Columnists: Hans Nilsson, Fourfact

Published on: 19 Aug 2016

Who is not a sceptic?

Why on earth have we allowed deniers of climate change and xenophobes to call themselves sceptics? Why have we accepted their diluting of the language and obvious attempt to paint their hostile attitudes in brighter and lighter colours? Why don’t we call a spade a spade?

A sceptic is, according to Merriam-Webster, “ a person who questions or doubts something (such as a claim or statement): a person who often questions or doubts things” and to deny is (according to the same source): “ to say that something is not true” or “ to refuse to accept or admit (something)” .

Being sceptic is basically something good. Maybe we could go as far as saying that it is a scientific attitude. But denying is not – it is just stubborn and in some cases plain stupid.

So why do we allow the use of the word sceptic when talking about climate change or immigration, to point at some of the worst cases?

The answer could be that we are victims of an on-going and long-lasting process to frame the world and its problems in conservative terms. A conservative attitude that has its base in “a father model” of how the world is (and should be) organised, says the cognitive linguist Georg Lakoff in his book “Don’t think of an elephant”.

In this model the father knows what is best and decides what to do. Even when he is wrong he has to be obeyed. It is a biblical attitude, so for many people it stands on firm ground. Closely connected to this model is what Lakoff calls direct causation, i.e. when people see a direct link between one cause and one effect. Remember the US senator who showed a snowball in his speech and used it as an explanation that global warming was not existing!

The opposing model is what Lakoff calls the nurturant parent model. Both parents (and the surroundings) are responsible for raising the child to citizens showing empathy, responsibility and commitment. People with this attitude are also more prone to systemic causation and understanding the complexity of life, society and systems.

Conservatives, whose view on life and politics has roots in the strict father model, have been very successful in their attempts to frame the debate during the latest decades. Progressives have been struggling uphill with less success. This observation has also been made by Owen Jones in UK in his book “The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It” where he talks about what is known as “The Overton window”, the window of discourse , which is the range of ideas the public will accept.

When we allow people who object climate change and are hostile to refugees and immigrants to portray themselves as “sceptics” it is a clear proof that the conservatives have been successful. We should not allow this to happen and to counter their views by using their wording.

We should call a climate change denier just what he is. And to frame the value of fighting climate change by showing that positive effects such as a more robust economy, less dependence on imports, and more and better jobs.

We should call a xenophobe just what he is. And frame the value of greeting refugees in terms of human (and if you wish Christian) decency. And greeting immigration as an opportunity to add to our competences and trade opportunities to mention a few possibilities.

We are the real sceptics! Those with the scientific attitude that requires: “ principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. ” (Merriam-Webster again!)

The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Hans Nilsson