Summary: 19th Gentle Thinkers Debate (Awareness of social, moral and political issues)

“How far should we go in raising an indifferent public’s awareness of important social, moral or political issues?

Some believe “ignorance is bliss”, and the more they know the more they get worried. But we can’t be indifferent about everything. Is it morally permissible to encourage other people to worry about certain issues, say global warming, human rights, animal rights, etc. to precipitate effective action? Should we consider people selfish if they are innately not concerned about such issues, or merely show token agreement?”

Note: This summary is based and interpreted from notes taken during the debate and from the group’s online discussion board and may contain errors. If you wish to correct, be attributed to or contribute content, please contact me or post a comment.

More summaries can be found via the Summary Index.


  • Reading list and introductory essay byThor May

  • This question could also be translated to “How far should we go to inform others of what we know as the truth, if we don’t know what the consequences (of our actions) are?”.

  • There is a common belief that people can’t make a difference. To overcome this, people need to have their awareness raised. There are some very rare people who make this happen.

  • The group concluded that situations suggested by the question are difficult to think about and solve. Situations where we have personal involvement may cause us to hesitate. For example, convincing a friend that they are in an abusive relationship.

  • Some of us feel duty bound to attempt awareness raising while others aren’t sure if we are morally allowed to change someone’s mind. Some of us worry that we are letting guilt trips to do all the work.

  • It is extremely difficult to know if you are right.

  • Moral awareness depends on (personal) circumstances, we may need to resist the powerful and dangerous views even if they delivered by charming people.

  • For some members, it is inevitable that we will be manipulating others or employing the same tactics as the “enemy” while we try to raise awareness. Some members find this morally repugnant but we may find ourselves doing this when faced with a difficult audience.

  • Emotions can cause us to lose sight of our goal while we try to deliver the message.

  • An important part of raising awareness is to check if people are open to change. They are more likely to be receptive towards you and your message. Policy resistant systems or the ironic effect may have a negative or ineffectual on your work.

  • People don’t like being morally judged.

  • One member suggested that raising awareness is a form of conflict resolution as it involves interaction between concerned parties. To be successful, we shouldn’t meet the resistance head on and we should make change a positive experience.

  • While raising awareness, we should be open to learning from our intended audience or the people we are fighting against.

  • We’re not sure if empathy is necessary or a useful thing to have when discussing and raising moral consciousness.

  • Some group members suggested that a top-down approach (government and policy first, masses last) may be an effective way or a good starting point to raise awareness.

  • There are gaps between the “elite” and the rest of us. We aren’t sure if the elite need to dumb down the message or do the others need to educate (and desire to) themselves so they can understand the message.

  • One members suggested that one way to educate people is to teach (indoctrinate?) them from a young age to become interested in social, moral and political issues and/or be morally obliged to help others.

  • It might be more productive to teach and be taught than to indoctrinate others.

  • It may be necessary to offer alternatives for the masses as it is hard to convince people.

  • Some people don’t feel passionate enough to change the world but they can change their small part of it.

  • One member commented that our society forces us to be too busy to take the time to raise our own awareness, let alone others’.

Interesting questions posed by the group:

  • What are the most effective ways of dealing with social, moral and political issues?

  • Is it practical to change the minds of the government than those of the masses?

  • How do you inform importance?

  • Does raising people’s awareness result in effective change, or does it just result in ineffective action and a lot of worry and depression?

  • Are there contexts where only a) methods using persuasion and manipulation or b) ones aimed at raising awareness and collaboration are applicable (eg science, discussion, education, personal growth, learning and development, political activism)?

  • What is material wealth?

  • Will the collective intellect of humanity helps us in the race for sustainability? Will we make better technology?

The following three questions were asked by a member (Rob’s thoughts) in response to discussion’s theme.

  • How do we balance, on the one hand, the rights of groups in society that would like to increase public awareness in relation to issues they consider important with, on the other hand, the rights of individuals to choose for themselves their level of involvement in issues, in particular those who choose to have no involvement? Do people actually have a right to no involvement? Are these individuals contributing to lesser outcomes for society? Do these groups with a message go too far at times, infringing on the rights of citizens? Should our society put in place changes guiding the way in which these groups go about their attempts to voice their message? Are these groups, in practice rather than theory, contributing to greater or lesser outcomes for society?

  • How do you personally feel when you encounter these groups with a message?

  • Do you think there is any value in assessing the behaviour of these groups and the behaviour of these citizens with low interest from the moral perspective? If so, how so? If not, why not?

Additional content covered by the debate:

Technocracy [Wikipedia]

Voting systems and voter apathy

Bunyip aristocracy

Climate change and future sustainability

Doctors and Scientists for Sustainability and Social Justice [Website]

Hail Mary pass (a term that refers to any last-ditch effort with little chance of success)

Risk assessment and moral imperatives

Technological Singularity [Wikipedia] [YouTube Video]

Small Australia debate from the 2010 election

A definition of economics

Bonus Material

Value pluralism [Wikipedia]

Examining opinions [Zen Pencils comic] as taken from a speech delivered by Tim Minchin [Video]

Carl Sagan on science and government [YouTube Video]


More summaries can be found via the Summary Index.

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