An honest creationist? »« Second-degree terrorism

Worldview vs scientific literacy

A new study in Nature finds that, contrary to what you might expect, a person’s level of scientific literacy is not the best predictor for how likely they are to be concerned over the risk of climate change. Instead, the best predictor for a person’s concern over climate change is the hypothesis that

…people who subscribe to a hierarchical, individualistic world-view—one that ties authority to conspicuous social rankings and eschews collective interference with the decisions of individuals possessing such authority—tend to be sceptical of environmental risks. Such people intuitively perceive that widespread acceptance of such risks would license restrictions on commerce and industry, forms of behaviour that hierarchical individualists value. In contrast, people who hold an egalitarian, communitarian world-view—one favouring less regimented forms of social organization and greater collective attention to individual needs—tend to be morally suspicious of commerce and industry, to which they attribute social inequity. They therefore find it congenial to believe those forms of behaviour are dangerous and worthy of restriction

This is a significant finding, because it suggests that efforts to improve scientific literacy are going to be ineffective in promoting a greater willingness to address global warming issues. As with religion, people who are smarter than their peers, but still loyal to an authoritarian worldview, are more likely to use their intelligence to invent arguments and rationalizations intended to promote their party’s agenda regardless of the real-world consequences.

This, in my mind, makes it highly doubtful that the accommodationist approach will ever be successful at anything other than maintaining an unfavorable status quo. What influences worldview-based thinking is not calm, comfortable discourse, but rather the perceived power of the relative positions. People will be convinced that global warming is a real threat only when (a) disastrous natural changes become undeniably real (by which time it will be too late), or (b) when they perceive that the global warming position is the stronger and more authoritative position to take. That means hearing about it from “alpha males”—not that gender is or should be the deciding factor, but that the kind of semi-instinctive dominance we associate with the term is what we need to influence those with an authoritarian worldview.

The same applies in the arena of religion as well. Calm, comfortable discourse only makes people feel comfortable with the way they are. Change comes only when people develop an uncomfortable perception that the other side is more powerful, and the New Atheists deserve at least most of the credit for the creation (such as it is) of that perception in society today.

Comments

  1. Tyrant of Skepsis says

    What the hell is wrong with people who think like that? In what universe is “It would hurt the economy” somehow a cogent argument why AGW can’t be true. I refuse to call someone who is capable of promoting this level of wishful thinking “smart”. The alternative is that they are cynical monsters who knowingly promote a fatal or at least catastrophic course of action for profit.

  2. sailor1031 says

    seems to me this study just identified the difference between liberals and conservatives, in a nutshell. Not just on climate change but on everything that’s important.

    • John Horstman says

      Well, yeah, in a way. A whole lot of ‘Conservatives’ are authoritarian individualists, which is what they’re describing. I just read something in the past week about the connection (it was exploring why ‘Conservatives’, who are supposedly anti-government, crave strong authoritarian social controls like sex laws or theocracy – now I can’t remember where it was).

  3. Timberwoof says

    There’s been a lot of discussion on these blogs about tone: those in religious or economic power keep telling the rest of us to be polite and nice. I’ve heard “You gays would make more progress if you weren’t so militant” far too may times. But the opposite is true: Act-UP did eventually get change started, and Dan Savage’s “Bullshit!” got a lot of attention, especially from people who happily beat people up (literally or figuratively) for not following them.

    It seems that the Rethuglicans know this already and are applying it. And “we” know it too: how often has it been said that the Democrats need to grow some spines?

    Someone else already said it here somewhere … humans are not truth-detection engines; we’re Machiavellian optimization engines. I guess we have to democratically come to a consensus and collectively decide that the best course of action is to kick some ass.

  4. Emptyell says

    Timberwoof:

    “There’s been a lot of discussion on these blogs about tone: those in religious or economic power keep telling the rest of us to be polite and nice. ”

    Courtesy, politeness, standing on ceremony, these are important in civil discussions between colleagues and supplications to the monarch. They are not generally effective ways to challenge authority, correct social injustice or change entrenched views.

    Of course if all you have is outrage that doesn’t go so well either since the other side usually has most of the guns.

    I see a lot of corollaries to the courtesy/tone trolling going on in the sexual harassment grass fires blazing all over FTB. Whenever authority and privilege are challenged tone and civility seem to leap to the top priority in the minds of the privileged.

  5. Tige Gibson says

    Dominant males (chimps, dogs, what-have-you) are more likely to hold Libertarian views because it would preserve their status, but it still doesn’t explain why most people (who are not dominant) make ironic personal sacrifices for such a worldview that eschews sacrifices for common good when it clearly benefits someone else.

  6. Tyrant of Skepsis says

    but it still doesn’t explain why most people (who are not dominant) make ironic personal sacrifices for such a worldview that eschews sacrifices for common good when it clearly benefits someone else.

    The American Dream as a provider of meaning, hope and second hand glamor only works if you let the “rags to riches” people have their riches unhindered. They live the dream, and nurish the hope for the rest to once be them.

  7. Jim Baerg says

    BTW what is this notion of ‘hierachical individualistic’ vs ‘egalitarian communitarian’ world views. Can someone point me to an explanation? A few minutes with Google didn’t help much.

    I tend to think individualistic = anti-hierarchical or anti-authoritarian.

    My own views lean toward egalitarian individualism, eg: all people are equally free to swing their fist so long as the fists don’t approach other peoples faces ;-)

    • M Groesbeck says

      It’s “authoritarian individualism” in the Libertarian Party style — a person in a position of relative advantage has the authority to exploit that advantage to any extent without limits based on the well-being of others.

  8. Brandon says

    In contrast, people who hold an egalitarian, communitarian world-view—one favouring less regimented forms of social organization and greater collective attention to individual needs—tend to be morally suspicious of commerce and industry, to which they attribute social inequity. They therefore find it congenial to believe those forms of behaviour are dangerous and worthy of restriction

    Doesn’t this suggest that many of our allies have also reached their conclusion using entirely the wrong mode of reasoning as well? The reason to be concerned about AGW shouldn’t be inherent suspiciousness of regulation or suspiciousness of commerce and industry, it should be that the evidence is quite clear on the matter. Someone correct me if I’m misreading something, but my take home from this is that people simply aren’t using evidence-based reasoning to arrive at their conclusions on AGW, whether they get it right or wrong.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      No, I think you’re reading it exactly right, and I think it should be cause for concern. On the other hand, when a Koch-funded climate scientist and AGW denialist looks over the evidence and comes to the conclusion that global warming is indeed a real problem, there’s little room for doubt where the global warming facts are.

      • O'Hurlihee says

        There’s a growing body of evidence that seems to show no one really comes to conclusions based on evidence or rational decision-making — we all pretty much formulate a conclusion based on our preconceptions and prejudices and then embark on a big confirmation-bias fest to support them in ways that don’t appear so personal and subjective. The difference is that people with liberal/anti-authoritarian personalities are much more likely to change their beliefs in response to contradictory evidence than those with conservative/authoritarian personalities (and those in the latter category, in fact, become more steadfast in their views the more barbarian facts howl at their gates).

        Chris Mooney has written substantial columns about the phenomenon (here and here), as well as a book; Jon Haidt’s The Righteous Mind (reviewed here) addresses the same issue with a slightly less partisan focus.

    • Tyrant of Skepsis says

      If I weren’t an atheist… seriously, the tactics and arguments of these people strongly remind me of what Mephisto would advocate. WWMD, so to say.
      I can imagine a little horned devil on their shoulders, whispering in their ears: “Don’t you worry about logical arguments, logic is for loosers. Think about how this would hurt the economy. CO2 is a part of nature, the plants need it! You do like plants! It can’t be true if it calls into question the american way of life, now can it? Drill baby, drill, the rapture will come long before the storm.”

  9. Nemo says

    This formulation, “hierarchical individualists”, is something of a revelation to me, in my long struggle to understand right-wingers, and the seemingly vast gulf between the way they prefer to identify themselves (as individualists), and what their policies reveal them to be (authoritarians). I need to think about this.

    • O'Hurlihee says

      Check out Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians, available for free on his website. It’s a good overview of several aspects of the authoritarian mentality — suffice it here to say that authoritarian herd responses and a desire to be socially dominant go together more often than you’d think.

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