"Cool Dudes", Hot Temps; The Climate Change Battle Will Get Us Nowhere
What do Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner, James Inhofe, and George Will have in common? Several things. They are influential members of society, ‘elites’ who have a big effect on policy. They adamantly deny that human-made climate change is happening. And they are all conservative white men. Probably the only thing you might not call these people is “Cool dudes”.
But that is precisely the label they are given, somewhat facetiously, in the title of a new study - COOL DUDES: THE DENIAL OF CLIMATE CHANGE AMONG CONSERVATIVE WHITE MALES IN THE UNITED STATES - about the war over climate change. The study confirms what many others have found, that conservative white males (CWMs) are more likely than any other segment of the population to deny the overwhelming body of science that anthropogenic climate change is underway, and a serious threat to the biosphere and everything in it, including human beings. This is not new, or surprising.
What is valuable about this study is what it says not just about conservative white men, but about all of us. This research confirms that who we are as people, at really fundamental levels, has a lot more to do with the way we see things than just the facts. All of us, not just CWMs. And not just on climate change. And what that means is that arguing issues based just on the facts isn‘t going to get us very far, since the facts aren’t really what we’re arguing about in the first place.
Here are a few of the findings (based on analysis of Gallup surveys of public opinion between 2000 and 2010);
--- 14% of the general public doesn’t worry about climate change at all, but among CWMs the percentage jumps to 39%.
--- 32% of adults deny there is a scientific consensus on climate change, but 59% of CWMs deny what the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists have said.
--- 3 adults in 10 don’t believe recent global temperature increases are primarily caused by human activity. Twice that many - 6 CWMs out of every ten – feel that way
So what is about CWMs that make them see the climate change issue this way? The “Cool Dudes” paper suggests that its partly because they’re WMs, and partly because they are Cs. The so-called “White Male Effect” in risk perception has found that white males between ages 18-59 are generally less afraid of things than white women or people of color of either gender. A famous “White Male Effect” paper suggested “Perhaps white males see less risk in the world because they create, manage, control, and benefit from so much of it. Perhaps women and nonwhite men see the world as more dangerous because in many ways they are more vulnerable, because they benefit less from many of its technologies and institutions, and because they have less power and control.” That’s consistent with general theory about risk perception, which finds that for all of us, the more control we have the less afraid we are, and the more benefit we get from something, the less scary it is.
But what about the conservative part? Why would people who are politically conservative be more likely to deny the evidence about climate change? Well, conservatives are generally what Cultural Cognition theory calls Hierarchists. They like clear and fixed hierarchies of class and race and social structure, a rigid predictable ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’ status quo. They don’t like government butting in trying to change things, and leveling the playing field, and taking from the haves who have earned it and giving to the have-nots who haven’t. Well, the solutions to climate change are going to take all kinds of government ‘butting in’, all sorts of adjustments to the economic status quo, interventions that will mean new winners and losers, changes to who’s where on the economic and power ladder, and to a hierarchist (i.e. conservative), that means somebody else’s sort of society – the society of “Egalitarians” who want things flexible and fair, not rigid and bound by class and hierarchy - is going to prevail.
That’s really threatening, way down deep in the psyche of the social human animal that depends on the tribe for welfare and even survival. If our tribe is on top, we feel safer. If our tribe is losing out, we feel threatened. If society is operating the way we want, we feel safer. If somebody else’s rules prevail, we feel threatened. So Cs – conservatives - who tend to be Hierarchical, feel threatened not by the facts of climate change but by what the solutions to climate change might do to the way society operates. They cherry pick the facts to support a view that will preserve the social order they prefer, and defend that view fiercely, because it’s about way more than climate change. It’s about protecting their identities, the tribe, their safety. Powerful stuff.
But it’s not just CWMs who do this. We ALL do. We all bring our subjective views on how society should operate to the subconscious process of coming up with our opinions on many issues. Egalitarians see climate change through the lens of their tribal preference for a social operating norm that is more flexible, more fair (as they would put it), less bound by hierarchies of class, so they are ‘believers’ in climate change rather than ‘deniers’ precisely because the solutions to climate change will necessarily shake up the status quo. that’s the hidden point in “Cool Dudes”.
Arguing about the facts of climate change, and who’s right and wrong, and assigning loaded labels like ‘believer’ (good) and ‘denier’ (bad), won’t get us anywhere, because the argument is about something more important, something deep underneath. Trying to get somebody to change their mind on climate change, or any of the polarized issues of the day, is in effect asking them to change their underlying self-identities. “Cool Dudes” makes pretty clear that’s not going to happen.
The solution is obvious, though hardly easy. We have stop making climate change a zero sum if-you-win-I-lose battle. We have to frame the issue in ways that work within everybody’s underlying cultural/tribal perspectives. We have to realize that answers are more likely to be found, and solutions are more likely to be reached, if the goal is finding common ground, to one of the most serious threats humans - all of us - have ever faced.
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It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?
- Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
- Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
- Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.
The Oedipal complex, repressed memories, penis envy? Sigmund Freud's ideas are far-reaching, but few have withstood the onslaught of empirical evidence.
- Sigmund Freud stands alongside Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein as one of history's best-known scientists.
- Despite his claim of creating a new science, Freud's psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable and based on scant empirical evidence.
- Studies continue to show that Freud's ideas are unfounded, and Freud has come under scrutiny for fabricating his most famous case studies.
Few thinkers are as celebrated as Sigmund Freud, a figure as well-known as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud's ideas didn't simply shift the paradigms in academia and psychotherapy. They indelibly disseminated into our cultural consciousness. Ideas like transference, repression, the unconscious iceberg, and the superego are ubiquitous in today's popular discourse.
Despite this renown, Freud's ideas have proven to be ill-substantiated. Worse, it is now believed that Freud himself may have fabricated many of his results, opportunistically disregarding evidence with the conscious aim of promoting preferred beliefs.
"[Freud] really didn't test his ideas," Harold Takooshian, professor of psychology at Fordham University, told ATI. "He was just very persuasive. He said things no one said before, and said them in such a way that people actually moved from their homes to Vienna and study with him."
Unlike Darwin and Einstein, Freud's brand of psychology presents the impression of a scientific endeavor but ultimately lack two of vital scientific components: falsification and empirical evidence.
Freud's therapeutic approach may be unfounded, but at least it was more humane than other therapies of the day. In 1903, this patient is being treated in "auto-conduction cage" as a part of his electrotherapy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The discipline of psychotherapy is arguably Freud's greatest contribution to psychology. In the post-World War II era, psychoanalysis spread through Western academia, influencing not only psychotherapy but even fields such as literary criticism in profound ways.
The aim of psychoanalysis is to treat mental disorders housed in the patient's psyche. Proponents believe that such conflicts arise between conscious thoughts and unconscious drives and manifest as dreams, blunders, anxiety, depression, or neurosis. To help, therapists attempt to unearth unconscious desires that have been blocked by the mind's defense mechanisms. By raising repressed emotions and memories to the conscious fore, the therapist can liberate and help the patient heal.
That's the idea at least, but the psychoanalytic technique stands on shaky empirical ground. Data leans heavily on a therapist's arbitrary interpretations, offering no safe guards against presuppositions and implicit biases. And the free association method offers not buttress to the idea of unconscious motivation.
Don't get us wrong. Patients have improved and even claimed to be cured thanks to psychoanalytic therapy. However, the lack of methodological rigor means the division between effective treatment and placebo effect is ill-defined.
Sigmund Freud, circa 1921. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Nor has Freud's concept of repressed memories held up. Many papers and articles have been written to dispel the confusion surrounding repressed (aka dissociated) memories. Their arguments center on two facts of the mind neurologists have become better acquainted with since Freud's day.
First, our memories are malleable, not perfect recordings of events stored on a biological hard drive. People forget things. Childhood memories fade or are revised to suit a preferred narrative. We recall blurry gists rather than clean, sharp images. Physical changes to the brain can result in loss of memory. These realities of our mental slipperiness can easily be misinterpreted under Freud's model as repression of trauma.
Second, people who face trauma and abuse often remember it. The release of stress hormones imprints the experience, strengthening neural connections and rendering it difficult to forget. It's one of the reasons victims continue to suffer long after. As the American Psychological Association points out, there is "little or no empirical support" for dissociated memory theory, and potential occurrences are a rarity, not the norm.
More worryingly, there is evidence that people are vulnerable to constructing false memories (aka pseudomemories). A 1996 study found it could use suggestion to make one-fifth of participants believe in a fictitious childhood memory in which they were lost in a mall. And a 2007 study found that a therapy-based recollection of childhood abuse "was less likely to be corroborated by other evidence than when the memories came without help."
This has led many to wonder if the expectations of psychoanalytic therapy may inadvertently become a self-fulfilling prophecy with some patients.
"The use of various dubious techniques by therapists and counselors aimed at recovering allegedly repressed memories of [trauma] can often produce detailed and horrific false memories," writes Chris French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. "In fact, there is a consensus among scientists studying memory that traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than forgotten, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder."
The Oedipal complex
The Blind Oedipus Commending His Children to the Gods by Benigne Gagneraux. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
During the phallic stage, children develop fierce erotic feelings for their opposite-sex parent. This desire, in turn, leads them to hate their same-sex parent. Boys wish to replace their father and possess their mother; girls become jealous of their mothers and desire their fathers. Since they can do neither, they repress those feelings for fear of reprisal. If unresolved, the complex can result in neurosis later in life.
That's the Oedipal complex in a nutshell. You'd think such a counterintuitive theory would require strong evidence to back it up, but that isn't the case.
Studies claiming to prove the Oedipal complex look to positive sexual imprinting — that is, the phenomenon in which people choose partners with physical characteristics matching their same-sex parent. For example, a man's wife and mother have the same eye color, or woman's husband and father sport a similar nose.
But such studies don't often show strong correlation. One study reporting "a correction of 92.8 percent between the relative jaw width of a man's mother and that of [his] mates" had to be retracted for factual errors and incorrect analysis. Studies showing causation seem absent from the literature, and as we'll see, the veracity of Freud's own case studies supporting the complex is openly questioned today.
Better supported, yet still hypothetical, is the Westermarck effect. Also called reverse sexual imprinting, the effect predicts that people develop a sexual aversion to those they grow up in close proximity with, as a mean to avoid inbreeding. The effect isn't just shown in parents and siblings; even step-siblings will grow sexual averse to each other if they grow up from early childhood.
An analysis published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology evaluated the literature on human mate choice. The analysis found little evidence for positive imprinting, citing study design flaws and an unwillingness of researchers to seek alternative explanations. In contrast, it found better support for negative sexual imprinting, though it did note the need for further research.
The Freudian slip
Mark notices Deborah enter the office whistling an upbeat tune. He turns to his coworker to say, "Deborah's pretty cheery this morning," but accidentally blunders, "Deborah's pretty cherry this morning." Simple slip up? Not according to Freud, who would label this a parapraxis. Today, it's colloquially known as a "Freudian slip."
"Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech," Freud wrote in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. "The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder."
In the Freudian view, Mark's mistaken word choice resulted from his unconscious desire for Deborah, as evident by the sexually-charged meanings of the word "cherry." But Rob Hartsuiker, a psycholinguist from Ghent University, says that such inferences miss the mark by ignoring how our brains process language.
According to Hartsuiker, our brains organize words by similarity and meaning. First, we must select the word in that network and then process the word's sounds. In this interplay, all sorts of conditions can prevent us from grasping the proper phonemes: inattention, sleepiness, recent activation, and even age. In a study co-authored by Hartsuiker, brain scans showed our minds can recognize and correct for taboo utterances internally.
"This is very typical, and it's also something Freud rather ignored," Hartsuiker told BBC. He added that evidence for true Freudian slips is scant.
Freud's case studies
Sergej Pankejeff, known as the "Wolf Man" in Freud's case study, claimed that Freud's analysis of his condition was "propaganda."
It's worth noting that there is much debate as to the extent that Freud falsified his own case studies. One famous example is the case of the "Wolf Man," real name Sergej Pankejeff. During their sessions, Pankejeff told Freud about a dream in which he was lying in bed and saw white wolves through an open window. Freud interpreted the dream as the manifestation of a repressed trauma. Specifically, he claimed that Pankejeff must have witnessed his parents in coitus.
For Freud this was case closed. He claimed Pankejeff successfully cured and his case as evidence for psychoanalysis's merit. Pankejeff disagreed. He found Freud's interpretation implausible and said that Freud's handling of his story was "propaganda." He remained in therapy on and off for over 60 years.
Many of Freud's other case studies, such "Dora" and "the Rat Man" cases, have come under similar scrutiny.
Sigmund Freud and his legacy
Freud's ideas may not live up to scientific inquiry, but their long shelf-life in film, literature, and criticism has created some fun readings of popular stories. Sometimes a face is just a face, but that face is a murderous phallic symbol. (Photo: Flickr)
Of course, there are many ideas we've left out. Homosexuality originating from arrested sexual development in anal phase? No way. Freudian psychosexual development theory? Unfalsifiable. Women's penis envy? Unfounded and insulting. Men's castration anxiety? Not in the way Freud meant it.
If Freud's legacy is so ill-informed, so unfounded, how did he and his cigars cast such a long shadow over the 20th century? Because there was nothing better to offer at the time.
When Freud came onto the scene, neurology was engaged in a giddy free-for-all. As New Yorker writer Louis Menand points out, the era's treatments included hypnosis, cocaine, hydrotherapy, female castration, and institutionalization. By contemporary standards, it was a horror show (as evident by these "treatments" featuring so prominently in our horror movies).
Psychoanalysis offered a comparably clement and humane alternative. "Freud's theories were like a flashlight in a candle factory," anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann told Menand.
But Freud and his advocates triumph his techniques as a science, and this is wrong. The empirical evidence for his ideas is limited and arbitrary, and his conclusions are unfalsifiable. The theory that explains every possible outcome explains none of them.
With that said, one might consider Freud's ideas to be a proto-science. As astrology heralded astronomy, and alchemy preceded chemistry, so to did Freud's psychoanalysis popularize psychology, paving the way for its more rapid development as a scientific discipline. But like astrology and alchemy, we should recognize Freud's ideas as the historic artifacts they are.
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