What our discussion of political crises teaches us about effective climate action
Thought Experiment 1 – A&B
Forget Israel and Palestine, and climate change, for the moment.
Here’s the kind of thing you might last have seen in a maths exam:
Q1: A is true. B is also true. Are both A and B true? (Yes or No).
Let’s guess that you answered ‘Yes’.
When you get your test paper back, how would you feel if the answer is ‘Incorrect, B is more true than A because it came last’.
Thought Experiment 2 – Coffee & Tea
Still no Israel, Palestine, or climate crisis, but we promise we’ll get there.
Now you’re taking a formal logic exam. The question is now.
Q2: Angie likes coffee. Angie likes tea. Which does Angie prefer?
If you’d answered ‘neither’, ‘insufficient information provided, or ‘impossible question to answer’, wouldn’t you be miffed if the examiner had said the correct answer was ‘Angie prefers tea, because I prefer tea’.
Thought Experiment 3 – Arsenal & Chelsea
We’re nearly ready for Israel and Palestine, and will get on to what it has to do with the climate crisis – just one more experiment first.
Now you’re in a pub. A group of strangers approaches you and asks:
Q3: Which team do you support, Arsenal or Chelsea?
Multiple choice this time:
- I support Arsenal and Chelsea.
- I support Chelsea, but I also support Arsenal.
- I support Arsenal, but I also support Chelsea.
This feels like a different kind of exam. This is no longer a matter of applying reason, the criteria you’d expect to be applied in maths or logic. This question is a matter of survival, or at least avoiding potential conflict.
The pub scenario demands a completely different set of considerations. Pertinent questions are now more like:
- Do these people look like Arsenal fans or Chelsea fans?
- Should I tell them what team I really support?
- Should I say I don’t support any team?
- What would happen if I say I support them both?
- What would happen if I say I don’t care about football?
This question can’t be worked out with a pencil, paper or calculator. More useful would be a quick wit, the ability to read body language, and people skills.
It’s no longer a matter of fact, evidence, logic, reason or deduction, but damage control. What marks would you give for the following answers?
- Manchester City
- Dagenham and Redbridge FC
- Real Madrid
- I watch rugby, and can’t stand football.
- I support both equally
- I support Arsenal, but I also support Chelsea
- I support Chelsea, but I also support Arsenal
- Why is it so important for you to know?
- Isn’t football great?
If you want to know the correct answer, read on.
Thought Experiment 4 – Israel & Palestine
Now it gets serious. Attach the same kind of question to a highly emotive, divisive, live, real-world, disaster, involving the televised death of real people, and the goalposts have not so much been shifted, as obliterated, along with the entire field of play, by a missile strike. We’re finally at Israel, Palestine and Gaza.
If you’re still reading, you might be thinking one or more of these thoughts.
- Bringing the Israel/Palestine conflict into this is just cynical clickbait.
- These things have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
- The author clearly has zero understanding of Middle East sensitivities
- Which side is the author on?
If you’re not too triggered by one or more of these thoughts to read one, let’s examine them one by one.
What, specifically, can you point to as evidence that our motivation is to monetise grief and human suffering?
The words ‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine’ were in the headline, so bringing them up can’t have come as a total surprise.
If you weren’t aware already, does the fact that See Through News doesn’t have a bank account change your suspicion that this article is designed to make money by tricking you into reading it?
The challenge of getting readers to question the message, rather than the messenger, is as old as journalism. The Athenian courier Pheidippides, who famously ran non-stop to deliver the result of the battle with Persia at Marathon, died after gasping ‘We win!’.
You can imagine an alternative myth in which he gasped ‘We lose!’, and was immediately killed for bearing bad news.
Either way, Pheidippides is a cautionary tale of the risks of bearing any news at all. If you’re going to last long in the reporting game, your survival is very much dependent on:
a) the care you take in delivering your message
b) your audience
Athenian couriers thought they had it bad, but the tsunami of disinformation triggered by the social media earthquake has made issues of authenticity, trust and much more prominent in more peoples’ minds.
Whatever was going through Pheidippides mind as he delivered the biggest scoop of his life, was unlikely to have been ‘I really hope they don’t think I’m just doing this to raise my profile among potential Athenian shoe sponsors’.
The point is, the ‘cynical clickbait’ response is entirely in the eye of the beholder. If the audience is predisposed to cynicism, there’s little a sincere messenger can do about it.
Which begs the question, what’s the point of trying to tell people anything, if they reflexively doubt your sincerity?
If no one trusts the messenger, how can any messages be delivered?
Nothing to do with each other
Anyone who immediately rejects even raising the issue of logic exams in the same article as anything to do with events in Israel. Palestine and the Gaza Strip is articulating a basic version of the exceptionalism argument.
This comes in many forms. Most hinge on some variant of the ‘chosen people’ argument, but essentially argue that a particular sphere of human affairs is immune to being held to the same standard as others, ‘because’…
By this logic, logic applies to other situations, not your own. Logically, ‘exceptionalist’ situations should be rare. The paradox is, they’re so commonplace they’re the norm. Consider:
- Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Straits telling you their situation is unique
- Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland telling outsiders they can’t comprehend what’s really going on
- Hutu and Tutsi explaining their conflict over Rwandan territory is unlike other tribal conflicts
- Advocates on both sides of ‘the trans debate’ in Western universities warning people with no lived experience they’re not entitled to an opinion
If they’re all correct, the only people with the right to express an opinion on anything are either those who agree with you, or possibly those who hold bitterly and diametrically opposed opinions.
If so, how is anyone going to listen to anyone else long enough to permit the possibility of change?
Zero understanding of Middle East sensitivities
This is a local variant of the exceptionalism argument. It could simply have been added to the list above, but as we’ve used it in the headline, it deserves a more detailed examination.
Its main problem, as with all ‘exceptionalist’ arguments, is that ‘a proper understanding’ means ‘agreeing with me’.
Warning off amateurs with no lived experience, or whose direct experience is significantly less than someone directly involved in the conflict, is to instantly dismiss, devalue, or ignore any comment before it’s been uttered, irrespective of its merit.
Needless to say, it’s illogical. Needful to say, emotion tends to trump logic.
By this logic, their opponents’ opinion, i.e. the issue over which blood is being spilt, should hold a greater value than that of any third party.
This is not unreasonable. Politicians, pundits and the public constantly demonstrate profound ignorance about basic matters of historical fact uncontested even by the warring parties.
It’s frustrating, to say the least, for people in Taipei and Beijing to hear some foreigner say they’re pretty sure Taiwan is actually part of Japan. Or for anyone in Belfast to hear some outsider wonder if there’s actually any difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.
Having forcefully, and legitimately expressed their opinions of such ignorance, those same Northern Irish could, themselves then say exactly the same thing about Sunnis and Shias.
So, anyone wanting to be taken seriously should, at a minimum, be able to demonstrate they’ve grasped the fundamental issues of any conflict.
Palestinians and Zioinists both know, and acknowledge, that the modern political entity of Israel was established on 14 May 1948. Anyone ignorant of that fact (whatever their views on its legitimacy) can hardly expect anyone to give much weight to their opinions.
But what are the limits of this dismissal of ‘outside’ views? If both Hamas HQ and the Knesset were to come up with a checklist of uncontested facts, the knowledge of which would qualify anyone to voice their opinion on the conflict, what would it look like?
This is exactly what negotiators over decades have started out doing, not just for the Middle East Question. Getting both sides to agree on the basic facts of any conflict is an essential foundation for any meaningful discussion about a ‘solution’.
Without getting bogged down in the details of what that list of mutually acceptable facts might be – and experts have been bogged down in precisely that for decades – imagine if Hamas and the Knesset could sign off on, say, 10 Mutually Agreed Facts.
Combatants are entitled to only take seriously the views of people who can demonstrate they have a basic grasp of current reality and historical truth, represented by relevant MAFs.
A huge amount of pointless fury, misdirected accusation and misinterpretation, could be avoided by using MAF checklists.
Whenever any outsider, on either side of the arguments, is accused of having ‘zero understanding’, the first thing to check could be whether the point of debate is on the MAF list.
If not, fair enough, dismiss away. Anything 11+ can be, sort of, legitimately dismissed as the babble of ignorant meddlers.
But what if it’s in the Top Ten? Would that mean combatants would lay down their guns, stop the bloodshed, return to the negotiating table, and talk it through?
Which side are you on?
This is what much apparent ‘debate’ actually comes down to – declarations of tribal affiliation.
Wanting to know which side you’re on explains the sudden leap from Thought Experiment 1, dealing with abstract As and Bs, and Thought Experiment 2, concerning non-contentious preferences for caffeinated beverages, to Thought Experiment 3, Arsenal v Chelsea.
Even now, are you wondering which side of the debate we’re on? Are you suspecting everything you’ve just read is no more than the set-up, a cunning, cerebral plot by a Zionist or Hamas sympathiser, to convert you to their cause via an elaborate logic garden path?
Are you mentally awarding marks for effort, but withholding judgement until this article declares it allegiance? Has your eye drifted in search of a byline, to check whether the author is a Moses or a Mohammed?
Does the article so far feel like a slow-burn build up to a killer plot-twist. Would it be a huge let-down, or just what you’re waiting for, if we now reveal ourselves as Hamas or Israel supporters?
Do you feel like the imaginary person in the pub, looking through your interrogators’ shirt buttons, trying to detect any hint of a red or blue football shirt underneath, examining their exposed skin for a fragment of a tattoo that might hint to their preferred team?
Will it feel like a huge let-down if, now this article is approaching the end, you don’t find out?
The ‘But’ Problem
You may by now have gathered that this article won’t answer that question.
We did, however, promise to answer a different question earlier on – See Through News’s correct answer to the Arsenal v. Chelsea Thought Experiment. The multiple choice options were:
- I support Arsenal and Chelsea.
- I support Chelsea, but I also support Arsenal.
- I support Arsenal, but I also support Chelsea.
By now, you may have guessed the answer won’t be one of these three.
As explained, the problem with these thought experiments, beyond the safe ground of exam papers and right-or-wrong marking schemes, is that what’s going on in Israel and Gaza is a real-world problem. There’s no such thing as an objectively ‘right’ answer, it depends which tribe/team you support.
This is because the ‘right’ answer depends not on the tribal affiliation of the person replying, but that of the person asking the question.
If the strangers in the pub are a group of sports-indifferent sociology students conducting a survey, your answer doesn’t matter. 1, 2 or 3 are all fine. Our original multiple choice didn’t even include declaring unambiguous preference for Arsenal or Chelsea, but either would be fine if your were part of a neutral survey.
If, however, your interrogators were ultra supporters of either team in disguise, none 1, 2 or 3 would be acceptable.
1. may, illogically, be the most provocative answer of all. Arsenal/Chelsea hard nuts may find the notion of someone supporting both teams so offensive, they’d give you an extra-long kicking.
What we’d like to draw your attention to, however, is the innocuous-looking ‘but’ in answers 2 and 3.
Like the ‘and’ in 1, ‘the but’ in 2 and 3 is a simple conjunction, a connector word to save you the trouble of a full stop, capital letter and making two sentences. In the real world, these words are worth paying attention to, as lives can literally hinge on them.
The thing about ‘but’ sentences is that, unlike ‘and’ sentences, a ‘but’ implies a tension. ‘And’ lists two things in a certain order, but ‘but’ contrasts them. When you contrast two things, you’re highlighting their differences, not their similarities.
A logician would say answers 1, 2, and 3, are identical. There’s no logical reason to infer any distinction in the degree of passion with which the respondent supports either club. If you support Arsenal 80%, whatever that means, there’s absolutely nothing in answers 2 and 3 to imply your passion for Chelsea dips below, or creeps above, 80% for Chelsea.
But in the real world, that’s not what tribal fans hear. An Arsenal fan, or Chelsea fan, does not give equal weight to the words either side of the ‘but’. They amplify the bit they disagree with, and tune down the bit they agree with.
Now consider these headlines.
- Western leaders support Israel’s right to self-defence and urge restraint in Gaza response.
- Western leaders support Israel’s right to self-defence, but urge restraint in Gaza response
- Western leaders urge restraint in Gaza response, but support Israel’s right to self-defence
Do they all mean the same thing?
Whatever your view may be, does the ‘but’ amplify it, and diminish the opposite?
Climate change connection
Finally, the promised See Through News answer to the Arsenal v Chelsea Thought Experiment.
In our view, from the perspective of our Goal of Speeding up Carbon Drawdown By Helping the Inactive Become Active, the best answer is:
- Isn’t football great? Wouldn’t it be a shame if there were no football teams to support?
This approach is explained in our FAQ about our Methodology, and demonstrated it in all See Through News projects, but briefly:
- Arsenal v, Chelsea is a dead end. We all have limited energy and time to do anything. However much we have, spending it agreeing with people who already agree with you, or trying to convert anyone who will never agree with you, is an ineffective use of it.
- Arsenal v. Chelsea closes ears. To persuade people, they need to listen to you. Framing the ‘debate’ by triggering pre-formed tribal affiliations makes it very unlikely they’ll listen. Framing the ‘debate’ by starting with something you can both agree on improves your odds.
- Arsenal and Chelsea might work. Two people starting from different premises are unlikely to end up at the same destination. Poking fingers in each others’ chests, face-to-face, widens the gap between you. Establish a common starting point, like those 10 MAFs ,and you set out shoulder-to-shoulder in the same direction. Far more likely you might wind up at the same destination.
If you want a fight, or to prolong a fight, emphasise differences. If you want shared action for a common purpose, emphasise what you have in common.
Brutal, bloody, inhumane and catastrophic though the Israeli/Palestine conflict is, the Taiwan Straits conflict has been and could once again be, the Hutu/Tutsi conflict in Rwanda was and threatens to be, the Protestant/Catholic one in Northern Ireland still sometimes erupts as being, etc. they are all framed by a human civilisation that evolved under a constant concentration of atmospheric CO2.
All are now being exacerbated, and entirely new international/civil conflicts created, by the consequences of our fossil fuel addiction turning up the global heat. There is no conflict that global heating will make better. Global Heating will make every existing conflict worse. Global Heating will create innumerable and as-yet-unimagined new sources of inter-human, and inter-species conflict.
To say it’s a higher-order crisis is not to diminish the suffering involved in second-order crises like we’re currently witnessing in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world.
Quite the opposite.
It’s to amplify the message that any solution to climate change – or more realistically, mitigation of the worst impacts of climate change – will come from us standing shoulder-to-shoulder, facing the same direction, and agreeing on a common purpose.