I admit it, I have underestimated the virulence of the climate change Deniers.
Increasingly I am convinced (by them) that we are dealing with a hysteric, desperate, terrified mob driven by ideologues.
My post Love, blood and rhetoric really got the Digg Patriots into a froth, so I used the opportunity to see if I could cajole/goad/bait anyone of them into making a single relevant, rational comment about the post. I wasn’t hoping for much, just about anything that referred to what was actually said and responded with something that made any sense would have done.
No luck. Several of the commenters even took took pride in their certainty that what I had written was treasonous, dangerous propaganda despite their not having read a single line of it. Several threatened to (and supposedly did) report me to the FBI/Homeland Security even though they hadn’t actually read the piece. Wow!
Which led me to rereading a Sun Magazine interview with Chip Berlett, and realizing that I had failed to appreciate the full significance of something he said.
“Barsamian: The virulence of language on the Right is acute. Everything is Armageddon, apocalypse, or a “nuclear option.”
Berlet: That’s because it’s portraying the political opposition not as people with whom you disagree but as a force of evil with whom there can be no compromise. How can you compromise with Satan? How can you compromise with the people who want to destroy America?“
Of course. The obvious lack of logic has a certain twisted logic to it. To them there is absolutely no point in even looking at what I (or anybody) said, or the science etc because it could not possibly be right. It is “known” a priori to be wrong, so what possible reason could there be for looking at it?
Further, to them, I as the author (or presenter) of the piece am not a human who might engage in honest debate, rather I am seen as a hate filled, close minded idealogue who is beyond the pale, so refuting the article would also be a complete waste of time.
In fact, the alleged ‘reasoning’ seems to be that if I were capable of thought at all I would not have authored/presented the piece in the first place, ergo my presenting them with evidence contrary to their beliefs is “proof” that there is no point in even looking at the evidence. To them it is a priori known to be obviously false and anyone who accepts it is clearly incapable of rational thought, hence not open to rational discussion.
If that were not enough, some of the commenters statements suggested that they seemed to believe that even to expose themselves to the kind of blasphemy that the piece obviously was (having been posted at News Junkie Post, IP address 666 . 666 . 666 . 666), would be irrational. Knowing what I had said was not merely irrelevant, it was potentially dangerous. Wow, just wow.
It’s an extreme variant of the “No true Scotsman” logic fallacy. It is taken as an absolute truth that no rational person could accept climate science, so if you accept climate science you are obviously not a rational person quod erat ignoratum, so what possible purpose could be served by talking to you?
The psychology of motivated reasoning was recently explored more fully by Chris Mooney (but you read about it here first ;-) ) and there is little comfort to be found there. For one thing, suffering from the condition not only makes you pretty much impervious to facts and logic, it also makes one incapable of realizing that you’re doing it (as per Dunning Kruger).
Tweeting “Al Gore is a hypocrite RT plz #idiotsnmorons” is far more likely to get people doing it than “Read this great article on climate sensitivity wrt H2O vpr http://bit.ly/i4$hrGt” will.
He also touches on the problem of social exclusion as a consequence of holding ideas different from the group ie if you don’t chant with the herd you are ostracized. As such many are more motivated to choose social acceptance over sanity when the two are in conflict (as per “Understanding Stupidity“).
In discussing his article with Mooney Andrew Revkin said “My learning curve on cultural cognition has led me to mostly abandon my expectation that better information and communication could change the public debate.“
I agree with Revkin if we add the small conditionality “…expectation that just better information and communication…” Education is still critical, just insufficient, which of course was the main point of the Love, blood and rhetoric post. That being said, there are a few things worth noting.
It’s still a gradient
The demographics of climate change opinion maybe bimodal when plotted as a simple yes/no, but I suspect it is still rather more of a normal bell curve if we were to plot intensity of opinion, or at least a weaker bimodal.
Granted there is a growing gap (yes, it’s getting worse), but we are talking about people here, not whether a coin is heads or tails. That is to say that there are still huge numbers of people who are not so extreme in their views as to be unreachable through reasoned discussion. This is the group we should be talking to about what their concerns are and what is the basis for their doubts about climate science.
What’s a thinking conservative to do?
There are many conservatives (some of them influential and/or with credential) who accept the reality of climate science; some even blog on it (Tom, you there?). See for example “Confessions of a Climate Change Convert” by D R Tucker which is posted on the Frumm Forum. Another post of his “NH GOP Splinters in Climate Fight” makes my earlier point.
We have a common objective with these conservatives, to restore sanity to the debate. Granted their credibility within the conservative community is tinged by accepting climate science (as per social exclusion above), but nonetheless they are insiders who we should learn from and cooperate with where we have common goals.
Too smart to be dumb
As Mooney notes (and is confirmed in a follow up) those with more education are much more susceptible to propaganda because i) they are much more effective at rationalizing their own contradictions, and ii) they firmly believe that they are far too smart to be dumb.
As such the most entrenched idealogue is much more likely to be a civil engineer or physician than a farmer or labourer.
As I have repeatedly noted, the rural poor are our natural allies despite their general conservatism. Stereotypes aside, they are both more open to rational argument and more likely to be climate victims than the urban professional. We need to be reaching out to them as much as we can in every way that we can.
It’s about values
As Mooney notes, the receptivity to accepting facts is heavily contextual. For example, the Deniers framed Cap and Trade as being about limiting free enterprise. Progressives could have framed it as a system that rewarded the smartest businesses by allowing them to capitalize on their ingenuity. I am not commenting on C&T one way or the other here, merely noting that it could have been presented differently.
Naturally there is the problem that if climate science starts being framed in a way to appeal to moderate conservatives it may start alienating some Progressives. This approach is very nuanced and complex and should only be undertaken after careful thought and discussion. Even so, it is another opportunity to make progress.
So what we get is a mixed message. Many of those denying climate change are beyond rational discussion and almost certainly always will be. However, they do not represent a majority and what we learn is that there are groups and individuals that we can and must talk to.
Further, I suspect that they are not the ones who will visit climate blogs of any form or any of the standard outlets by which we might seek to engage with them. So where do they go for information that we might reasonably hope to have that dialogue? (not Fox News obviously).
Personally I don’t know. I doubt that there is an easy answer to that question. My suspicion is that we need to get the inert middle talking about the issue and it is those people that the more moderate conservatives may listen to.
Right now I get the sense that the “silent majority” is in conflict avoidance mode with respect to this issue (ie they wish both sides would shut up and go away), which is a theme I hope to explore at much greater length in the near future.
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
It is worth knowing and abiding by whether you comment on this blog or not.
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