Steven Pinker’s latest book in defence of the Enlightenment values of Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress has provided a key to the persistence of climate alarmism in defiance of evidence and scientific arguments. Drawing from work by a legal scholar Dan Kahan he suggests that certain beliefs become symbols of cultural allegiance. We all align with our particular tribe or subculture and each of them have creeds which amount to criteria for membership. He introduces some left-right contrasts which I think confuse rather than illuminate (given that I do not identify as ‘rightwing”) but the bottom line is that most people disagree about climate change on cultural lines that have next to nothing to do with science.
He suggests that this has become in a sense rational. For a start unless you are an incredible mover and shaker your position on the issue makes no discernible difference in the larger scheme of things. But we all have to get along with the people around us day by day. So he points out that expressing the wrong opinion on a politicised issue can be career threatening or at least risk a lot of crap, eye-rolling and a degree of social ostracism.
Hence expressing a scientifically suspect opinion may not be irrational if it permits people to get on with their friends, family and colleagues. It matters to the planet if the belief is sufficiently widespread among politicians and other decision makers, but that is another matter. Amusingly, or ironically, Pinker is a card carrying alarmist but the valid point that he makes is “we are all actors in a Tragedy of the Belief Commons: what’s rational for every individual to believe (based on esteem) can be irrational for the society to act upon (based on reality).”
The interesting thing about Pinker’s book is that he harpoons a whole herd of leftwing sacred cows relating to equality, social progress and Deep Greenism but still leftwing contaminants remain, like failing to realise how the (sort of) successful welfare states are parasitic on gains made by non-socialist liberal economic policies past and present.