Shaping our identity in large part by the groups we align ourselves with for emotional, psychological, cultural, and political reasons are powerful anchors—individually and collectively. All of us are much more inclined to seek out information and assurances which bolster who we believe ourselves to be rather than contemplate facts or assessments casting doubt about our choices and conclusions.
The more solidly anchored one might be in the identity of their chosen group(s), the less likely it is that information contradicting “group-think” will be received well, or at all. Human nature being what it is, we’re all psychologically inclined to seek out and accept information which supports our beliefs and values, and thus much less inclined to consider data which casts doubts on what we’ve come to believe.
Being actively critical of something one is dependent on is thought to be psychologically uncomfortable, and therefore avoided in favor of increased perceptions of legitimacy, trust, and desirability. System justification theory posits that people are motivated to justify and legitimize the status quo and the system in which one lives. Many mechanisms for this motive have been proposed and studied, including threats to the system, decreases in personal control, feelings of restricted exit, and feelings of dependence on the system. In such situations, instead of becoming increasingly critical of a system that one is dependent on, which would cause considerable dissonance and psychological discomfort, people have been shown to become increasingly motivated to justify and legitimize that system (citations in original quote).
So the message that our technological prowess is a direct contributor to the problems of a warming planet, and/or that for all of our ingenuity and technological advances industry will not overcome the realities of drawing down a finite resource, is especially troubling to a conservative mindset firmly convinced that our market system can solve any problem. Comforting, to be sure. There are sound reasons why human nature is what it is.
But facts tend not to be bend endlessly to psychological or emotional shortcuts we all and each use daily to get us from start to finish. So it is with climate change and the inherent limits of the primary sources of energy society has relied upon for decades.
The same study quoted from above also makes this observation:
[T]he motivation to see industrial corporations and market-based practices, national governments and leaders, and cultural and economic institutions as legitimate and purely benign may inhibit a realistic assessment of the seriousness of the impending disaster and the inadequacy of current reactions to this problem.
[Matthew Feinberg at the University of California, Berkeley] speculated that … the apocalyptic descriptions of global warming’s possible consequences might threaten people’s natural tendency to believe that the world is a fundamentally fair and stable place. Undermining that belief has been shown to increase the likelihood that people will ignore reality and allow events to unfold around them without intervening.
There’s no denying the veracity of that observation. We’ve all made choices to dismiss, trivialize, or simply ignore information or possibilities which create emotional, intellectual, or psychological discomfort of one sort or another. Voluntarily choosing options which intensify stress and anxiety aren’t usually Decision One for any of us. Most of us have much more than our fair share of those as it is.
The potential disruptions, changes, sacrifices, and consequences of the widespread impacts of climate change and peak oil are more than enough to close us off to considering those topics at all. Better that we turn the management keys over to preferred “others” so we don’t have to dwell on such unpleasant possibilities.
While those choices are true, understandable, and nearly universal, the follow-up question is an easy one to ask. Answering … not so much:
Do we prefer risking even greater harm with fewer options available to us by continuing on a path of denial or dismissal, or do we recognize the facts and potential for great disruptions and begin the process of addressing the challenges with more resources and options available today?
Our decision will ripple out and in time affect us all in one way or another. Choices….
NOTE: No post next week; enjoy the holiday weekend!
~ My Photo: A Summer Sunset at Halibut Point, Rockport MA – 2005 ©
We face a choice going forward. There’s a kind of false dichotomy, a false choice that we’re being presented between policies on the left or policies on the right. It’s not left or right, it’s forward or backward. It’s a choice between investing in the future, leaving a better future for the next generation just like parents and grandparents did for us, or ignoring these hard choices and sentencing the next generation to a lower standard of living, to fewer opportunities, and a future that we could do better by. Former USDOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari
Looking Left and Right:
Inspiring Different Ideas,
Envisioning Better Tomorrows
Peak Oil Matters offers observations and insights about the realities of declining fossil fuel production, and its impact on our future well-being