MachiavelliThe popular sustainability website 2degrees occasionally reposts blogs from here. One, on using Green Jujitsu to deal with climate sceptics, really rubbed an academic up the wrong way. He raised a good point - whether reframing arguments to help you 'win' is ethical - but he couched it language ranging from snidey barbs to vitriolic insults, so it was impossible to debate with him on a rational basis. After a couple of attempts, I refused to indulge him, he got seriously nasty, and 2degrees removed his contributions for breaching their guidelines.

But now in the peace of a blog post, I can consider his point calmly. Is Green Jujitsu unethical? Is reframing arguments to match the interests of your audience respectful or disrespectful? When does persuasion become manipulation?

My view is that sustainability is too important and difficult a subject to waste time handwringing or pussyfooting around - we need to be skilled in the arts of persuasion. On the other hand, I think the Machiavellian dictum "the end justifies the means" is dangerous on both an ethical and practical level as it opens the door for all sorts of unintended consequences and takes you onto a slippery ethical slope. Anakin Skywalker thought he was doing the right thing but ended up as Darth Vader, after all.

Seriously, though, Green Jujitsu is essentially about framing sustainability in a way that makes it appealing to the audience. Any topic can be seen through a number of mental 'frames' or viewpoints, each of which reduces the bandwidth of information to make the subject comprehensible to us. So we can look at sustainability through an ethical frame, an economic frame, a technological frame, a social frame, a scientific frame, a selfish frame, an altruistic frame, a business opportunity frame etc, etc. Sustainability remains sustainability, it's just the perspective that changes.

My accuser's position assumes that his worldview (science) is the correct one and he can teach people to adopt it by correcting their 'misconceptions' through dialogue. To him that approach is open and honest, to me it is arrogant - I'm right, you're wrong - and impractical - tell people they're wrong and the natural reflex is "no I'm bloody well not!"

I would argue it requires humility to set aside our own default frame for sustainability and consider somebody else's worldview instead. Green Jujitsu acknowledges that others' values are almost certainly different from our own but are just as valid. It's about finding common ground between their worldview and sustainability and using that as a starting point for engagement, getting off on the right foot.

And there's nowt wrong with that!

 

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