The hypocrite-zealot trap

Those who are trying to do something about the climate crisis are used to being lied about, smeared and sneered at.

  • Some of those doing the lying/smearing/sneering are defending their own (short-term) economic and political positions (politicians, pundits and other poltroons)
  • A larger number of people are terrified, but feel powerless (and, frankly – in the absence of functioning civil society organisations – churches, trades unions, community groups, NGOs – ARE powerless). To deal with their terror, they “shoot the messenger” – they transfer their dread and some of their self-loathing for their inaction onto those awkward people who are speaking up, trying to throw their bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels of the apparatus.
  • Another large number are just wilfully-ignorant and have decided not to engage with the issue because it would throw everything they cherish (i.e. mindless consumption) into doubt. Better people than me have compassion for this category of people.

All three of these groups, for different motives, and with different levels of cynicism/awareness, use a pretty obvious, but pretty effective tactic. I call it the “Hypocrite-Zealot Trap” (HZT).

If you’ve EVER been complicit in/used/supported fossil fueled extravagance, and are now calling for climate action you are a hypocrite, and can be ignored.

However, if you have not been complicit – never flown, never worn clothes made with fossil fuels, never had a takeaway etc etc – then you are weirdo out-of-touch zealot, and can be ignored.

The discussion the people who try to spring this trap are desperate to avoid is the one about our responsibilities – as members of an incredibly high-energy consuming society, with formal freedoms (assembly, speech, information) – to current and future generations of humans and other species we share this planet with. Because it would quickly become apparent to these people that they were not – for whatever reasons – discharging those responsibilities. And then they would feel bad about themselves. And maybe have to change what they are doing. Mustn’t go there. Must never EVER go there.

This isn’t the only rhetorical device, by any means (the other one I have seen a lot lately is whataboutery about China and India). But that’s for another blog post.

What to do about the hypocrite-zealot trap? Name it, Name it and Name it.

And obvs, have functioning social movement organisations that are able to cope with lots of busy scared people, organisations that are able to cope with (do something to minimise) their internal classism, racism, sexism, ableism and other isms, that are able to do more than ride the bloody emotacycle. So, easy.

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