This is my answer to Jen Briselli, who asked me to supply sketches of a typical "hierarchical individualist," a typical "hierarchical communitarian," a typical "egalitarian individualist" and a typical "egalitarian communitarian." I started with a big long proviso about how ordinary people with these identities are, and how diverse, too, even in relation to others who share their outlooks. But I agreed with her on the value--and in some sense the indispensably--of heuristic representations of them. Still, one more essential proviso is necessary. These people are make believe. Moreover, the sketches are the product of introspection. My impressions are not wholly uniformed, of course; I think I know "who these guys are," in part from reading richer histories and ethnographies that seem pertinent, in part from trying to find such people and listening to them (e.g., as they interact with each other in focus groups conducted by Don Braman), in part from collecting evidence about how people who I think are like this think, and in part from simply observing and reflecting on everyday life. But I am not an ethnographer, or a journalist; these are not real individuals or even composites of identifiable people. They are not themselves evidence of anything. Rather they are models, of a sort that I might summon to mind to stimulate and structure my own conjectures about why things are as they are and what sorts of evidence I might look for that would help to figure out if I'm right. Now I am turning them into a device: something I am showing you to help you form a more vivid picture of what I see; to enable you, as a result, to form more confident judgments about whether the evidence that my collaborators and I collect do really furnish reason to believe that cultural cognition explains certain puzzling things; and finally to entice or provoke you into looking for even more evidence that would give us either more reason or less to believe the same, and thus help us both to get closer to the truth.
Steve, 62 years old, lives in Marietta, Ga. Trained in engineering at Georgia Tech, he founded and now operates a successful laboratory supply business, whose customers include local pharmaceutical and biotech companies, as well as hospitals and universities. He has been married for thirty-eight years to Donna, a fulltime homemaker, and has two grown children, Gary and Tammy. He is a Presbyterian, but unlike Donna he attends church only irregularly. He characterizes himself as “Independent who leans Republican,” and a “moderate” who, if pushed, is “slightly conservative"; nevertheless, except for a brief time when he thought Newt Gingrich might win the Republican nomination, the 2012 election filled him with a mix of frustration and resignation. He hunts, and owns a handgun. He served as a scout leader when Gary was growing up. Now he sits on the board of directors for the Georgia State Museum of Science and Industry, to which he has made large donations in the past (Steve proposed and helped design an exhibit on “nanotechnology,” which proved extremely popular). He owns a prized collection of memorabilia relating to the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” Thomas Edison.
Sharon, 44, lives in Stillwater Oklahoma. She is married to Stephen, a Baptist minister, and has three children. She is pro-life and believes God created the earth 6000 years ago. She once served as the foreperson on a jury that acquitted an Oklahoma State athlete in a controversial “date rape” case. She teaches 5th grade at a public elementary school, a job that she feels very passionate about. Her year-long “science unit” in 2011-12 revolved (as it were) around the transit of Venus, and culminated in the viewing of the event. The experience thrilled (nearly) all the students, but profoundly moved one in particular, the ten-year old daughter of a close friend and member of Sharon’s church congregation; two decades from now this girl will be a leading astrophysicist on the faculty of the University of Chicago.
Lisa, 36 years old, lives in New York City. She’s a lawyer, who was just promoted to partner at her firm (she anticipated this would make her more excited than it did). She has been married for nine years to Nathan, an investment banker. The couple has a five-year old son, who has been cared for since infancy by an au pair, and for whom they secured a highly coveted spot in the kindergarten class of an exclusive private school. Lisa happens to be Jewish; she doesn’t attend synagogue but she does celebrate Jewish holidays with family and close friends. She is pro-choice, and as a law student spent most of her final year working on a clinic lawsuit to enjoin Operation Rescue from “blockading” abortion clinics. An issue that has agitated her recently is the pressure that is directed at women to breastfeed their children; when the New York city health department instituted restrictions on access to formula in hospital maternity wards, she composed an angry letter to the editor of the New York Times, denouncing “counterfeit feminists, who are all for free choice until a woman makes one they don’t like.... Having a baby doesn't make a woman an infant!” She and Nathan do not have very much leisure time. But they do take delight in watching the television show MythBusters, each episode of which they record on their DVR for shared future consumption.
Linda, 42, is a social worker in Philadelphia; Bernie, 58, is a professor of political science at the University of Vermont. Linda raised her now 20-year-old daughter (a junior at Temple) as a single parent. She is active in her church (the historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas). Bernie has never been married, has no children, and is an atheist. Both describe themselves as “Independents” who “lean Democrat” and as “slightly liberal,” and while they see eye-to-eye on many matters (such as the low level of danger posed by the fleeing driver in the police-chase video featured in Scott v. Harris), they sharply disagree about certain issues (including legalization of marijuana, which Linda adamantly opposes and Bernie strongly supports). They both watch Nova, and make annual contributions to their local PBS affiliates.
Do you have intuitions about these people's beliefs on climate change? The risks and benefits of the HPV vaccine? Whether permitting ordinary citizens to carry concealed handguns in public increases crime—or instead deters it? Is any of them worried about the health effects of consuming GM foods?
None of them knows what synthetic biology is. Is it possible to predict how they might feel about it once they learn something about it? Might they all turn out to agree someday that it is very useful (possibly even fascinating!) and count it as one of the things that makes them answer “a lot” (as they all will) when asked, “How much do scientists contribute to the well-being of society?”