Saturday, April 14, 2012
It's Like Living With Crazy People
Case in point. A great guy. We've been friends for almost 40-years. He's devoutly Conservative and has been actively involved in the party longer than I've known him. Well educated, well traveled, well spoken. He has had a career as a lawyer, judge and an elected official in two levels of government. He remains a backroom guy in his party.
We happened to get on the subject of global warming a couple of weeks back. I told him how we see it setting in out here on the Wet Coast. He came back with the standard denialist retort. It was all a hoax by the scientists. The earth has always warmed and cooled in the past. Global warming is a myth.
I asked my friend how he would have handled the global warming argument had it come before him when he was sitting on the bench.
One side, seeking to legally prove the fact of global warming, adduced a mountain of peer-reviewed studies from top climate scientists in the broad array of "earth sciences" including geology, hydrology, botany, biology, meteorology, chemistry, epidemiology, atmospherics and so on, all of which corroborate the greater theory of global warming.
On the other side, the denialists. Now they didn't have any prominent earth scientists or any peer-reviewed research or studies. Worse still, they didn't even directly address any of the science the other side had amassed. They simply stood up and said it was a hoax.. because they said so. They argued the earth had warmed and cooled in the past so there was no need to consider what all that science was demonstrating. That was it, case closed.
Now my friend could see where this was going and he knew he was getting boxed in so he deftly derailed it by saying he couldn't respond to a hypothetical scenario.
Then I fell back on the "scientific method" argument, how all this mass of global warming science stood unrefuted, how the scientific method invites others to show it erroneous. And I asked how, with trillions of dollars potentially at stake, the greater fossil fuel industry wasn't even trying to use science to disprove the link between carbon emissions and global warming. I asked what it said that the fossil fuel industry was using public relations, not science, to fight back? I asked why the fossil fuel industry wasn't spending at least several billions of dollars on its own research if it even suspected the conventional science was flawed? Follow the money.
By this point my friend became exasperated, apparently feeling beset. He couldn't respond to any of this. He didn't even try. He simply blurted out "it's a myth" and that was that.
In subsequent conversations I began to discover what was behind his seemingly senseless denialism. My friend is a devoted, loving grandfather. Accepting the reality of anthropogenic global warming to him means admitting that his grandkids and all the other grandkids in the world are facing a very troubling future, one that we have handed to them, one of our making. His moment of contrition came when he said, "I think they're going to hate us." And then the moment passed, my friend hit his internal "reset" button and it was - as it began - all a hoax.
And, just minutes after posting this, I stumbled across a piece from the Washington Post exploring the divergent political psychology of conservatives and liberals. Part of this is described as "the need for cognitive closure."
This describes discomfort with uncertainty and a desire to resolve it into a firm belief. Someone with a high need for closure tends to seize on a piece of information that dispels doubt or ambiguity, and then freeze, refusing to consider new information. Those who have this trait can also be expected to spend less time processing information than those who are driven by different motivations, such as achieving accuracy.
A number of studies show that conservatives tend to have a greater need for closure than do liberals, which is precisely what you would expect in light of the strong relationship between liberalism and openness. “The finding is very robust,” explained Arie Kruglanski, a University of Maryland psychologist who has pioneered research in this area and worked to develop a scale for measuring the need for closure.
...Anti-evolutionists have been found to score higher on the need for closure. And in the global-warming debate, tea party followers not only strongly deny the science but also tend to say that they “do not need any more information” about the issue.
For Conservatives it's a "don't confuse me with the facts, my mind's made up already" world. They can reach certain conclusions, not for want of facts but because facts aren't wanted or welcome.
And that's how we wind up in a society where one part insists on living in reality and the other part is equally insistent on living in beliefs even if they border on outright fantasy. A divide like that is a perfect opportunity for those who peddle wedge politics using fear and anger as their currency. It's a world tailor made for creatures like Stephen Harper.
It's like living with crazy people.