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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why don’t they get it?

Posted by steve on April 24, 2009

At the last meeting of our Oil Awareness group, one concern seemed to be shared by everyone present: ”why don’t they get it?”. What members are referring to is the feeling that colleagues, government, officers of authorities just don’t seem to ”get” the significance of
1) the vast amounts of energy we are using to sustain daily life
2) the sources of this energy are rapidly depleting
3) our current economic system is dependant on them

I know why they don’t get it. If you are interested in knowing bear with me. I need to tell you a few stories first.

When Christopher Columbus arrived in what is now America, natives standing on the shore did not see the ships approaching. The explanation is that they had never encountered anything like it in their life before, and their brain simply did not register it. A priest noticed strange wave patterns (the wake of the boats) and stared at them trying to make sense of them. Eventually he saw the ships, called others to him, and they stated to see the ships too.

The other story is of research I have read into perception. Researchers showed rather upper class middle aged women a series of pictures and words rapidly, and asked them to remember them. Interspersed with “ordinary” words were foul language expressions of the sort these ladies would never use. Interestingly when asked, these subjects remembered all the ordinary words but were certain they never saw the foul ones.

Obviously they “saw” the words, but in terms of perception, like the natives on the shores of America, they did not “register” them.

Countless other experiments and stories illustrate the same thing: that people do not always perceive what they are seeing. Sometimes because it is outside their experience, sometimes because to see it would change them in some way.

This is a powerful mechanism. People often do not perceive things in situations where their position in society, for example their job, would be threatened.

So why do our neighbours, politicians, not “get” the significance of the peaking of oil production and the consequences for life on Earth?

One reason is because it is not in their life experience to even contemplate a serious, long term global energy shortage. Another is that their jobs, position in society etc depend on it. You have to remember that we are flock animals. In our DNA, our wiring, is that exclusion means death.

For sustainable development fanatics this can have drastic consequences. Say, as a friend of the environment, you start to think how the bus lane over a narrow bridge into town could be used to promote lift –sharing. Say every car with three or more passengers would be allowed the fast route past the queues.

Good for the environment… so you think of proposing it. But, the unseen forces of flock pressure will work against you. Think about it…. That could be a third of the cars used, a third of the petrol, a third of the gas sales, a reduction in staff needed, a reduction in tax income.. and so on. What you are suggesting will impact economic growth, something the flock is committed to. That will make you an outsider. You will find many reasons why this suggestion should not go further. For example “ no one will listen to me anyway”.

So any good ideas that could come up get squashed by your internal monitoring machine that is wired to keep you OK with the flock.

There ARE ways around this machine. Something for my next post……

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