Moving the social goalposts: the importance of humour in signalling changes in the climate debate

Following my previous post highlighting the emergence of humorous articles regarding Global warming The Global Warming comedy show I realised this marked an important change, but in order to explain it, I needed to publish my Social Boundary Theory of Humour.

To put it simply, the┬áSocial Boundary Theory of Humour says that we find things funny because they are at the boundary of acceptability, AND that we use humour to communicate and “discuss” these boundary. (Which rather explains why I no longer find the BBC funny!)

However, the implication of that, is that people will tend to use humour when they are unsure of the social boundary and are searching for the “social norm” or the limit of social acceptability. (We don’t e.g. ask is it OK to say “cunt” – people instead make a joke and judge the acceptability of ideas and words from the response – which is significantly different in different social groups).

In other words, the recent emergence of articles in a humorous tone, is highly indicative of a view that the social boundaries on reporting climate are perceived to have changed. So those journalists treating the subject humorously are in effect asking the question “is this the new social boundary?”.

Thus, based on the Social Boundary Theory of Humour I can conclude:

  1. There has been a perceived change in what is acceptable within society regarding this subject (the moral stigma of being a sceptic has dissipated).
  2. That more than likely once other commentators see the subject being treated humorously, that they too will begin using humour so that they too can explore and discover the new “socially acceptable boundary”.
  3. And basically: that the Global Warming propaganda machine is failing, the fear of “crossing the boundary” to the sceptic side has disappeared and that we sceptics face the real risk of becoming socially acceptable.

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12 Responses to Moving the social goalposts: the importance of humour in signalling changes in the climate debate

  1. Ron Clutz says:

    Nice analysis. We are still a long way from most people able to laugh about climate alarmists.

    I am trying to do my bit. An example:

    • Scottish-Sceptic says:

      Nice article. It reminds me of a book I read with a title like “drawing on the left side of the brain”. Much of it was rubbish, but one really useful idea came out which is this: if you want to draw a face turn it upside down.

      And as each of my children have had the same arts project of “draw a face”, I’ve suggested using this technique and the result is a surprising lifelike representation of a face.

      And the reason is because when we see the face the right way up, we naturally view it as a drawing of two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth – and knowing what it is supposed to be, we then draw what we “know” is there.

      What happens when we turn it upside down, is we break the link with what we “know” is there, and so we are forced to draw what we actually see. We no longer can just assume we “know” should be there.

      So, one of the key things that turned me into a sceptic, was that I printed out the temperature graph, turned it upside down and then asked myself: “if this was a normal plot from my work, what could I say about it” … and I found myself saying “I’m can’t say anything about it … it’s just noise”. So, I was forced to give up my old false perception of it being “manmade warming” and accept the logic of my own analysis: “it was noise”. (And I’m reasonably experienced with noise and temperatures to be confident that analysis holds water)

      • Ron Clutz says:

        As you may know, Freud thought about why we laugh. He concluded that we are amused because an insight comes to us instantly without having to do the intellectual work to “connect the dots.” Thus, the “punch line” in a joke is the moment when all is revealed, when what we have wondered about during the story comes clear.

        In a way, it is like a paradigm shift, as you have noted above, like one of those gestalt diagrams that can be seen a a vase or as two women facing each other. The “Aha” is delightful.

        • Scottish-Sceptic says:

          I was presented with quite a different task: to find some kind of test to work out whether some writing was supposed to humorous. I quickly realised that the “joke” is just a very small subset of humour and being very stylised, it was probably something we learn to find funny. So, I needed to understand the reasons for humour, because if there is a human need for humour, it would be universal across all cultures and a test based on this need would not be culturally dependent.

          Of course, the culturally independent answer I came up with is that humour is largely culturally dependent (except for the parts that test the bounds of acceptable reasoning – as reasoning is usually not culturally dependent).

          • Ron Clutz says:

            You’re right that cultural boundaries are key. Consider the supposed recent quote from a Russian: “It looks like everything Marx told us about communism was wrong, and everything he said about capitalism was right.”

          • Scottish-Sceptic says:

            Of course as a sceptic I needed a theory that was testable – and the prediction that humour changes with culture and how it changes makes it testable

  2. oldbrew says:

    Well, the BBC’s attitude to climate matters is a joke, but not in the sense of ‘funny’ :(

  3. Andy Pattullo says:

    I find it difficult to understand how someone can find humour in climate change, a process for which there is a 97% scientific consensus of certainty that each and every one of my exhaled breaths and every fart is dooming the world to a climate inferno which will only be quenched when sea levels finally crest over the tops of the Himalayan peaks next spring.

    The only way to save us all will be for all world governments, this December in Paris, to accept the will of Mother Nature, David Suzuki, Al Gore and various political and academic opinion leaders who apparently are receiving divine messages of guidance inaccessible to us mere consumers or any credentialed scientist who still remembers and practices the scientific method.

    We must burn capitalism to the ground (but not without capturing the relevant carbon emissions and burying them under some non-GMO trees). Only when seven billion of us voluntarily give up all of advantages gained since the discovery of fire and commit to stripping off our petroleum-based clothes and running naked back into the forests to subsist on twigs and berries for the remainder of our soon to be very short lives, only then will the climate cease changing and polar bears can once again roam in multitudes across the savannah.

    How can this be funny? Gaia is angry and will be revenged. And of course no particular harm is likely to come to Gaia just because seven billion naked, starving, freezing (or roasting), humans with no tools, no organized agriculture and no way to charge their phones are running around fighting over every last crumb and every last stick of firewood. What could possibly go wrong?

    • Scottish-Sceptic says:

      There now no physical evidence of warming and with 15x the number of people dying from cold globally and some 1million extra winter deaths in the UK alone since this scam started, there’s no doubt who’s being immoral.

      Please don’t you dare suggest you have any credibility or morality on your side.

      • Andy Pattullo says:

        Yes I quite agree, nothing I wrote has any credibility, there has been no appreciable warming for nearly 20 years (except in overheated climate computers), ice is increasing, not shrinking, and polar bears are laughing all the way to the pack ice. My comment was of course tongue-in-cheek, however a fairly sizeable bunch of fools will still meet in Paris this December on this theme and plot the downfall of civilization as we know it. The only saving grace is that people will ultimately refuse to give up on the life they have just to reduce a theoretical warming by a 5th of a degree C in 2100. And perhaps this week’s scare of emergency electrical generation measures just to keep the lights on in England will give a taste of things to come to those taken in by the charade of “green energy” as a possible replacement for that which keeps us warm at night.

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