The management of uncertainty is served by resistance to change insofar as change (by its very nature) upsets existing realities and is fraught with epistemic insecurity. *
MORE ON CHANGE & UNCERTAINTY
If you have a strong psychological need to keep things as they are, you’re likely to reject information that, if true, strongly implies the need for major change.
There’s a certain logic to all of this, if we understand that fear of change and an aversion to ambiguity are among the core personality traits research has long attributed to conservatives. Regardless of the changes being proposed or imposed, the comfort of the decisive familiar resonates more deeply with those inclined to conservative thought and principles.
It is thus not too much of a leap to appreciate why conservatives, much more so than progressives, are content to rely on what is, and to defend the status quo as strenuously as necessary to maintain the familiar and the “safe.” To that way of thinking, peak oil and climate change are topics not worth considering. If only….
Basic postulates of System Justification Theory
I. In general, people are motivated (often unconsciously) to justify and defend the status quo, such as prevailing social arrangements and political and economic institutions.…
V. The system justifying goal can be satisfied through several means such as endorsement of certain ideologies, the legitimation of institutions and authorities, complementary stereotyping, rationalization, denial, and minimization, etc.
System justification behaviors are certainly not restricted to those on the Right’s side of the political divide, of course. But the actions taken by those identifying themselves as conservative in its various shadings—when measured by the standards of facts and evidence—clearly predominate when it comes to dismissive treatment of facts, evidence, and realities which call for significant changes in how we live and work.
DENIAL & RESISTANCE
The distress sure to follow needed adaptations and changes prompted by the realities of climate change and a decline in the availability and affordability of our primary fossil fuel resources all but guarantees more strenuous resistance. The greater the potential for significant disruption—as the realities and consequences of climate change and peak oil suggest—the more pronounced will be the efforts to deny, dispute, mischaracterize, and avoid.
Not only are people motivated to avoid social issues when they feel issues are complex—thus maintaining their present level of unfamiliarity—but this effect appears strongest for those issues believed to be most urgent and serious.
It is at times when change is most needed, therefore, that people may become the most likely to defend the status quo and agents of sociopolitical systems.
As such, the present studies suggest that rather than ensuring those in charge are maximally qualified to be in charge, and rather than remaining especially attuned to any limitations of the system, the psychological processes that are instigated when issues are seen as both severe and complex may limit any criticism of the current system and its decision-making process.
And, perhaps even more critically, they may also prevent the types of behaviors, such as information gathering, that are necessary to efficacious social action.
More often than not, those efforts are intended to reinforce a Cornucopian point of view that all is well and will continue to be well, which can only be supported if what’s offered contains as little genuine factual information as possible. The Left’s immediate response to that approach: what’s to be learned by blatant denial of facts, evidence, and reality when the potential for such great and long-lasting harm is so clear?
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
If the traditional conservative principles and their associated behaviors are likewise causing harm, the other question which those of us on the Left want desperately to ask is: Are you not paying attention?
Creating more problems by denying the current state of affairs or trivializing the details in favor of buttoning up the issue quickly is probably not a wise choice, yet too many seem conditioned to do just that much more often than circumstances warrant.
How does the fear of change, and the corresponding unwillingness to consider new information or perspectives, merit greater loyalty than one’s own well-being—now and in the future? We’re presumably dealing with a lot of rational and intelligent adults, so how do those more basic fears outweigh the risks entailed in choosing to stand where they are in the face of so much evidence suggesting greater harm?
But the bigger issue is not how to continue supporting one’s belief system in the face of potential change. The more important question is: do we create more harm for ourselves and others by failing to question or think about what we’re confronted with? Do we give in to the emotional responses which first set us on the paths of ideological reassurance, or can we find room for reasoning before arriving at final conclusions? Given what we face, is that “automatic” and unquestioned response wise?
Is the ideology more important than our longer term well-being? Who wants to explain that to our children as they are forced to deal with the prior generation’s unyielding loyalty to principle and its deliberate ignorance about the world we’re dealing with?
* Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition by John T. Jost Stanford University; Arie W. Kruglanski University of Maryland at College Park; Jack Glaser University of California, Berkeley; Frank J. Sulloway University of California, Berkeley.
Psychological Bulletin Copyright 2003 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 2003, Vol. 129, No. 3, 339–375
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