Feel-Good Politics

The futility of showing that you care.


Whether or not you celebrated Earth Day last month, odds are that you celebrated Earth Hour on March 29 the same way I did: accidentally. That night at 8:30 p.m., millions of people all over the world turned off their lights for an hour "to raise awareness for the planet." In doing so, they became "Super Heroes for the planet," according to an official Earth Hour press release.

Actor Jamie Foxx, who for some reason is quoted in the press release, said, "Earth Hour isn't just about lights off; it's about people across the world coming together…to improve the planet. Never underestimate your power." You have the power to turn off your power.

Though I did not celebrate Earth Hour at the scheduled time, I celebrated it 10 times as long. Before you applaud my environmental superheroism, I should say that while I turned off my lights for 10 consecutive hours, I did so not to improve the planet but because I wanted to sleep in the dark. Still, what matters is that I did it, and that I did it for 10 hours, which makes me, I suppose, a super-superhero for the planet.

Lesson of Earth Hour: If you want to be environmentally conscious, be literally unconscious.

It would be nice if some people were the latter more often. NBC's Bob Costas, to pick an example, loves raising people's awareness of his own awareness-raising. During an NFL game in 2007, Costas looked into the camera and announced, "We have turned out the lights in the studio to kick off a week that will include more than 150 hours of programming designed to raise awareness about environmental issues." It was up to viewers to decide whether to turn out their own lights while watching the 150 hours of programming devoted to showing how important it is to turn off the lights but not the TV.

General Electric isn't the only company that's aware of its planet-saving powers. According to a 2007 story in The New York Times, Goldman Sachs "sends its bankers home at night in hybrid limousines." Coincidentally, Goldman Sachs received a government bailout the following year.

Then there's Madonna, who has been on the planet long enough to devise innovative ways of saving it. "If you want to save the planet," she exhorted a crowd several years ago, "I want you to start jumping up and down!" "If you want to save the planet," she continued, "let me see you jump!" If you jump and Madonna doesn't see you, you're not saving the planet. You're just being stupid.

I don't ride in hybrid limousines, I don't jump for the planet, but I do turn off my lights regularly, though rarely for the planet. In fact, I unofficially celebrate Earth Hour every night (and many afternoons), which is why it seems only fair that the planet raise its awareness of me.

Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalistcalled Earth Hour "an ineffective feel-good event," which is half-correct. To the extent that it makes its participants feel good about themselves, Earth Hour is extremely effective. Like all feel-good activism, Earth Hour is more about earthlings than the earth.

Two decades before the first Earth Hour, there was Hands Across America, the purpose of which was to raise $50 million for hungry and homeless Americans by getting a bunch of housed, well-fed Americans to hold each other's hands on an arbitrarily picked day in 1986. The event failed to raise $50 million, but it succeeded in getting lots of publicity and in spreading lots and lots of germs.

One critic called it "one of the noblest failures in the history of American popular culture." But its point was not to "succeed" in any concrete way but to be noble, which it was, at least according to those who said so. The president of the group, USA for Africa, which sponsored the event, said, "If it demonstrates a unity of purpose, it will have accomplished its goal." Another organizer said it "exceeded our wildest dreams" by showing that "people do care."

Indeed, people do care—about making themselves feel good. That is the real lesson of Earth Hour. It is also why I sleep so comfortably at night.

NEXT: Political Speech, Cellphone Searches, and the Future of TV: Three Supreme Court Cases to Watch

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  1. If I started "wankers for a better world", I wonder how many people would lend a hand?


    1. That's mildly subversive and postmodern. Millenials will flock in droves

      1. It will be as popular as Male Breastfeeding


  2. ..."In doing so, they became "Super Heroes for the planet,"...

    Not to mention "Heroes of the People":

    1. Heroes of the PeopleProletariat

      1. Dammit:

        Heroes of the PeopleProletariat

    1. Like a beacon in the night! Nice digs, BTW.

    2. I am disappoint.

      Why no gasoline bonfires of old-growth trees roasting an endangered species?

      Kiwi Ted once had a wonderful proposal for May 10th being "Piss Off a Liberal Day"



      1. Hmmm...

        I'll give him the gun-use by a private citizen.

        And the tobacco.

        I'm not sure about the classical art, because there are liberal classicists who love them some Sappho, and conservatives who admire an African...named St. Augustine.

        The sex with his wife? Well, that could be liberal or conservative depending on who's on top.

        The hard liquor and the porn? Are liberals celibate teetotalers now?

        1. He's in New Zealand. Its possible their liberals are of the more-puritan branch.

          As for 'Western Classics' = I assume his point has something to do with the multi-decade efforts to relegate what has been considered 'the Western Canon' to the dustbin as the products of 'dead white men'; and replace it with a narrative of Cultural Relativism which has been dominant in higher education since the 1980s. See: "Closing of the American Mind" et al.

          re: Wifeness. = Heterosexual marriage is so Cisnormative. Civil Unions FTW

          re: Hard Liquor and Porn...

          to this I can only say, "why not?" What DOESNT go well with Moar Liquor and Porn? That's just celebrating 'being awake'. Its inclusion in Piss Off A Liberal Day is purely coincidental.

          I think the point is to try and Piss off a Liberal in your own special way.

        2. Since his idea of liberals seems to revolve around moral panics, I would have chosen something like jazz or rock and roll for the music, and included comic books and video or role-playing games.

      2. I do my part to piss off lefties. Every Earf day I go out of my way to tell all of them I know that I'm going to burn an old tire soaked in used dirty motor oil. For the children.

        1. We are so glad people like you cruise around the internet and spend your time trying to convince people to be psychopaths - and then brag about it.

          Ditto's man. It's cool to be obnoxious and selfish these days. Why not sprinkle some motor oil on your dinner and eat it to REALLY piss us off.

  3. I wonder how substantial the overlap is between people who observe Earth Hour, and people who say "I care about the poor, but I won't give more to charity because I'm only one person, I can't change anything, so I don't bother with empty gestures like that."

    Also, let's extend a warm welcome to Windsor Mann, who's looking to dethrone Zenon Evans as the Reason writer with the coolest name.

    1. A. Barton Hinkle somewhere grumbles

  4. Repost, because it's on topic.


    You want to actually do something? You can demand that America truly be World Cop and swoop in to kill all the bad people every time they do something bad somewhere? Only if you really want that, then you probably shouldn't bitch continually about the American military doing violent things to violent people. The problem is in reality we couldn't afford to kill every bad person, we couldn't pull it off anyway, and it isn't really our problem.

    Also, I think that the variety of threads on the weekend demonstrates the folly of capitalism. Surely it would be more efficient to have One Big Thread, run by the staff for the benefit of all commenters.

  5. "millions of people all over the world turned off their lights for an hour "to raise awareness for the planet"

    I had no idea.

    I will now forget this.


    that said, I am glad the author of the piece 'gets it'.

    I would be happier if the notion that Moral Narcissism is the motivating factor behind a vast array of human behaviors were more widely appreciated. The fact that so many people are able to posture and pose and engage in these Kibuki dramas of Collective Symbolic 'Caring' without anyone laughing at them continues to bother me. I do not deny anyone the right to engage in these sorts of passion-plays; other people have things like Sports, which aren't all that different. Its just when they insist that other people Take Them Seriously that I run out of patience.

    If these same people would insist that we Must Stop the Misguided Ethanol Mandate, I might throw them a bone and not mock them *incessantly*. Instead, these silly rituals are used to distract from the idiocy of their own advocated policies.

    It would be cute if they weren't wasting billions of dollars and harming millions of lives. Like, GMOs for one.

    1. I like the phrase "moral narcissism", but the simple fact is that it's plain old narcissism. These people posture and pretend to care (in ways that cost them nothing, of course) solely to present an image to others. The more a person is into stuff like this--things that are done to appear to care, but have absolutely no effect whatsoever on the thing they are supposed to be caring about--the more likely the person is to be an intensely self-involved narcissist. And the reason we see such an overlap with progressives/TEAM BLUE is that this is classic words matter/actions don't behavior. They will spout about how much they care, and then do nothing action-wise that in any way reflects what they said they cared about.

      1. (cont)

        You're absolutely right that it's incredibly obnoxious how these people can do this and have no one call them on it, but the reason is that they seek out people just like them for reinforcement and don't associate with anyone honest who would call them out on it. That's why the TEAMs are such echo-chambers; they have become filled with people who came to them specifically to join an echo-chamber. And the internet makes that so, so much easier than ever before in human history. For the first time ever, people can go find a hive of exactly like-minded people (this isn't inherently a bad thing, but it causes...certain results) no matter how retarded their worldview is, and have that view reinforced and never, ever challenged. Which is why we see escalating idiocy today. Because when you're an idiot, if you surround yourself with identical idiots who all assert that they aren't idiots, the idiots actually start thinking they aren't.

      2. I agree that its 'run of the mill'-narcissism driving things = however, I still think there is a lack of public consciousness about how such a large majority of the "issues" people see as being so important to their lives are in fact completely superficial things that have almost ZERO real impact on their lives, but which contribute ENORMOUSLY to their positive self-image and esteem for themselves. That in fact, that is what most of these issues really serve to do for people.

        Eric Hoffer is the guy who really clarified a lot of this for me. At least I liked the way he put things =

        "The burning conviction that we have a holy duty toward others is often a way of attaching our drowning selves to a passing raft. What looks like giving a hand is often a holding on for dear life. Take away our holy duties and you leave our lives puny and meaningless. There is no doubt that in exchanging a self-centered for a selfless life we gain enormously in self-esteem. The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless. (p. 14-15)"

    2. Moral Narcissism - that's the term we all needed.

      Thank you.

  6. http://www.boston.com/news/nat.....story.html

    Like a mini Hindenburg.

    1. Awful!

    2. And what the fuck is up with that site? Opera thrashed around for seven minutes before I finally killed it, loading hundreds and hundreds of elements and giving me just a white background.

      Firefox loaded the story in about 30 seconds, although when I hit Escape to stop the page loading, it constantly kept trying to push a bunch of Doubleclick shit down my throat.

      Oh, and it seems optimized for fondle-screen shit, too; when I scrolled to the bottom of the page there was one of those "loading" icons (a row of blinking lights) as though it was going to add another page worth of stories.

  7. "On Monday, bells tolled across the towns of Vermont at 4 pm to mark the time when Vermont's 1st Brigade was called into action at the [Civil War] Battle of the Wilderness....

    "[Author Howard] Coffin coordinated the statewide ringing of the bells as an honor to those who fought, and also as a Vermont tradition."


  8. Supposed business editor haz confuse!

    "Loser in an Apple deal for Beats? Big-box stores"

    Why will they lose? Well, they'll "be forced to" compete with the Apple stores and raise prices!
    BTW, did you know sellers set prices? I didn't either, but he's the business editor, so it must be true.
    Did you know consumers win if they pay higher prices? I didn't either, but he's the business editor, so it must be true.

  9. The planet doesn't give a shit about us. I'm reminded of the old Carlin routine (before he got old and all planet-loving.)

  10. I remember someone on the news talking about how Earth Hour is supposed to give the Earth a Rest. Um I'm pretty sure the Earth's Core is still churning, the air and wing currents are still circulating, the Earth is still revolving on its axis, the Earth is still orbiting the Sun, the Sun is still moving and those things stopping would be very bad.

  11. Ah yes. Good 'ol intentions. Results are meaningless of course.

  12. Some people want to *be* good, some people want to *do* good.

    The Progressive Theocracy is full of the former. It's all about being *seen* as good, as moral preening. The reality of the consequences of their actions just never matter, or put another way, the *only* reality that matters is how people feel about them.

    1. For years now, I've been saying that environmentalism isn't about saving the planet. It's about *feeling* like you're saving the planet.

      The same is of course true of quite a variety of progressive causes.

  13. What's the point of pious self-sacrifice if nobody knows about it?

    1. "Listen, we must keep my secret identity a secret, and that's what sucks about a secret identity. I will never get the credit that I deserve for the attention grabbing things that I do."

  14. Sounds liek some pretty serious busienss to me dude.


  15. WindsorMann! You sound like you're already a super hero.

  16. Chances are, judging by the level of maturity they display, not many members of the extremist environmental religion sleep with the lights off. (Surely the world always seems much less scary when their unicorns and double rainbows wallpaper is well lit.)

  17. I thought it was libertarians that wanted to live Somalia. Judging from satellite images, the North Koreans turned Earth Hour into Earth Decade.

  18. There's something here that wasn't touched on, and I see the author didn't get it. What he didn't get is just how "synergistic" this all is.

    Every week, Saturday Night Live- and other such shows- exist solely to promote this week's movie, album, or star. Now it seems that Earth Day is just another stop on the press tour.

    Why would Jamie Foxx of all people, for some reason be quoted in the press release? Because in the latest Spiderman movie, he plays a villain. A villain named Electro. That uses electricity.

    And who fights a super villain? A superhero of course! And by celebrating Earth Day, YOU become a "Super Heroes for the planet"!

    This is no secret. Go to the Earth hour site and they call this a, "first of a kind partnership" between a movie and an event.

    First of a kind. But certainly not the last!

  19. The usual adage bears repeating here. It seems articles here usually follow one of just a few memes...this being one of the major ones...

    "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

    Heck, if one is going to be selfish, why not just shut up and remove all doubt? Why keep preaching and claiming that selfishness is normal, enlightened and the birthright of mankind?

    I don't understand this....except to fathom that since this site and others are owned by the Kochs, they have to convince the rest of you to put more money in their pockets.

    1. And, along comes a smug prog to illustrate the very point made by the article.

      He could be out saving the world, feeding the poor, helping the homeless, etc.- but he would rather feel good about himself by coming here to tell us how selfish we are.

      Well done, sir!

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