Ideas that add up #127

Marketers use extrinsic values like social status to help sell cars or to encourage us to shop conspicuously. But many social marketers also advocate the use of such extrinsic appeals to drive environmentally-friendly behaviour. This is despite studies repeatedly showing that these tactics are likely to backfire: engaging extrinsic values tends to erode wider environmental concern.

…If we are serious about building irresistible public demand for ambitious policy change, the implications seem clear: we should always prefer to communicate about issues in ways that connect with intrinsic values; we should avoid communicating in ways that connect with extrinsic values; we should recognise the crucial importance of beginning to achieve coherence in this across ‘causes’. No cause is an island: it is the values we use to communicate which are more important in shaping public appetite for action on a wider range of different social and environmental issues than the particular causes upon which we focus.

Tom Crompton at Transition Free Press, 31st October, 2014

This came up a lot last week, a week of collective thinking and drinking up at the quarry minus the distractions of life down here. 

We hold inside us values — deep embedded guiding forces — that promote self-acceptance and care for others and concern for the living world. These are our so-called “intrinsic” values. They are inherently rewarding and promote a happier and healthier life for ourselves and everyone. We also hold values promoting self interest in the form of external approval and rewards. These are the “extrinsic” values, readily activated by appeals to fear, greed and vanity. 

So goes Crompton’s and the Common Cause people‘s reading of the values literature.

The presiding “frames” for public life in the age of homo economicus are largely extrinsic. The advertising industry and politics and media and big-budget entertainment are the archetypes. They harp on people’s desire for wealth and status, reinforcing the frame in which life becomes a never-ending stream of zero-sum transactions. This strengthens the whole package of extrinsic values that we carry within, at the cost of our precious, good, intrinsic values. And we are weaker for it — less able to carry out the behaviours and make the decisions that might direct us towards a world that is happier, healthier, kinder and more sustainable than the one we live in today. We find ourselves locked into frames dictated by overwhelmingly extrinsic values, and are left barely able to talk or even think about the things that matter.

The Common Cause challenge is to recognize those frames inside and all around us, and to be wary of deploying arguments and incentives that activate extrinsic motivations. So, framing anthropogenic climate change in apocalyptic terms may not be the way to go — let alone presenting it as a business opportunity! Better where we can to communicate in ways that speak to the intrinsic side — to our innate benevolence and universalism and capacity for love and friendship.

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