I’d like to talk to you today about emotion; in particular, what it is and why it is important. And for reasons that I hope will become apparent later, I will start by offering a definition that is inspired by systems theory:

At its essence, emotion is the name we give to a complex, autonomous, adaptive, self-monitoring system’s cognition of its internal state.

Our bodies are a prime example of such a system and it is, of course, with respect to that example that the term ‘emotion’ is usually applied. First and foremost, our brains exist to regulate the body and, as a result, the brain is the body’s captive audience. Emotion is the emergent phenomenon resulting from this regulation, although it’s fair to say that the mechanisms behind the emergence are still hotly disputed. What is no longer in dispute, however, is the important role played by emotion in enabling our decision-making calculus. In fact, it is probably more influential than the conscious cognition of external or environmental states. As part of an adaptive system, the human body’s regulatory processes subconsciously employ heuristics to determine the most appropriate somatic (i.e. internal) state to adopt in response to a change in external states. Moreover, heuristics are used to link internal states to the actions required to judiciously change the external states (e.g. through fight or flight). This can sometimes be a problem because the same internal state can be adopted in response to a variety of external states (indeed, the same states can arise for reasons that have nothing to do with the system’s environment). As a result, not all of the actions subsequently prompted by an internal state may be appropriate for a given externality. This is the basis for many of the problems we experience as a complex, autonomous, self-monitoring system. It explains a lot of our mental health problems, our impulsive and inappropriate behaviours and our maladapted belief systems. How likely this is to be an issue also depends upon the extent to which the individual is sensitised to his or her internal states.

Extending the emotion paradigm

Society is another example of a complex, autonomous, adaptive, self-monitoring system. As such, it also operates in accordance with a decision-making calculus that is (in at least the systems theory sense) as emotional as it is rational. Once an internal state has been adopted, the majority of the societal decision-making will be informed by cognition of the newly established internal state. As a consequence, society can also behave in a manner akin to collective mania, it can be impulsive and it can institutionalise maladapted belief systems. This is the price that any sufficiently complex, self-monitoring system has to pay for its adaptability.

To be clear, I am not saying that societal decision-making is essentially emotional just because the decisions are being made by individuals who are acting emotionally. This may be true, but I am referring to a more profound sense in which society’s decisions are emotionally driven. They are emotional in the sense that the cognition of the internal state of a complex, autonomous, adaptive, self-monitoring system (i.e. society) is the driving force. Cognition of the external state that led to the internal state isn’t even necessarily present; or, if it is, it isn’t the driving force. In fact, efforts to identify an environmental trigger are prone to be rationalisations after the fact.

Seeing society as a complex, autonomous, adaptive, self-monitoring system that embodies a collective decision-making calculus that is analogous to that employed by its individual members opens up new insights. Not only is the basis for society-level decision-making essentially emotional in the systems theory sense, it is also susceptible to the same dysfunctional traits that can be found within the individual. For example, many neurotic conditions and personality disorders have at their root an oversensitivity to somatic signals. Debilitating emotional reactions can be triggered by quite subtle changes to external states in such a way that wholly inappropriate and exaggerated responses are possible. These are phobic reactions that may come to feel rational to the affected individual but they are clearly not. Treatment of such conditions often involves the suppression of the over-monitoring of the internal states that have been allocated undue importance (for example, it is often a self-awareness of a racing heartbeat that may trigger a full blown panic attack). The patient needs help to adopt strategies for breaking the interplay of maladapted emotion and thinking that causes such episodes.

This brings me on to my central idea, which is to say this: Cognition of its internal states facilitates society’s decision-making but it can become problematic once the self-monitoring has become obsessive and whenever the association between internal and external states is potentially ambiguous. As a result, society is currently locked in the throws of a major panic attack, precipitated by a combination of technologically enabled hyper self-monitoring and an ‘emotional’ displacement in which perceived threats to society are largely convenient rationalisations. Society is scared and regretful. But, more to the point, the triggers for this may have nothing to do with the manner in which society seeks to rationalise the problem.

The origins of phoney crisis

Whilst it may be true that both human and societal bodies are complex, autonomous, adaptive, self-monitoring systems the two are fundamentally different in their detail. It would be foolish of me to stretch the comparison too far and to start looking for parallels in their structure and internal states. Suffice it to say that the vital signs indicative of somatic states monitored by the central nervous system are quite different to the societal states that have become the obsession of modern society. Nevertheless, general comparisons can be made, such that #bloodpressure and #heartrate can be seen as being replaced by the likes of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter. In both instances, indicators of corporeal vitality, alertness and stress are monitored and used to inform decision-making processes. And in both cases, the resulting decisions may or may not be appropriate depending upon whether the implied emotional state (e.g. fear, guilt, etc.) is the one that the occasion demands. That’s the problem with the emotive component of the calculation; it provides enormous adaptive benefits whilst setting the system up for some pretty significant aberrations from time to time.

It strikes me that, courtesy of social media and the wall-to-wall punditry dominating the internet and media, society has become very much obsessed with itself; it has become its own captive audience. This self-monitoring of internal states generates societal ‘feelings’, and society does not currently like how it ‘feels’. However, it doesn’t matter where those ‘feelings’ come from. The only thing that matters is that they exist and they have become a matter of intense societal interest to the point of a potentially neurotic obsession. I have never before experienced the current levels of ‘awareness’ of social issues and accompanying angst. None of this feels like a natural response to an external threat. It feels more like a rising moral panic born of self-obsession. Furthermore, as with any complex, autonomous, adaptive, self-monitoring system, the cognition of internal states will become a prime motivator for action.

It may very well be that the normal state of society is to operate with a background level of fear towards external threats, coupled with concerns regarding the appropriateness of its past decisions. Such levels of fear and guilt will be the hallmarks of a healthy society. However, I am disinclined to take at face value the justifications given by society for its current levels of fear and guilt. I do not accept that the external threats are the existential ones currently proposed, nor do I accept that all of the decisions that have led to our current levels of guilt are as inappropriate as we are currently maintaining. I believe we have tapped into natural levels of fear and guilt and obsessed over them until they have become anything but natural or healthy. Having established a self-inflicted sense of crisis we have compounded the error by then looking for external threats and causes of internal dysfunction that could possibly explain our extreme agitation. Take, for example, the following tweeted comment:

No one is saying that all men are rapists, but the problem for women is that you can’t tell which ones are. Naturally, therefore, we have to proceed as if they all are. It isn’t rocket science.

No, indeed it isn’t. Try substituting men with Muslims and rapists with terrorists and you’ll see exactly what it is. And yet, the scale of the problem seemed so obvious to the author of the above comment that she believed anyone not recognising it was surely failing to grasp the simplest and most obvious truism. On the contrary, it is actually part of a pattern of social panic, because the comment clearly is feeding off a society-led assumption of endemic toxic masculinity.

So we have a dominating patriarchy, we have toxic masculinity, we have homophobia, transphobia, rampant racism, colonialism shame, a sudden awareness of sexual harassment in the playground, an epidemic of feeling bullied and, above all, a supposed lack of freedom to discuss how mentally unwell this is all making us feel. And in all of the above cases, we are invited to believe that we have not just got some improvements to make, we have actually reached a point of crisis demanding radical change. We are in peril whichever way you look. Things must be really, really bad because every day I read that things are really, really bad.

And Climate Change

It is against this backdrop of a perceived, crisis-level malaise that I think we need to analyse how the climate change issue is sold to the masses. The conventional wisdom is that climate change poses an existential threat that requires urgent and radical action that would be tantamount to the complete reinvention of how we live our lives. However, it is relevant to reflect upon how a society that has already decided that it wishes to redefine the game of life might need an existential threat to justify such a decision. Society will never accept that its concern regarding how we live our lives is the result of an obsessive self-scrutiny, any more than the human mind can readily accept that a racing heartbeat can be self-inflicted rather than indicative of a genuine threat. From society’s perspective, how great it would be if we could identify a problem that transcends, subsumes and explains all that is deemed to be rotten within it. And having identified the great Satan, how great it would be if we could convince ourselves that there is a grand gesture that, no matter how drastic it may seem, can be justified because it would solve all of society’s problems. That seems to me to be the great deal on offer. We have convinced ourselves that society is spiritually sick and in need of salvation, and tackling climate change is sold as an opportunity for deliverance on an appropriate scale. So it is no coincidence that so many people have seen so many connections between issues of social injustice and climate change, since the latter is the eminently auspicious, after-the-fact rationalisation for the former. One has to wonder, if we didn’t obsess so much over the ills of society, what appetite would remain for rebooting it to address climate change.

One can argue whether or not the actions currently proposed for addressing climate change are commensurate with a real threat, but this is not really a question of rationality – it’s just an emotion thing. The internal state now prevails. So, as far as climate change is concerned, the question is not really how to deal with the environment; it is how to deal with the distressed state we now find ourselves in.

46 Comments

  1. Thank you for shedding light on this malaise. Elsewhere it has been said that racism and climate are the twin cudgels aimed at undoing modern societies.

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  2. I am reminded of some commentary by Steven Pinker regarding the tug-of-war between rationality and emotion. For example:

    “So if we do have the capacity to be rational, why are we so often irrational? There are several reasons. The most obvious was pointed out by Herbert Simon, one of the founders of both cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence: rationality must be bounded. A perfect reasoner would require all the time in the world, and unlimited memory. So we often satisfice, trading accuracy for efficiency.”

    “Also, though reality is always a powerful selection pressure, we did not evolve with the truth-augmenting technologies that have been invented in recent millennia and centuries, such as writing, quantitative datasets, scientific methodology, and specialized expertise.”

    “Another paradox of rationality is pluralistic ignorance, or the “spiral of silence,” in which everyone believes that everyone else believes something but no one actually believes it. A classic example is drinking in college fraternities: a 1998 Princeton study found that the male students mistakenly believed that their fellow students thought it was cool to drink a lot, and during their time on campus gravitated toward endorsing this false norm themselves.18 The same thing happens in college women’s attitudes toward casual sex.”

    “How can pluralistic ignorance happen? How does a false belief keep itself levitated in midair? Michael Macy and his colleagues show that a key factor is enforcement. Not only does the belief never get challenged, but group members believe they must punish or condemn those who don’t hold it—out of the equally mistaken belief that they themselves may be denounced for failing to denounce. Denunciation is a signal of solidarity with the group, which can lead to a cascade of pre-emptive, self-reinforcing denunciation, and sometimes to “extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds” like witch hunts and other bubbles and manias. Sometimes the bubble can be punctured by a public exclamation that the emperor is naked, but it takes an innocent boy or a brave truth-teller.”

    A fuller discussion is at https://rclutz.com/2019/10/31/why-people-are-so-unreasonable-these-days/

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  3. Ron,

    Thanks for that. The example given regarding the wisdom of the crowds is, I am sure, a principal mechanism by which emotive ‘truth’ emerges. The first recourse of the individual is to consult the current internal state of society. This is a rational decision as far as the individual is concerned but that individual is simply allowing himself or herself to take part in the entrenchment of what is, essentially, emotional decision-making from society’s perspective. There is a groundswell of feeling that ‘this must be right’ because the system is benefiting from the sense of integrity that emerges. The end state may make no sense when judged as a reaction to a challenge placed upon society, but that won’t stop society from applying some post hoc rationalising to justify matters.

    Also, there is another sense in which the recent works of Steven Pinker apply. He, amongst others, has pointed out how there has never been more social justice and societal peace than there is today (notwithstanding romantic views of primitive societies). At the same time, social angst and fear have never been more pronounced than they are today. This supports my view that current perceptions are a result of changes in the extent to which society is focused in upon itself, rather than any real societal degradation. If I may return to the example of school ground sexual harassment. We are told it has increased to dangerously high levels in recent years but, as I remember it, there was plenty of it going on in my day back in the sixties – it just wasn’t facilitated by high technology, and society was more inclined to see it as a natural part of pubescent play and exploration rather than a creeping evil. Different times, eh? It’s not about increasing pain; it’s about changing pain thresholds.

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  4. “One can argue whether or not the actions currently proposed for addressing climate change are commensurate with a real threat, but this is not really a question of rationality – it’s just an emotion thing.”

    Indeed so. And in the climate-change case, we can actually measure this too.

    The key to understanding how emotion plays at scale in society is to trace why there would be evolutionary advantages from same, and how these are implemented. And indeed because ‘at scale’ essentially means in communal groups, then ‘group selection’ (in the context of multi-level selection) is key. In essence, emotional pathways are employed to hold the group together in the face of the unknown (and once, essentially everything was unknown). This is because a) such paths were available, and b) they were stronger / deeper than the still-developing paths of rationality and can trump them for this purpose, which gives huge *net* advantages to the survival of (larger and larger) groups. Nor had earlier rationality yet figured out communal devices to act at scale (which appeared later as the law, democracy, science). The former system still survives very strongly and competes with rationality at scale via the above devices, in a constant war.

    “Nevertheless, general comparisons can be made…”

    Indeed, and usefully so. But we can also do far more than that. While indeed emotion v rationality at scale works very differently to emotion v rationality at the level of an individual, we know from about 150 years of accumulated literature on cultural evolution, social psychology, neuro-science and much else, a rough framework for at least the major ways in which the operation at scale works. In fact, we probably know more about the scale operation than we do about the individual operation. For instance it remains a mystery quite *how* group narratives create a state within an individual whereby one half of their brain internally lies to the other (or in some theories, how one or more parts lies to various other parts, or how a choir of parts reaches a chorus that obscures the reality of subsumed parts). Yet we can measure that this occurs.

    So for instance, from the above group evolutionary context falls out a plethora of characteristics we can see (and indeed that emotive ‘truths’ are emergent via selection, is one), and sometimes measure. And because strong cultures holding their group memberships together, interact (over a long enough period of time in overlapping space), then we can easily measure public attitudes on climate-change across nations by looking via the lens of national religiosities. From which we see indeed that they are entirely cultural, which is to say emotively driven, as are the real-world consequences of such attitudes, such as climate activism and climate policy (e.g. renewables deployment). IOW, they are not primarily a function of climate or climate-change exposures of nations, or climate-science or any logical or rational system.

    However, as covid has so forcefully reminded us, cultural modes are not the only ones in which emotion at scale overrides rationality (at least to the extent that systems of rationality at scale are too wounded or undermined to fight back for a while). Various animals practice social distancing in times of pandemic; it is a deep instinct because it *has* yielded significant survival advantage in the past, whether or not it still does in a highly technical and at least partially (at scale) rational species. But while emotive behaviours will be triggered, and I think this explains a huge amount of what has happened with respect to the behaviour of populations and their governments, it is also fundamentally different to the way cultural behaviours are implemented. Covid is emotively interpreted as a *real* fear, no matter how exaggerated and indeed how much the emotive behaviour contributes to that exaggeration. The media scenes of overflowing hospitals and folks dying in corridors, set that path, no matter the context regarding the ongoing development may be hugely skewed. But cultures cause a very special behaviour that means somewhere in the brain *we know it is not true at all*, not in the slightest, we ‘know’ with a part of our brain that the cultural narrative is only a group membership signal, and we act accordingly, which is to say not as though it is a real fear. Greta, who may lack this cultural decode (along with other non-literal communication modes that Aspberger’s seems to lack), *correctly* picked up on this gross hypocrisy. Unfortunately, she went for the wrong solution; it isn’t that everyone is lying and lazy and uncaring of impending planetary doom, it is that the ‘doom’ is only a fictional cultural narrative, presumably an option of which she is unaware. Um… I digress. The point here is that the covid scenario will have some commonalities with the climate-change phenomenon due to the overriding emotive drives, but will have major differences too. And of course, they can interact and play off each other too, per ‘build back better’, which is to say ‘build back greener’.

    “That’s the problem with the emotive component of the calculation; it provides enormous adaptive benefits whilst setting the system up for some pretty significant aberrations from time to time.”

    Indeed, for individuals or at scale. And regarding the ratio of aberration to benefit, I don’t think anyone has a clue whether cultures are still *net* beneficial, as they once hugely were and for a very long time indeed (apparently we’ve passed through about 100,000 religions, for instance). For sure some cultures are very negative. Some are more mixed. There are probably significant benefits that nevertheless are intangible, as they acrue over long periods and may not be intuitive. And I doubt we could live without the mechanisms. Try getting 100 people to do something without team spirit; you just get 100 opinions and no action. Likewise, could we live completely without all sense of patriotism or communal spirituality or political allegiance or whatever. I don’t know.

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  5. Hi Andy,

    I’m pleased that you have chosen to comment upon my article at length. My own thoughts on this matter are only partially formed and I welcome any commentary that helps me to think matters through further. As it stands, my thesis is simply as follows. If two different systems, having a decision-making capacity, share certain fundamental attributes, then one might reasonably expect their decision-making to operate in a similar fashion – at least at the broadest level. In this case, the systemic similarities are that of complexity, autonomous and adaptive behaviour, and a propensity for self-monitoring. The operative similarity is that of a decision-making function that is largely influenced by cognizance of internal states. In human beings, we see this as the emotional component of decision-making. Even though, in the case of society, one would be using the term ‘emotional’ in a much more abstract sense, I think it is a term that can apply to society-level decision making. The mechanics involved are a whole different ball game and I’m sure they owe a great deal to the cultural effects that you have previously elucidated here on Cliscep and elsewhere.

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  6. Say, this complex self -monitoring system agrees.

    Recently read Antonio Damasio’s “Descartes Error” The book argues similarly that our emotions play a vital role in our thinking . Damasio gives the example or Phineas Fogg, who became incapable of feeling emotion after having a rod go through his head in a mining accident. Phineas Fogg thereafter became a changed man, incapable of acting. He couldn’t prioritise what was important for him, every choice was of equal merit.

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  7. “One can argue whether or not the actions currently proposed for addressing climate change are commensurate with a real threat, but this is not really a question of rationality – it’s just an emotion thing. The internal state now prevails. So, as far as climate change is concerned, the question is not really how to deal with the environment; it is how to deal with the distressed state we now find ourselves in.”
    That sounds like a religious issue. And addressing climate change is similar to addressing the witch problem.
    Other than witches have something to do with the devil, why don’t we like witches? We do tend to like a witch which is good- of course, as there lots of good things a good witch might do.
    But there is a lot unknown stuff regarding witches, and lot unknown stuff to do with climate change.

    So recently, we had some global warming, and there was nothing bad about this global warming.

    We live in an Ice Age, what is bad when you are in an Ice Age is when there is global cooling.
    Any kind of “being in distress state in this world”, is caused the political leadership. This is has always been true, and pick a country where have many people finding themselves in distress state- it’s because of political leadership. The problem with Venezuela wasn’t related to climate change- it was insane politician leadership. It was not the people’s fault- they were lied to.

    Climate change is simply something political leadership “doesn’t have anything that they do about” there is not an offered solution to it, other what other people are doing must be stopped. But the politicans fly on personal jets. One thing politicans could do is lower taxes, if had lower taxes, people would not to work as much. But running with high deficits, means people in future are going to be required to work more. Or a Venezuela happens. People might imagine there is nothing good about taxation, but it cause to people to do more work {which is protestant virtue}.
    Or Laffer curve is basically, if tax too much, it doesn’t cause people to work more- so you don’t get more tax revenue. Or if tax 100%, everyone stops working- obviously. Venezula government is not getting as much tax revenue as it was once getting- they have successfully reduced productive and millions fled the country.
    Or crudely there are these two options, reduce taxes. Or increase taxation. One way people don’t need to work as much and other way, people can’t work.

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  8. John: “As it stands, my thesis is simply as follows…”

    I think it has plenty going for it, and I only wish that more people would view the operation of humanity so objectively.

    The only difficulty I guess is that it’s a 40,000 foot view, and there is 150 years worth of data that gets us a 1000 foot view, which hence does indeed include many of the actual mechanics involved. Or rather, there’s a large set of 1000 foot views with very many overlaps but also some key and very highly contested features. Each view tends to be sponsored by a particular discipline (there are many involved) and be somewhere on a spectrum even within that. Some are specific to individuals or to society, and some cover both, or at least attempt to maintain consistency with the opposite domain. My own view is originally from a cultural evolutionary context and towards the strongly Darwinian end of same (but not like ‘mind-blind’ memetics, for instance), then softened, as it were, by what I’ve picked up from social psychology. From 40,000 feet all of these views probably look very similar despite their hard-fought contests (they all acknowledge a big role for evolution for instance, despite more in some views than others), and indeed the flip-side of coming from up there is that one can be much more objective, untainted by the specific mechanics that the many competing theories each push. Which is an advantage. A next step would be to mathematize the approach. But when it gets to the point of testing the model against reality, I think this would be incredibly hard to do without committing to some of the particular mechanical assumptions, so some specific choices out of the many 1000 foot views. Because in practice these are the things for which measurements exist, unless you have a decade and a staff of thousands to start from scratch. Economics, memetics, game theory and others have all gone down the route of attempting to mathematize the operation of society, or at least aspects thereof, so there’s a lot of starting material out there I presume.

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  9. Beth,

    It’s funny you should mention the Damasio book. I have read a number of books that reference Damasio but I have not actually read “Descartes’ Error” myself. However, I came across it in a bargain bookshop the other day and I thought I’m having that! I took it on holiday with me last week but only managed to find the time to read the introduction. I’m still looking forward to reading the rest of it. But already I am regretting not having read it first rather than reading other people’s derivative works.

    P.S. If I may, the man who suffered the brain damage was called Gage.

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  10. Andy,

    Yes, I am admittedly taking a 40,000 ft view, because I am trying to reduce things to their essential features. The result may be simplistic but I still think it offers a useful framework within which to think about the issues, and I think this may be particularly so when analysing how the decision-making process can malfunction. I am hopeful that the comparisons I am making go beyond analogy and metaphor but I would have to think about the subject a lot more before I could be confident about that.

    Incidentally, by way of research I had googled ‘systems theory emotion’ whilst writing this article, but I immediately regretted it! There’s an awful lot of crap out there.

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  11. That society is a complex system with its own characteristics (“emotions”, etc.) which are independent of the characteristics of the individuals of which it is constituted is the absolute basis of all social science. Yet when social scientists examine what “society” thinks and feels about climate change, they happily ignore this commonplace, and treat society (or whatever subgroup they’re examining) as a simple agglomeration of individuals (97% of whom “think” this or that.)

    It’s easy enough to explain. If you want that juicy government-backed grant, you’d better think of society as a mass of voters.

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  12. How do we know what people really believe? Opinion polls?

    There comes a point when people will no longer honestly report their views, if they think those views are no longer acceptable.

    How many people honestly support their dictator, and how many follow along with what the crowd believe, or what the crowd appears to believe? For those of us lucky enough to live in democracies, the truth may make itself known at the ballot box, as for example in the recent Swiss referendum that rejected additional climate taxes, seemingly in the face of a blizzard. Ask someone if they support action on climate, they will say yes. Ask them how much they are prepared to pay for it, they will offer a couple of quid. This has been identified numerous times; a recent example was covered at Notalot: https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2021/05/26/one-third-of-americans-unwilling-to-spend-1-to-fight-climate-change/

    If we are to believe the evidence of this poll – I think it’s likely correct, because people would be more likely to overstate their own virtue in response to the question than appear miserly – it shows that our belief on this is as thin as paper. We will mouth the platitudes, or some of us will, but don’t really believe them. Nevertheless we will pay the bill, not from choice, but because the climate bill is so well hidden: we should demand an itemised bill.

    Then because so few people spoke up against them, we will end up with draconian regulations on cars and houses, and who knows, flying. The market has now been fixed. All parties agree, so no-one can disagree. There is only one type of gin on sale.

    Left to ourselves we would not do the things that Boris calls “The People’s Priorities,” not on the average. We would buy a bigger car, turn up the heat rather than spend money on insulation, fly to whichever warm country would have us for a holiday, etc. Our priorities are things like being left the hell alone to live our lives in the way we see fit, coppers, education and hospitals. A loud few will demand that Boris does things (Net Zero) that I believe the majority do not want, even if polls say they do, or Twitter thinks they do. We don’t care where electricity comes from. We want it cheap and reliable. The preference for “renewables” is in my view dependent on false assurances of reliability, economy, and of a low environmental impact.

    If the costs are high enough, any opinion can be enforced, however ludicrous. The question arises: how does such an opinion reach the stage that it is bulletproof?

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  13. Geoff,

    Indeed. I believe that the prevalent view within sociology nowadays would be to understand societal states as emergent phenomena resulting from the dynamics of a complex system. I’m not sure how many sociologists would still adhere to a purely atomistic view. However, what I am sure of is that anyone who tries to use a systems theory approach that draws parallels with neuroscience, and thereby concludes that concerns for social injustice are likely to be an overreaction, will be dismissed as a right wing reactionary who is using pseudoscience to justify his bigotry and contrarian views. That is because such people are deemed to be the root cause of the injustices.

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  14. JIT:

    “There comes a point when people will no longer honestly report their views, if they think those views are no longer acceptable.”

    I have over a period of years looked at a huge number of different surveys of climate-change attitudes. They can fairly easily be classified into major types, and within each of those the language elements that evoke specific responses can be identified too (albeit this is far from easy and needs a lot of cross-referencing). The interesting thing is that the same type of question with similar language elements will always produce the same response (within a similar date window). The responses turn out to be highly systemic, typically emphatic (except for weakly-framed or mixed-mode, where responses drift within an expected envelope), and very reliable indeed. ‘Systemic’ includes that while the responses are different per nation, again they are very reliably and repeatably so; their patterns reflect a particular characteristic and are stable across all nations (about 60 including a large range of political systems, ethnicities, main Faiths, geography, etc), which is to say they produce very robust ‘r’ values indeed against the predictor I’m using to track them.

    All this speaks to the very high likelihood that publics of all nations are very faithfully reflecting their true attitudes. Or at the very least if they are lying, then they are all lying in an incredibly consistent manner across both time and geography and wildly different social / political systems, which I do not think is plausible.

    “Ask someone if they support action on climate, they will say yes. Ask them how much they are prepared to pay for it, they will offer a couple of quid.”

    Much more generically, the patterns of responses from ‘unconstrained’ questions, such as an open-ended question about how much folks care about climate-change or how much it will impact them, are very different indeed from the responses to ‘reality-constrained’ questions. The ‘constraint’ can be money such as in your example, more usually it occurs via questions that seek the priority respondents would give to climate-change against a list of other real-world policies, which has the same constraining effect. BUT… despite being very different, BOTH patterns are reliable, repeatable, highly systemic and having stable patterns across nations as noted above. Whether response for one type are much higher than another (both cases occur), depends upon the strength of the reality-constraint (these can be graded relatively reliably, potentially for priority lists even mathematically), relative to the strength of the unconstrained question, which is to say the level of emotive content it has aligned to the concept of catastrophic climate-change (which can be linguistically graded).

    In a typical NW European nation if the unconstrained strength is very weak and the constrained strength strong, responses to the survey questions will match your example. But the gulf between these responses would in fact be more modest than in Italy or Greece, say, which in turn would be more modest than in, say, Thailand or the Philippines. Which is a clue to what’s going on. And if the strengths are reversed, so the constraint is very weak but the unconstrained strength is strong, then the responses will fundamentally change. In this case the results would reverse in a typical NW European country, in Italy or Greece responses would be fairly similar, and in Thailand or the Philippines there would still be a very large gulf in the *original* direction.

    Such results (and high reliability / predictability) may seem unintuitive. But publics are not climate-literate. So their responses cannot be primarily a function of any kind of reason or logic, because to function these systems need knowledge. And publics across the world have been soaked in a highly emotive story of inevitable (absent very dramatic intervention) global climate catastrophe for decades. Their responses come almost exclusively from the ratio of cultural acceptance of this story to instinctive (i.e. NOT from *rational* skepticism) rejection of this story. And because strong cultures interact over a long enough time in the same space, this provides us a means to see the patterns wrt to a very powerful and ordered interaction with pre-existing culture rather than just a random jumble of nations.

    Cultures are fundamentally hypocritical. Their fairy tales *must* be false for them to work, yet at brain architectural level this is hidden from believers (and rejected instinctively rather than rationally by the vast majority of opposers). Your example is just a small piece of that hypocrisy, but no-one is lying in this, or the much larger patterns. And indeed these patterns include enormous (and unintuitive) hypocrisy. In nations such as Thailand or Bahrain or the Philippines or India for instance, expectations of personal climate impact stand at the highest in the world, while in the very same nations the priority for climate-action against all other policies stands at the lowest in the world. In nations like Sweden and Denmark and the Netherlands, expectations of personal climate impact stand at the lowest in the world, while priority for climate-action against all other policies stands at the highest in the world. Publics are simply either believing or not believing (and there are some neutrals, but this neutrality is a ‘balance-point’ not based upon knowledge), in predictably different ratios for different nations, depending only upon the interaction of catastrophic climate-change culture with the strongest pre-existing global cultural player, which happens to be religiosity (the same rule applies within the US, but uniquely there it’s a 4-way cultural dance not a 2-way dance, so the extra players must be plotted too). The patterns are what I would expect from the particular type of cultural interaction that I believe is occurring [Thailand, Bahrain etc are extremely religious (~95%+), Sweden and Denmark etc are very irreligious (~25%)].

    Notwithstanding the striking pattern range across nations, for very large majorities in *all* of them, true belief of climate catastrophe *in the presence of strong realities* is very low indeed. Certainly no more than 10% anywhere, and possibly quite a lot less (discussed here with Geoff before, but decent measurement falls apart anyhow when responses drop much into single figures, as happens for ultimate strength constraints). And this is *even more* true for those (religious) nations that have simply massive majorities in support of unconstrained propositions such as how much they might fear the personal impact of climate-change. IOW, your ‘paper-thin’ proposition is certainly very very close to being true, even if not quite. But my recommendation is to drop lying as any kind of explanatory factor in this. Far more fundamental things are going on there than mere lying. Nor are the emotive survey questions lying; sometimes they are wringing with emotive bias that indeed fishes out (especially for the unconstrained questions) particular results, but this merely reflects the emotive bias in the entire elite / authority / organisational institutions that ultimately seek answers / support. And it happens to be extremely handy too, because without these emotive questions we wouldn’t be able to measure the genuine cultural state of nations on the issue; unprovocative questions harvest non-descript results because cultural acceptance or rejection isn’t invoked, but neither do publics have knowledge to fall back on for an answer. So responses simply drift between cultural modes. It is clear from how most of the polls are set up that no-one doing this has any clue what they’re really measuring, and the fact that we can pull out the real answers using their bias as a very useful tool, is confirmation of same.

    All this speaks to your final points. If publics had any clue whatsoever about the realities caused by the culture being forced upon them, the 90%+ majority in *every* nation that rejects this culture in the presence of strong reality, would make their voice heard and that would simply be the end of it. It is the fact that those realities have remained hidden (again primarily a function of belief not of dishonesty), that is the issue. Maybe with NetZero downsides regularly in the press these days, that is starting to happen. All of the surveys matching above are from about 2015 to very early 2020, i.e. before any serious covid impact, which for a couple of years at least will impact the reality-constrained shapes at least. But it is since then too that downsides are beginning to emerge, at last, within the public domain.

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  15. JIT: Further to above, you may find the figure below helpful. It’s a simplified (only a few series, and less features) map of the ‘most supportive’ national attitudes to climate change. Note the X-axis variable, which is an entirely cultural phenomenon. And the very robust indeed ‘r’ values (some would be considered less so for a physical process, but even the weakest are very good indeed for normal social psychology mass predictors, and the strongest are to die for). Note that all other factors such as the climate or climate exposure of nations, mainstream climate science knowledge (per AR5), or indeed any logical or rational system, cannot possibly produce both a strong correlation AND simultaneous strong anti-correlation with the ‘most supportive’ attitudes to climate-change (i.e. most concern, expectation of most impact, highest priority rating for CC etc), merely by switching between reality-constrained and unconstrained questions. But hypocrisy is a watchword for the cultural, and for the right kind of cultural interaction (in this case between religiosity and CCCC) this outcome is indeed an expectation.

    Blacks: SA, MA, WA = Strongly, Medium, Weakly Aligned to CCCC.
    Greys: FC, SC, MC, WC = Fully, Strongly, Medium, Weakly Reality-Constrained.

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  16. P.S. please note the above trends continue in sequence for ‘Very Weakly Constrained’ and ‘Very Weakly Aligned’, before eventually responses lose modality and simply drift between the two modes randomly per nation (but still within the expected envelope the trends form, plus some noise).

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  17. Did the Black death cause Brexit? Jolyon Jenkins suggested this at the end of this episode of his series about politics and personality:

    URL:www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b5ts24

    I think he was joking, but…

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  18. Andy, I still wonder whether self-censorship actually becomes automatic. As ideas take a grip on society, stating opposition becomes challenging, and most will simply go with the flow. A current example is to say “sex is immutable.” Whether true or not, this has become a moral question, and a speaker immediately badges themselves by what they say if asked.

    A fair comparator question vs climate concern would have to be one where every shade of opinion is respectable, given what people know about the culture they live in. Being a climate denier is not (yet) a respectable position. If you ask: (i) How important is it for you to be a moral person? and (ii) How much of your monthly salary would you be willing to send to orphans? then you might obtain a similar pattern.

    PS. Have you tried using median per-capita gdp, or some other measure of equality, as your x variable? I know, you’re not supposed to data dredge. And I may have asked this before. But still. What I’m getting at is that the reality-constrained answers might depend on how much spare cash the individual has, and the unconstrained might simply measure how much of other people’s money the answerer thinks should be sent to their country by wealthier nations. Maybe a dumb question.

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  19. JIT: “Andy, I still wonder whether self-censorship actually becomes automatic…”

    In some cases, and indeed cases involving cultural pressure especially, this is certainly true. And can be picked up. However, there’s no sign of this *in publics* in the climate-change case. This doesn’t rule out minor demographics that are too small to influence public samples (for instance, climate bloggers). I think this is because, currently, publics *consciously* do accept en-masse the (entirely cultural) climate-change narrative that they’ve been soaked in for decades; only tiny percentages of the publics say it’s all not true, and there’s no evidence at all that all the others are lying. Bear in mind too these patterns hold over every kind of ethnicity and geography, every kind of a very wide variety of political systems, every kind of main religious Faith, and every type of economy plus better or worse off within each type. Typically, consciously lying about what they believe produces strong local variances in time or geography or within very different social systems.

    This would seem like a tremendous victory for the narrative. However, everyone is actually processing it with their *cultural* machinery not via knowledge (they don’t actually have any that is independent of the cultural narrative they’ve been fed) and therefore not via reason either (which needs knowledge). So in the presence of strong reality, their cultural machinery (which does include a rejection mechanism) actually rejects it in all nations for the vast majority. Especially in the most religious nations, even though without the reality-constraints being present, the latter have an ‘apparent’ belief that is very high. You really need the next stage of the cultural mechanics to really grasp why, but the surface partnership of religious faith with CCCC (per many statements from the leaderships of all faiths), disables innate (or instinctive) skepticism of CCCC, yet at grass-roots level the flocks don’t actually buy into these statements with appropriate actions (for which there is independent evidence), and so the reality-constraint works to switch their innate skepticism of CCCC back on in order to protect their religiously-orientated main values. This obviously has much less effect where there are not many religious people in the population. [In the unique case of the US people don’t lie either, but modifying the relationship with religiosity is dem/lib v rep/con cultural polarization. A whole swathe of the latter don’t believe it, but not for reasons of knowledge rather for cultural rep/con loyalty, and they don’t have to lie they are happy to assert their disbelief as part of that identity. Both rep/cons and dem/libs disbelieve / believe for the wrong reason, neither of them have any significant climate literacy, once again attitudes simply follow the cultural trends, but it’s now a plot of where 4 of them stand].

    “Have you tried using median per-capita gdp, or some other measure of equality, as your x variable?”

    Bear in mind that whatever you try on the X-axis, must both strongly correlate AND anti-correlate *simultaneously* with the national ‘most supportive’ climate-change attitudes (depending only on the question type). Hence this rules out most things that are physical or indeed logical; the average temperature of a nation for instance can’t possibly both correlate and anti-correlate with most supportive attitudes on climate-change. However, I tried a whole bunch of things *separately* with the constrained and unconstrained trends, just to make sure, and indeed nothing has any kind of sensible match even with each response type separately. BUT… gdp-per-capita is an interesting case, because for long-term (generations) developmental reasons that way pre-date climate-change (and hence long-known about too), there is a general anti-correlation between religiosity and the gdp-per-capita in nations. However, if you substitute the latter on the X-axis it is a much worse fit, and fortunately there are sufficient exceptions to the gdp / religiosity relationship (for instance the oil-rich states and also some places like Singapore or wherever) plus further evidence, to show that this is all because religiosity is a root enabler of the CCCC / religiosity AND the gdp / religiosity relationships; the gdp-per-capita is NOT the root.

    There is a much more complex chart with more series and more features, and one of the latter is that the gdp-per-capita-per-religio-regional group (and so NOT the absolute gdp-per-capita of a nation) is a very minor secondary variable explaining a portion of the variance around trend for some of the weaker series (i.e. not all the variance around trend is noise). There are plausible reasons for this, and it’s also the case even here, that because of the above relationship between gdp-per-capita and religiosity above, you can to a first approximation express even this variance as a level of religiosity from the centre of the religio-regional group. So both the robust main trend and some of the variance from trend of an individual nation can be expressed via religiosity alone (figure for the group, and then delta for nation from group). [Mainly independently of Faith type, e.g. Catholicism or Sunni Muslim or whatever, religiosity values are quite tied to a geographical region, which leads to the concept of a religio-regional group sharing not just religiosity level but some related variables]. But probably getting too deep to put up the next chart and reams more explanation; I’m trying to put this in sketch form already believe it or not 0:

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  20. P.S. there are substantial proportions of publics (more so in irreligious nations) who assert in one way or another depending on the survey options that while climate-change exists its impacts will be pretty modest to very low. For example, the ‘least supportive’ responses to unconstrained questions slope oppositely to the black trends above, with similarly robust ‘r’ values but generally reaching lower on the Y-axis at their maximum that is on the LHS.

    In general, if folks feel so strongly socially pressured as to lie to commercial pollsters during an anonymous survey, then it’s incredibly unlikely that they’d be so nervous and timid as to do so in huge droves (that happen to match the public religiosity) for unconstrained questions, yet then suddenly get all bold and brave and answer honestly just because a reality-constraint appears in a particular question. Such constraints are usually about policy priorities, occasionally they can be about money and sometimes personal money rather than say a tax-system option. But it’s just a survey, no actual money is ever involved and most often none is ever even mentioned. If the responder’s reactions are so automatic as to essentially be subconscious, then indeed this is not conscious lying but something much deeper, which we would expect to follow the rules for how those deeper things typically work. There’s also the problem for irreligious nations that, if the unconstrained strength is high (SA) and the constrained strength is low (WC), then their ‘lying’ goes into reverse.

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  21. I would like to offer the following example to further explain the thinking behind my article.

    You will, no doubt, be aware of the current societal concern regarding suicide rates amongst men. There are certainly plenty of celebrities using their celebrity to draw attention to the problem – usually because they can lay claim to an understanding born of personal experience. And, of course, there is a hashtag that labels the concern: #ItsOkayToTalk. The following article in the New Statesman is typical:

    https://www.newstatesman.com/science-tech/social-media/2016/08/what-does-itsokaytotalk-hashtag-reveal-about-britains-male-suicide

    The article speaks of ‘Britain’s Male Suicide Crisis’ and, contrary to anything I might maintain, fully endorses the view that there is a real crisis and that highlighting it with a hashtag is an effective solution. Indeed, the article even makes the point that suicide rates are highest within an age group that uses twitter infrequently (45-49). The massive non sequitur applied is that the hashtag is obviously working but only for those who are exposed to it.

    The reality is that there is nothing particularly alarming about male suicide rates compared to times gone by. According to Wiki:

    “Age-standardised rates generally fell between 1981 and 2007, with rates in subsequent years increasing to reach a peak of 11.1 deaths per 100,000 in 2013, though this was still substantially less than the rates seen in the 1980s and 1990s… The suicide rate of 11.2 deaths per 100,000 population recorded by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2018 is an increase on the 10.1 per 100,000 population recorded in 2017, which was the lowest since the organisation began recording data on suicide in the United Kingdom in 1981.”

    I’m not saying that male suicide is not a problem. But I am saying it has always been one, and yet only in the last few years has it been taken on as a cause worthy of hashtag obsession. When we think of suicide as a problem, our perception is formed by society’s obsession and not the reality. I wonder what sparked the current levels of concern if it isn’t the data. Where did the myth of the spiraling suicide rates come from? Why is society so distressed about male suicide now when it wasn’t in the eighties?

    I would say it’s a panic attack.

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  22. “Where did the myth of the spiraling suicide rates come from?”

    From emotive selection I should think. Rather than viewing society as a largely rational plain upon which curious such myths occasionally raise their heads to an extraordinary degree (which therefore requires a corresponding explanation), I think a more representative model is a snake-pit so jam-packed full of writhing myths that it’s hard to see any rationality beneath. The limiting factor for a new or rejuvenated one raising up so high in such circumstances is not a struggle against the gravity of rationality (to adapt my model already), but the intense competition to get noticed (and so boosted) against the similar efforts of all the others. Hence picking the winners is incredibly difficult. Another consequence is that most are short-lived as others swiftly arise to exclude them, but they may also return repeatedly, typically in fresh skins (some new angle) to renew their appeal. Occasionally, even reason may help to quosh some. A panic attack may be an appropriate description for some of these, but I think a virtue-signalling ‘attack’ may be more typically the case. Although Twitter is the perfect pit for these snakes to compete in, they have essentially been around forever. An existential angle considerably adds to the likely success of one, but few things are existential for everyone, so the more the existentiality can be widened into a framing as the primary moral concern of everyone else, the better the emotive leverage. I know you are looking from 40,000 feet for the sake of objective generics, but it’s worth noting that regarding any that make it through this route (or other routes such as group-think) into a main culture (CRT springs to mind), this will fundamentally change the way that publics (mainly) believe in them, or reject them, at the brain architectural level (i.e. they become ‘religious’ values).

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  23. “…few things are existential for everyone, so the more the existentiality can be widened into a framing as the primary moral concern of everyone else, the better the emotive leverage.”

    This is ultimately the origin of phrases like ‘silence is violence’.

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  24. Andy,

    “An existential angle considerably adds to the likely success of one, but few things are existential for everyone, so the more the existentiality can be widened into a framing as the primary moral concern of everyone else, the better the emotive leverage.”

    That’s very true, but at least this is a concern that is meant to apply to 50% of the population directly, with the remainder having a vested interest. The other thing to be kept in mind is that this idea of a male suicide epidemic is deeply entangled with the feminist narrative of toxic masculinity, and so the moral concern is multi-dimensional. The hashtag seems to imply that males are bringing this upon themselves due to their unwillingness to follow the female example of emotional sharing. As one pundit put it, men are ‘choking on their patriarchal dominance’. Consequently, it couldn’t be someone’s loss of job, wife, house and access to their children that might result in suicidal thoughts, it would have to be their unwillingness to talk about it. One mischievous thought I had was that a male suicide epidemic gives credence to the idea that men are feeling challenged by the empowerment of women — it’s just another sign of a supposed lack of emotional intelligence within men. I know that it sounds very reactionary of me to scoff at such ideas but, honestly, you need to read some of the explanations that have been given for this (non-existent) crisis.

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  25. John, all good points. Over a period of some years I did quite a bit of reading around CRT (long before the BLM explosion), gender issues and extreme Trans Activism. After a while once ceases to be surprised by the endless warps and apparent paradoxes and parasitical preying upon anything that moves. Very hard indeed to get quantitative data on which memes (or occasionally truths) dominate, but your thought is at least plausible rather than mischievous.

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  26. Andy West’s counterintuitive demonstration of the difference between constrained and unconstrained opinion, and its relation to religiosity across cultures, is really one of the few advances I’ve seen in our understanding of belief in climate catastrophe. I tended to resist it at first, because it went against a belief (or opinion) of my own – that opinion polling in general, particularly when conducted in different societies and in different languages, was nigh useless, given the failure of researchers to attempt even the most basic clarification of what they were doing, by, for example, distinguishing ideas, beliefs, opinions, feelings, etc.

    From Andy’s comments above I see that there’s no necessary contradiction. Opinion polls may well be useless for the purpose for which they’re devised, because the researchers haven’t the foggiest idea what they’re doing, (except when what they’re doing is to prove an already established dogma) but they can still be useful to someone like Andy who’s prepared to think about the results.

    Andy says: (16 June 12.58pm)

    Far more fundamental things are going on there than mere lying. Nor are the emotive survey questions lying; sometimes they are wringing with emotive bias that indeed fishes out (especially for the unconstrained questions) particular results, but this merely reflects the emotive bias in the entire elite / authority / organisational institutions that ultimately seek answers / support. […] It is clear from how most of the polls are set up that no-one doing this has any clue what they’re really measuring, and the fact that we can pull out the real answers using their bias as a very useful tool, is confirmation of same.

    Andy claims John’s article is reviewing the terrain from 40,000 feet whereas he, with the aid of research on evolution, neurology etc. can home in to a thousand feet. I have no head for heights, and prefer to remain at ground level.

    I first became aware of a problem with constrained choice questions in the very first quantitative marketing survey I ever conducted. Informants were asked to rank in order of preference three products A, B and C; A and B being very similar to each other, and C quite dissimilar. Think of them as mandarins, satsumas and kiwi fruit. The problem was that A came out the favourite, and B the least liked, which seemed illogical. My explanation was that people, instead of expressing a dispassionate aesthetic appreciation of the three products, were projecting themselves, saying, in essence: “Well, I’ve already had a satsuma, so now I’ll have a kiwi fruit for a change.” (This explanation was firmly rejected by my boss, who presumably realised that it imperilled the very foundations of consumer research.)

    Another example: I once heard the illustrator Raymond Briggs on “Desert Island Discs” choosing his eight favourite discs. “And if you could choose just one record, which would it be?” asked the interviewer. “The Meade Lux Lewis boogie woogie,” came back the reply, “Because I’ve only just bought it.” Briggs, bless him, was obviously worried that he was going to be sent to the desert island before he’d had time to play it.

    To generalise:
    The interviewer, being a college educated, expert sort of person, when he asks for an opinion, expects a dispassionate assessment of the state of affairs: an objective rating of the respondent’s musical or fruit-eating preference, or a considered opinion on the relative seriousness of various planetary problems.

    But the punter doesn’t see it like that. Give them a free hand and they’ll cognitively dissonate, saying whatever is expected of them by “the culture.” “Five a day? I’ll say – satsumas, tangerines, kiwis I love ’em all.” “Climate change? Terrible! Saw David Attenborough last night on the telly…” And in the case of Meade Lux Lewis, 20% of people claim to like jazz, while only about 0.1% will pay to go to a concert.

    But put the question in a context, and the answer will be quite different. I know Mozart is better, but I really want to listen to boogie woogie. I’ve had a satsuma, now I fancy a kiwi fruit. I know people who’ve lost their job, or had their cancer operation postponed. Do I know any victims of climate change?

    The religiosity of a country I’d suggest, probably negatively correlates with the prevalence of experts. Further education attempts to turn us from peasants whose world view is limited by their own personal horizons into citizens of the world who trust the Guardian/New York Times fact checkers. I’m not sure how this fits in with Andy’s cross-stitch embroidery graph. I may have to do some heavy thinking about it – not my strong point this early in the morning.

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  27. To be fair, my perspective is not just about taking a 40,000ft view; it is a perspective that borrows from systems theory as applied to social dynamics. As such it follows a well-established tradition established by the likes of social complexity theory and social networks analysis. I expect there will have been plenty of 1,000ft studies undertaken within those disciplines.

    With the systems theoretic views in mind, I am asking what effects might one expect from the technical advancements offered by the internet and social media. And if one can see the signs of moral panic, to what extent is that just a colourful metaphor, or is there a common basis for both personal and societal panics given by the fact that a complex, autonomous, adaptive, self-monitoring system is involved in both cases. For example, when one sees how quickly social media can promulgate new social norms, can one also see a parallel in which new emotional states can grip an individual without any apparent, conscious deliberation?

    Take the male suicide ‘crisis’. The idea is now firmly established, largely because it was promulgated by hashtags and celebrity anecdote and because too few people had as their first reaction to go away and actually look up the data. It is as if the higher executive cognitive functioning is bypassed at both the individual and societal level. But I believe this is only to be expected in complex, autonomous, adaptive, self-monitoring systems that are highly concerned with their internal states.

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  28. “Andy West’s counterintuitive demonstration of the difference between constrained and unconstrained opinion, and its relation to religiosity across cultures, is really one of the few advances I’ve seen in our understanding of belief in climate catastrophe.”

    Thank you 🙂

    “Andy claims John’s article is reviewing the terrain from 40,000 feet whereas he, with the aid of research on evolution, neurology etc. can home in to a thousand feet.”

    Yet also bear in mind as I acknowledged, mine is just one of various 1000 foot views (which have significant disagreements, albeit they probably all look pretty similar from 40,000 feet). My own view stems from the stronger Darwinian end of Cultural Evolution, yet avoiding ‘mind blind’ options (from memetics) and also ‘softened’ by what I’ve picked up from social psychology.

    “The religiosity of a country I’d suggest, probably negatively correlates with the prevalence of experts.”

    Very likely. I don’t know how you could measure that, but national religiosity does negatively correlate with education, albeit mildly as far as I recall.

    “I’m not sure how this fits in with Andy’s cross-stitch embroidery graph.”

    Neither do I really. But when thinking about possibilities regarding education, I figured that since publics in all nations are not climate literate in any case and this is not a ‘knowledge deficit’ problem (as the psychologists phrase it), then religiosity is the main direct driver (via its dual relationship with CCCC) and not the intermediate of education (i.e. religiosity is the root of both trends, independently).

    Your thought is interesting. Given the way education on climate-change is going in more recent years, and indeed as you note there’s almost certainly more climate-change ‘experts’ of various types in (irreligious) Western nations (i.e. most are not actual climate scientists but everything from CC orientated environmentalists to CC energy consultants and CC psychologists etc), then both of these just amount to a means of injecting more / stronger Catastrophic Climate-Change Culture. The education and the expertise simply parrots the culture, largely. Another way of viewing this, perhaps, is simply that the irreligious nations are (proportionally) substituting the secular religion of CCCC for their fading religious faith (and indeed across all of the main Faiths too, it doesn’t make any difference which ones). But as the embroidery suggests, there’s not really less contradiction where the new ‘religion’ dominates than where the old ones do, rather, just a different sort of contradiction.

    I have seen many attempts to explain attitudes to climate-change in different nations. In the figure above, imagine trying to do this *without* the benefit of the religiosity X-axis. That’s pretty much where the world is. With extremely rare exceptions (where constrained / unconstrained, and a decent proxy for religiosity, all occur within the same study), the speculation is all over the map; ‘hopeless’ would be kind. The very rare cases seem to realise they’ve found something, but then tend to trail off into ‘guilt’ or ‘unwillingness to accept climate realities’ or whatever, allowing bias to extinguish their insight.

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  29. John, I can’t offer answers, but I can offer opinion…

    “With the systems theoretic views in mind, I am asking what effects might one expect from the technical advancements offered by the internet and social media.”

    We have many prior technological revolutions in communications technology to use as a guide: glyphs, writing, printing, the telegraph, radio, TV, email (I sent my first email in ~1977). Ultimately, I think the dominant factor throughout in the rise and fall of narratives, viral fads, moral panics, group-think, cults and cultures, is not any of these technologies, but the way they are processed in our heads. On the timescale of such technology advance, such processing seems barely to have changed. Hence the new technologies cause disruption as they spread outwards from the introduction point through hierarchies and across geography, because there is originally very unequal access and unequal balance of expression-type through them. However, once the technology becomes ubiquitous, one is very hard pressed to see any difference in societal interactions of this kind, except that the pools are bigger (so also, less of them), and the overall rate has risen (also a function of increased populations, probably). In trawling through some of the writings of the more fervid classical times (as decades ago, I was wont to do), one could be forgiven for thinking that they must all be on Twitter. Moral panics (mainly unjustified as far as historians can tell) were just one constant feature of pretty much everything that happens today. In practice, they were just using mass hurried copying of short manuscripts that were exchanged for a small coin at markets (or sometimes free, especially from the main propogandist sources or for those establishing a presence), plus auditoriums and smaller speaking venues. Of course, looking through the lens of history ‘speeded up’ the interactions; they occur at the speed of reading not at their original rate, which gives a Twitter / FB feel.

    With somewhat more formal support, it seems to me that main cultures (e.g. a religion, or CCCC) operate no differently now than whenever. And indeed one would expect that if one ascribes to the view that behavioural legacy from evolution (group-selection) is the dominant factor in that operation. The behaviours are in charge, not the technology the evoking narratives happen to be transmitted by.

    “For example, when one sees how quickly social media can promulgate new social norms, can one also see a parallel in which new emotional states can grip an individual without any apparent, conscious deliberation?”

    At an individual level, digesting new memes on Twitter or FB or whichever is in principle not different to digesting them from a manuscript or whatever other intermediate communication forms, or indeed hearing them at Ye Old Inn in 1500 or The Local Forum in the Classical age, or indeed at the summer gathering of tribes in 10,000BC. At the system level, if we are proposing something other than temporary (potentially generations, e.g. for printing, though one presumes much faster for social media) disruption, it may be productive to work the other way around and think what that isolated feature might be. And afaik there are no ‘new’ emotional states; the accessible emotions don’t themselves change (on anything but a very long timescale indeed, and for sure these emotions came before rationality). But as narratives accumulate in society, then ever more shiny ones are needed to get attention in order access those (many, because can mix and match) states. Though also, lots of memes actually go around and around throughout long swathes of history, with just a new coat of paint or as part of a new alliance at each pass.

    So far, I just glanced at the abstract for that paper. The problem I’ve seen with others is that they tend to constantly stress aspects like more fake news, more meme volume, more reach in a shorter time, ‘more opportunity for bitterness’ (says this paper) with a very negative framing. But they never appear to mention that a) everything being output is a product of human minds that was always output before, and still has to be digested by human minds at the other end, and b) all of the checks and balances in human society that counter these things will (after the disruptive period passes) be equally aided by the new technology (if the old revolutions are any guide).

    Hence my own considered opinion on this for some years, has been that the fear of Social Media wrecking society, is largely a moral panic. However, one can also expect disruption until things level out. How long? I don’t know, but surely far less time than for printing.

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  30. P.S. I still think your systems theoretic approach is a great one to pursue. But also that technology is, at best, a secondary factor. It’s not my bailiwick, but I note that even the study of moral panics in society stretches back to long before the Internet let alone Social Media.

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  31. Andy,

    It has been argued that it was the printing press that lay behind the scientific revolution, rather than any philosophical developments or developments in laboratory technologies. If this is true, then I think this provides an example of how revolutions in the way that information is shared within society can have profound effects upon how people within society think. Yes, you will still have the universals that underpin the workings of society, and the human mind will still operate basically in accordance with the rules laid down by evolution, but there will be a long-term impact from technological development nevertheless. In this instance, I am arguing that the impact will be to create a generally more over-excited society in which concerns are prone to be amplified with undue rapidity and survive longer than they might otherwise because of the speed in which they become entrenched. Yes, it’s just an ancient problem on steroids, but the accelerant makes things seem quite different to those who observe this sort of thing.

    I haven’t read the paper I cited properly yet but it seems to be arguing that:

    a) Moral panics were indeed happening before recent developments in communication technology

    b) Some people believe that the modern developments in communication technology are democratising the moralising in a way that would act against societal moral panic

    c) The evidence seems to be suggesting the opposite and, in practice, developments in communication technologies are helping to feed moral panic.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. “It has been argued that it was the printing press that lay behind the scientific revolution…”

    Indeed it has been so argued. But much science existed before the printing press, e.g. from classical times and the huge contributions of the Islamic empire, plus populational growth hand-in-hand with prompted technology improvements were all headed in this direction before printing. In which case, it’s ‘just’ an accelerator. Nor are science, the law, and democracy very involved at the individual level in the processing of viral fads, moral panics, group-think, cults and cultures. My own bet from everything I’ve seen is that they’ve barely impacted our individual emotive processing on such, possibly not at all. In fact they’re all a means of exercising rationality at social scale, which helps keep a balance on all the former emotive behaviours as societies ramp up hugely in size (and so this is part of the upside of the equation, which technology has helped with). And hence would all feature in your ‘system’.

    a), b) great that they get exercised. c) the evidence would have to span the entire ‘disruption’ phase and out the other side to make this judgement in full context, and I presume that we are far from out of it yet.

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  33. “I am arguing that the impact will be to create a generally more over-excited society in which concerns are prone to be amplified with undue rapidity and survive longer than they might otherwise because of the speed in which they become entrenched.”

    If the system is faster by virtue of more individuals and the support from them of more interactions per unit time (one can’t actually increase the biological equivalent of clock-speeds in individuals), this might well suck some people in faster (although who knows the net effect, because it’ll also be too fast for the network investment schedules of others). But I don’t know of any established link between ‘undue rapidity’ and ‘surviving longer’. I don’t have any data to back it up, but observation suggests very much that for viral rises that have no connection to reality, a faster rise is more likely to indicate a shorter survival and faster fall, because there’s less time for supporting side narratives and allied links (requiring other domains) to develop. This doesn’t mean the nature of the game hasn’t changed, but neither can we know, as for prior communication advances, whether equilibrium will eventually be restored again wrt moral panics and all the rest.

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  34. Andy,

    Thanks for the response.

    I think the way the argument goes is this: The printing press enabled the concept of the documented experiment, the results of which could be disseminated for external scrutiny. This creates the idea of a peer-reviewing scientific community, and a scientific method founded upon the need for reproducibility. These are deemed to be hallmarks of a scientific revolution (Tycho Brahe to Newton, and all that), having no precedent in history. To that extent, the printing press did not facilitate or accelerate an existing culture but is deemed to have created one.

    When I said “survive longer than they might otherwise because of the speed in which they become entrenched”, I was alluding to ideas that become established fact simply through repetition. Returning once more to the suicide crisis example, I am suggesting that the social media campaigning rapidly established a received wisdom even though it is a wisdom that does not stand up to rational scrutiny. It achieved this status too fast to receive such scrutiny and now, due to the fact that it is an accepted truth, any belated scrutiny is likely to be of diminished effectiveness. To use my neurological analogy, phobic reactions rely upon a reflexive response that is established as a result of previous maladaptive thinking. You can rationalize with the patient until you are blue in the face, but actually suppressing what is essentially now a somatic reaction can be a devil of a job once it has become entrenched. In a similar sense, society stops listening to reason (if it ever did) and just listens to itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Yes, but it didn’t change individual human emotive reactions. It’s not a ‘culture’ in terms of emotive engagement. It’s a (dry) social process, an upscale. It enabled science to be exercised at industrial scale, as indeed the technology also allowed emotive expressions to be exercised at industrial scale.

    System speeds have long since supported viral rises that surpass any capability of proper scrutiny, so further speed yields little in this respect. And in fact, this occurred pre-computer too. Completely untrue human gossip in tight communities (we all were, once) is just as fast as Social Media (the limit on the speed for both is actually eating sleeping and living) and frequently viciously untrue too, leading gossip to be termed as ‘power without responsibility’ by someone famous; we’ve evolved to deal with this over eons. Both dishing and receiving. Various adages about lies circling the world while truth gets its boots on, also predate computers. Our reactions to emotive memes have not changed because both lies and truth got faster. And the main enemy of a Twitter meme’s fast rise is often not the truth, but competing or contradicting untruths, and the enemies of the sources. Memes rarely rocket from cold, but use fuel from a pre-established position (which in this case is perhaps your suggested ‘men are failing themselves’ sub-current). But all such positions have enemies and friends. A bigger net by virtue of technology brings more of both. The *potential* gap between lies and truth (which also by virtue of technology is way, way more accessible by everyone), in the general case (of course some things remain unknown), has never been smaller. So the opportunity for lies to permanently latch in, should be less (a longer gap between them allows for many more repetitions of falsity). But mere repeats *won’t* cause wide-scale *permanent* latch-in (real ‘belief’) unless they hit the right emotive buttons (which the main cultures can do extremely well). Therefore what’s important, what still keeps the gap alive, is the formula for access to the buttons, and a supporting narrative cast (all the permanent untruths are populations, not single memes, which rise and fall like mayflies).

    I’ve said more than enough. I don’t by any means want to discourage your systems analysis approach as I think it could be very worthwhile indeed. I’d rather see next steps. And while I personally think technology is a distraction, if indeed you pursue the approach by whatever angle seems best to you, then either it will or won’t bear fruit. And if it does bear fruit, we will see whether this looks like proto-oranges or proto-apples. An advantage of pursuing an Internet based event is that it is all neatly recorded, whether or not the characteristics should later prove technology specific or not.

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  36. Andy,

    Yes, this probably is a good place to call a halt, because:

    A) The Euros beckon

    B) My brain hurts

    C) I’ve never thought that this is a matter of who is right and who is wrong, but who has developed a useful way of thinking about the issues. And I’d like to suggest that we both have.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. I’ve now read the paper on moral panic and the effects of technology and I heartily recommend that no one else does. When it comes down to it the author is equating moral panic with fake news promoted by hate-mongers and deniers of truth. As an example, the employment of the #arsonemergency hashtag at the time of the Australian bushfires is cited. This, so says the author, was a bot-driven attempt to counter the #climateemergency hashtag. It was, according to the author, a hashtag war between the forces of denial and the forces of truth. I can’t be doing with such facile and presumptious analysis. What happened to causal analysis and the appreciation that both hashtags can be simultaneously valid and worthy of consideration?

    Liked by 2 people

  38. I should have added that the author got his ideas about the relative merits of the two hashtags from the following article in The Conversation:

    https://theconversation.com/bushfires-bots-and-arson-claims-australia-flung-in-the-global-disinformation-spotlight-129556

    I suppose if you are looking for an argument that #climateemergency could be at the root of a moral panic, you will not find it in The Conversation. It would be like looking to The Watchtower for a good article on why Jehovah’s Witnesses are barking up the wrong tree.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. thanks for the link John – what a load of timewasters/pearl cluchers these people are –
    “Who to blame?
    Unfortunately, we don’t know who is behind these accounts, as we can only access trace data such as tweet text and basic account information.”

    and they get payed for this ?

    Liked by 2 people

  40. Dfhunter,

    Yes, the paper proved to be a very disappointing read in the end. It covered the phenomenon of hash-tagged moral campaigning but it failed to offer any meaningful discussion as to how such campaigning may circumvent the societal equivalent of the brain’s executive functioning. It wasn’t, therefore, particularly relevant to my thesis after all. Instead, the author seemed to be more interested in promoting his own moral panic regarding fake news (i.e. he was pushing #fakenews). The by-passing of executive functioning troubled him only because he presupposes that this allows for baser instincts to prevail over the instinctively benevolent (i.e. social media facilitates dysfunctional thinking more than it controls it). In this I think he oversimplifies in two important respects.

    Firstly, he underestimates the extent to which his favoured hashtags (i.e. the socially validated ones such as #climateemergency) may also be the fruits of baser instincts. Even if the socially favoured view prevails, that doesn’t mean that the higher ideals have.

    Secondly, he underestimates the extent to which even society’s executive functioning is influenced by the baser instincts. As with the human brain, so in society. It isn’t a simple case of rationality versus emotion, since that former is only made possible by the latter. And society is perfectly capable of rationalising an evil ideology.

    Liked by 3 people

  41. “And society is perfectly capable of rationalising an evil ideology.”

    Indeed so. And (often in association) also casting rational approaches as evil.

    Liked by 2 people

  42. Here is a brief profile of the relentless work of one of the great climate warriors of our blessed age.

    Liked by 1 person

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