Now consider another related trait implicated in our divide over reality: the ‘need for cognitive closure.’ This describes discomfort with uncertainty and a desire to resolve it into a firm belief. Someone with a high need for closure tends to seize on a piece of information that dispels doubt or ambiguity, and then freeze, refusing to consider new information. Those who have this trait can also be expected to spend less time processing information than those who are driven by different motivations, such as achieving accuracy. A number of studies show that conservatives tend to have a greater need for closure than do liberals, which is precisely what you would expect in light of the strong relationship between liberalism and openness. ‘The finding is very robust,’ explained Arie Kruglanski, a University of Maryland psychologist who has pioneered research in this area and worked to develop a scale for measuring the need for closure.
I don’t pretend to be a psychologist. I have no formal training of any kind in that discipline, either. I read a lot. So I’ll accept at face value that there is considerable value in and for all of us to have motivations other than accuracy when dealing with various issues.
But on matters of significance outside of our own four walls, when facts actually matter a great deal, where is the ultimate benefit to an individual or for the community at large if factual accuracy is not the objective in both the analysis and in the solutions? Can anyone rationally suggest that discounting the facts of income inequality; climate change; energy supply issues, or Donald Trump’s endless capacity to lie about … everything is of any practical or enduring benefit to our society?
At what point does the facilitation of stress-free and cognitive-clear days become the worst objective rather than the first?
A considerable body of evidence substantiated by a wide range of research, science, and the collective weight of individuals who actually know what they are talking about tells us that continuing our intense, energy-driven society is already causing us problems which show no sign of abating … ever. So what’s the benefit in knee-jerk denial to preserve today’s financial and psychological comforts?
Conservatives tend to dispute climate change not so much because they doubt the science. They instead allege nebulous conspiracies with the occasionally wild-ass rationale as to why such an extensive and diverse group would be plotting such a thing [to obtain research funding is one theory floated around … yikes!]; or as is closer to the truth, they don’t like what has to be done to actually address the problem: a much greater role for government and a matching impact on corporate practices and profits.
Several politicians with ties to the fossil fuel industry have also claimed that the consensus view is a hoax. For instance, US Senator James Inhofe of Kansas called climate change ‘the greatest hoax ever’ (Johnson , 2011) To claim that climate change science is the greatest hoax ever is at minimum, if not a lie, reckless disregard for the truth given the number of prestigious scientific organizations that have publicly supported the consensus view, the undeniable science supporting the conclusion that if greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere some warming should be expected, the clear link between rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and increases in fossil fuel use around the world, as well undeniable increases in warming being that have been experienced at the global scale.
Did you see the big smack down last night between MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)? The dean of disinformation mostly just repeated his well-worn falseshoods about global warming, which Maddow shot down.
But there was one remarkable admission from the former Chair of the Senate Environment Committee:
‘I was actually on your side of this issue when I was chairing that committee and I first heard about this. I thought it must be true until I found out what it cost.’ In short, learning about the (supposed) high cost of the solution is what turned him from a believer in climate science to a denier.
If we cannot depend on leaders to tell the truth and use their presumed better judgment to address matters affecting society, is it too much to expect that enough individuals—otherwise inclined to go along with whatever is said by their leaders of choice—might pause every now and then to ask What Happens Then?
Can even an irrational mind understand that postponing the examination and addressing of critical matters will only make matters worse? Should we be content to hope that unknown date will be well beyond our own demise [and that of our children and grandchildren so that no one we actually know and love will be impacted]? Is this our standard MO in everyday living also?
In isolation, the rationale for opposition makes sense and is certainly consistent with the limited role for government/support for free market solutions which are clearly prime components of the conservative ideology. But the scope of climate change’s impact—the facts—suggests a more reasoned assessment and actually addressing the problem is a more urgent approach than appeasing psychological inclinations. The facts and the impacts are going to make themselves known to even the hardiest and delusional of the hardy and delusion. That bodes well for exactly none of us.
That’s not the only significant political and cultural issue whose scope and impact extends well beyond the comforts of our own homes and personal motivations. Will any of us really “win” in the long term if only a select few are “winning” now [and have lassoed others into helping those few]?
What happens to most of us when reality on these major issues barrels though our front doors no matter how dedicated and how clever the opposition and has been in denial, delay, and avoidance? Finger-pointing won’t be terribly helpful at that late date.
Adapted from a recent blog post of mine