Perusing AlterNet’s headlines today, I noticed the new EnviroHealth article expands on a subject covered in both Daily Grist and Gristmill. Zack Pelta-Heller discusses the the pros and cons of different approaches to environmental activism. Case in point: The Sierra Club uses positive reenforcement and collaboration to get Ford to alter its modus operandi, while the Rainforest Action Network is much more confrontational and antagonistic, running an ad in The New York Times comparing Ford CEO Bill Ford, Jr. to Dick Cheney and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. RAN justifies its methods with the following anecdote:

There’s a story about a guy with a mule. He couldn’t get the mule to move. His friend says, “You’ve just got to whisper ‘Move’ in his ear and he’ll move.” So the first guy whispers into the mule’s ear. Nothing. He says louder, “Move!” Nothing. Eventually the friend says, “Here, I’ll show you.” He takes a two-by-four and whacks the mule on the head. Then he whispers, “Move” into the mule’s ear, and the mule moves. The first guy is shocked by the violence. “What was that about?” “Well,” says the friend, “first you have to get his attention.”

So my question is this: Is the “two-by-four” method necessary to make the “whisper” method effective? I’m tempted to say Yes, because large corporations are quite good at being deaf when it serves their financial interests. However, as per the recent Gristmill discussion about the value of eco-sabotage, antagonism has a way of boomeranging and estranging people that aren’t already singing in the choir…

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