this type of work is no fun at all, I do have some confidence that I'm not doing it for the wrong reasons.

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Yes, this - political activism is a fairly dangerous thing to encourage people with depression to get involved in. One clue about your likely levels of success and satisfaction from it can be found in the quote that gives this newsletter its name.

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It's less than ideal, but then so is everything in the world. The problem with specifically *political* action, as opposed to other kinds of do-gooding, is that it's probabilistic. If you volunteer at a shelter and help a homeless person, you've helped a homeless person. If you write a letter to Congress there may be a 0.01% chance that they pass a bill to reduce carbon emissions (and that it wouldn't have passed without your letter). That's much more important than helping a single individual.

But there's a 99.99% chance that either the bill won't pass or else it will pass because it would have passed anyway. The letter-writing may be more worthwhile than the shelter volunteering on an expected-value-per-hour basis, but people who are depressed aren't necessarily in a frame of mind to be fulfilled by that. I don't know whether getting into the right frame of mind is something that a therapist can help with, but it would be worth a try.

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I'm going to fax my members of Congress about the Apollo biodefense program. It would be good to know if there's a specific bill under consideration in the House and/or Senate and if so, who's already cosponsored.

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I prefer to send telegrams; it wastes less paper.

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My theory is that emails just disappear into a blur. When you make a piece of paper come out of the fax machine (or even if they receive it as a PDF) it should get a little extra attention. The faxes themselves are easy to send electronically and most members of Congress accept them.

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I was surprised to find this is still possible! WU got out of the business in 2006 but another company picked it up: https://www.itelegram.com/

But it looks like they print it out for the final delivery, so at best, half as much paper as a fax.

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I agree that the kind of activism is really important. It feels like the activist groups that are best at getting media coverage or grant money aren't the most effective, and that's something we have to work on.

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They're very effective at getting attention and feeling important, which I think is their goal.

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"You're crazy, you should channel your energies into political action" does't seem like good advice. Let alone clinically ethical.

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People who worry about climate change aren't "crazy", at least not the ones Matt is talking about. They're taking a perfectly rational concern and processing it in an unhelpful way.

It's a therapist's job to help patients realize their own values in a way that works for them, which is why I think therapists need to familiarize themselves with some basic facts about climate change and how policy can affect it. Encouraging patients to become politically active in a way that's self-defeating is exactly what they *shouldn't* be doing, because that won't help the patient realize her own values even if she mistakenly believes that it does. But I don't think "Forget about global warming" is good advice either, even from the standpoint of the patient's own mental health.

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"...an 18-year-old student who sometimes experiences panic attacks so severe that she can’t get out of bed; a 69-year-old glacial geologist who is sometimes overwhelmed with sadness when he looks at his grandchildren; a man in his 50s who erupts in frustration over his friends’ consumption choices, unable to tolerate their chatter about vacations in Tuscany."

Not crazy?

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I'm not going to get all woke and say you aren't allowed to use the c-word, but these are tractable mental conditions produced by a world that does, in fact, have bad things happening in it.

None of these people need Thorazine or a straitjacket. They all sound like intelligent people who want some assurance that they're doing the right things. If their political behavior is problematic, good therapy can make it less problematic.

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"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're out to get you."

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"If their political behavior is problematic, good therapy can make it less problematic."

Note that this was not what I was objecting to above. Rather, it was your statement that "activism really is the best therapy."

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Activism doesn't have to be in the political sphere. It can be something as direct as volunteering at a homeless shelter. But climate change isn't really something that people can stop by taking the subway or donating to charity (at least not until carbon capture gets a lot cheaper). So if that's the thing people are stressed about they need to take some sort of collective action to feel a sense of agency.

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Feb 10, 2022·edited Feb 10, 2022

No, crazy.

The more they muzzle themselves, the better.

Unfortunately, Twitter allows them to wallow in their depression *and* sound batshit insane to others at the same time! Yay!

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I think cbt for politics would be a very useful program for a lot of left people. I certainly could use it.

I think it’s very easy to end up in a perfectionist space when you’re dealing with problems that are abstract and somewhat distant. I think about in my 9-5 I’m much more open to shitty compromises than I am in politics because I’m in the kitchen making the sausage.

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Make me hit my head against the wall hearing climate doomers

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It's raining, it's pouring

Bob Saget was snoring

Bumped his head

Went to bed

Didn't get up in the Morning

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Too soon!

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Like you even need to worry at this point

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