Wuxtry, wuxtry! New research suggests that people aren't reliably committed to "truth," except insofar as holding a "true" belief provides them with some sort of social or psychological advantage. Our rational self-interest, it seems, is rational to the extent that it helps us to get what we want. Opinion is sacred private property, and fact-checkers are bureaucratic thugs who are trying to seize it through eminent domain so that NAMBLA can bulldoze it and build a five-story bathhouse. Read it and weep!
One study looked at opinions on nanotechnology, which tend to break down along ideological lines (depending, I'm sure, on how the questions are phrased, but never mind about that).
Participants in these experiments are asked to describe their cultural beliefs. Some embrace new technology, authority and free enterprise. They are labeled the "individualistic" group. Others are suspicious of authority or of commerce and industry. Braman calls them "communitarians"....Such is life. What's more interesting to me is why someone who embraces authority should be labeled "individualistic," given that this term tends to imply skepticism toward authority. (It's also funny that our nation's "individualists" tend to act collectively for their own common good, while our "communitarians" tend to be isolate and disorganized and unable to agree on the simplest propositions. What a world!)
The individualists tended to like nanotechnology. The communitarians generally viewed it as dangerous. Both groups made their decisions based on the same information.
"It doesn't matter whether you show them negative or positive information, they reject the information that is contrary to what they would like to believe, and they glom onto the positive information," Braman says.
Does this ideological divide explain the debate on global warming, where the individualistic group's views on "authority" and "new technology" tend to become a lot more negative, and the communitarian group's tend to become a lot more positive? Not really. But focusing on the tangential issue of nuclear power helps to obscure that little detail.
In another experiment, people read a United Nations study about the dangers of global warming. Then the researchers told the participants that the solution to global warming is to regulate industrial pollution. Many in the individualistic group then rejected the climate science. But when more nuclear power was offered as the solution, says Braman, "they said, you know, it turns out global warming is a serious problem."I dunno. In my experience, "individualists" are more likely to say that if the goddamn hippies were really worried about AGW, they'd be willing to site reactors in national parks, bwahaha. And "communitarians" are more likely to reject the premise that nuclear is "the only solution" to AGW than the premise that AGW is dangerous. I don't doubt that these are the responses the researchers actually got (unless the journalist is describing their work inaccurately), but I do find it strange that the "typical" communitarian response is one I've never once encountered, despite decades of hobnobbing with communitarians (because the sex is so hot, if you must know). Surely you're not going to tell me at my time of life that the world is changing?
And for the communitarians, climate danger seemed less serious if the only solution was more nuclear power.
The larger problem here is that if you want to take a cold hard look at how ideology affects belief, you probably shouldn't start by uncritically accepting the idea that one group of Americans favors individualism and the other doesn't.
I hold this cultural belief to be self-evident: Individualism isn't a trait that's unique to one group of people, but a concept that's exalted when it's useful and condemned when it isn't, across the ideological spectrum, just like the concept of "community" is. Generally speaking, conservatives aren't anti-community per se, nor are they pro- or anti-authority per se. They're opportunists. As are people on the left, generally speaking, except that I prefer to think of them as "flexible."
Like all perceptive and good-hearted people, you knew this already. But here's something that may surprise you:
In relation to the climate change debate, this [research] suggests that some people may not listen to those whom they view as hard-core environmentalists.We can only hope that these suggestive findings will encourage further research into the theory that America hates hippies. (But not, I hasten to add, into why; there are some things we were never meant to know.)
Meanwhile, what's to be done about the fact that we can all be cloth-eared fanatics when it suits our purposes?
"The goal can't be to create a kind of psychological house of mirrors so that people end up seeing exactly what you want," he argues. "The goal has to be to create an environment that allows them to be open-minded."In other words, we must smash capitalism now, just like I keep saying! It's nice to see that scientists are finally catching on to what the rest of us have always known.