Why oh why won’t we stop burning up the planet, Maclean’s asks? And then it answers: we are idiots. Or rather you are. People who think like them are fine. See, according to Maclean’s, a University of Victoria psychology professor has found “37 specific mental barriers that limit our ability to react to climate change” though not it seems to support alarmist prescriptions. He calls these barriers dragons and sorts them into seven categories: “limited cognition, ideologies, comparison with others, sunk costs, discredence, perceived risks and limited behaviour”. But there is an eighth that he overlooks in psychoanalyzing his hapless subjects: Not believing it’s a big problem for want of compelling evidence.
Global warming alarmists are far from alone in thinking that anyone who disagrees with them is mentally defective and needs re-education. In public debate, as in private life, all sorts of people attribute continued opposition to all sorts of ideas to a variety of disreputable factors from venality to stupidity to psychological defects. But there’s always a “tu quoque” trap when you say that other people disagree with you because their brains or their morals are flawed. Why does the problem only afflict your adversaries? What of your allies? Or you? And if we’re all going about blathering things that do not derive from reliable mental processes, what hope is there of discussing or solving problems?
As Marshall McLuhan once put it, the modern understanding of our thoughts as determined by primal, non-logical factors means “we are the bottom half of a double boiler. We are all steamed up but we don’t know what’s cooking.” If true, we can expect explosions but not conversations.
People are flawed, of course, including mentally. And morally; we all rationalize sometimes, including as the article notes thinking that because we went jogging we can now stuff ourselves with cake. But it’s not a problem confined to others, and it can’t be overwhelming or thought is impossible. So, in case it is still possible, here is a thought.
One dragon the good professor seems unaware of is the “purple dragon” fallacy. Some politician says their policies are saving you from purple dragons. You say there are no purple dragons. They say “See? My plan worked. You’re welcome.” And when you say “No, no, I mean there never was a threat, and there’s no such thing” they accuse you of the psychological mechanism of denial.
At that point rational conversation ceases. But you’re not the one being irrational.