#Community and 3 unspoken theories of change – Our mental models are Jeff Winger wrong…

““There’s no such thing as “Single Malt Platinum Boobs and Billiards Club”? Aw, I guess I never said it out loud.

Jeff Winger in the Community episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” (1)

We bumble through life like a blind drunk bull in a china shop.  We have un-examined and under-examined assumptions about how the world actually is (when we are not insisting that it is how we want it to be, how we think it should be). We are mysteries to ourselves, let alone knowing what is going on in others’ heads. And, to some extent (the same? more? less? dunno) the broader society we live in, the civilisation we are part of, is equally mysterious. There are patterns, sure, but these can mislead, and we can see them where they are not (apophenia, in the lingo).

Our ignorance is serious enough when we are busy just stuffing up our own lives. It rises from farce to tragedy when we try to work with others to do things better and find that we don’t, despite our hopes and pronouncements, “build movements.”

This short blog post is about three assumptions we have of how we think other people will respond to our actions as “responsible citizens” trying to deal with the climate crisis There is a lot that could (and perhaps should?) be said about each, but neither you or I will stick around to the end if I try to be a completist.

For now, (drum roll please), the three models

Information Deficit Model – people will change once presented with new information. They will change their habits and these habits will aggregate and all will be well.  Our Lords and Masters just need to have

a) The negative externalities of “the system” from whose normal operating they are benefiting


b) Their long-term interests (“habitable planet for grandchildren”)

explained to them and then they will set about changing that system.

I refer you to the Jeff Winger realisation.

Hope Deficit Model – people will change once you give them hope. They will shed their apathy/fear/paralysis like a snake sheds its old skin, and become new and changed for the better, with courage and determination to disregard the sneering and flinching of those around them.

.I refer you to the Jeff Winger realisation.

“Cool Group(s)” Model – people will change once there are cool groups they can be involved in, on a sliding scale from peripheral through to heavily. They will have the skill and courage to step beyond their comfort zones, and sustain a regular, long-term involvement in one or more functioning groups.

None of these assumptions has any evidence for it, not that I’ve ever seen, anyhoos.  One and Two have strong evidence against them. 

I’ve been operating for years (a decade or more?) as if I really bellieved the Cool Group(s) assumption. Despite smarter people than me trying to point out that it is an, um “unsafe” assumption, I persisted. Despite some shards of evidence to the contrary over the last year, it seems patently absurd (2).

In any case, we are on a burning platform – the scale and size of the challenge preclude “bubbling up from the bottom” on its own. If we were to undertake the actions required to accelerate the so-called “transition” to a “zero carbon” economy, we

  1. Would have started by now: it’s been a third of a century
  2. Would need a bigger movement (of movements)

In essence it reminds me of that classic cartoon – “And then a miracle happens”

What am I missing? Have I strawpersoned one of the models? Are there other as-pernicious models I have neglected?

Let me know please


(1) I have come late to the party re: the TV show “Community”, but will try to make up time…

(2) Here I am too idle to distinguish between what a functional group provided to me versus its actual policy and cultural impact.

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