by Andy West
Emotions and messaging about climate change.
Universal acknowledgement of emotional bias.
The psychological phenomena of emotional bias, a distortion in cognition and decision-making due to emotional factors, has been known of for millennia. I perhaps should say ‘enhanced’ emotional factors, because emotional reaction is a core part of our thinking machinery and hence wholly rational perceptions or decisions would likely be a rarity at best, and possibly non-existent. Yet as emotional factors increase to something that truly touches us, distortion away from what might be termed ‘regular’ (i.e. no strong emotions present) or ‘rational’ or ‘balanced’ thinking, becomes much more significant.
This distortion is so well known that consciously or sub-consciously, arguments often employ an appeal to emotion exactly because this significantly increases the chance of overcoming opposing views. From the link immediately above (warning, wiki; short summaries of this topic are hard to come by) we are told that Aristotle (died 322BC) in his treatise Rhetorica described emotional arousal as critical to persuasion, while Seneca (died AD 65) warned that “Reason herself, to whom the reins of power have been entrusted, remains mistress only so long as she is kept apart from the passions.”
Many studies in the modern era back this general understanding, adding more sophistication plus detail of the underlying mechanisms (though to date these are by no means fully understood). Apparently the role of ‘affect’, emotional reaction, underwent somewhat of a de-emphasis within social psychology for a time from the early 1970s, returning some thirty years later but on a wider stage, acknowledged to have other cognitive players with which emotional bias can interact or fuel to varying degrees. According to Daniel Kahneman, from his Nobel Prize in Economics Lecture, December 8 2002: ‘It is worth noting that in the early 1970’s the idea of purely cognitive biases appeared novel and distinctive, because the prevalence of motivated and emotional biases of judgment was taken for granted by the social psychologists of the time. There followed a period of intense emphasis on cognitive processes, in psychology generally and in the field of judgment in particular. It took another thirty years to achieve what now appears to be a more integrated view of the role of affect in intuitive judgment.’
So, while the leading-edge understanding of emotional bias mechanisms is dynamic and ongoing, aided considerably by the recent assistance of MRI scans, in its very long wake is a general understanding that all psychologists and sociologists and associated disciplines have to be very familiar with. Along with professional communicators, probably most politicians and I should imagine a great many of the general public too, they will know at the very least about the power of appeal to emotion plus the danger that rationality will be compromised, or even derailed, when such an appeal is powerfully and / or repeatedly enacted. And while emotional bias has beneficial properties (e.g. condensing a large range of options and also promoting group cohesion / consensus), disrupting rationality can work out very badly indeed. For examples at various scales emotional bias can strongly contribute to: skewed jury / legal decisions and extremist politics, bad business practice and financial meltdowns, cults and the spread of misinformation, and yes the social hi-jacking of science too, for instance the Eugenics saga in the first half of the 20th century.
Hence there are increasing efforts to limit emotional bias effects in society. The business community have joined that campaign in recent times, not just to limit corporate damage from emotively driven negative culture, but also for reasons of direct profitability (See ‘Bottom Line’ at Investopedia).
Of all those masses of professionals who know about the characteristics of emotional bias, a subset are playing an active part in the climate change Consensus. This does not alter their knowledge of the former topic. Indeed a few of this subset are even helping to push forward our understanding of emotive bias mechanisms. For instance Stephan Lewandowsky has a string of papers (with associated authors) about cognitive bias impacts, which include insights on emotional bias. The paper Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing by Lewandowsky et al, posits that emotive content significantly increases the degree to which misinformation both spreads and persists. Resistance to vaccines based on emotive scare stories is an example Lewandowsky highlights. A similar point is made in Theoretical and empirical evidence for the impact of inductive biases on cultural evolution by Griffiths et al (one of the other authors is Lewandowsky). This paper supports the evidence that cultural concepts with an emotional component are easier to memorize, which in turn appears to result in them being retained for longer plus better transmitted to others in society, than is the case for similar concepts minus the emotional component. I.e. an emotive load provides arbitrary bias favoring the concept.
Lewandowsky is an ardent advocate for the certainty of dangerous man-made climate change, and at least some of the associated authors (e.g. Cook and Ecker) have comparable sentiments. So emotional bias is most certainly understood and accepted by the strongest end of the spectrum of CAGW support. Similarly the role of emotional bias, at least in broad-brush terms, is just as much a part of the mind-set of all the psychologists, sociologists, professional communicators, etc. who work in or actively support the climate Consensus, as it is for those belonging to these same professions who don’t happen to work within the climate Consensus. I.e. this knowledge is simply part of their job; they must all grasp both the power and danger of emotional bias independently of their climate domain credentials. Hence the understanding of emotional bias is absolutely not something that the climate Consensus supporters could abandon when inconvenient, nor something that could possibly be framed as some kind of climate skeptic invention.
The climate Consensus commonly deploys crafted emotional communication.
Along with a great deal of subconscious or unconsidered emotive communication advocating CAGW, deliberately emotive communication campaigns have been a feature of the Consensus (in its widest sense, i.e. including government agencies, NGOs, much of academia etc.) for many years†. There doesn’t seem to have been any systemic effort to hide this approach. Quite the contrary; articles and papers discussing the various merits or otherwise of specific emotive crafting are easy to find, often with recommendations for improved efforts along the same lines. And this literature is clearly phrased in the context that such campaigns are, as self-perceived, a norm. Perhaps even more than just a norm; a gratifying achievement with an aspiration for more. Yet the relative lack of success of these campaigns (as assessed via surveys) has caused more reflection and analysis in recent years.
One analysis notes that ‘fear appeals have often been used’, and also confirms a long-term deployment of positive emotive messaging: ‘In another study, Hoijer examined how the Swedish media communicated emotions in the social construction of global warming risk and found that hope and compassion were used as emotional anchors to help people understand projected climate impacts. These results suggest that many people do not view hazards merely as something to avoid. On the contrary, interest and hope may motivate people to learn more about the hazard and to take or support mitigation or adaptation measures.’ This study is The Role of Emotion in Global Warming Policy Support and Opposition, by Nicholas Smith and Anthony Leiserowitz, 2014. The paper attempts to identify the impact on the public of specific discreet emotions like worry, fear, hope etc. with a focus on which ones will move the public most towards supporting climate change policies.
Unsurprisingly, the work discovers that fear based appeals are not helpful: ‘“Dire” fear-based messaging around extreme weather and other climate phenomena has been found to raise anxieties, but also to distance the public. O’Neill and Nicholson-Cole found that catastrophic and alarmist visual imagery actually decreased public engagement with the issue.’ Indeed there seems to be broad agreement about this finding in the Consensus lately, for example see The Breathrough article, or the acknowledgement by Joe Smith at the BBC, although this hasn’t as yet resulted in an end to fear-mongering (and probably won’t due to memetic inertia).
As the paper opens with what amounts to a short presentation of its solid climate Consensus credentials, perhaps one shouldn’t expect any questioning of whether deploying emotive appeals in the first place is highly ill-advised. At any rate, there is no such questioning. Yet in the abstract this is surprising when one considers the knowledge of the authors; among other skills both have training in psychology. As outlined in Section 1 this knowledge will therefore include the significant dangers of emotional bias. And while certain moderations are suggested with respect to the use of fear messaging, these are certainly not for the purpose of reducing likely bias effects, but instead to minimize distancing plus backlash, and hence to further optimize the emotional penetration. Other emotive optimizations are also suggested for climate communicators to achieve the ‘powerful motivations’ that emotional targeting delivers, for instance in the following three quotes:
‘By contrast [with fear], worry was the strongest predictor of public support for global warming policies, suggesting that perhaps “worry appeals” should be a focus for risk communicators. “Worry appeals” might promote a more sustainable and constructive emotional engagement with the issue of global warming.’  ‘Elaboration likelihood models of persuasion also suggest that positive rather than negative emotions are more persuasive and likely to sustain enduring attitudes over time for issues of low involvement, that is, for issues where people do not see themselves personally “at risk” or vulnerable. Given the general lack of public involvement with the issue of climate change, combined with the relationship between hope, interest, and policy support found in this investigation, developing communications that increase public interest, inspire hope, and encourage positive feelings when people act in climate-friendly ways may be more effective than fear or guilt appeals.’  ‘In summary, this research found that discrete emotions—especially worry, interest, and hope—appear to have a large influence on American climate change policy preferences. The challenge for communication strategists is how best to cue these powerful motivations to promote public engagement with climate change solutions.’
It is hardly a surprise that hitting on our ‘worry and hope hot-buttons’ has a powerful effect, especially when doing this repeatedly over years. Yet given policy makers have been embedded and maturing within the society to which this type of messaging has been directed for decades†, how do we know that their climate change policy preferences aren’t as strongly influenced as those of the general public? The known danger of emotional bias says this is highly likely. And getting more likely; any chance that inefficient access to underlying emotions has allowed some folks to avoid significant bias in prior years, will soon disappear if various calls like that from Risk Educator David Ropiek at Big Think (2014), are heeded:
‘But caveats aside, what this new research clearly says is that risk communication that wants to shape how people feel about global warming, or any risk issue, must go beyond simply communicating the facts. It must respect the primary role that feelings play in how we see those facts. It must identify, with research, the particular emotional and instinctive characteristics that shape people’s feelings about the issue, and present information in ways that will resonate with those underlying emotions. Any climate change communicator who ignores that truth and thinks that just educating people is enough, is ignoring what an important and growing body of research tells us about the best way to get people to care, and act, about this immense threat to human and environmental health.’ This from the article Climate Change and Emotions. How We Feel Matters More Than What We Know.
Ropeik served for four years as the Director of Risk Communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. If further research leads as he hopes to optimizing still more the emotional engagement, then indeed outreach will go way beyond communicating the facts. Even at the high level of emotional engagement already in play, perception of such facts as may exist becomes fuzzy at best. The strongest forms of emotive messaging essentially become their own reality, displacing fact as objectivity is derailed. Ropeik and many others feel licensed for this call due their certainty of the ‘immense threat’. Yet how much of that certainty is a product not of rationality, but of earlier emotive messaging feeding back into the environmental science community, and impacting climate scientists in particular.
Everything it appears, hangs on that certainty of disaster. This has effectively provided a legitimate platform for social engineering, despite there is still enormous argument and uncertainty about what society should be changed to, about what behavior is necessary and appropriate, even should the certainty of a disaster (without intervention) be a given. And as perceived by the climate Consensus emotional targeting is a major tool, perhaps the major tool, with which to change behavior. The two quotes below from the conclusion of the paper THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ENVIRONMENTAL WORLDVIEWS, EMOTIONS AND PERSONAL EFFICACY IN CLIMATE CHANGE, provide another confirmation of this actuality; they are not about communication per se, they are about behavior change.
 ‘When crafting messages on climate change, policy makers will need to first ensure the climate change messages reflect the target audience’s environmental worldviews to successfully engage the public. Further, given that personal efficacy in the climate change domain is affected by affective processes, policy makers should place increasing emphasis on providing substantial visual climate change information focussing on emotive images to attract and hold people’s attention and motivate them to act. Strategies to promote affective components in climate change communication could include message development and delivery aimed at arousing positive motions which may bring about meaningful interpretations and stimulate public’s engagement in reducing the effects of climate change.’  ‘Future researchers could build on the findings to build effectively on immediate psychological effects induced by climate change visuals. This will help to achieve public engagement and bridge the gap between information campaigning and personal actions on climate change. This will guide the design and adoption of viable solutions and ensure continued effectiveness of behaviour change polices in climate change mitigation. The communication challenge often lies in activating concern about climate change and catalysing the desired behaviour change.’
The paper is by Haywantee (Rumi) Ramkissoon and Liam David Graham Smith, Monash University, Australia (2014). Among other skills Ramkissoon has training in psychology. She and likely Smith too will be well aware of the dangers of emotional bias, yet despite specific sections on emotions this danger is never mentioned. ‘Catalyzing the desired behavior change’ means still more loosed emotions, moving folks who may now feel broadly empowered, towards driving overlapping agendas. And indeed some other parts of the Consensus are encouraging the likelihood of serious mission overflow, by deliberately casting around for new frames in which to channel ‘climate communication’ to the public. This is an aspect of their earnest and seemingly endless attempts to optimize emotional engagement and minimize backlash. For instance, the following excerpt from a paper to which Leiserowitz is again a contributor:
‘Results show that across audience segments, the public health focus was the most likely to elicit emotional reactions consistent with support for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Findings also
indicated that the national security frame may possibly boomerang among audience seg-ments already doubtful or dismissive of the issue, eliciting unintended feelings of anger.’ From A public health frame arouses hopeful emotions about climate change: A Letter in Climatic Change, January 2012. Perhaps this tactic underlies President Obama’s recent warnings about climate change and asthma.
Other techniques are discussed in the online guide The Psychology of Climate Change Communication from the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. This tells communicators to ‘Beware the Overuse of Emotional Appeal’. Good; yet unfortunately not to avoid the dangers of emotional bias, but again merely to avoid any backlash from worst-case fear scenarios. The guide also advocates emotional / factual coupling: ‘As described in Section 3, balance information that triggers an emotional response with more analytic information, to leave a mark in more than one place in the brain.’ And ways in which the ‘issue fatigue’ barrier, or ‘numbing effect’ can be pushed upwards or avoided: ‘Gauge an audience’s degree of numbing (i.e., ask them questions about their levels of media exposure to climate change, show them well-known images associated with climate change and note their reaction), make them aware of the various effects of numbing, and encourage them to briefly consider their level of worry and potential numbness to climate change.’
Issue fatigue is one of our natural defenses against narrative takeover. It may well be related to or a part of ‘innate skepticism’, or ‘the key to accuracy’ as Lewandowsky calls it. Attempting to circumvent this defense will not only increase the pressure to believe and act, it will reduce still further the ability for folks to be rational and objective about the information pushed upon them. The School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia noted the barrier of issue fatigue long ago. Sophie Nicholson-Cole’s paper from 2004 regarding the use of visual images in climate communication, says: ‘It [visual communication] needs to be managed carefully because responses to emotional visual appeals can simply end up triggering defensive psychological re-sponses, leaving the audience desensitised with a sense of ‘issue fatigue’ or leading to feelings of powerlessness to do anything to reduce the causes of climate change.’ In this context ‘managed carefully’ does not mean preserving rationality by minimizing emotion, it means maximizing emotion while not triggering the ‘undesirable’ effects.
In all these writings and more, I find no concern that such intense emotive targeting and psychological shepherding may not so much be communicating the case for certainty, as manufacturing it. Note: all the sources shown here are completely Consensus orientated; I find no hint of skeptic contribution in them.
Emotional message campaigns have considerably impacted scientists.
Social narratives, whether benign overall or otherwise, can cascade through society as emotional and other biases gain leverage each time topics are interpreted at functional boundaries. E.g. for CAGW, inappropriate extrapolation and amplification of worry as information passes from core climate scientists to other environmental scientists, from both of these groups to PR people and politicians, thence to policy makers and economists, and from all of the above groups to NGOs and the mass media, etc. So the level of emotional bias in all functional domains will matter, yet it is scientists who are meant to have better defenses; whose methodology is theoretically geared to remaining unemotional. So looking at emotional impact in climate and environmental scientists should be a worst case indicator. If emotionally crafted climate communication campaigns have created major affect in these guys, it is likely rampant elsewhere.
This series of letters from climate and environmental scientists, shows an astonishing level of personal revelation regarding thoughts about climate change. While 35 (at the time of writing) is not a huge sample, it seems to confirm a systemic emotional state within the mainstream scientific community, which according to the universally accepted knowledge from Section 1 cannot do other than create bias. Indeed the level of emotion does appear to trump reason; as far as I can tell many of the fears expressed have lost touch even with the orthodox view of science as presented by the IPPC in the AR5 technical papers. Neither is there any attempt to hide or moderate high emotions, quite the contrary, which implies both a powerful belief in the certainty of serious adverse impacts upon the world (many such are specified), plus a surprisingly strong confidence that this ‘truth’ must be self-evident, and thus all but a handful of ‘deniers’ will applaud an audacious emotive stance.
In a further series of personal messages, from Australian environmental scientists at Scared Scientists, the emotive outpouring shifts from a mixed bag of exasperation, worry, despair, anger and hope, to a much more focused pitch at fear, as one can gather from the website name. Each of eight messages (one from each scientist) is headlined in capitals ‘FEAR: XYZ’, where XYZ is the particular fear each scientist says is their own particular biggy. Summing the two series (three scientists appear in both and only their data from the first series is used), and also adding in professor Camille Parmesan who is mentioned in articles relating to the above letters and is ‘professionally depressed’ because of climate change, we get the table below that includes 41 scientists. This depicts percentages of expression for various emotive categories, accompanied by columns F and G that show whether any future danger / suffering / impacts etc. were expressed with respect to children, or not with respect to children. Bear in mind that some scientists have expressed themselves in more than one emotive category, and a few across several:
The raw data for these results is in Appendix – scientists emotions. The figures seem astoundingly high to me. While work-related frustration is hardly unique to climate / environmental scientists, I strongly suspect this type is rather worse than that caused by a bad boss. And eliminating multiple entries, the number of scientists showing in columns B to E is a huge 61%, with 44% across the more serious categories C to E, i.e. fear, despair and anger. Plus I’d say that those ‘worry and hope’ hot-buttons mentioned in Section 2 are most certainly being pushed in many of these scientists. The boundaries are loose and worry blurs into anxiety; B & C cover 49%. Those who study the psychology of religions might recognize this profile, excepting for the low score on guilt; but then again these are the ‘priests’ and not the ‘laity’, so maybe this is an expectation. And clearly, a constant hitting upon the ultimate emotional concern button by climate messaging, via the ‘threat to children’ meme, has found its mark too. Quite a few scientists from column F specifically cited not just children generally, but their own children. Overall, are these scientists going to be rational when working on, say, attribution studies? Or climate sensitivity?
Further to the above, Speaking from the heart features 20 personal video clips from 19 scientists working in climate and related disciplines. This series is more measured and constrained than the above letters. The participants focus mostly upon their interpretation of coming physical changes, yet largely still in the sense of ‘catastrophe is coming’ (indeed some stray into talk of political instability, migration, conflict and crises, while a few of the emotive words from the above table also get a mention or two). And as the promoting article itself emphasizes: ‘A common theme in the videos is the scientists’ concern for the future of their children.’ The somewhat more measured stance cannot disguise that this series is a straight emotive pitch, which whatever the original intent, ends up employing scientific authority to make folks afraid, and most specifically afraid for their own children. While the fears of the scientists themselves appear genuine, when they amplify emotional bias plus lend it yet more authority, what hope for rationality? Some of these contributors are young; were their original fears seeded by the emotive bias of older scientists? Or the professional communicators those scientists effectively enabled? How can they possibly be objective in their work while so short-circuited at a fundamental cognitive level? In the case of three scientists, they cite direct experience of extreme weather as a major motivator, one saying “this makes climate change personal”. But did prior biases about attribution seeded by the media (and so ultimately by other scientists yet again), prime them for this state?
The above letters and videos may represent a biased sample, because it’s possible that the most emotive individuals are choosing to make a contribution. However, impacts are reported right across the climate and ecological science domains, so the above data could in fact be the tip of an iceberg. In the article a climate of despair from the Syndey Morning Herald, we learn that climate depression (aka “ecoanxiety” or “doomer depression” or “apocalypse fatigue”) is not uncommon, and also on the rise. Psychologist Susie Burke is quoted in the article: ‘We can be very sure that many people in the field of climate change are distressed – highly distressed – and it can have a significant psychosocial impact on their wellbeing.’
The article highlights the case of one sufferer, biologist and ecologist Nicole Thornton, who slid towards some kind of breakdown after the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference. Fortunately Thornton sought help and is much improved, now using her experience to help others: ‘Thornton, 41, is currently on a break – of sorts. She is part of a fellowship program with the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, with 49 other aspiring change agents. She is using her time in that program to create an online health and wellbeing hub, catered to cases like her own. “Peers have talked to me about burnout, anxiety, panic attacks, complete disengagement, and frustration leading to despair and, when you think about it, this stuff is always around you in the environmental field. It’s notorious. They get so involved, and they’re so passionate and they don’t take breaks.’
According to this article and others there appears to be a lot of professionals actually needing help. So it seems that long-term communication campaigns targeting our emotions have indeed had a major impact upon climate and other environmental science professionals. Enough to make many ill. In over-selling the certainty of apocalypse and engaging deep emotion to do so, the Consensus has spawned bewilderment and despair within its own ranks, as they see that the world is not reacting appropriately to the imminent disaster that is ‘certain’ to occur in emotionally biased minds. Scientists appear to be no more immune to such influence than anyone else. Referring to loss and damage in the environment due to Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD), and specifically in her case coral-reef damage, the above mentioned professor Parmesan apparently doesn’t know a single scientist who isn’t emotionally impacted. From Mourning Our Planet: Climate Scientists Share Their Grieving Process: ‘Take Professor Camille Parmesan, a climate researcher who says that ACD is the driving cause of her depression. “I don’t know of a single scientist that’s not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost,” Parmesan said in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2012 report.’ Yet assuming dominant ACD causation is both an effect of emotional impact (i.e. an act of bias with respect to attribution that obscures other causes, of which some are also anthropogenic like habitat encroachment / fragmentation, agricultural runoff and hunting etc. that can be much more usefully addressed), plus an amplifying feedback that will cause more bias in others.
Once again all the sources in this section are solidly Consensus orientated; the emotional impact is self-described. Given this case for scientists, i.e. those who ought to be most tooled-up for resisting emotional appeals, bias is likely endemic in other functional areas of society, such as politicians and policy makers. Indeed urgent emotional appeals regarding climate change are common from the former, including prime-ministers and presidents on downwards. Such appeals are often not backed up even by the orthodox IPCC technical position. Those who are emotionally convinced, will tend to deploy emotive arguments.
It is worth mentioning that some climate skeptic messaging has emotive content too (e.g. that which leans towards ‘scam’, ‘hoax’, or ‘left-wing conspiracy’ causation). Yet overall this is massively outgunned by the emotive CAGW storylines pouring out of mainstream sources, and especially the stronger fear memes such as (I paraphrase): “we’re all gonna fry”, “your coastal cities are gonna drown”, “only N days to save the planet”, “your grandkids are gonna die”, and “extreme weather is our fault”. Plus of course the attempted suppression of argument by deployment of the ‘denier’ term, which diverts huge and negative emotive power from a completely different narrative domain (Holocaust denial) and injects this into the climate arena. Overall skeptics tend to major on complex scientific issues and on not acting precipitously, which combination doesn’t make for a strong emotive pitch. And they have a comparatively small voice too; in a communication battle, volume matters.
Despite the universally accepted principle of emotional bias outlined in Section 1, the climate Consensus has deployed long-term emotionally crafted communication campaigns as described in Section 2, and is also calling for, and likely executing, research to optimize these campaigns still more. This seems to me to a staggering contradiction. The result is not only an emotional impact on much of (western) society, in which our politicians and policy makers etc. are all embedded, but as Section 3 shows, on environmental and climate scientists too. This can only result in enormous levels of bias at all stages of society’s climate related endeavors, from research and understanding to communication to action, and indeed everything else in-between.
The accepted principle that emotive messaging causes bias does not, as far as I can see, appear to have caused any alarm bells to ring in the minds of Consensus-aligned professionals regarding their long-term emotive messaging campaigns aimed at increasing the support for policy. And yet the climate Consensus cannot set aside the universally accepted dangers of emotional bias. Of all the disciplines involved, it is the psychologists who should have warned us; yet they are all too busy emotively channeling a socially enforced consensus, and attempting to change behavior.
Caveat and Plug:
The knowledge that undesirably high levels of emotional bias about climate change exist not only in scientists but also in much of society too, tells us nothing whatever about what is happening in the physical climate, and whether this is good, bad, or indifferent. However coupled with the lessons of history, this knowledge does tells us that major social edifices fuelled by emotion will tend to dominate, and very likely prevent us from properly progressing our knowledge of the climate, perhaps for a very long time.
While emotional bias is a very important mechanism via which social narratives like CAGW can gain dominance, the bigger picture in which this mechanism operates can be seen much more clearly through the lens of cultural evolution. Also in my opinion, the stronger Darwinian end of that lens; in particular memetics. Due to common misunderstandings about memetics both in and out of academia, the very mention of that field can cause as much auto-defensive reaction as we see in the climate Consensus. However for those who are not afraid for their souls, see the (long!) essay here, published about 18 months back at Climate Etc and WUWT. This is a hypothesis and by no means fact, but the memetic explanation for CAGW does have the advantage of not resting upon any political or philosophical positions as a foundation, only upon value-neutral mechanisms such as the penetration of memes into the psyche (in part via emotional bias as described in this post) and the differential selection of successful narratives (which are not agential and not sentient). This doesn’t mean for instance that highly activist style politics isn’t an important factor. But it isn’t a root factor because this too is driven by value-neutral mechanisms beneath, which work in the same manner for any political stripe (and memetics is a useful way of perceiving those mechanisms). The memetic explanation also does not imply in any way whatsoever that Consensus folks are in the slightest degree deranged or delusional or ill or impaired. Due to common misconceptions a lot of folks appear to vector down that path the moment they see the word memetics, and stop reading any further. Memeplexes are normal territory for all humans.
JC note: As with all guest posts, please keep your comments civil and relevant.