Energy and the economy represent just two self-relevant domains that people can feel uncertain about, both in terms of how they operate at a societal level and how people should act on them.
This kind of unfamiliarity can be problematic for day-to-day functioning, and can also be psychologically stressful.
NO BLAME ASSIGNED
In short, it is apparent that a solid grasp of the basics (let alone the complexities) of these domains elude many people, and there appears to be a discrepancy between how much people know about social issues and their importance and relevance to one’s day-to-day life.
What even moderately-aware and intelligent adult is willing to admit that they would not be troubled in the least if—for whatever reason—every facet of his or her family, personal, and professional life was significantly impacted—permanently—by some force or event over which that person was then powerless to avoid? The bravest and most self-assured among us would at least blink if life as we’ve always known were suddenly turned sideways. Who wants to even contemplate that, let alone actively involve themselves in dealing with changes of such magnitude?
But if facts and realities and proof and expertise are telling us that that very possibility awaits us if—a big if—we do absolutely nothing, wouldn’t it make sense to try and understand it a bit more, and perhaps express at least some willingness to consider plans and preparations … just in case? A logical inquiry? I’d like to think so, but human nature tends to not always run consistently on a track of logic and wisdom.
Feeling unknowledgeable in the context of broad social issues, we contend, may breed a unique form of psychological coping—one that holds the potential to powerfully undermine individual action.
Namely, feeling unknowledgeable should instigate feelings of dependence on those who manage the system … and, in turn, increase trust in the government [my note: or their preferred media and other influential voices] and the status quo, which can then be protected by the intentional avoidance of the issue at hand.
It’s certainly understandable that all of us express willingness in one form or another to cede our autonomy to others we assume to possess greater expertise or knowledge or understanding on certain topics. The trade-off is an expectation that more efficient and advantageous opportunities or outcomes will result. Try as we might, however, we can’t avoid all responsibility for what happens. Choosing to either remain unaware, or taking the safer psychological route of denying, justifying, rationalizing—or whatever other tool/technique might be available to us to keep us out of the loop—is a choice.
Choosing, or choosing not to choose, still makes us responsible for what happens—comforting as it might be to pretend otherwise. Avoiding responsibility rarely is the best or wisest choice, however. The higher the potential stakes, the greater the potential consequences if reliance on denial, misinformation, or outright avoidance are the only options chosen.
System justification can have positive effects in the short term, such as alleviating the anxiety, uncertainty, and fear elicited by threats to the societal status quo. However, the long-term implications of pursuing the system justification goal can be negative, especially for members of disadvantaged groups. Although system justification can stimulate a process of rationalization of the way things are, helping people cope with unwelcome realities, it can also interfere with forming intentions or taking action to correct injustices or system-level problems. Consistent with self-interest, those who are advantaged by the system typically engage in system justification more enthusiastically than those who are disadvantaged. However, system justification needs may lead people to support and rationalize the social system even in situations in which they are harmed by it. (Citations in original)
While system justification carries a hefty logic to its utilization, it clearly has its drawbacks in matters of potentially great impact. It’s hard to argue that the potential consequences of unchecked climate change and/or dismissive treatment of the realities of drawing down finite energy resources carry anything but potentially great impact. So here again, falling back on understandable, common human nature is not always the best first choice.
As that same study cited earlier in this post makes clear:
How do people cope when they feel uninformed or unable to understand important social issues, such as the environment, energy concerns, or the economy?
Do they seek out information, or do they simply ignore the threatening issue at hand?
One would intuitively expect that a lack of knowledge would motivate an increased, unbiased search for information, thereby facilitating participation and engagement in these issues—especially when they are consequential, pressing, and self-relevant.
However, there appears to be a discrepancy between the importance/self-relevance of social issues and people’s willingness to engage with and learn about them.
Leveraging the literature on system justification theory, the authors hypothesized that, rather than motivating an increased search for information, a lack of knowledge about a specific sociopolitical issue will (a) foster feelings of dependence on the government [my note: or their preferred media and other influential voices], which will (b) increase system justification and […] trust, which will (c) increase desires to avoid learning about the relevant issue when information is negative or when information valence * is unknown. (Citations in original)
Worth pondering, sooner rather than later?
* The emotional value associated with a stimulus
~ My Photo: A View From Salt Island © 10.13.12
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
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