A Yearning for Innocence

I just read more commentary about how the Koch brothers buy the allegiance of climate-change-denier politicians, virtually all of whom are Republicans.

Money certainly plays a large role in the denyosphere. But I can’t convince myself that all these Republicans would sell out their own children (because that’s the implication of the influence of money) if they truly understood the implications of the climate crisis. I have too much faith in human decency.

I think the Kochs of the world are able to hold sway because they and the people who think like them simply don’t want anthropogenic global warming to be true, so they deny it in the Kubler-Ross sense: they refuse to acknowledge its validity.

It’s closely related to religiosity, and both denialism and religiosity are closely related to (stay with me here) innocence. A certain breed of “conservative” exhibits a particular outlook: that God made them good people living in a good world, and strife exists only because “bad” people don’t share their God-given values.

Not all religious people display this rigidity and intolerance, by any means. Some of the strongest advocates for climate action, such as Interfaith Power & Light, believe that God entrusted the earth to our stewardship. They recognize science, and that humans must take an active role in making the world the beautiful, life-giving place we all instinctively feel it should be.

My novel is largely about the clash of these two religious viewpoints.

To protect themselves psychologically, certain deniers engage in a lot of reverse transference disguised as morality:  they act like stern men and women making tough adult decisions. But the “adult” decisions they make tend strongly to dominance and intolerance, the better to protect themselves from the truths of the world that make them uncomfortable.

They don’t want to face accountability for the role they may be playing in bringing about or perpetuating suffering, and they don’t want to be saddled with the responsibility to do anything about it. Mostly, they don’t want to face that rigid morality is inherently unjust, that their belief system is flawed, that their conception of God is wrong-headed, and that they can’t be good simply by being reflexively “moral.”

As a corollary, they see malign motives and conspiracies in truth-telling—as in, yes, our carbon emissions are destabilizing the atmosphere. They fear the very domination they exercise. Perhaps they experience a certain cognitive dissonance, bcause domination flies in the face of the core tenet of Christianity—do unto others as you would have them do unto you—and so double down on domination just to prove to themselves that they are enforcing God’s will, not their own. They must convince themselves they’re absolutely right, which is the only rationale that could conceivably justify dominance.

To them, their wealth is evidence of their goodness, innate superiority, and God’s favor. To believe that Nature, the very expression of God, could be fouled by the hand of man flies in the face of their entire belief system. It is an abomination that repudiates the All-good. Asking them to accept AGW action is like asking them to accept abortion or homosexuality.

Despite their sometimes great sophistication in finance and politics, they are magical thinkers, implicitly convinced of their God-granted innocence and rightness. They cast themselves a chosen people under threat from others. It’s a completely hermetic and circular mentality.

So the question is: how do you get around this mentality? Or through it? Or work within it to get the agreement we need in order to do the urgent things we must if we’re to avert the worst? Or can we safely bypass this minority and concentrate on building that agreement with those more open to it?

More next week.

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Filed under Climate Change, Denialism, Psychology, Religion

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