Recently, I found myself engaged in conversation with someone about the topic of climate change, and this conversation is a striking example of why critical thinking skills are so important. As the result of his unwillingness to question his sources—especially someone he viewed as an authority—this gentleman was claiming not only that there has been no increase in average global temperatures but also the more egregious notion that the human species has had and is not capable of having an impact on global climate. In his view, it seems that nothing we do to the environment actually matters.
The amount of mental acrobatics that must go into maintaining this belief is staggering. I would have loved to present to him a small earthen dish containing naught but dust, but I rather doubt he would have appreciated the joke.
I see a number of recurring trends with some of the more pervasive social problems, and I can’t help but think they stem from the interaction of a few powerful subconscious processes. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
1) People generally want to think of themselves (and their in-groups) as being good people. Even when this does not hold, people still view themselves as better than out-group members.
2) The status quo is the normal state of affairs and is thus assumed to be correct (or the null hypothesis).
Add on to this the following proposition, and you can see how stagnation can take root:
3) A criticism of one’s in-group is often interpreted as a direct personal attack.
- Because membership in a group conveys a schema, an attack on that group also becomes an attack on that schema, which has become part of a person’s self-identity. See again self-schema/self-image, linked above. Additionally, the individual may feel a need to respond to feelings of guilt-by-association—another fallacy.
Before you start writing up an angry response, these attitudes, and coping mechanisms aren’t universal. Don’t waste your time by whining, “Not everyone is like this!” I know. I just said so. But a significant number of people are, and this is why consciousness-raising is important. I’m not trying to suggest that this is the case with all people. Stay with me until the end. Keep reading…