Upcoming Scientific Publication: ( ) governments can and even should move beyond existent levels of public permission in order to shift norms, allowing public sentiment to later catch up with the regulation.
In a peer-reviewed paper by the American Institute of Biological Sciences titled Social Norms and Global Environmental Challenges(available ahead of print), to be published in the march 2013 edition of the Institutes yearly journal BioScience, a group of well-known scientists calls on government and scientists to start with the planned social engineering of norms and values in regards to environmental policies. In addition, they propose putting into effect all sorts of environmental fines and regulations in the spirit of Agenda 21 to hasten the social acceptance of increased governmental control. Also, they propose that the scientific community as a whole should align itself with government through a concerted effort to change personal and social norms.
The group of scientists involved in the upcoming publication include two Nobel Prize winners, economist Kenneth Arrow and political scientist Elinor Ostrom, as well as behavioral scientists, mathematicians, biologists- not to mention population scientists, the most well-known of whom are Paul Ehrlich and Gretchen C. Daily- whose professional relationship dates back to the Ecoscience days. The authors start out by stating:
Some have argued that progress on these (global environmental) problems can be made only through a concerted effort to change personal and social norms. They contend that we must, through education and persuasion, ensure that certain behaviors ( ) become ingrained as a matter of personal ethics. Stating that education and persuasion are insufficient to accomplish behavioral changes, they note:
Substantial numbers of people will have to alter their existing behaviors to address this new class of global environmental problems. Alternative approaches are needed when education and persuasion alone are insufficient. Policy instruments such as penalties, regulations, and incentives may therefore be required to achieve significant behavior modification.
Proposing that effective policies ( ) are ones that induce both short-term changes in behavior and longer-term changes in social norms, the collection of prominent scientists assert that government is uniquely obligated to locate the common good and formulate its policies accordingly.
The upcoming report however stresses that scientists are given the tools to have a hand in
government policies intended to alter choices and behaviors such as active norm management, changing the conditions influencing behaviors, financial interventions, and regulatory measures.
Each of these policy instruments potentially influences personal and social norms in different ways and through different mechanisms. Each also carries the danger of backfiring, which is often called a boomerang effect in the literatureeroding compliance and reducing the prevalence of the desired behaviors and the social norms that support those behaviors.
Eroding compliance, it is called. Anticipating that an increase in regulatory interventions by government are sure to create resistance among the target population, the scientists express confidence that their recommendations can be carried out in a way that abides by the principles of representative democracy, including transparency, fairness, and accountability.
Despite these on-the-surface soothing words, the authors stress that government (and the scientific community) should ultimately move beyond public consent when it comes to top-down regulations imposed on the American people:
Some have argued that regulations are inherently coercive and cannot or should not exceed implied levels of public permission for such regulations. An alternative viewpoint is that governments can and even should move beyond existent levels of public permission in order to shift norms, allowing public sentiment to later catch up with the regulation.
By admitting they are willing to move beyond existent levels of public permission to push ahead with draconian environmental policies, these prominent scientists (among whom we find two Nobel laureates and one Paul Ehrlich) have proven their willingness to deceive the American population for their environmental control model. As Aaron Dykes put it while interviewing Lord Christopher Monckton,, the environmental cause is nothing more than an absolute valued pretext for their absolute control model.
The engineering of public norms serves not so much any environmental cause, but another one, namely that environmental policies, even draconian ones, will finally be perceived by the US population as being consistent with their own personal norms.
The way in which government may go about it shifting norms, the scientists argue, is by on the one hand managing norms through such things as advertising campaigns, information blitzes, or appeals from respected figures. The other aspect involved is the use of financial incentives and disincentives with the aim of conditioning the public to accept an increasing governmental control over personal behavior. The paper continues by saying that the best way to alter existing behaviors is through persuasive government regulations such as penalties, regulations, and incentives in order to achieve significant behavior modification.
Fines can ( ) be an effective way to alter behavior, in part because they (like social norm management) signal the seriousness with which society treats the issue.
By extension, the authors express hope that behaviors and values will coevolve alongside increased government control in the form of state regulations and fines:
A carbon tax might ( ) prove effective even in the face of near-term opposition. What needs to be assessed is the possibility that behaviors and values would coevolve in such a way that a carbon taxor other policy instrument that raises prices, such as a cap-and-trade systemultimately comes to be seen as worthy, which would therefore allow for its long-term effectiveness
In the context of this idea that shifting norms will coevolve alongside increased government regulations, the authors state:
Each of the government interventions can influence both personal and social norms, although they do so through different mechanisms. Only social norm management directly targets norms. Choice architecture, financial instruments, and regulations can all alter social norms by causing people to first change their behaviors and then shift their beliefs to conform to those behaviors.
In other words: the scientists propose arousing the concept of cognitive dissonance in the minds of people in order to guide the herd towards proenvironmental citizenship.
When it comes to environmental issues, the scientists write, two different types of social norms are at play in these dynamics: social norms of conformity or cooperation and proenvironment social norms. Only the first type need be present to induce proenvironment behaviors (although proenvironment personal norms may emerge from this through, e.g., cognitive dissonance, experience, or associating the positive feeling from social approval for an act with the act itself).
In the upcoming publication the concepts of peer-pressure and cognitive dissonance are being brought into the equation as effective norm-determining factors:
( ) norms of conformity and cooperation are far more universal than are proenvironment norms and are therefore far more powerful in inducing proenvironment behaviors that do not conflict with preexisting values or preferences. In other words, proenvironment values are not a necessary prerequisite to proenvironment behaviors.
While the authors express their hope that government expands control through all kinds of environmental regulations, they argue that scientists (especially life scientists) should align with big government, join forces in an unrelenting campaign to gradually create changes in behavior so environmental policies will be more easily accepted over the course of some time.
Life scientists could make fundamental contributions to this agenda through targeted research on the emergence of social norms, the group asserts.
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