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Tuesday
Dec012015

Cultural "fact polarization" trumps cultural "value" polarization -- a fragment

Working on this.  Rest "tomorrow."

1. The new politics of “fact polarization”

Polarization over questions of fact is one of the signature features of contemporary democratic political life.  Citizens divided over the relative weight of “liberty” and “equality” are less sharply divided today over the justice of progressive taxation (Moore 2015) than over the evidence that human  CO2 emissions are driving up global temperatures (Frankovic 2015).  Democrats and Republicans argue less strenuously about whether states should be permitted to require the "reading of the Lord's prayer" in school than whether permitting citizens to carry concealed handguns in public increases homicide rates—by multiplying the number of firearms in society—or instead decreases them by equipping law-abiding citizens to protect themselves from predation (Newport 2015).

Members of cultural groups that confer status to women for their mastery of domestic roles love their daughters as much as members of those who celebrate the world of commerce and public affairs as status-conferring arenas for men and women alike (Luker 1984). Yet the two cannot agree about the consequences of universally immunizing middle-school girls against the human papilloma virus: does that policy promote the girls’ health by protecting them later in life from an extremely prevalent sexually  transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer; or endanger them by lulling them into unprotected sex right now, thereby increasing their risks of becoming pregnant and of contracting other, even more deadly STDs (Kahan, Braman, Cohen, Gastil & Slovic 2010)?

These are admittedly complex questions.  But they are empirical ones. Values can’t supply the answers; only evidence can. The evidence that is relevant to any one of these factual issues, moreover, is completely distinct from the evidence relevant to any of the others.  There is simply no logical reason, in sum, for positions on these and various other policy-relevant facts (the safety of deep geologic isolation of nuclear wastes, the deterrent impact of the death penalty, the efficacy of invasive forms of surveillance to combat terrorism, etc.) to cluster at all, much less to form packages of beliefs that so strongly unite citizens of shared cultural commitments and so persistently divide citizens of opposing ones.

But there is a psychological explanation for today’s politics of “fact polarization.”  Or at least a very strong candidate explanation, the emergence of which has supplied an energizing focus for research and debate in the decision sciences over the course of the last decade. . . . 

Refs

Frankovic, K. Most republicans do not think humans are causing climate change. YouGov. (2015).

General Social Survey (2014).

Luker, K. Abortion and the politics of motherhood (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1984).

 

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Reader Comments (16)

==> <I> Citizens divided over the relative weight of “liberty” and “equality” are less sharply divided today over the justice of progressive taxation (Moore 2015) than over the evidence that human CO2 emissions are driving up global temperatures (Frankovic 2015).</I>

Can you describe what that division looks like? I see a lot of people who heavily value both liberty and equality....but who do polarize about the relative weight of liberty and equality in the context of specific, polarized issues where they are strongly identified. I am dubious that there is some broad and consistent division in the relative weight that particular groups of people place in those values across all (or even most) issues. In other words IMO, the division is not so much in the relative weigh they place on those values, but in how they see the implications of those values in context. For example, although arguments play out in such a way to suggest otherwise libs care about liberty just like libertarians; however, they are identified differently with <I> positions</I> on how to best protect liberty. In protection of their ideological orientation, each group argues that the other doesn't value liberty as much as their own group.


==> <I> There is simply no logical reason, in sum, for positions on these and various other policy-relevant facts (the safety of deep geologic isolation of nuclear wastes, the deterrent impact of the death penalty, the efficacy of invasive forms of surveillance to combat terrorism, etc.) to cluster at all, much less to form packages of beliefs that so strongly unite citizens of shared cultural commitments and so persistently divide citizens of opposing ones.</I>

Does this imply that cultural cognition is illogical?

December 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Josh-- the "life of the law" is not the only thing that has not been "logic" but "experience"

Frankly, I don't know what it means for people to be committed to abstractions like liberty & equality; but I take other people's words for it that this is how the world works...

December 1, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

==> "Frankly, I don't know what it means for people to be committed to abstractions like liberty & equality..."

Neither do I.

December 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua--

But I do think I know what it means to be committed to being a citizen of a liberal democracy society; or know that it means something & that knowing what is something that people in our country are capable of discerning & for the most part are committed to.

That sort of technical stuff is easy.

It's the hard "values" shit like -- is the earth heating up b/c of humans????-- that gets eveyone all hot under the collar

December 1, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Frankly, I don't know what it means for people to be committed to abstractions like liberty & equality; but I take other people's words for it that this is how the world works..."

I do. :-)

"Values can’t supply the answers; only evidence can."

And priors. And models...

December 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I don't care half so much about any particular "right" or "left" policy as about the breakdown of the small amount of common sense we used to have about what is a reliable source. We swallowed a great deal of misinformation about Vietnam and other matters, but what we have now, promoted as "skepticism" of the "MSM" is far worse.

It appears to me that strong elements of movement conservatism (which which is mostly not at all conservative) concluded that a frank debate on values was a losing proposition, it being more effective to promote myths. One evidence of the intensification of that approach is the founding document of the "New Traditionalist Movement" by Paul Weyrich and his followers about 2000. An excerpt: " We must always operate based on this cardinal principle: Leftists are never morally responsible for the evil they commit; ... We must learn to treat leftists as natural disasters or rabid dogs.

We will initially operate according to the belief that it is more important to win over the elites (or create a new, better one) than to build up a mass movement. Furthermore, it is more important to have a few impassioned members than a large number of largely indifferent members."

The hundreds of right wing "Think tanks" are one bastion of the new elite, as are many yearly conferences, some very public, others very under the radar, and new blood is recruited by giving (probably again in the hundreds) stipends to college students to serve as interns in the various think tanks.

The "impassioned members" are fed various bits of privileged "knowledge that will never appear in mainstream media such as that "Political Correctness is Cultural Marxism", with an elaborate myth about how the Frankfurt group came to America to foment this "cultural Marxism", political Marxism having failed, and that this conspiracy is almost solely responsible for liberalism, secularism, loose sexual mores, etc. in the US. today.

Then there are the wholly made up "8 Levels of Control" of Saul Alinsky that were so thoroughly promulgated that "Yahoo Answers" would report them as fact. Why do they demonize Saul Alinsky? Because he is supposed to have been Obama's mentor, another totally made up claim. This is so widely accepted and hard to disprove that the high profile pundits like Rush Limbaugh say it all the time. But they don't entangle themselves with the "8 Levels of Control" because that is so easily disproved.

The advantage of an "impassioned elite" is that these thousands of activists work very hard at spreading very primitive falsehoods that they mostly convince themselves are true -- things that you would not want sticking to a high profile pundit because they are so easy to disprove if they only emerged from under the radar. All it takes to get something started is for the pronouncement of some crackpot to be posted on one 2nd tier blog, and it spreads to all the others. They provide all the detailed "evidence" that Obama is a Muslim, or Marxist, or whatever, while the pundits provide pithy summaries, or say "he's not one of us", and the listeners think it's understatement of being wary of censorship.

Much of what trickles down to the rank and file is the sort of thing I detailed in "My Not-really-right-wing Mom and her adventures in Email-Land" The title is a hat-tip to the blog "My Right-Wing Dad" which catalogs hundreds of anonymous emails.

If we could only know, through sampling the email stream and other lightweight sources and polling to see just how much the spiking of outrageous memes correlate with what is circulating at the moment, I think many people would be shocked, and perhaps people could be shown the extent to which they were being deceived.

One key to the effectiveness of such disinformation is to get every major voice to sing from the same page, and this is done partly by "primary-ing" stray congressmen and others. Climate change denial is a centerpiece that "proves" just how much the MSM, liberal politicians, and academics are willing to lie, and why one should only trust sources like FOX news. Chris Christie, e.g. knows better, but will not say so, which is why he waffles and isn't exactly his "plain spoken" self when the subject comes up.

December 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHal Morris

I think that at the levels of abstractions, people can be more united when it comes to basic values, whether they be "liberty and equality" as in, for example: "liberty and justice for all" or other lists of tenets such as "Thou shalt not kill'. But how do such generalized values get guided into ones that drive identity tribes? How does the expression of "Thou shalt not kill" get expressed as anti-abortion activism as opposed to opposition to war? How does liberty and equality get expressed as the right to carry a gun as opposed to support for civil rights laws?

Of more immediate importance to the commitment to being a citizen of a liberal democracy society, and having such a society continue, is how is it that a society can go from a sense of "hope" and "change" in 2008, to the prospect of Donald Trump as a viable candidate for the Presidency of the United States?

I think that part of the problem with the analysis above is that both the Democratic and Republican parties are entrenched bureaucracies highly dependent on big funding sources, and not something people in general rally around, but rather organizations looking to recruit adherents by collecting identity tribes (the base, or bases) around their banners. The parties are also lagging indicators of identities, and not groups that many people identify that strongly with. This is most obvious in the historic case of Dixiecrats, Southern Democrats who stayed with the Democratic Party for over a century after the Republican Abraham Lincoln was President until finally coaxed over to the other side by Ronald Reagan. Thus delineating between what "Democrats" believe, and what "Republicans" believe is not, a good way of defining Americans.

Today we have two political parties, both of which have strong ties to Wall Street, which then largely work to distinguish themselves in nuances there but mostly on social issues which engage their respective bases. Thus, on the Democratic side, politicians who are set to alienate a portion of their base by supporting such things as the TPP, emphasize instead their support of such things as women's rights and the scary prospect of their opponents in that regard winning the next election. And Republican strategists seem prepared to do what it takes in order to retain their base in the face of a Trump nomination: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/private-memo-lays-out-how-the-gop-would-deal-with-trump-as-its-nominee/2015/12/02/78514cba-9909-11e5-94f0-9eeaff906ef3_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_trumpsenate-408pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory. This is aided, as noted in a comment above, by the fact that those in control of the media, Rupert Murdoch for example, have an incredible platform upon which to flame the flames of tribal identities to suit their own purposes: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/dec/02/rupert-murdoch-slams-liberals-america-identity-crisis

I think this also explains the failure of the moment. There is no easy way to start a broad based populist campaign that encompasses groups that in theory have a lot in common with regards to a desire to have politicians that cannot be bought, and that would address the income disparities prevalent today. In my opinion, if we had a more flexible electoral system, we might be able to set up new party affiliations that united people in ways that cross-cut the values expressed by the old ones. This would give a system better able to address newly emerging issues.

December 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Gaythia -

==> "Thus delineating between what "Democrats" believe, and what "Republicans" believe is not, a good way of defining Americans."

Indeed. There seems to be a lot of variability in party identification, that hinges on things such as which candidate is leading in the polls. It would be interesting to read someone make an argument that explains how such an association fits with a view that political affiliation is based on level of commitment to liberty and equality.

December 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

On climate change: In my opinion, there are specific issues regarding dependence on a fossil fuel economy that made it easy for those deliberately sowing doubt and fostering denial could use to promote a "tribal" response. And I think that at this point, given the revelations regarding Exxon Mobil and others, it should be obvious that there was a deliberate policy on the part of some with power and authority to promote climate denial for their own economic benifit. This could be done quite readily by positioning the introduction of the new concepts of climate change as tribal identity issues. And on the flip side, climate change was also an issue upon which those already environmentalists could identify and rally around as supporting their promotion of protection of the natural environment.

A very large portion of blue collar Americans are employed in fields that are directly dependent on fossil fuel production or consumption. They also disproportionately tend to live in rural or outer suburban areas from which car transportation is essential to reach jobs and needed services. Climate change also can be expected to have disproportionate effects, less in "the heartland" than in coastal areas. Much of the early mitigation of the detrimental effects of climate change can be mitigated by blatant disregard of environmental concerns, such as increasing water consumption without taking into account stream flows necessary for fish. Thus, NW Washington State raspberry growers may have an understanding, at the time they make the financial commitment to planting their perennial crop that a long term payoff is predicated on a belief in warm, dry relatively fungus free summers in the future. But, because that also means a need for irrigation water, they easily support their State Senator, Doug Ericksen, who is the leading opponent to Governor Inslee's carbon cap and trade program. And his political funding comes partially from fossil fuel energy sources. Similarly, an opposition to nearly all logging on the part of environmental activists makes an easy foil for promotion of logging as the solution to the increasing danger of fire in Western forests. Which is a very important job source in rural areas.

An interesting case of changing party affiliations is that of the Kentucky and West Virginia coal miners. These miners, were, in the past, union members and Democrats. More recently, the threat of job loss due to closure of the mines, and opposition to mountain top coal mining and use of coal on the part of environmentalists and national level Democrats, along with heavy media messaging and other recruiting work on the part of the Coal companies and their allies, has caused many of these people to align themselves with the corporations, against some of their own personal interests in their communities and their own health.

Overall, there are many people who don't see themselves as part of a new economy based on STEM. Environmentalists, on the other hand may be quite fearful of the potential for serious harm due to climate change, but at least see it as a validation of their view that others ought to have been paying more attention to natural ecology all along. Both of these attitudes may be easier to exploit politically by emphasizing differences, rather than exploring common ground.

December 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

"And I think that at this point, given the revelations regarding Exxon Mobil and others, it should be obvious that there was a deliberate policy on the part of some with power and authority to promote climate denial for their own economic benifit."

What revelations? I had heard there was some fuss over Exxon having passed some memos repeating what everyone else was saying at the time, saying more or less 'this is what everyone else is saying', but I'm not aware of anything new in it. Do you have a good summary?

(I was also aware of the climate activist conference where they planned precisely this strategy to seek a load of internal documents from oil companies and try to make this case - supposedly following the model used against the tobacco companies. The fact that it arises from a cynical and manipulative marketing campaign doesn't imply there's nothing in it, though.)

"A very large portion of blue collar Americans are employed in fields that are directly dependent on fossil fuel production or consumption."

All Americans are dependent.

There is in fact a 100% free-market, right-wing-approved way of dealing with climate change. Everybody who believes in climate change being an imminent threat hereby takes a pledge to use no more fossil fuel, or anything manufactured with fossil fuel, or transported with fossil fuel. This would have the effect of causing fossil fuel prices to drop, as economic demand fell, and raising the prices of alternative energy sources. All the energy providers would instantly jump on the bandwagon, divesting from the suddenly non-profitable fossil fuels and investing like crazy on alternatives, to grab some of that money. The high prices for goods manufactured without fossil fuel use are what would fund the scientific and engineering development. It would require no legislation. No government intervention. No politicians. No treaties. No international negotiations held in luxurious and exotic destinations. No new laws. No bans. No coercion. Every business would join in of their own free will, and they'd even make a profit from it. No free market fundamentalist could possibly object.

You could all do it today.

The only thing it requires is for all the people who claim to believe that climate change is an imminent global threat to act as if they actually believed that. The market provides what people want - as communicated by what they choose to buy with their own money. If enough people want to give up fossil fuels, and are prepared to pay the penalty, the market will do that for them. It's already how the system works.

When somebody challenges you to make the pledge, and you sit there and come up with all the (perfectly genuine) reasons and excuses why it would be too expensive, impractical, or unreasonable for you personally to do so: that's the cost of climate change action, and that's why we won't pay it.

December 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I am not a leftist. Nor am I a rightist. I am that rare fool who believes that it is a careful tension between both which yields the greatest good in the most desirable social order. --Humair Haque

December 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

If you wonder what it's really about, check this out tiny.cc/02p16x - a good illustration of how it long ago morphed from being about some corporations trying to mitigate regulatory threats into a nifty way to portray liberals, academics (including those in the hard sciences), and liberals, as power-grabbing hypocritical alternately ridiculous and scary(scheming towards totalitarianism) slimeballs. So don't trust anybody but FOX and friends.

It has worked like a charm.

December 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHal Morris

NiV Re: Exxon Mobil: http://insideclimatenews.org/content/Exxon-The-Road-Not-Taken

In the immediate future, the person with the most information should be the NY Attorney General.

December 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Another great analog for motivated reasoning:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHuStlT1RM8

December 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Thanks for the link, Gaythia.

So as I understand it, Exxon recognised early on that the scientific community had concerns over CO2's effect on climate, they funded and carried out their own research in climate science, and then from a position of understanding they pointed out that the evidence was lacking and the uncertainties had been systematically underplayed by the climate science community. All of which is true, and would be obvious to any scientist who looked into the underpinnings of the climate claims.

I don't see how I could fault that. Still, just as well to make sure. Thanks.

December 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Best example of Fact Polarization can be seen in the modern politics of India. 70 yrs rule of Congress is now gone by and is taken over by the right wing politics of BJP. People are polarized on the basis of their religious and cultural belief. To understand Polarization scenario one should attempt for Understanding The Background Of Indian History and Culture.

March 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRS Pandey

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