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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Feelings Trump Facts

Feelings Trump Facts

Author: Reilly Capps/Tuesday, April 1, 2014/Categories: climate change

By Reilly Capps

I once had an irrational girlfriend who had the ability to win every argument, even when she was wrong. When we argued, she said, we had to do so without talking about facts. We could only talk about feelings. In other words, it didn't matter what was actually going on, all that mattered was the way that we felt about our own perceptions of what was going on. So if, for example, I hung out with some other girl, it didn't matter if there was nothing in reality to be jealous about, all that mattered was that she felt jealous, and I had to change my behavior. Which meant doing things I didn't want to do. 

Global warming idiots are like irrational girlfriends. The facts don't matter to them, all that matters is how they feel. If they don't personally feel that the world is getting warmer, if it's cold in the city they live in, then their feelings trump basic science. If they don't feel like carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas – like, if they don't understand how atmospheric gases reflect sunlight back down to the earth – then their personal worldview trumps basic physics. 

In our society, facts don't matter on a lot of subjects -- vaccines, genetically modified organisms, organic food, the age of the universe, weapons of mass distraction, the rate of violence and war in our society. 

For those of us who enjoy having a view of the world that's based on reality, what are we supposed to do? Come up with better facts? How much clearer can the facts get?

Graph of global mean temperature from 1880 to 2009.
[Average surface temps, from NASA]

Draw clearer pie charts? 

[From Scientific American]

Put them into slideshows? Commission reports? Argue from authority?

We try that, all the time. It's as clear as a hot summer day, and it doesn't work. 

What difference will any of that make if, like my ex-girlfriend, these people are immune to facts?

Here's an idea: I think we have to spend more time arguing with the deniers on their own terms. That is, at the level of feelings. When I used to argue with my girlfriend, I had to constantly remind myself that the facts didn't matter. So, in the above example, where she was upset that I was hanging out with another girl, the way to argue was not to simply insist on the truth – that nothing romantic was happening – the way to argue was to bring up my own feelings. To say: "I feel hemmed in by you, it hurts my feelings that you don't trust me, I love you, I need warmth, I am a tender little chick who needs the warm yellow lights of the incubator that is your love, and when you insinuate infidelity I feel as though you are switching off those warm lights, and my tender soul feels as naked and vulnerable as a newborn chick in a dark cold room." 

THAT is how you end that argument. 

Look, the terrible truth is that a society is just a big network of relationships. As much as we don't want to be, we are, in a sense, going out with everyone else in the world, because what they do affects us, and what we do affects them.

So, when we talk about global warming, we shouldn't talk about ocean acidification, we should talk about how much we love to see coral when we go snorkeling. We shouldn't talk about albedo, we should talk about how much we love to go skiing. We should talk about how we feel unloved by the people who are driving big SUVs. We should talk about how we feel like they don't care about us. It hurts our feelings that they don't care about our feelings. Would it really be such a sacrifice if they would drive a Prius instead of an Explorer, given the Prius's roomy interior and luxury appointments, if it would make me feel better? Would they mind running their heating and air-conditioning less if it showed that they cared just a little bit more about me? 

Sniffle. Tear. Whimper.

My feelings are hurt by every wasteful decision. The SUV drivers and opponents of a carbon tax aren't respecting my family. Because all of this is about – (and here is the trump card in this argument so powerful and bulletproof that it is made of titanium wrapped in Kevlar dipped in kryptonite) – I feel like they don't value my grandchildren. 

(It doesn't matter that I don't have any grandchildren. Facts don't matter. Only feelings matter. And nothing dregs up more feelings than grandchildren.)

Have you seen my grandchildren? Can you pretend the picture above is me and my grandchild? Their flaxen hair, their dewy eyes, that innocent way they have when they stack their blocks on top of each other and the determination they had to build it higher. Think about them cupping a butterfly in their hand. Poor Jimmy – he has that crooked leg. Poor, sweet, little, innocent, imaginary Jimmy. 

When the world gets hotter, life is going to be harder for my grandchildren. Food will be more expensive, lots of money will have to be spent to hold back the sea after it rises, wars might break out in distant lands over increasingly scarce natural resources, and the NBC Special Reports on these conflicts might interrupt my grandchildren's favorite television shows. 

Poor Jimmy doesn't do well in heat. He gets skin rashes. It makes me want to cry just thinking about it. And to think that his athletic, able-bodied sister, Jenny, may never get to experiences skiing or scuba diving as I did, the snows having melted and the coral having died -- my eyes fill with tears. My heart aches. Why would anyone do this to my grandchildren? How could anyone be so callous? I feel bad. And my feelings are all that matter.

We should do something about global warming because my feelings are at stake. Never mind the facts. Most people hate to be informed. But everyone wants to feel good. 

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