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Psychologists determine what it means to think ‘green’

Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY
Those who make human behavior their business aim to make living “green” your business.

Armed with new research into what makes some people environmentally conscious and others less so, the 148,000-member American Psychological Association is stepping up efforts to foster a broader sense of eco-sensitivity that the group believes will translate into more public action to protect the planet.

“We know how to change behavior and attitudes. That is what we do,” says Yale University psychologist Alan Kazdin, association president. “We know what messages will work and what will not.”
(15 August 2008)
Article summarizes some of the findings from psychologists. -BA

Are we science-savvy enough to make informed decisions?

G. Jeffrey MacDonald, USA TODAY
For decades, educators and employers have worried that too few Americans are preparing for careers in science. But there’s evidence to support a new, broader concern in this election year: Ordinary Americans may not know enough about science to make informed decisions on key questions.

Seventy-six percent of Americans say presidential candidates should make improving science education a national priority, according to a national Harris Interactive survey of 1,304 adults in November and December. Results were released this spring.

… Whether a person is planning a child’s diet or staking out a position on global warming, insights from science are indispensable, experts say, but only if someone knows which findings to trust.

“People will respond to demagoguery if they don’t believe they have sufficient knowledge and sufficient confidence in their ability to weigh arguments and assess what’s behind them,” says Walter Massey, a board member of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, which commissioned the survey.

“The danger is that we move increasingly toward being a society where the most important decisions are ultimately made by fewer and fewer people.”
(12 August 2008)

AP’s Ethnography of News Consumption

Ethan Zuckerman, WorldChanging
A media group in continuous operation since 1846 may not be the company you should look to for advice on the future of media. Or maybe they should: the Associated Press is both doing well in a digital age (when they’re not making boneheaded moves like pretending that fair use doesn’t exist) and looking towards the future, trying to figure out its role in the media ecosystem. And they’re carrying out some very interesting research to determine just what their role is going forwards.

… The researchers offer the nine generalizations from their field studies and interviews. …
* News is connected to e-mail
* Constant checking is linked to boredom
* Contemporary lifestyles impact news consumption
* News is multitasked
* Television impacts consumers expectations
* News takes work today but creates social currency
* Consumers are experiencing news fatigue
* Consumers want depth but aren’t getting it
* Story resolution is key and sports and entertainment deliver

… News consumers in the US get lots of facts, quickly updated and delivered through a variety of media. But they get very little backstory to help contextualize the facts delivered, and rarely get follow-up stories, or speculations about the future. All that seems true to me, but it’s hard for me to extrapolate that from the 18 interviews the researchers performed. …

The concern is this – if there’s a deep desire for depth going unmet by contemporary journalism, a need to have stories followed through their resolution and explored as to their future implications, that’s a highly solveable problem. There are lots of journalists – most of them, I’d posit – who’d like to explain stories in more depth to readers. I’m having a hard time resolving the study’s evidence of people “snacking” on news with a profound desire for depth.
(12 August 2008)
Energy Bulletin tries to assemble news that give a consistent picture of the world. We follow a number of themes we think are important and emphasizing pieces that put the news in perspective (rather than just throwing facts at you). -BA

How Anti-Intellectualism Is Destroying America

Terrence McNally, AlterNet
“It’s like these guys take pride in being ignorant.” Barack Obama finally said it.

Though a successful political and electoral strategy, the Right’s stand against intelligence has steered them far off course, leaving them — and us — unable to deal successfully with the complex and dynamic circumstances we face as a nation and a society.

American 15-year-olds rank 24th out of 29 countries in math literacy, and their parents are as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution; roughly 30 to 40 percent believe in each. Their president believes “the jury is still out” on evolution.

… Susan Jacoby confronts our “know-nothingism” — current and historical — in her new book, The Age of American Unreason.

A former reporter for the Washington Post and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, Jacoby is the author of five books, including Wild Justice, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. Her political blog, The Secularist’s

… TM: What are the possible solutions?

SJ: There are solutions at a social level, but they have to begin at an individual level.

After the Wisconsin primary, Barack Obama was asked a question about education, and I was very encouraged when he said, “There’s a lot we can do about education, but first of all, in our homes we have to turn off the TV more …” Not altogether, but turn it off more, put the video games on the shelf more and spend more time talking and reading to our kids.

With my book, more than making a prescription, I wanted to start a conversation about how we spend our time. I’m not one of these people who think that you should raise your kids without ever watching TV. We all have to live in the world of our time. I’m saying people ought to look about how much time we spend on this. There is nothing wrong with a parent coming home and putting a kid in front of a video for an hour so they can have a drink and an intelligent conversation with their partner. It’s wrong when the hour turns into two hours or three hours or four hours or five hours, as in too many American homes.

TM: When it becomes just a habit.

SJ: Moderation. I know it’s very unfashionable and it seems like a small idea, but I think more than what people watch on video, what matters is how much they watch it.

Interviewer Terrence McNally hosts Free Forum on KPFK 90.7 FM, Los Angeles (streaming at
(15 August 2008)
It seems to me that commercial culture is at the bottom of the problem. Also, a distinction should be made between know-nothing Rightism, and the more traditional conservative movements which support intelligent thought. -BA

Brave New America

Paul Street, Znet
On Corporate Totalitarianism, Electoralist Passivity, and Inauthentic Opposition

… an important new book from someone who has long operated in the intellectual heart of the beast. According to Princeton emeritus political scientist Sheldon Wolin’s chilling new volume Democracy, Inc: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (2008), the United States is becoming a totalitarian state posing as a democracy. Under the rules of what Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,” corporate and state power have become deeply “co-joined” and practically “unbridled.”

The popular majority of the citizenry – the People – in whose name U.S. “democracy” purports to function is politically uninterested, infantilized, obedient, distracted, and divided. An increasingly spectator-ized and subordinate public is shepherded by the professional political class across a painfully narrow business- and Empire-friendly field of political, policy, and ideological “choices.” Those harshly limited options are presented in periodic superficial, candidate-centered and corporate-crafted elections that function as anti-democratic exercises in capitalist marketing and managerial control. These spectacular rolling extravaganzas privilege candidate image and other trivial matters over substantive questions of policy and ideology, with campaign consultants and advertisers selling candidates like they sell candy or cars. They help keep the interrelated issues of the ever-growing rich-poor gap, corporate power, and imperial militarism (the last two topics are taboo in “mainstream” U.S. political life) “off the table” of acceptable debate and public scrutiny even though they are of primary interest to most American citizens.

… Wolin calls the American pseudo-democratic political system “inverted totalitarianism” to differentiate it from the openly statist totalitarianism of classic European fascism (principally German Nazism) and Soviet Stalinism. The earlier totalitarian systems mobilized millions to rally behind centralized state power and a single personal ruler. They explicitly and rapidly demolished democratic and parliamentary institutions and elevated personalized state rule over markets and private profit. The American model, by contrast, has evolved more slowly and under the guise – and in the name of – of democratic institutions and ideals, without open authoritarian intent. It “succeeds by encouraging political disengagement rather than mass mobilization.” It “relies more on ‘private’ media than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda reinforcing the official version of events” (p. 44). It makes “capitalism” its official “regime ideology,” trumpeting the virtues of “free markets,” “free trade,” and “free enterprise” (code words for authoritarian state-capitalist corporate-managerial rule), which are falsely conflated “democracy.”

“Inverted totalitarianism” wraps itself in the language and lingering, watered-down legacy of democratic freedom and constitutionalism. It advances “leaders” who are the products but not the architects of the system. It does not crush popular government under the iron heel of dictatorship but rather renders democracy ever-more feckless and irrelevant through regular systemic corruption, popular exhaustion, cultural privatism, popular division/diversion, mass misinformation, and mass entertainment.

Unlike classic 20th century fascist and Soviet (red fascist) totalitarianism, it requires no great sacrifice or strength on the part of its subject populace. It creates a “soft,” childish, and fearful citizenry that is asked mainly to buy things, to watch their telescreens (which largely filter and package the world in terms fit for corporate and imperial hegemony), and perhaps to occasionally vote for its favorite corporate-vetted and “misrepresentative” political candidates every few years.

“Inverted totalitarianism’s” ideal “good Americans” pretty much stay at work, home, the bank, and the mall. They are happy to leave big political and policy decisions and public affairs to designated experts and protectors from the professional political class that has emerged to serve the combined and interrelated interests of the corporate and imperial Few.
(15 August 2008)
The process described by Wolin is not restricted to the U.S. China, Russia and the UK, for example, seem to be governed along similar lines. -BA