Four ways to assemble the evidence on climate change

How it is possible to persuade people who just don’t want to be persuaded?

The answer, from a Cultural Theory perspective, is fairly straightforward. People and institutions with different cultural biases create, fund, support and pay attention to four very different types of evidence. What matters then, if you want to persuade large numbers of people, is to produce and shape a variety of evidence. Here are some suggestions for what climate change might look like, viewed four different ways.

Just before we begin, note that science communicators seem to be ridiculously bad at doing this. Their so-called evidence and so-called solutions are almost always heavily weighted towards the Egalitarian version of climate change alone, which is why their views are contested. As we’re about to show, there’s much more to life than egalitarianism, but since that’s how much of the climate discourse is presented, that’s where we’ll start.

Egalitarian Climate Change:

On this view you should demonstrate with science and/or emotive rhetoric (whichever appeals best to hearts and minds, the Elephant and the rider as Jonathan Haidt would say) that our very civilization is in danger unless we change our profligate ways. Changing our energy sources is to be depicted as only a preliminary step to changing our values. Peter Preston said we need an ‘eco-prophet’ to show us how to believe but this is emphatically wrong. Such Egalitarian eco-prophets as have arisen – Al Gore in the US, George Monbiot in the UK, and many others – have been shot down in flames, derided as extremists.

Egalitarian authority comes most authentically not from prophets but from the masses. Common sense, what everyone knows, is what is true. That’s why ‘scientific consensus’ is so much more important to Egalitarians than it is to scientists themselves (scientists themselves rather like arguing and starting feuds).

Individualist Climate Change:

From an Individualist perspective you should provide information and examples on how to make a profit from climate change, appealing all the while to visceral self-interest. If it turns out you actually can make a profit from climate change, and do so better than your competitors, then climate change must surely exist.

Alternatively, and inversely, demonstrate concrete (not hypothetical or future) impacts on the bottom line of those institutions that have ignored Climate Change.

On this view scientists who make photovoltaics competitive with coal fired power stations are doing more to combat climate change than any amount of hand-wringing by the likes of James Hanson, who is simply discounted as a crypto-religious or crypto-communist ‘fanatical environmentalist’. A figurehead Individualist expert would be someone like Shi Zhengrong, China’s first solar billionaire. Money doesn’t lie.

Hierarchical Climate Change

Paying attention to the Hierarchical perspective you should develop and promote management theories of climate change. If you can reconfigure governance to take account of climate change in ways that enhance management functions, and if it makes evident sense to have a Minister for Climate Change, then climate change must certainly exist.

Alternatively, demonstrate (perhaps by means of case study) real and damaging governance failures of those institutions that have ignored Climate Change in their management structure. What risks demonstrably increase when you don’t have a Minister for Climate Change or a framework for global climate change governance? Ideal Hierarchical experts will be at or near the top of the tree. It will be their status that speaks loudest. If Prince Charles and the Pope both worry about climate change, who are we to argue? Failing the biggest guns, the Head of the Royal Society will do at a pinch, unless you can find someone more senior.

Fatalist Climate Change

With reference to the Fatalist perspective you should demonstrate the randomizing impact of climate change on the status quo. Fatalism thrives by enhancing and systematizing the luck of the draw and turning it into policy (explicit or, more often than not, tacit), or reward (the lottery). Fatalists tend to say ‘climates change!’ with the twin implications that it was always like this and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Fatalist institutions tend to make a virtue of doing nothing about it, and try to make sure no one else does anything about it either.

What not to do

If you keep using only one of the four perspectives described by Cultural Theory, your message will appeal to some people but deeply antagonise many others. It will be welcomed in some social settings but shunned in others. Don’t keep doing this, because so far it hasn’t worked.

There is nothing wrong with professing the view that in light of dangerous climate change problems what the world needs now is global governance. But to expect that this will not be seen as politically inflammatory is to be naive in the extreme. The global governance line works well before Hierarchical audiences (bureaucrats and some heads of state, for instance), but really badly before audiences with the other three cultural biases.

Simply put, any media release about a new piece of climate research could do with not one but four different versions, each targeted at a different cultural bias. A more sophisticated version of this would be to develop a communications strategy which includes interaction with all four cultural world views, not just with one or two, as at present.

A little help from Aristotle

But that’s not quite enough. Prof Dan Kahn at the Cultural Cognition Project has suggested that any message about science really has two channels: the content itself, and the cultural meaning attached to that content. He rightly suggests communicators need to be aware of both. But his model reminded me of Aristotle, who thought there were three, not just two, channels of communication.

In presenting an argument, Aristotle’s classic rhetorical concepts of ethos, pathos and logos still have a great deal to contribute (Gottweis in Fisher, Miller and Sidney, 2007: 237-250). Too many presentations rely almost exclusively on logos, the actual ideas and concepts, the contents of the presentation. This is certainly important but in some ways overshadowed by the other two. Pathos refers to the emotions evoked and ethos refers to the character of the person delivering the message. These are both highly important but often underused. The implication of Cultural Theory is that all three, ethos, pathos and logos, are configured according to the main cultural biases. An egalitarian logos, for example, may work best when it is supported by Egalitarian pathos and Egalitarian ethos. On the other hand, a speaker trying to appeal to an Individualist audience may keep some of the Egalitarian logos, while appealing to an Individualist pathos and using an Individualist ethos.

More reading:

The dark side of Cultural Theory

Edit: changed the title of this post from ‘make up’ to ‘assemble’. See the discussion in the comments.

Why are people so conflicted about the right response to the pandemic?

Is there a cultural theory perspective on the COVID pandemic of 2020-21? Of course there is:

Davy, Benjamin. “Social Distancing and Cultural Bias: On the Spatiality of COVID-19.” Journal of the American Planning Association 87, no. 2 (2021): 159-166. https://doi.org/10.1080/01944363.2020.1824617

Cultural Theory in 2019

When Mary Douglas published her groundbreaking work, Natural Symbols in 1970, journals of anthropology, sociology and philosophy reviewed it. Although Douglas was an anthropologist, her work had implications well beyond that single discipline.

Chapter 4 of the book, ‘Grid and group’ summarised an approach to social analysis that has been greatly extended and widely adopted in a variety of disciplines in the nearly fifty years since publication. The implications of the work of Douglas and her collaborators are still being worked out.

2019 has been a strong year for publications exploring and making use of grid-group cultural theory, (or the cultural theory of risk, or cultural cognition). In the next few months I intend to use the Fourcultures website to point to some of the more interesting examples I have come across.

I did wonder if there is to be a symposium on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Natural Symbols, but haven’t found any such information – so if anyone can let me know in the comments, I’d be grateful.

Google must drop Dragonfly

Seeing that Google’s management (now called Alphabet) is at serious odds with its employees over working in China on Project Dragonfly, it appears that the Google Dilemma is very far from over. I wrote a short series of posts about the cultural misunderstandings between Google and the Chinese Government, and it’s still going on. To keep its own Individualist culture, and to avoid being co-opted by the Hierarchy of the Government security machine, Google must drop Dragonfly. The difficulty is that the Individualist culture impels Google to look for a profit at any cost, and so it doesn’t appear possible to drop Dragonfly.

Loving Nostalgia

https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/conservatives-love-of-nostalgia-can-be-used-to-promote-liberal-values.html

http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-00810-001

Conservatives appear to be more receptive to liberal ideas when they are associated with the past. Conversely, though, liberals do not appear receptive to conservative ideas when they are associated with the future.

The abstract concludes :

“A large portion of the political disagreement between conservatives and liberals appears to be disagreement over style, and not content of political issues.”

Citation

Lammers, J., & Baldwin, M. (2018). Past-Focused Temporal Communication Overcomes Conservatives’ Resistance to Liberal Political Ideas. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000121

Make your own rules

 

I am the rules

Here’s a photo taken a while ago that never made it into a post. It’s an advert I saw on a bus shelter. It isn’t the clearest photo in the world, but it tells a story. The story it tells is very clearly expressed by the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. It shows that in our society, being an individual is a task we’re assigned. We have to work hard at it. For example, there are things to buy. Buying things also bought by others is the surest way to achieve individuality. The irony, according to Bauman, is that individuality – the mandate of the society of individuals – is thus impossible to achieve. The quotations below are from Chapter 1 of Bauman, Z. (2005). Liquid Life. Cambridge : Polity 15-38.

Individuality is a task set for its members by the society of individuals – set as an individual task, to be individually performed, by individuals using their individual resources. Yet such a task is self-contradictory and self -defeating : indeed, impossible to fulfil.
(2005:18)

When it is serviced by the consumer markets, the marathon of the pursuit of individuality draws its urgency and impetus from the terror of being caught up, absorbed and devoured by the crowd of runners breathing heavily behind one’s back. But in order to join the race and to stay in it, you first need to purchase the ‘special marathon shoes ‘ which – surprise, surprise – all the rest of the runners wear or deem it their duty to obtain.
(Bauman 2005 :25)

As a task, individuality is an end product of societal transformation disguised as a personal discovery.
(2005:19; cf. 29)

There’s a good summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity – Chapter One  at Realsociology.

But individuality isn’t the only kind of societal transformation that might be found disguised as a personal discovery. Communality, being part of a group, is also a kind of social demand dressed up as a personal task. There is a Japanese phrase: minna no kimochi. This means something like ‘being of one heart’. One could say: “Our feelings about the game came together and we played well”.  Marie Mutsuki Mockett has written about how minna no kimochi is used to explain how political change might come to Japan after the great tsunami of 2011: by everyone feeling united about it.

This approach to the person is a little disquieting, since it encourages us to question the solid assumptions we have about our selves, how we come to even have something called a self, and how this process of ‘selfing’ relates to wider social processes.

 

Coding is still not the new literacy

Prog

If coding isn’t the new literacy, what is?

According to Chris Granger, modeling is.

Modeling is creating a representation of a system (or process) that can be explored or used… To put it simply, the next great advance in human ability comes from being able to externalize the mental models we spend our entire lives creating.

Incidentally, this is corroborated by Douglas Rushkoff’s very brief history lesson, Social Control as a Function of Media, in which he predicts that the corporate controllers will only encourage  programming skills when the programs of the masses can already be assimilated.

More:

The A=href test

How to spot a model that actually works

The feedback loop as a symbol for life in the 21st Century

self-organisation is a high-level property that emerges from the underlying network, not a feature of any of the individual components.

This has interesting consequences. Where any part of the mechanism is sensitive to the environment, the whole self-organising loop can be too.

http://aeon.co/magazine/science/why-the-symbol-of-life-is-a-loop-not-a-helix/

Here’s an example from the Resilience Alliancethe adaptive cycle – that maps nicely onto the four cultures of cultural theory:

The Adaptive Cycle
The Adaptive Cycle

See also: redundancy and resilience

Bias: it’s not a bug, it’s a feature

“Kahan’s argument about the woman who does not believe in global warming is a surprising and persuasive example of a general principle: if we want to understand others, we can always ask what is making their behaviour ‘rational’ from their point of view. If, on the other hand, we just assume they are irrational, no further conversation can take place.”
http://aeon.co/magazine/psychology/we-are-more-rational-than-those-who-nudge-us/

How to inspire people with prize money

trophies

Would you put in more effort if you thought you could win a large cash prize?

What about if that prize was broken up into a series of smaller prizes – how hard would you work then?

‘In praise of big prizes’ at the Freakonomics site, had some advice for a professor at the University of Texas who changed his practice of handing out cash prizes to students in favour of a more level system.

http://freakonomics.com/2013/10/28/in-praise-of-big-prizes/

The author writes that actually,

“larger top prizes and a steeper prize gradient will elicit more effort than a flatter gradient, one with more prizes of smaller amounts (Lazear and Rosen, 1981).”

He suggests that a large amount of prize money is what motivates top sports people such as Tiger Woods, and that perhaps the professor could adapt and use this approach in an educational setting:

“he would get better written work if he went back to the old system, just as Tiger Woods is better motivated by a big winning prize for a whole tournament than he would be by small prizes for having the best score in a particular round.”

In a previous post on Fourcultures about Fatalist development aid I noted how schemes to randomly assign cash handouts to poor people seem to work quite well. According to the Economist, though, there are situations in which conditional handouts work better. In one example, would-be aid recipients were required to submit a business plan before going into the lottery.

Perhaps these schemes using contrived randomness, a Fatalist strategy, would be better if they used high value tournaments instead – a very Individualist strategy.

One small problem is that the prize money that seems to motivate Tiger Woods to get out of bed is slightly higher than that available in college classes or in development aid programmes.

First prize for the 2013 US Masters  tournament was $1,440,000. That’s quite a lot of money. Even the 50th placed golfer still won $20,160.

In contrast, the top University of Texas student paper won $1,500. In even starker contrast, Kenyan villagers identified by the charity Give Directly receive $200.

“We send each recipient household a total of $1,000 over one to two years, or $200 per household member for the average household. Our analysis suggests that this amount is fair, well-understood, and potentially transformative.”

When Individualism can provide a US Masters level of money to colleges and to poor villages in Africa, maybe then its policy prescriptions will be more credible.

See also: Fatalist development aid

[image credit: public domain, pixabay]