Let’s now discuss getting to Solarpunk – and the need to address leaders versus ‘greeders.’ We’re not going to get to a solarpunk future until we’ve addressed the resistance to change that prevents us from human progress. We can’t address resistance until we teach people to accept and assimilate change at a cultural level. I’mma talk science and models of human behavior so strap in, because we’re gonna nerd out.
This documentary on Kern County, California and it’s oil industry impacted by climate change got me thinking. If you watch here, one of the doc’s protagonists narrates a perspective: “I’ve always had to be a fighter. I wasn’t brought up, I was yanked up. I grew up on an old oil lease – my uncle was killed out here … had to be tough to work in the oil fields, but what else are you gonna do? What if that’s the only thing you know?”
I started thinking “Gee, you didn’t see this coming forty years ago? Climate change issues have been a thing since the 80s.” Then I started thinking about my own reaction and wondering if that was fair. After that, I started asking why it was that some people can easily accept change while others fight change until their last breath. Here’s what I came up with.
It’s hysterical but true, punch ‘change should be comfortable’ into your favorite search engine (DuckDuckGo, of course) and you get a million articles about how to accept the discomfort of change. I think we’re all in agreement – change is uncomfortable – but they’re missing the point!
One of the fundamental failures of Western civilization in the past seventy years has got to be the creation of a cultural assumption that change is A) optional B) will always happen in a comfortable way. This cultural assumption has has not only poisoned every positive effort toward human progress, and it’s weaponized by bad actors (Looking at you, Facebook). Here are some examples:
‘One Simple Trick’ to losing weight / getting healthy
The unspoken ‘change should be comfortable’ myth there is that you don’t have to do the real work of addressing why you’re unhealthy to begin with, which is usually the result of factors that are difficult to control (genetics, emotional issues, food deserts).
Have you spoken to a Boomer lately? Some of them are lovely people, the vast majority of them are sadly unwilling to accept that, yes, circumstances are different and more difficult for younger people. Karens and Kents fill up Facebook with cursive memes, snap opinions on your testosterone, droning on about how much better things were drinking water out of a garden hose as a kid. The question isn’t ‘who cares about writing cursive?’ The question is ‘why are you dying on this hill?’
The answer to that second question is simple: They’re in over their head. The world changed around them, and culturally they were led to believe that you could refuse any uncomfortable change because someone would always come along to make that change comfortable. That was never true, and now they are overwhelmed.
The Outrage / Distraction Complex
Easy. Our brains have been trained to seek out that dopamine hit of new information, outrageous trends, and hot topics. Even hustle culture is a distraction unto itself – if you’re grinding, you’re not focused on the fact that human beings don’t grind well. You’re focused on conspicuous consumption and social mobility, buying your identity or expressing your identity through tweets, instead of making it for yourself. You never get a chance to step back and go ‘how do I benefit by buying stuff I can’t afford to impress people I don’t like?’
It’s creepier than that. As this Redditor points out, ‘capital has a way of capturing all dissidence, monetizing it, and reproducing it as capital, such that it mutes actual dissidence. Refer back to his Wall-E reference earlier on in the book. Wall-E, a profoundly anti-capitalist movie, grossed millions and millions of dollars. It gave people the feeling of activism without requiring them to lift a finger. All they had to do was consume, take the point, feel vindicated for agreeing, and move on with their lives.’
So yeah, the Outrage / Distraction Complex? It’s also a form of ‘change should be comfortable.’ Flocking to zero-sum culture war nonsense feels emotionally comfortable over wrestling with the low-dopamine-high-impact problems. These changes aren’t going to be comfortable, but we’ll need to make them if we intend to survive as a species. So far, comfort seems to be winning. What happens when it does? I told you all of that, to tell you this. Here’s what we can expect from the ‘change is comfortable’ model:
The Parable of My Grandma
I used to see this with my Grandma as her health started to decline; she against changing her diet or accepting a home health care nurse. Bad choices began to take on momentum, she went from mobile to wheelchair to housebound to care facility to dead in the space of a few years. Couldn’t get her to make better health and safety decisions if you had a gun to her head. That insistence on comfort was Grandma’s epitaph, and it could be our epitaph, too.
If you had someone in your life with the same stubborn self-destructive streak, then you know the heartbreak of helplessness as they create their own lethal hardships. Much worse when it’s an entire civilization. Watching humanity turn away from it’s own sense of self-preservation is maddeningly macabre, like watching Edward G. Robinson enter the euthanasia chamber in Soylent Green.
For ‘change should be comfortable’ people, it’s much easier to ignore the problems than admit you don’t know how to solve them and ask for help. I’m not saying the situation is EXACTLY the same as people fighting efforts to combat climate change, but you can see the similarity in perspective.
And here we are, on the precipice of climate disaster.
But, so what?
Leaders Vs. Greeders
As we contemplate solarpunk tech, we should think about the people living in that future along with the technology itself. If we’re going to get to that empathic, sustainable future, business is going to have to reconcile the difference between toxic and positive leadership. I suggest that we provide them with simple shorthand language for the transition: Leaders vs Greeders.
Leaders aren’t perfect, and greeders aren’t unfixable. Here’s another example of a leader:
Transitioning away from greedership won’t be impossible, we can do this via maturity models even as we ask other parts of business to do the same. Are your programmers being asked to take on agile maturity? Then leadership should be willing to take on leadership maturity.
Leaders gonna lead – greeders gonna greed. We’ll dig into this topic more in Part Two, stay tuned.