Thursday, February 08, 2007

It's Not What You Say...

...It's What People Hear.

This is the title of a book by one Frank Luntz. Luntz is a GOP strategist that was recently interviewed by Grist magazine. He's had some not entirely kind things to say about environmentalists, based on his personal experience with them, that I found interesting. Excerpt below:

Q...You've since said that the environment played a negligible role in the 2004 and 2006 elections. Why did this huge vulnerability fail to play a central role in the elections?

A...Because the environmental community hasn't figured out how to communicate effectively.

Q...What do you mean?

A...People think environmentalists tend toward the extreme position -- they're considered uncompromising, unyielding, very political. I get yelled at by them all the time, and yet they keep losing and losing when they should be more successful.

The American people believe in clean air and clean water. The American people believe in open spaces. I know this, I've polled it. What they don't believe is the idea that you would close everything down, put it under lock and key. They believe that you can use the environment while still protecting and appreciating it, and the environmental community just doesn't understand that. It's why the word environmentalist, people don't like it anymore.

But you understand, I'm not in the business of trying to explain this to them. In my dealings with them, they're mean. Some of the most personally nasty people come out of the environmental community.

Q...Why do you think that is?

A...I think that they believe so strongly in their point of view, and they believe that anyone who doesn't share what they share or believe what they believe is not only wrong but evil.

Q...It sounds like you see it as a dogma almost, as religious zealotry.

A...I don't see environmentalism that way, I see environmentalists that way. I think it's like they've taken a very important issue and they've undermined their own case for it.

The problem the environmental community has is they don't listen to their opponents. When I do my research, I spend more time studying the opposition argument because that's what I need to respond to. The environmental community never listens. If they listened, they would have realized very early on that they would find common ground with other allies.

Full interview here. You'll note some debate as to whether Luntz makes a good point.

I tend to think he does, to a degree, though I don't believe "mean" is quite the right word. The reason that some environmentalists come off as mean is because it sometimes feel like you can't be heard otherwise.

There's also the flip side. When you're passionate about an issue, and wear your heart on your sleeve about it, people know that it's a button they can push with you.

Now I can't say I've had many bad experiences. Most people I've known have been quite supportive and encouraging. Of course, Christine and I also made it a point to not be "in your face" with this stuff, so one probably leads to the other.

Still, from time to time when we first became vegetarian, I'd get teased about it a little. I'd get told things like "this dead cow tastes fantastic, you should try some" and how not only should we continue to eat animals, but we should eat more kinds.

To me, in terms of intentions, that's the equivalent of sitting in front of a person trying to lose weight, holding a giant tub of ice cream and going on about how great it is. Mind you, it doesn't really work in our case, however, because...

a) I've had meat before, I know full well what it tastes like. So I do "know what I'm missing", thank you.

b) I don't crave it anymore, so I don't "miss" it.

...but the intent to take a little dig at a strong personal belief is there and that's, well, mean. I don't believe the intention was to "hurt" anyone, so it's shrugged off.

Now that's a very small experience, but I know how irritating I find it. I can only imagine how someone who's convinced that global warming will lead to unbelievable disasters feels when told that it's nonsense, in light of what they feel is at stake.

So I get Mr Luntz's point, I believe, but it works both ways. You're right that it's caused in part by strong belief in a point of view.

But I think that there's the added frustration of feeling like you're trying to tell the captain of the Titanic "Hey, you might want to take a left here". He can't be bothered to listen because for whatever reason, he disagrees no matter what argument you present.

Be that as it may, if I'm wrong it's a small, wasted effort. But if he's wrong, it's a colossal disaster.

That some people are unable to grasp this very, very simple notion of erring on the side of caution can be infuriating. Perhaps there should be more listening done from BOTH sides.


Blazing Cat Fur said...

Luntz is right. What he fails to mention is that the environmental movement has long been co-opted by cultural and politcal fringe elements. Crypto-Communists, Peta Nazi's etc. The public knows this and they recognize that the alleged concern for the environment expressed by the extremists is merely a beard for their hidden agendas.

T.H.I.T. said...

Luntz is right...about those types in particular. A large part of my doubts when deciding whether to take part in activities and/or donating comes from the fact that many of the people leading these charities make well into 6-digits a year.

But it's an awful broad brush to paint all environmentalists with. That's where my opinion differs with his.