“Yay, Environment!”

In Epsilon Theory-speak, we use “Yay, Good-Thing!” as shorthand for a Narrative that takes a linguistic construction that we all agree is a Good Thing (something like “capitalism” or “freedom” or “democracy”) and turns it into a behaviorally powerfully argument for something that is decidedly not that Good Thing, but can be painted with other behaviorally powerful words into something that sorta kinda looks like that Good Thing if you squint really hard and you say the behaviorally powerful words loudly enough.

In rhetorical construction, “Yay, Good Thing!” is a variation on begging the question (in the correct way of understanding that phrase, where the conclusion is assumed in the proposition), or if you’re in marketing or sales you would recognize this as a variation of the assumptive close. The typically-but-not-always unspoken corollary to the “Yay, Good Thing!” narrative construction is “You’re not against Good Thing, are you?”, which is the linguistic stick to the “Yay, Good Thing!” carrot.

Socrates would call “Yay, Good Thing!” sophistry, and he hated the Sophists with a deep and abiding passion. Same. In the modern world, the Sophists are powerful government and corporate interests (aka the Nudging State or the Nudging Oligarchy if we’re going to continue in Epsilon Theory-speak), and the “Yay, Good Thing!” construction is their go-to narrative weapon in the Forever War of stripping away our autonomy of mind.

If you want to read more about our take on “Yay, Good Thing!” narratives, here’s the Epsilon Theory note that started all that.

Anyhoo … I was thinking about “Yay, Good Thing!” today because of how the “Yay, Environment!” implementation of this narrative device is being used to shape the politics of two issues that we’ve been writing a lot about recently: work and crypto.

“Yay, Environment!” is now one of the primary threads in the narrative-world battle over the future of work.

It’s a very powerful narrative thread. It’s a big reason why “Remote work is here to stay!” is winning this narrative war, and you are going to see a lot more “Yay, Environment!” rationalizations for remote work policies in the future.

Similarly, “Yay, Environment!” is now one of the primary narrative threads in the narrative-world battle over the future of Bitcoin.

Here’s the latest, from Elizabeth Warren, but you’re no doubt familiar with Elon Musk’s oeuvre here, as well.

And yes, this construction of “Yay, Environment!” does indeed speak the usually silent part – “You’re not against the Environment, are you?” – out loud. And yes, you’re going to be seeing A LOT more of this narrative. Not because it’s right. Not because it’s wrong. But because it WORKS.

It’s all just another weapon in the ongoing narrative war for Wall Street control and US Treasury visibility over Bitcoin.

— Ben Hunt | June 10, 2021 | 9:24 am

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  1. It also works in the opposite. There is “Boo, bad thing!”. Many times the bad thing is “socialism”, “fascism”, etc. I am not arguing for socialism or fascism, just that the issue, policy, or thing that is bad is painted with this brush.

  2. Ben,
    I think “Yay Environment!” goes way further than promoting remote work or de-legitimizing cryptocurrencies. It is used primarily to shut down all rational debate on anything remotely related to global warming, from banning plastic bags all the way on up to nuclear power. Throw the word “sustainable!” in there, and… poof! You have the ultimate in smiley-faced, nudging authoritarian ideological policy smothering you before you even realize what happened.

  3. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    Connection to the widening gyre: in Warren’s quote, substitute, eg, “… crack down on environmentally wasteful video games”. Now the hoi polloi have one less thing to amuse them.
    Know what they still have, though? 4-Chan and Twitter and all that other rhino stuff. Don’t need a big graphics card for those.
    Rinse and repeat. But I am sure Warren is aware of this risk/opportunity?

  4. This post slipped past me when it was published in June. In the case of both Remote Work and Bitcoin, the focus is on emissions control, which is a sub-component of Yay, Environment! Others would include biodiversity, soil erosion, etc., each of which forms a part of Yay, Environment! and each of which finds its own set of applications within narrative world. Carbon emissions are often conflated with Climate Change! and Climate Crisis!, wrongly imo, but that’s a separate discussion topic altogether.

    It seems absolutely accurate to view all these and other packaged narratives as having the underlying objective of overcoming our autonomy of mind. In the case of Bitcoin, it seems to have been largely ineffective because Bitcoin and other crypto currencies seem to experience ups and downs that are in no way related to the carbon footprint argument. It seems that the people concerned about the carbon footprint of crypto are not the same people investing in bitcoin or driving the pro-bitcoin narratives, and the carbon emissions aspect of the discussion hasn’t taken hold strongly enough to make a difference in either sentiment or the direction of policy. I’m very interested to hear thoughts from Pack members on why the carbon related argument has so far been ineffective but has been so strongly effective in other areas such as anti-plastics, anti-coal, anti-oil, etc. The obvious answer is that plastics and oil are used by all people, whereas bitcoin exists in a more narrow and esoteric sub-segment of the population, but there may be other reasons that Pack members can identify and share.

    What determines the quality and effectiveness of a narrative? Following are some thoughts:

    1. Credibility of the Missionary or Missionaries among members of the target audience. Doctor Oz may be an entertainer but his audience considers him credible as a medical advisor and he has proven himself an effective missionary.
    2. Credibility of the data or facts presented in support of the narrative, and how well or not well the audience understands them. An audience with a poor grasp on the subject can be misled more easily, particularly if its members have already bought in to a related narrative or a foundational narrative on which the new narrative is built.
    3. Quality of the Medium - Spending money on high quality memes and videos must increase the effectiveness.
    4. Frequency, ubiquity, timing and persistence of the messaging. Missionaries that can marshal a larger army of soldiers and financial donors can presumably win on this point.
    5. Ability to piggyback on other successful narratives. If people are already bought in to a premise based then it should provide fertile ground for Missionaries to propose add-on narratives that fit neatly with previous ones, and this should reduce the cost and risk associated with promoting the second [piggyback] narrative.
    6. Emotional stimulation and sense of purpose. Narratives that people seeking a sense of purpose in their lives can embrace as their new raison d’être based on targeted emotional stimulation (save the whales, save the rainforest, etc.) should, all else equal, stand a better chance of gaining traction and momentum. Similarly, when a population is frustrated (say due to wealth inequality) it should be easier to convince them that big bad oil companies or mining companies or pharma companies are to blame, or colonialist mentality and culture are to blame, and that these things or the institutions that represent them should be targeted as part of “doing the right thing”, which is often an attractive raison d’être.
    7. Strength of the counter-narrative defense mounted by the target group. A counter-narrative can seek to either debunk, modify or drown out the original narrative campaign with its own messaging and/or confuse the audience and create enough reasonable doubt that the original message is rejected.

    Very interested to hear thoughts and opinions of the Pack on this. Thanks very much.

    1. Ease and effectiveness of signaling I agree with the message. Is it easy for me to broadcast that I agree with the message and do I win points in my social network for doing so?

    Plastics, coal, and oil are all tangible, have been around for many years, and the average person understands them and their applications. None of that’s true for Bitcoin. I think in the back of many people’s minds are things like the Mt. Gox hack… i.e. “Bitcoin might go away at any moment” so why worry about it?

  5. I agree that most people see bitcoin as a temporary and non-significant fad that doesn’t warrant their attention or effort of any kind. They think they understand plastics, coal and oil anyway, but most people who have strongly negative opinions about these things don’t understand them. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing because people are quick to treat it as complete knowledge when it suits their convenience.

  6. I think the success of the NFT sector has been partly because there’s no well constructed narrative to attack it with. Yay Environment! just doesn’t work well because it’s too far removed. Bitcoin on the other hand is a specific type of crypto, and a well known one at that. Ether and the NFT space are probably going to continue to benefit from this lack of organized opposition. Plus it feeds into the whole “Virtue Signaling As The Business Model” thing.

  7. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    I think the term that one of @harperhunt, @Chris_Whatley or @bhunt coined in a recent team meeting was “weaponized virtue signaling”, although I think they meant it in a good way.

  8. I agree that Ether (and other crypto) and the NFT space are going to continue to benefit from the lack of organized opposition. I think part of the natural cycle of bubbles is that they grow and evolve, as the external conditions in which they exist also evolve, and at some point the payoff for breaking them becomes worthwhile for certain Missionary groups on a cost/benefit basis. It’s usually expensive to mount a successful campaign, and Missionaries also face costly reputational damage if they try and fail at this, so they’ll wait for the right conditions before they start making the investment and take the plunge. Bitcoin took years before it was a worthy target and it became one partly because it grew large enough that it started cutting in to traditional wealth management business. Players then found it worthwhile to employ political influence to impose regulatory measures and mobilize Missionaries including Elon Musk, which must have taken some real investment and real backroom arm-twisting to make happen. NFT is not yet at that point, and although it will undoubtedly get there, I find it hard to predict which Missionary groups will mobilize against it and what kind of approach will be taken.

    The Dutch tulip mania lasted ~three years, and the bubble burst when professional brokers and traders got involved and it became obvious that the tulip supply chain and market could not support the pricing that the bubble created. Tulips are still prevalent today, as cut flowers, ornamental plants, etc., but priced based on rational market factors and priced as a function of the actual utility (enjoyment of flowers) that they provide to end users. I think that similarly, NFTs will be part of our economic lives for a long time to come, but the mania pricing can only continue until the point where a Missionary or two determine that the investment for popping the bubble is worthwhile when weighed against the expected value from alternatives (popping other bubbles or feeding other narratives in pursuit of profit, defense of existing market position, etc.).

    Just taking a wild guess, I can see a narrative emerging that NFT investment is unethical because ISIS or some other terror group is creating NFTs and selling them to raise money for terror, or the Chinese are selling NFTs to raise money for their plan for genocide and/or world domination. In that case, I think the likely Missionaries would be non-profit organizations backed by private donors and public funding, and taking on a high profile battle would boost their profiles and donor funding significantly enough to make it worthwhile.

    It will be interesting to continue observing how things really play out with NFTs.

  9. First thing that came to my mind when I read your reference to “weoponized virtue signaling” was the animal rights groups that targeted the Canadian seal harvest in the 70’s and 80’s, building a global public narrative that frightened the Canadian government into all kinds of nonsensical concessions out of fear that Canada’s other commercial interests may be harmed if they didn’t capitulate. It is well-known within the affected coastal communities that these groups tactically provided unlimited amounts of alcohol to a few chosen seal harvesters and then offered them cash (a large amount for fishermen who were not making big money) to brutally torture and kill animals on camera. They then broadcast that footage, combined with their weopanized virtue signalling, to generate horror among members of the public globally, and that resulted in $millions upon $millions in donations flowing in. Senior people from these organizations truly enjoy the good life and have a strong ability to mobilize resources for a cause if they determine it to be worth the cost and risk. Early on they recruited celebrities to join their Missionary movement, and that strengthened the effect of weoponized virtue signalling. It worked extraordinarily well for them. Today, many of the same organizations that did this consistently receive hundreds of millions of dollars annually in donations and their model now extends into many other areas where the cost/benefit of their campaigns pays out in sufficient measure to keep it all going. I personally am supportive of a lot of what they do to reduce the poaching of endangered animals and mistreatment of animals but still am dismayed by many of the strategies and tactics they employ.

    Regarding your team meeting discussion, I’m interested to know - how was “weoponized virtue signalling” meant in a good way? Thank you.

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