By Mark Hughes, SanDiego350
(Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on 4/27/2017)
In the recently published book, The Knowledge Illusion, authors Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach assert something rather disturbing: we rarely think for ourselves. Instead, we patch together our understanding of the world by taking a bit from over here and a bit from over there. If they are correct, it’s pretty easy to see that it’s whose bits we incorporate that create our worldview (the IPCC or Trump? Hmm.)
One effect of this absorptive scheme is that we fall into the illusion of thinking we know a lot about the world, when in truth much of what we think we know resides in other people’s heads. A simple example is the zipper. How well do you understand it’s workings? A scoff-able question, no? After all, you likely use them daily. Okay, so try listing all the steps of just exactly how a zipper works. Yeah, me neither. Expertise regarding zipper operation and manufacture exists in someone else’s head; hardly any of us could make one if our child’s life depended on it.
Next point: it’s clear that societal advancements happen at wildly varying rates. The discoveries of penicillin and the polio vaccine resulted in rapid and near universal uptake throughout the population. The abolition of slavery? Taking a bit longer. All three advances improve people’s lives, so why the difference in adoption rates? You may think you know the answer, but before you speak, consider the zipper.
As Sloman and Fernbach write, presenting people with facts that oppose their worldview rarely works. Our views, according to them, are based on communal groupthink and group loyalty (Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Steve Bannon?) Exposing someone’s ignorance, or in the case of slavery – their moral turpitude – will most likely backfire. What then do we do? Their research indicates that there is no easy answer. The authors suggest giving people simple rules of thumb to follow. Okay, then how about this: trust the scientific method and peer review. Be open to the jolts that the endless search for knowledge entails (vaccines cause autism – oops, no they don’t, they absolutely do not). You’re at the mercy of who you trust, so place your trust carefully. The world depends on us doing that job well.
Communal groupthink is a key too. As of this writing, polls show that 96% of Trump voters would vote for him again today. Can you hear the chants: four more years!
Like it or not, the American President has a big megaphone and millions are letting him and his gang do their thinking for them. Imagine if, in this moment, there was no media besides state media. Fortunately, there is; it’s there for us to employ, and we can do just that. Here’s how:
This Saturday, April 29th, People’s Climate marches will be held across the country and around the world. The timing is roughly coincident with the end of Trump’s first 100 days. Marching is our megaphone, our way of speaking out for our values. Silence connotes agreement with environmental rollbacks, misogyny, and border walls; vocal opposition is pushback.
Come join us. The local People’s Climate March will begin at 10:00 AM at the County Administration building, 1600 Pacific Highway. Please take public transport or walk or ride a bicycle if possible; a bicycle valet will be available. Guest speakers will include California State Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Professor Jeffrey Severinghaus, San Diego City Council Member David Alvarez, and others. After the opening speeches, a loop march of about a mile will ensue, leading us back to the County building for concluding speeches. There will be time in the program for everyone to mingle, enjoy live music and dance performances, visit information booths and for the kids to enjoy activities such as face-painting at the “Kid’s Zone”. Consider bringing a picnic lunch and enjoying the grounds.
If you are at all concerned about the direction in which the Trump administration is moving, come stand with us. We don’t understand all the ins and outs of climate science, so we’ve put our trust in the field’s best minds. But nobody knows that unless we demonstrate it in some way. Which seems like another good rule of thumb.
Mark Hughes has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Kansas State and spent over 30 years in the power industry. Now retired, he has devoted a portion of his life to raising awareness about climate change, which he sees as the #1 threat to not just Mankind, but all life on Earth.