The Weaponization of Emotion

This post was originally supposed to be about Michael Moore’s controversial new documentary, Planet of the Humans. And it still is, but not in the way you’d think. I’m going to leave alone, for now, my opinions about the film itself, my opinions about the overall message of the film, and my opinions about the admittedly sloppy details of the film. I’ll get to those later.

Maybe I’m a little late to this party. But maybe that works in my favor here, too.

I just watched the movie last week and started writing a reaction post, which quickly got away from me, and I heard a little bit of the uproar over it back when it first came out. At the time, I had a slightly similar emotional reaction to the one everyone else seemed to be having. I was pissed. Not having seen the movie or heard Michael Moore’s side of the story, I was mostly pissed at how depressed it seemed to make those who had seen it. I’m constitutionally against nihilism, fatalism, and despair. I think it’s all incredibly unhelpful, and I have strict personal rules about not engaging in it. So, when I see others becoming nihilistic, fatalistic, and despairing over something they watched, or read, or heard, I’m kind of reflexively like, “Fuck that thing, then!” But something gave me pause.

I’ve been trying a personal experiment over the past four years. When someone says something that I have a vehement emotional reaction to, which happens all the fucking time these days, I don’t react right away. I stop, take some deep breaths, and ask myself, why is this thing pissing me off so much? Why do I feel so threatened by this thing? Do I actually feel threatened by it? And if so, should I? Does it make sense for me to feel so threatened by it? Is my emotional reaction preventing me from understanding what this person’s point really is? Is it going to hurt me to at least consider their point of view? To try to understand where they’re coming from? And are they indeed coming from a genuine place? Or am I getting played?

I rely on my intuition a great deal during this process. Especially when it comes to figuring out if I’m getting played or not.

I started doing this late in 2016 as a result of the presidential campaign. I was on Facebook a lot. I was unemployed from November of 2015 until May of 2016, so I had plenty of time to fully immerse myself in all the Bernie groups I could handle.

After a while, though, I started to feel emotionally drained after being on Facebook for hours and seeing one thing after another that pissed me off. And it began to seem to me, sometimes, that it wasn’t just seeing things that pissed me off, that I felt slighted by, or that I disagreed with. It was compounded by the reactions I saw other people having. So if there was a story about something Hillary Clinton said that a whole bunch of Bernie people were pissed of and offended by, it would make me way more pissed off about it than I would have been otherwise. I guess it’s maybe kind of the mob mentality. Everyone seemed to feel pressured to match the emotional level of the most pissed off person. If someone shared a post and wrote in all caps about what an outrage it was, I found that I was way more likely to be super pissed off and outraged about that thing, whether or not it was worth that much energy and outrage, and whether or not it was really that outrageous. And not only was this becoming draining as hell, but I could see how this could be very consciously used by manipulative people with ill-intent to stir some shit up. It took me a little longer to understand that being super-emphatic and insistent and emotionally aggressive is an extremely effective way to gaslight people. So that this, in fact, was a behavior to be very leery of and definitely one I should try not to get sucked in by.

And once I recognized this behavior for what it was, I started seeing it everywhere. At least all over the media, social and otherwise. On MSNBC and CNN. In the Bernie groups. From my right-wing, Trump-supporting family members, even. Everywhere.

I saw it earlier this year from mainstream Democrats, particularly Chris Matthews, after Bernie won Nevada. The insistence that Bernie was akin to Stalin and Castro. Or maybe even Hitler. If you can see through this technique of aggressive emotional freak out, it smacks of desperation.

I mention all of this because this is exactly the reaction I’ve been seeing from people who criticize Planet of the Humans.

Before I watched the movie itself, I watched Michael Moore’s interview on the Useful Idiots podcast with Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper. And I watched Kyle Kulinski’s “review” of the film. Then, I watched the actual film. Then, I watched Michael Moore’s interview defending it on The Hill TV’s “Rising.” It was around this time that I thought that maybe I should watch or read some of the actual critiques of it. So, I watched a post from a You Tube channel called “Now You Know,” which is made by a couple of guys who are pretty obviously somehow involved in the solar industry. And I watched Josh Fox from when he was on “Rising” condemning the film.

The one thing I noticed, and I will admit that I had to rely quite a bit on my intuition to notice this (My intuition is very strong, and I trust it completely, by the way. It has never steered me wrong. That only happens when I ignore it.) but what I noticed, intuitively, is that Josh Fox and the guys on “Now You Know” were definitely displaying this hyper-outraged, let’s-compare-this-thing-to-the-most-horrific-thing-we-can-think-of-so-that-no-one-wants-anything-to-do-with-it, super-emphatic, emotionally aggressive reaction to the movie. They were “triggered,” to use the parlance of our time.

I also had to forget, for a moment, that this was Josh Fox who was so triggered, and that I really like Josh Fox and respect his work.

One of the things they were the most triggered about is the movie’s suggestion that perhaps our planet is overpopulated. This suggestion immediately sparks the reaction from both Josh Fox and the “Now You Know” guys that Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs are saying we need to literally start murdering half the people on the planet. Of course, Michael Moore, Jeff Gibbs, and the movie are definitely not saying any such thing. This reaction, though, is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs are absolutely not suggesting any kind of mandatory rules or anything about the number of children you’re allowed to have, nor are they suggesting any kind of genocide, but Josh Fox and the “Now You Know” guys want you to think they are. If this interchange were to have happened on Facebook, it might go a little something like this:

Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs: The population of the Earth has grown exponentially over the past two hundred years. Maybe the Earth just doesn’t have enough resources to support all of us, given how much of its resources we all consume. Maybe we should try not to consume so much.

No. No one is saying that. And it’s quite frankly ridiculous to suggest that anyone is. It really is a very large leap from what the film actually says to “They’re in favor of ‘Population Control!'” Plus, I noticed, no one is refuting the actual numbers used in the film to demonstrate how much Earth’s human population has ballooned out of control over the past century. They’re not saying Earth is not overpopulated, they’re just saying if you state that fact out loud, then you’re in favor of “Population Control.” Obviously.

Didn’t it used to be kind of an environmentalist thing to choose not to have kids because overpopulation? I mean, having fewer kids and being less of a consumer used to be things environmentalists were in favor of. I remember that. Back in the ’90’s. I was there. I swear people talked about that. I even knew a dude who got a vasectomy. But now, we can’t talk about it because it somehow equals picking an ethnic group to kill off? When did that happen?

There’s a quote that I would like to attribute to Edward Abbey. I’m pretty sure it was him. But it goes, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.” (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone Ol’ Cactus Ed was kind of a racist and kind of a sexist. They’ll try to cancel him.)

But here’s my point. I think Josh Fox knows that Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs aren’t talking about population control. I think he knows damn well. But I also think he’s pissed at them for kind of shitting on his solar and wind party. Likewise, I also think he knows damn well they’re not advocating for continuing to just go ahead and use oil and gas until we die, or until we run out of oil and gas, whichever comes first. Anyone who walks away from the movie thinking that is consciously choosing to think that, willfully misunderstanding. I think Josh Fox knows that what this movie is saying does not amount to “oil and gas industry talking points.”

One could just as easily say that the film is secretly making the case for a return to nuclear energy, which it also is not doing.

I think Josh Fox is pissed off. And I think he’s pissed off not because he actually thinks the entire movie is bullshit, and not because he thinks Michael Moore is now siding with the oil and gas industry, and also not because he’s afraid that this movie is going to do any effective harm to our planet, nor is he pissed because he truly thinks Michael Moore is advocating population control. He’s pissed because Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs are calling into question one of the main platforms upon which Josh Fox has gained fame, notoriety, and credibility. Not to mention money. I mean, they’re kind of blowing up his whole thing. The same could be said for Bill McKibben.

So, it’s not that Josh Fox is so terribly upset about the supposed invalidity and falsehood of the movie and that he thinks it actually endangers the planet. He’s so terribly upset because it endangers his professional credibility and threatens his career. You can tell by the gaslighting. Same thing can be said for the somehow solar industry connected “Now You Know” guys.

Over the past fifteen to twenty years, there has definitely been a kind of “establishment” of the environmental movement that has developed. And it gets just as threatened as the “establishment” wing of any political party when it’s challenged. And the “establishment” of the environmental movement has gone all-in on solar and wind. Even though, there are legit environmental issues with solar and wind. They are by no means perfect or without environmental impact. Others have been pointing this out for years. Long, long before Planet of the Humans. It’s just that these other people who have been raising these concerns for years aren’t academy award winners.

And the “establishment” of the environmental movement reacts the same way when it’s threatened that the “establishment” of a political party reacts when it’s threatened.

It weaponizes emotion.

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