When I was a kid, I had a family member who really liked celebrity news. Entertainment Tonight, VH1’s Behind The Music, and a number of other shows focused on the lives of well known people. Sadly, it was almost always rather formulaic. A person works really hard to become an actor or famous musician, and makes it. Then, all hell breaks loose when the person gets into drugs, and they hit an all-time low just as things should be getting really good for them in life.
Surrounded by sycophants, nobody is there to tell them when they’re making mistakes. Things get worse and worse until the person hits rock bottom, and either a near-death experience or time spent behind bars shakes them out of the bad rut they’re in.
When I write about accountability, I’m not talking about canceling people or trying to find ways to destroy lives or livelihoods. I’m also not talking about using the law against people. Sure, if things get really bad, those things end up happening, but our goal should be to keep our friends and family away from those bad things — to change course long before hitting the iceberg.
If we step up early enough, often all we need to do is speak out. When a person sees that their friends don’t agree with what they’re doing, they’ll often stop doing it because they value the friendships. A healthy group will watch out for each other and do this. An unhealthy group, on the other hand, will make excuses, engage in delusions, or even just ignore the problematic behavior altogether.
Example #1: Joe Biden’s Border Wall
Business Insider reports that the Biden Administration is considering resuming construction of the border wall started by Donald Trump. Initially, Trump’s wall was suspended on Biden’s first day in office, leading many to celebrate. Why? Because the border wall is an environmental disaster. About the only way to get any use out of the wall while allowing wildlife to move would be to “cut it off at the knee” and make it into a vehicle barrier.
Instead of removing or shortening it, administration officials are now talking about finishing it up. If finished, this would effectively make it Biden’s border wall instead of Trump’s.
There’s a reason I chose this for the first example: politics makes rational thinking difficult. It’s easy to fall into the trap of tribalist thinking, and it’s hard to get out of that. Instead of thinking about what’s right, many people would rather think about what’s best for the short-term interest of their side. If that’s happening to you right now, I’m not trying to pick a fight or insult you. It’s human nature, and it’s not really your fault.
Because the plan to resume to the border wall’s construction is in the early stages, it’s the perfect time for us to speak up. If the Biden administration can see that people aren’t happy with the idea of finishing up the wall, they’ll have to think twice before actually doing it.
The natural thing to do at this point is start looking for ways to minimize or excuse the border wall’s resumption, but if we want to be a healthy community of clean technology fans, we have to be better than that.
Example #2: Death Threats Against a Mach-E Owner
The owner of a Model X, Sergio Rodriguez, recently decided he wanted to try something new: a Ford Mustang Mach-E. After purchasing it, he took it on a trip across the country. He had a lot of good to say about the vehicle, but that was too much for some Tesla fans, who not only gave him crap over it, but even sent some death threats.
The right way for a healthy community of Tesla fans to handle this is to condemn the bad behavior. We don’t even have to take the blame for it as a community to do this, either. Something like “If Tesla fans did this, they aren’t welcome in our community” is enough. That condemns the behavior and shows that it’s not welcome.
Instead, I’m seeing things we shouldn’t be seeing. People are calling it a TSLAQ plot, saying that Ford is behind this somehow, or that Rodriguez deserves the death threats because he lied about the range. I’m also seeing “no true Scotsman” posts on social media, saying that no “real” Tesla fan could possibly be making death threats.
Like I said, we don’t need the whole community of Tesla fans to take the blame for what these few people did. The only thing we need to make clear is that such behavior is not acceptable in our community. To do anything less makes us all look like we approve of it.
Things We Can Learn
I wouldn’t personally go as far as to call the Tesla and cleantech communities toxic. To call something that’s normal human behavior toxic misses the point entirely, and risks that we don’t actually learn anything from it.
The important thing is that we continue to grow and learn as a community.
When we set up echo chambers, only interact with people we agree with, and get angry at anything we don’t like, we risk becoming an unhealthy community of enablers. Instead of knowing what’s really happening in the electric vehicle world, we can easily get to the point where we operate on our preferred myths instead. When that disconnect from reality happens, we become not only less effective at helping our own side, but end up doing things that are bad for it.
Perhaps worse, if we stop valuing reality and truth as a community, we leave ourselves open to being swindled by professional liars and politicians (yes, I know, same thing). The desire to be told what we want to hear could cost us everything if we fall for big scams.
When we embrace truth, even truths that make us uncomfortable, we can be a healthy community. Not only are we better at defending our community’s interests this way, but we can also know what our best interests even are. We can be resistant to both fraud and error this way.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Featured image by Alex Proimos CC-BY 2.0