Here’s an interesting article that suggests why people tend to give equal weight to two sides of an argument that have very different levels of quality, different levels of expertise:
The upshot, it appears, is that social concerns can often trump real world concerns, that if our social group has one belief and some few academics, experts, or professionals have another, that we have evolved in such a way that the social group has been more important – meaning, I imagine, that for much of our history and pre-history, being on the outs with our social group has had the more immediate and dire consequences. Opting to be ‘sheeple’ has been a matter of survival.
This - what would you call it, principle? Function, tendency? – this useful-for-a-social-animal adaptation would appear to have the negative effect that, when the whole group is wrong about something, then wrong the group shall be, and for a long time. It takes something big to effect a change in a group mindset, like perhaps when some smallish, tribal group is absorbed into a larger group like a modern nation and now the smaller group’s erroneous belief is rendered an outlying one in the new, larger group – of course, this only if they really do join the new nation, if the culture is absorbed, either by choice or by force. This doesn’t change their minds if they remain obstinate and insular, which, then the conversation goes to motivation. Many and varied are the reasons for a group to close ranks and remain as a distinct group, perhaps the maintenance of such beliefs being a big one. Or, maybe the group’s erroneous belief gets proved false in a catastrophic way, a way that is undeniable and the group must face the reality to survive. Perhaps the volcano erupts and burns our whole island down despite all the virgins we sacrificed to it, something like that.
Some might think that this is what is required to change the mind of the groups mentioned in the article, the global warming deniers and the anti-vaccination people. Let’s hope not, of course. Sometimes we’d rather have been wrong.
Something the article only grazes with its mention of global warming, would be a slightly larger issue, that of the economy VS the environment. I would think that one definition of the expression, ‘the economy’ could be simply and expansively, ‘the human system of living.’ Perhaps this adaptation of group thinking applies here, and that may explain why protecting the environment and the Earth’s resources is somehow so often viewed as beside the point, like it’s only a concern after the primary concern that we all have jobs, and that the economy continues to roll on. David Suzuki is fond of pointing out that indigenous peoples find our separation of these two things to be impossible for them to understand. ‘What is the economy if the world cannot support the people in it,’ is their question. How can the living Earth somehow not be relevant?
I think what is missing from the aboriginal person’s understanding of the modern, industrialized person’s POV is this: that urbanism, industry and agriculture have allowed people to become the dominant environment. The physical world and nature are a few steps away. For modern, industrialized people, people are the environment, the only things we have to interact with to survive, and the only things that we will not survive if we choose to disdain them. Tigers and lightning are not the modern person’s biggest threats – Republicans are.
(That’s a joke, sort of.)
That from the geo-political side of things, to be sure, but for those few who’ve read anything from me before, you know I see the world as a fractal sort of thing, the macro matching the microcosm, with the family as the model for society and the world. So, a sharp turn here. For all of us, when we are young, at our most vulnerable and impressionable, the environment that we need to survive most immediately is the family. This is where this useful-for-a-social-animal adaptation happens. It is in the home, in our nuclear families where we must make this adaptation first, and so we do. This is where we learn all the things that become the larger conversations later in life: we must work, everyone needs a job, thou shalt and thou shalt not, we are here to do God’s Will, which is this and this . . . while the real world consequences of so many of these sorts of concepts are still far beyond our grasp, we learn that what our parents and caregivers tell us we had better learn, or else. The real world consequences of these things may be far away, but the immediate social consequences of not learning what our parents teach are right there in front of us (or behind us, as the case may be, on our backsides).
To bring this very interesting article in the link above home, and to put it in a less academic, more brutal context, let’s view it this way. We don’t listen to the experts, not because we’ve weighed their theses and found them lacking – but because the experts aren’t likely to hurt us if we don’t. Which gives their views a whole lot less weight than our internalized parents who are the real leaders of our social groups.