David Roberts Profile picture
Mar 5 24 tweets 4 min read
Lunchtime thread:

I've been thinking about the "Freedom Convoy" & social proof. As news-literate folks are likely aware, the convoy -- which disrupted Canada for weeks & is heading toward the US -- is, to a first approximation, bullshit.
By bullshit I mean: it doesn't represent truckers, or "the working class." It represents a familiar, small far-right faction. It is a demonstration of how the right -- the RW base, RW billionaires, & RW media -- works together to make this faction *appear* large.
You know how they say, when you encounter a mountain lion in the wild, you're supposed to try to appear large? Stand up tall, raise your hands over your head, jump around, shout? Same basic principle here: use big trucks, aggressive tactics, & friendly media to appear large.
The main goal is not any particular policy outcome. The main goal, articulated or not, is to provide what sociologists call "social proof." Social proof is a way of signaling that particular beliefs or preferences are widely held, that they have social presence & significance.
Legendarily, if you look at opinion polls, even in the '50s, they show that most Americans were open to racial integration. But people didn't really know that *other* people were open to it, because existing voices/institutions/practices were explicitly racist.
One important function of civil rights protests, etc. was to provide social proof - to signal to quiet integrationists that they weren't alone, that integration was a legitimate & widely held preference. The point was to render it safe for people to "come out" as integrationists.
Social proof is also behind the contemporary push for "representation" in media. When you see gay people (or Muslims/single women/trans youth -- pick your marginalized group) in culture, it signals that those groups are legitimate, part of the fabric, welcome out in the open.
The right is incredibly good at using social proof -- quite simply, *getting attention* -- to exaggerate the size of the RW base & the prevalence of its views. (See: the Tea Party.) Reactionary views/people have representation in news media wildly out of scale w/ their numbers.
The right does this with protests like the convoy, but also by using its giant coordinated media machine to force RW tropes & arguments into the mainstream, though volume & repetition. Look how it spun the CRT controversy out of nothing into a ubiquitous national issue.
What I think the right understands on an instinctive level is that most ordinary people don't have settled views or priorities, certainly not on political issues. They have ambivalent, contradictory views that can be easily pushed one direction or the other through exposure.
So rather than thinking all these parents had pre-existing views on CRT or systemic racism, it's more accurate to think they had bits & pieces, intuitions & scraps of info, that could be *shaped & directed* into something coherent through social proof.
But -- and this is super, super important -- all those parents also had *other* bits & pieces & intuitions & scraps of info that could have been shaped & directed into *different* coherent views. Most non-political-obsessive people are relatively malleable.
What happened is, the right reached them with a coordinated set of "facts" & anecdotes; it signaled to them with school board meeting protests & parent lawsuits; it provided them with copious social proof. And the left just didn't. Instead it just sputtered defensively.
The left's utter incompetence at providing this kind of social proof is among my many ongoing sources of angst. But I've been thinking about it recently in a particularly acute way, because of what's going on in Russia.
One way of interpreting this episode is as a rather obvious, on-the-nose lesson about the dangers of fossil fuel dependence. It's a pretty natural way of seeing it! The world is hamstrung in responding to Russia's aggression because Russia has it by the balls.
Russia has the world by the balls because of its copious natural gas production. To the extent the world uses less gas, it frees itself of Russia's grip & can do far more to push back against its aggression. This isn't a complicated message. It's quite intuitive!
But the *logic* of the argument is not going to make the argument. This is a classic, textbook case where we need some social proof. We need to signal to Americans that this intuitive response is correct, that other people are thinking it, that it's legitimate & urgent.
So -- and here, at long last, we arrive at my point -- where's that social proof? Where's the equivalent of the trucker convoy? Where are people doing the work to make this view *appear large*, through being loud, imposing, & aggressive, demanding attention?
I see environmental groups ... issuing press releases. I see left scholars writing polite op-eds in mainstream publications.

I see a reporter confronting Psaki w/ quotes from the American Petroleum Inst., forcing her on the defensive. Where's the journalist w/ counter-quotes?
An ordinary American, with the ordinary brew of vague & contradictory intuitions & factoids, is looking for social proof. What's the right way to think about & respond to this? What do "we" think? Where's the herd heading?
And as always, always, always, most social proof is coming from the right. Fossil fuel interests are loud & aggressive. RW media is loud & aggressive. The left & supporters of clean energy are on the defensive, sputtering yet again, in what should be their moment.
This is already obnoxiously long & I need to go walk the dogs. I'll just conclude by saying: picture the equivalent of the trucker convoy ... but for accelerating decarbonization. For passing the f'ing BBB. For preserving democracy & holding seditionists accountable.
It's difficult to imagine, isn't it? For some reason the left just doesn't do that stuff any more. All the theatricality, the demands for attention, the rebellious wild energy, is on the right. Dems now just come off as the boring, lecturing establishment.
Anyway. The left, especially the grassroots left, needs to think a lot more about social proof. One great place to start would be signaling that Russia's invasion demonstrates the intense need to accelerate decarbonization & pass the BBB's climate provisions. </fin>

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Mar 4
A well-understood but not often discussed phenomenon: whether you're in law, punditry, or politics, you have a much likelier chance of success if you adopt aggressive conservatism. For two reasons:
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2. The talent pool is shallower. Most of the smart, conscientious, & well-read people will adopt variants of non-crazy mainstream views. If you do too, you're competing w/ all of them. But if you go right & can string two sentences together, you're already the cream of the crop.
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Rather than hearing any Democrat -- much less all Democrats -- making that argument, instead everywhere I look I see Joe fucking Manchin talking about increasing domestic oil and gas production.
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Just to clear this up once & for all: the people who work on & with renewable energy are aware that it is variable.
There are lots & lots of interesting discussions to be had about the variability of renewable energy & how to accommodate it & ensure reliability. None of them begin with the assumption that your interlocutor doesn't know the sun goes down.
Tools to accommodate variability in a net-zero⚡️system:
* short-term storage
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Feb 17
I wasn't going to respond to this aggravating AP article, but ... it is my nature. I wanna make two quick points on it. apnews.com/article/joe-bi…
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