Monday, 20 February 2012

Heartland: Clinging to the Hope of a Capitalist Dystopia, just for Cyberpunk Fans

It's hard to tell both the severe ultra-capitalists and the crazy anti-capitalists that they're both wrong and that we need to find a happy medium, when the capitalists keep fucking everyone around en masse. It makes the craziest, most extreme among the anti-capitalists seem dangerously close to sane.

The latest big fuck-up to worry about is a leak of documents from the Heartland Institute, an American organisation devoted to making things more capitalisty. That's my wording, but honestly not changed too much from their own mission statement. And these leaked documents suggest that they have been awfully unethical in trying to convince people that climate change isn't a real thing. Interestingly, Heartland is denying this, saying the documents are both stolen and fake, which suggests they either aren't stolen documents (they're merely fakes that someone else made, and so cannot have been stolen), or that they keep a supply of their own fake documents, and someone stole those, or that Heartland is full of shit. All very odd.

So what do these documents say? You can read the link above for a fuller account, or better still, read the original documents yourself, but in summary it's a policy document discussing their plans to stop people hearing anything about science (specifically climate change-related science), in school and in the media, and to replace it with their own denialist propaganda. And they've got piles of cash dedicated to nothing but spreading their own message and blocking any other. (And somehow, people call me crazy when I suggest that we live in a society that allows advertising, marketing and public relations far too much influence. It's a struggle to get any important, straight story out past all the random noise, let alone the direct counter-propaganda.)

Contrast this with the 2009 CRU email leak, which had climate change deniers crowing for a short while. The recent Heartland leak has been called a counterpoint to that event, but the two have very little in common. For a start, the Climatic Research Unit people didn't immediately deny everything (nor call the emails fake, let alone both at the same time). They agreed that the emails were genuine, but not a big deal, and carefully explained how they were no sort of evidence of conspiracy at all, that they merely showed some routine processes of honest science, and then pointed out that absolutely none of their data was uniquely "theirs" and that anyone doubting their figures could check with the originators of the data. A perfectly reasonable response by scientists engaged in science, and no serious scientist has thought anything more of it since then.

Heartland, on the other hand, has shown its PRvertising streak by immediately throwing out some meaningless confusion, pointing fingers elsewhere and trying to draw attention away from the actual content of the documents. Given that there can be no genuine scientific value in a large and blatant propaganda campaign, they would be foolish to even consider debating the merrits of their policies honestly and directly.

To be fair, this could be some sort of fakery, a smear campaign against Heartland, but given their actual public policies, you really wouldn't need to fabricate anything new to smear them pretty well. I took a look at their education policy, just out of curiosity, and their position can be summed up as, "pay public teachers less, make private schools for rich kids better." So, fuck 'em.

Also, someone give me a better collective term for all the various commercial opinion-manipulation services than 'PRvertising'.

Finally, this last bit should not be taken as any sort of serious evidence that they're Evil, but given my established interest in names and naming, am I alone in thinking that The Heartland Institute is a pretty decent Evil Corporation name, in the 1984 Doublespeak style? The 'institute' part makes it seem like they're official and clever and officially clever, while Heartland has got to appeal to patriotic sorts - with their hearts and their lands so bizarrely intertwined - without even gluing itself too closely to any particular state's patriots. Silly, putty-brained patriots; you're one more reason powerful PRvertising is a serious problem. There is, of course, a region Americans informally know as the heartland, and this can by some accounts physically, though not really culturally, include Chicago, where this Institute has been based since its foundation in the '80s. But I'd bet it's a name chosen more for emotional effect than descriptive value.