24 November 2013

Co-opted, Manipulated and Had

Another series of convergences in my life this week, the second week of the 19th COP in Warsaw, coal capital of the world. 

Last Sunday afternoon, I went for a walk with a friend who wanted to talk over some work ideas. But before she brought up her latest plans, we talked for a while about a dilemma she's been experiencing. She's someone who likes to focus deeply rather than spread her attention and resources widely. Which environmental NGO, she was wondering, should she support? That led to a discussion about hope (schmope) versus optimism (a topic I'm getting sick of) versus just getting busy promoting a change in political will. (Which didn't help her decision making because both the ENGOs she knows and loves are focusing on changing political will these days. Alas.)

That led to a discussion about conspiracies, particularly the theory (my theory, but not mine alone) that many ENGOs have been co-opted by the corporate world — not blatantly or overtly, but by being kept busy adopting business models (rather than keeping or adopting a grassroots model) and kowtowing to their foundation funders, most of whom are fronts for big corporate interests. 

The greatest example here on the west coast of Canada is all the money and energy being thrown into keeping (more) oil tankers from plying our coastal waters, and therefore stopping construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline, and now the twinned Kinder Morgan pipeline. All the while that thousands of British Columbians are giving money (and getting money) to stop these potentials, rich Americans are actually already buying up rail lines and tank cars and are moving more and more tar sands oil by rail. I've actually had two or three environmentally concerned friends tell me they don't believe it. I guess they don't read Bloomberg or the Financial Post

Oh man, what the heck was I telling you about? (I just got sucked into the internet vortex, looking for those links!)

Oh yes, convergences. 

A couple of days later, another friend sent me an article called How to Win the Media War Against Grassroots Activists. If you choose to read it, prepare to finally believe that ignorance is bliss. 

Ronald Duchin, of the PR firm Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin (MBD), once (or a dozen times) gave a talk entitled "Take an Activist Apart and What Do You Have? And How Do You Deal with Him/Her?" In it, Duchin referred to different subtypes of activists: "radicals, idealists, realists and opportunists." From the article:
Radical activists "want to change the system; have underlying socio/political motives" and see multinational corporations as "inherently evil," explained Duchin. "These organizations do not trust the … federal, state and local governments to protect them and to safeguard the environment. They believe, rather, that individuals and local groups should have direct power over industry … I would categorize their principal aims … as social justice and political empowerment." 
The "idealist" is easier to deal with, according to Duchin's analysis. "Idealists … want a perfect world…. Because of their intrinsic altruism, however … [they] have a vulnerable point.... If they can be shown that their position is in opposition to an industry … and cannot be ethically justified, they [will] change their position."
So, all you idealistic activists, you've been had! But there's more:
The two easiest subtypes to join the corporate side of the fight are the "realists" and the "opportunists." By definition, an "opportunist" takes the opportunity to side with the powerful for career gain, Duchin explained, and has skin in the game for "visibility, power [and] followers." 
The realist, by contrast, is more complex but the most important piece of the puzzle, says Duchin. "[Realists are able to] live with trade-offs; willing to work within the system; not interested in radical change; pragmatic. The realists should always receive the highest priority in any strategy dealing with a public policy issue."
So, all you pragmatic realists, you've been manipulated. 
Duchin outlined a corresponding three-step strategy to "deal with" these four activist subtypes. First, isolate the radicals. Second, "cultivate" the idealists and "educate" them into becoming realists. And finally, co-opt the realists into agreeing with industry. 
"If your industry can successfully bring about these relationships, the credibility of the radicals will be lost and opportunists can be counted on to share in the final policy solution," Duchin outlined in closing his speech.

We have all been had and manipulated. We've all been thinking that the corporate types, when they realized what climate chaos would do to their kids' future, would come around in time. But no. They are in a deadly game where the winner takes all, at all costs, then dies anyway, taking his children and most life on the planet with him.

Meanwhile, what of the environmental NGOs? Well, have a wander around The Wrong Kind of Green (forget it; looks like it's been hacked). It presents a fascinating look at how we've been manipulated, co-opted or, at best, simply kept "busy in the bushes," as a friend used to say about our movement.

A right-kind-of-green friend wrote to say that in an ENGO she's been involved with, "the people are so deep in denial and their own delusional idea of 'successful campaigns' that their posts are no longer worth reading. Same old nonsense. They refuse to accept where we are at. They refuse to accept/acknowledge science. We are so human-centric that I guess we believe that what we want is more powerful than nature herself."

This reminded me (convergences, remember?) of the film we watched earlier this week, The Island President. I hadn't realized that Mohamed Nasheed (of the Maldives) sold out at the Copenhagen climate talks. In the movie, you can pretty much pinpoint the moment when his ego takes over! It's an interesting point in the film (and if you're in love with this 350.orger man, you likely won't see it). 

He doesn't see himself slipping from "I must do something to save my people" into "I must do something to save these talks — because, look at all these important people who are meeting and talking with me." One of his key advisors (his environment minister, I think) notices the sell-out-in-the-making and calls him on it, but the president can't see it and pretty much asks him to be quiet.

In other words, it was almost like Duchin was there using his tactics to "deal with" this Maldivian idealist. In fact, that moment in climate change history would make an *excellent* case study of how we're all being co-opted, manipulated and had.

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