When I investigated I discovered that Marc Morano is driving traffic my way because he had included CEJournal on the blogroll of his Climate Depot Web site. For those of you who don’t know who Marc is, many progressives consider him to be the evil leader of the climate denialist empire. (And simply because I’m on Morano’s blogroll, I fully expect the Romm – ulans to attack me as a “denier-eq”.)
This got me to wondering: Why the heck would any of you Moranoans bother to read my stuff? When it comes to climate change, I obviously believe that we have a very serious problem demanding strong action. Moreover, I think many of you guys live in an alternate universe in which your basic political and philosophical orientations preclude acceptance of the very idea that humans could dominate global life support systems. Perhaps this is because acceptance of this idea comes with recognition that the free market alone isn’t going to help us get out of this fix. And for many people, that’s simply anathema. (Of course, folks who make their fortunes in the fossil fuel biz, along with their facilitators, have their own reasons.)
On the other hand, I also acknowledge that some climate activists live in their own alternate universe. At the extreme, some folks in this universe see every puff of wind and every thunderstorm as attributable to climate change (not to mention bridge collapses).
So why do we beam down into each others’ alternate universes through our blogs? Are we really open to ideas that conflict with our own? Or is something else going on?
With a nudge from Nicholas Kristof’s terrific column in today’s New York Times, I sought some answers at www.yourmorals.org. The site includes a series of surveys developed by researchers to assess how liberals and conservatives weigh various factors differently. Their goal is to learn something about moral psychology. My goal in taking the surveys was to learn something about why I think what I think, and whether I’m as open minded as I like to think I am.
For the record, I consider myself slightly liberal, and I honestly can’t say that I’ve ever voted for a Republican for president. On the other hand, I do pride myself on striving to keep an open mind about issues, and not only to understand where people with different points of view are coming from, but also wherever possible to find common ground.
So, what did I learn from the surveys?
On the “moral foundation” survey, I came out as a little schizophrenic, siding with liberals on some foundations and conservatives on others. But the truth be told, I actually was on the conservative side on three of the foundations, the liberal side on one, and right in the middle on a fifth foundation. (Uh oh, here come the Rommulans again…)
I also took something called the “Empathizing and Systematizing” survey. When it comes to empathy (“the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion”), liberals are supposed to out-wuss conservatives. But surprisingly, the survey has shown that conservatives score ever-so-slightly higher in the empathy department. (You wuss’s!!). Meanwhile, the political divide with systematizing (“the drive to analyze the variables in a system, and to derive the underlying rules that govern the behavior of the system”) is unclear. This trait is allegedly more masculine, and conservatives like to think that they have the macho edge. (Didn’t we just learn otherwise?) On the other hand, liberals are supposed to have “a tendency to abstraction,” and to think about society “as a system that can be managed and optimized.”
Where did I come out? I outdid both liberals and conservatives in wussiness AND systematizing. In other words, once again I’m schizoid. (I’m thinking this is a good trait for a journalist.)
Okay, enough of the Opraesque shaaaaring. Let’s get to the main point. The surveys show that liberals and conservatives really do come from different universes. As Kristof puts it in his column, “liberals and conservatives don’t just think differently, they also feel differently.” For example, if you’re a liberal, chances you won’t feel as bad as a conservative about slapping your father in the face in a comedy skit. Even with a father’s permission, conservatives would find this too much of an assault on authority. (For the record: This would bother the heck out of me.)
But there is one thing that unites us: Our moral frameworks convince us of our own rectitude, and close us off from considering other points of view. “It appears that we start with moral intuitions that our brains then find evidence to support,” Kristof writes.
So I’m betting that little of what I say here at CEJournal is actually going to convince you to change your views about climate change, because they stem to a large degree from more fundamental frames of mind. To the extent that you come back here it’s because you find tidbits that reinforce your view that I’m a pathetic climate alarmist who is hellbent on destroying the economy. Similarly, little of what I find on Climate Depot is likely to convince me to change my views, and is more likely to reinforce my feeling that you guys are completely divorced from scientific reality. (Although since I probably score higher on wussiness AND systematizing than most of you do, maybe I’ll be more conflicted…).
Does it have to be this way?
“Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games,” says Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, quoted by Kristof in his column. (Hey, that nicely explains the success of blogging, doesn’t it?)
But as Kristof says, our hard-wiring for social interaction suggests ways for opponents to influence each other:
Gay rights were probably advanced largely by the public’s growing awareness of friends and family members who were gay.
A corollary is that the most potent way to win over opponents is to accept that they have legitimate concerns, for that triggers an instinct to reciprocate.
Now get this: The best way to start this process, Kristof says, is to eat meals together, “for that breaks down ‘us vs. them’ battle lines that seem embedded in us.”
Alright then, so the next time you’re in Boulder, shoot me an email and we’ll go have some coffee. (You’re buying!) With a bit of luck, maybe we can agree that regardless of climate change, we need an Apollo-scale effort to develop transformational energy technologies.