"If you're going to tell people the truth, make it funny or people will kill you."
- Billy Wilder
I just watched a series of videos (65 minutes if you watch them all in one go) by Innuendo Studios that were made specifically about the backlash against Anita Sarkeesian, the feminist who questioned some of the choices made by video game creators, but the ideas in these videos can be applied to explain the backlash to any social movement, like environmentalism.
First, they look at why people get so angry at other people who bike to work or are vegan or don't like to play rapey video games and put something else out there instead. Why do people treat feminists and environmentalists and anyone actively engaging their moral agency with contempt? Because we're dealing with (paraphrased), "a condition, somewhat like drunkenness, in which some of us become a belligerent and dangerous asshole when we feel our conception of ourselves as moral human beings is being threatened."
One eco-hater said of Colin Beavan's attempt to live without an impact on the world, "People are traumatized if you suggest they should do something different." And that's just it. When we live a certain way that's morally sound, other's feel judged by the bold decisions we've made to live our lives giving a thought to the rest of civilization. It prompts them to think, "If they're right, what does that say about me?" even if nobody's saying anything about them.
So when I say, "I've never owned a car." Other people hear, "You're a bad person for having a car." It probably doesn't help when I suggest we should all drive less and turn down/off the A/C!
And people don't think they should be made to think about these things. It's not nice.
They used an analogy to explain this feeling: Imagine we have a patch of weird skin that could be a mild allergy or it could be cancer. We're rather ignore it and not know for as long as possible than to find out the worst. Activists are like the doctor that barges in to tell you that you actually do have cancer and you've really got to do something about it immediately. And then they decide they'll go for a second opinion ... later.
The fourth and longest video explains the dynamics of the gamergate group that are specifically about bashing feminists, and the much larger group that just wants to enjoy their games guilt-free, and the dynamics between them that allow for denial of harmful behaviours to perpetuate.
We want to operate under the belief that it's acceptable to do wrong things and still be a good person provided we do them in innocence (i.e. ignorance). If we don't know that a behaviour is wrong, then it's okay to do it, so we actively avoid knowledge about sweatshops, slavery, racism.... We resent people who tell us about the negative consequences of our actions because we feel judged, but also because it robs us of our innocence.
And there's a belief that learning about the world is consciously choosing to be less happy. This isn't in the video series, but I think that's because we equate freedom with happiness to an extreme. We want free speech even if it means saying heinous things to one another. We want freedom to be armed to the teeth even if increases our chances of getting shot (or having our gun stolen at gunpoint). I believe we are actually happier with some boundaries and limits in place, fewer mundane choices, but more freedoms where it really matters (to criticize rulers, to make decisions about our bodies, and generally to do anything that doesn't have the potential to cause harm to anyone else).
The videos argue that that happiness thing has more to do with the idea that we think we're either good or bad, instead of labelling our specific actions good and bad, and I agree that's part of the problem too. We have to stop thinking of ourselves two-dimensionally as good guys and bad guys, and shift our focus on doing good acts.
Once we're given knowledge on a truth about the word, then it's hard to ignore it, and people become spiteful rather than ignorant. And spitefulness is hard to maintain. We want our innocence back, but we can never get there again. So some people prioritize the expression of their own feelings of anger over another person's well being.
Getting people on board is easier if we can be funny about it. Comedians agree: In the video below comedian John Fugelsang says, "The burden you all have is you're the ones pushing morality on very comfortable people in the first world....And it's easier to do with good cheer!"
When Colbert made fun of gamergaters, it was a turning point for the fight.
It also helps if we all respond to some of the backlashy comments we come across in a calm, reasonable. and clear fashion, NOT to expect to persuade the original poster, but because we might persuade others reading the exchange - especially if we stay reasonable in the face of hysteria and focus on the arguments they present rather than exploring who they are. Even just 5% of us chiming on on comments can help, but don't not comment in hopes that someone else might. Silence merely allows the myths to be perpetuated.
(First posted July 19, 2015.)