Are you disrespectin my family?

Does this face look bovvered?

BPSDB Sometimes it takes a cartoon character to help understand a cartoon.

Recently I was introduced to the comic character Lauren Cooper,  a fictitious character created and performed by British comedic actress Catherine Tate.

While I enjoyed the comedy I was also struck by how much Lauren’s conflict dynamic mimicked that of many climate change Deniers.

Divorced of its’ normal context I found I was able to get much more analytical about what might actually be going on psychologically for the individual Denier. Possibly much more interesting, I was led to ask myself  “Why do I like Lauren even though she is a caricature of annoying people who make my life difficult?” and of course, what clues are there for how to deal effectively with Deniers?

Lauren Cooper, climate change Denier?

Lauren is an aggressive, obnoxious, poorly educated, self-absorbed, lower class 15 year old. Naturally her success as a comic character is because she parodies behaviour that we recognize; good comedians have to be keen observers of human behaviour.

No, Lauren is not a climate change Denier (I doubt she would even know what that meant), but she is interesting in that her argumentative dynamic uses the same basic pattern as the Deniers. Relative to everyday life Lauren is an outrageous, over the top caricature. Compared to some of the more familiar Deniers she is pretty average.

A Lauren Cooper sketch follows the same basic formula. First Lauren is caught out having done something “well bad” (ie stupid) and her mates remark on it. Often she will baldly deny it even happened at all despite the obvious fact that it did.

At some point she will attack the questioner with a Gish Gallop ofshifting goal posts and red herrings that completely ignore the original issue “Are you disrespecting me? are you saying my mother is a prostitute? are you saying I’m stupid? are you saying my father is a wino? are you saying I’m a pikie?“

Always she will express her total indifference to what others think or have to say by repeatedly asking “Am I bovvered?”

At no time will she ever admit to any error, acknowledge the validity any criticism, nor will she respond to what the other person is actually saying (on the rare occasions that she even detects that they are saying anything).

Sound familiar?

Lauren’s appeal

Lauren’s life is one long string of social blunders because she lacks the skills to make it otherwise, never mind the ability to recover from them. Even so, through her stubborn refusal to admit to error she leaves the stage unbowed. Her life may be a self-inflicted shambles, but she feels that she has preserved her dignity.

In a world where she is pretty much totally insignificant and powerless Lauren manages to preserve her self-respect and even some sense of dignity by her refusal to acknowledge defeat. She never wins, she never learns anything, and she usually manages to turn a minor defeat into a total disaster, but she is “not bovvered.”

Lacking intelligence, talent, skills or social status Lauren has no other way to avoid being completely crushed by life. She cannot avoid her blunders, nor can she recover from them once they have been committed. All she can do is feign indifference to her humiliations; she is “not bovvered.”

In that sense Lauren is the little everyman who in some twisted way has scored a small victory in the lopsided conflict against the monolithic, uncaring world.  She is Charlie Chaplin’s Little Hobo and Mr Bean. Sad, pathetic, and most definitely tragic, but also heroic in her way. We may find her unpleasant, even loathsome in almost every respect, but still admire her absolute refusal to surrender.

Stating the obvious, Lauren’s appeal to us is also the appeal of her tactic to herself. When everything else is lost the refusal to surrender is the only thing that matters.

Classic Lauren

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The dynamics of Denial

When we discuss why people become Deniers we tend to focus on the psychological factors that make Denial appealing, ie why they first adopt a Denier position. I have yet to see any discussion on why Denial perpetuates. There seems to be an a priori assumption that it persists for the same reason that it initiates.

I want to suggest that while those initial factors remain important, the actual socio-psychological dynamic of remaining in Denial is more complex and powerful.

Granted, for some part of the population the factors of fear and ideological motivation etc may be appealing in initially self-identifying oneself as “skeptical”. However, are most of us not baffled by the complete intransigence of most Deniers to acknowledge obvious facts once they are brought to their attention? How is one to understand the “backfire effect“? ie that when given evidence that their belief is clearly false the Denier holds that belief even more strongly.

Ideology simply does not seem adequate to explain the sudden shift from advancing an uninformed opinion of dubious validity to the wholesale and complete abandonment of any pretense to rationality. I submit that Lauren offers us at least a partial answer.

Having been caught out believing something that is outrageously and transparently stupid (ie pretty much any part of the Denier Canon), what are the belief holders options for saving face? How can they end the conversation in a manner that leaves them with some dignity and self-respect intact?

The trap is particularly intractable for anyone who has some professional credential and clearly should have known better. Take the commenter who recently opted to cite Richard Muller as some sort of credible authority with respect to climate change science.

Allegedly a PhD engineer working on IR instrumentation and a “skeptic”, the commenter obviously:

  • did absolutely no fact checking;
  • has no understanding of even rudimentary climate science;
  • gullibly accepted premises that were transparently false;
  • overlooked any number of things that should have set off alarm bells.

So now he is trapped. Even for someone with an extremely well developed sense of self-worth the situation is profoundly humiliating. What are his options for extricating himself with dignity and grace?  Caught between having been sloppy enough to take this position, and bright/educated enough to appreciate how absurd the position is (albeit not necessarily consciously), how can he get out?

As soon as the Denier has taken a stance that even cursory examination shows to be bloody stupid, the issue is no longer climate change, or ideology, or anything as trivial as the fate of the Earth. As with Lauren who is indifferent to being beheaded because she doesn’t need her head, the real stake has become that most important of all possible issues, ego.

At this point the conflict is now solely and wholly about the Denier preserving their dignity and saving face. Facts and reality don’t matter. Unfortunately because the initial stance was so bloody stupid, about the only option available is the Lauren Cooper defence, viz

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  • ignore/deny reality;
  • counter attack with irrelevant nonsense;
  • never admit error or defeat;
  • claim to be not bovvered.
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    Exit strategies

    Perhaps you have also found yourself in a situation I encounter all too often. Having drifted into what is rapidly becoming an argument over climate change with someone who clearly has no idea what they are talking about, I find myself frantically trying to plot a dignified exit for them. Desperately I cast about for ways that I can make the case for reality while still offering them a gracious way to concede that they were mistaken.

    Often the hunt is in vain, particularly with males. What can I say?

    “I can understand why you believed that, but …” Often I can’t understand it actually. The point was silly, and to claim otherwise is both false and patronizing. I mean what am I really saying if I make this claim? That the person is clearly a complete moron and hence it is no surprise that they believed the claim in question?

    “What you say is true, but … ” Except it isn’t even remotely true.

    “What you say appears to make sense, but … “ Except it makes absolutely no sense at all.

    Yet another example where the sheer idiocy of the professional Denier’s claims actually help to perpetuate rather than undermine them.

    Sometimes I have success with focusing blame on the Denial industry, eg “I can understand why you believed that given the well funded propaganda campaign … “, but even this often doesn’t work (again particularly with males) because the self-styled skeptic also believes themselves to be too smart to be fooled by propaganda.

    Make no mistake, I more than happy to let them “win” the argument (whatever that means), as long as the facts of climate science are generally acknowledged. It is how to reconcile those two that continues to elude me.

    Regardless, the only successful conclusion must include the preservation of the dignity and self respect of the Denier. There is no other way out of the situation, both in terms of individual exchanges and for the broader social phenomenon.

    Somehow we have to find an exit strategy for the Deniers that let’s them leave the stage unbowed despite having accepted reality. As long as their only option is the Lauren Cooper defence, then that is the one they will use, and we simply cannot afford to continue having aggressive, obnoxious, poorly educated, self-absorbed, 15 year olds determining our collective fate.

    Are you disrespecting me?

    Having said that, I will also note that while it is how I try to act “in real life” you should not expect to see  a radical change in tone at Greenfyre’s. Greenfyre is me, but I am not Greenfyre.

    Greenfyre is just a particular voice used to discuss aspects of climate change science and politics in one particular place that was created explicitly for that purpose. It is not the place to convert Deniers, nor to spend time trying to assuage their egos. Greenfyre does not tolerate fools or charlatans, and those pandering frauds, hoaxes, lies and irrational delusions will continue to receive rough treatment.

    Put another way, those who wish to be treated with courteous respect in this place must offer the same to it’s inhabitants. Rational arguments substantiated with citations from credible sources will always be welcome.

    Those who show contempt and disrespect for our intelligence by offering the idiocy of the Denier Canon as though any rational person could find it credible will simply have their claims be exposed for what they are, well bad lame, and they will have to take the shame.