The Heartland Institute’s jaw-droppingly ill-advised, and now withdrawn billboard campaign—pictured here–has drawn a huge volume of denunciations in the last week. There’s not much more to say substantively about the campaign, or the fallout from it, which has included a number of Heartland funders heading for the hills.
But it is fascinating to try to understand why the Heartland Institute may have gone to this extreme. The psychological phenomenon that I see lurking behind these ads is a critical one to understand–black and white, “in group/out group” thinking.
This is something that David Ropeik has already written on very observantly. In trying to explain and justify its linking of global warming with people like Ted Kaczynski and Charles Manson, Ropeik notes, here are some of the things Heartland has said–and the words speak volumes:
The most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.
…what these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the ‘mainstream’ media, and liberal politicians say about global warming.
What is going on here, psychologically, is something called “splitting.” The Heartland Institute is ignoring basic intellectual distinctions and all sense of nuance, and dividing the world up into black and white extremes.
Once you do this, it becomes much easier to group one’s intellectual opponents together with “murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”