America’s tradition of anti-intellectualism puts a low premium on careful thinking, allowing the substitution of slogans for analysis. The current presidential campaign should be evidence enough of how true this is.
But there is another reason for resistance to careful thinking; it can be difficult and distressing, especially if it leads to conclusions that are uncomfortable or contrary to our current beliefs.
Now would be an excellent time to ponder for a moment or two just how many more problems we want to create, how many more options we want to take off the table, and how many burdens we want to inflict on ourselves by continuing to roll down the same highway without full discussions and disclosures about all of the energy considerations we need to focus on. That won’t always be a happy tale to tell, and it won’t always flatter key players, but it will get more of us thinking and planning and preparing for a different but not necessarily “worse” future.
Scientists say there’s a tension in the brain between responding to new information and resisting overwhelming amounts of conflicting data—and the latter can prevent opinion change.
Altering opinion depends on using different psychological methods tailored to different types of belief.… ‘There’s not much convincing people,’ even when the beliefs in question are purely false, says psychiatrist Philip Corlett of Yale University School of Medicine.
We … [confront] a previously unacknowledged factor that may contribute to the perpetuation of environmental apathy and inaction, namely, the motivated tendency to justify the status quo, especially in the face of threat. Confronting global warming and environmental destruction requires facing up to serious threat, not only because of the scope and unpredictability of the projected disasters but also because they pose a challenge to the very foundations of our socioeconomic system. This threat may stimulate defensive, system-justifying responses and, therefore, continued indifference and exploitation with respect to the natural environment, rather than commitment to recognizing and remedying the problem. (Citations in original)
Given what’s been happening with oil production in the past 18 months or so [duly acknowledging the impressive production gains leading up to that period], I find myself thinking that the near-total lack of preparation for a major energy upheaval is beyond surreal. It’s no different than reading the climate change assessments from scientists worldwide and then observing a collection of fact-averse “leaders” contorting reason and common sense into ideological fluff to avoid the psychological disruption of cognitive dissonance.
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.
According to system justification theory, our evaluations of social systems and institutions are influenced by epistemic needs to maintain a sense of certainty and stability, existential needs to feel safety and reassurance, and relational needs to affiliate with others who are part of the same social systems (_). These needs give rise to a motivation to perceive the system as fair, legitimate, beneficial, and stable, as well as the desire to maintain and protect the status quo (Citations in original).