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Fake news highlights the instability of monocultures

Fake news highlights the instability of monocultures

White House interns are available in many different shades of extremely white.

Republican Congressman, Lamar Smith is not an idiot, though he often appears to be. Convinced that climate change is a fraud, Rep. Smith has used his position as Chairman of the House Science Committee to wage a campaign of harassment against scientists involved in climate research.

Our political system is premised on rationality – the notion that each of us is individually capable of establishing reality on our own. A sudden flood of data has washed away that idea, drowning Enlightenment Era assumptions in a tide of fake news. We think of “science deniers” like Rep. Smith as anomalies, dim-witted or ill-uneducated figures who somehow slipped through the filters of our system into positions of power. That is false. Lamar Smith is an unusually bright guy. He received his primary education at an elite Episcopal boarding school, earned an undergraduate degree from Yale and a law degree from Southern Methodist University. Smith may be many things, but he’s no yokel.

Rep. Smith is not an anomaly, but rather a window into a post-Enlightenment future. Unfiltered raw data has overwhelmed our cognitive capabilities, leaving us vulnerable to a degree of confusion, deception and “fake news” unlike anything in our evolutionary progress. In a race to adapt, certain cultures have already evolved remarkable advantages. Recognizing those successful strategies can help us brace our democracy against the dangers of the fake news era.

Monoculture vs. Metaculture

Why would a clever, capable, educated man like Rep. Smith devote his career to an idea so provably and catastrophically false? Start by turning the question around. Why do I accept a scientific position I do not fully understand? The self-congratulating answer that immediately springs to mind is probably false. Our opinions on issues like climate change are dictated more by our cultural orientation than by any other factor.

Rep. Smith’s position on climate change was forged through the same process that leads others to the opposite conclusion. Culture is far more powerful than intellect or reason in shaping our vision of reality. Our current political crisis is not a story about smart people trying to reason with dumb people. It is not a story about good people trying to overcome bad people. These are false narratives that lead us into unproductive outcomes. We face a conflict between people living in homogenous, closed cultures, and others who live in less cohesive, more diverse cultures. Put another way, ours is a conflict between “monocultures” and “metacultures.”

Those with a tight connection to a singular, universal culture that defines their identity, a “monoculture,” will be less open to contradictory data than those who feel looser attachments to many cultures. That helps explain why fake news is a unique disease of the political right. We all share the same individual vulnerability to motivated reasoning. Liberals are no smarter than conservatives. However, those who live their lives within the most closed, isolated cultures have the least opportunity to “peer over the wall,” experiencing the cognitive dissonance of other viewpoints. Those who have little contact with others who possess a different model of reality tend to have less openness to information ambiguity. Culture tends to trump reason.

Building Our Personal Reality

To grasp the impact of fake news and denialism we first need to dispel a misunderstanding about how human beings – all of us – perceive reality. Our Enlightenment Era vision of the rational individual who constructs their reality through a critical assessment of available facts was always more flawed that most of us realized. We do not independently, individually, vet incoming data in real time to decide what’s real. Even in a much simpler environment, human beings have always lacked that cognitive power.

Instead, we live in shorthand. Most of what we know about the world is stored in convenient assumptions. Absent that stored reality to lighten our data processing burden, we would face a maddening data overload.

Across our evolution, most of that short-hand reality has been stored not in our individual minds, but in our cultures. We evolved a hierarchy of methods for understanding reality, starting with tools embedded in our genetic code and extending up through culture and reason.

That hierarchy looks something like this:

DNA – We are born loaded with data. Smiles are friendly. Scowls are dangerous. We know where to look for our first meal. Our minds are programmed to respond in set ways to certain flavors, odors, sounds, shapes and colors.

Sensory experience – Things we sense from the world around us are paired with innate, DNA-level programming. This object is too hot to safely hold. The sky is bright, it must be daytime. Sweet things are good to eat, avoid bitter things. Our senses tell us great deal, though not everything, about the shape of our reality.

Culture – Like our DNA, our culture stores data and is constantly evolving. Language, mythology, folk-knowledge, behavioral norms, family traditions, even cuisine, all contain data essential for our survival. Culture tells us what to eat and what not to eat. Culture tells us how to choose a mate. Culture stores information about how to make tools or hunt. Culture is transmitted by trusted authorities, story-tellers, clan leaders, artists, kings, priests, pastors, musicians and movie-stars. Over long enough time periods, knowledge refined through culture probably also gets written into our DNA. Across a hundred thousand years of evolution, loyalty to tribe was a far more adaptive than independent thinking. Our place among our peers kept us physically safe while providing access to a powerful cultural database. Loyalty and compliance were more adaptive than independence and critical thought.

Reason –We think about stuff. Within a safe circle of trust, we express and work out dissenting opinions, feeding new insights back into an ever-evolving culture. Any newly encountered, apparently valid data which challenges our culturally mediated model of reality is initially screened as a pathogen, both at the individual and the cultural level. When we encounter challenging new data, we run it back through our hierarchy of filters; our innate genetic predilections (people who look like me are trustworthy, people who look different are dangerous), our sensory experience (how can the world be round when I observe that it is flat?), and our culture (only God can change the weather, therefore climate scientists are lying), before deciding whether to modify our individual cognitive model of reality. Our rational faculties evolved to steer our culture, not to break it. One fact that comports with my model of reality will probably be more persuasive to me than 20 others that contradict it.

Over time, human beings developed some powerful tools for determining reality and storing data outside our minds or our cultures. Writing and literacy, though powerful, had only  narrow impact before the development of the scientific method and the printing press. Since about 1600 we’ve seen a steady acceleration of data technologies that has gained speed exponentially. As more and more humans gained access to another innovation – formal education, we developed an increasingly large body of knowledge based on scientific experimentation and expertise. New methods of working with information have placed strains on our older methods of establishing reality.

A Data Flood Rises

Between the Renaissance and World War II, only a small slice of humanity was exposed to any of these newer, external methods of developing and storing data. However, over the past few generations the availability of mass, external tools for storing and understanding data has accelerated and access has become nearly universal. Adapting our cultures to the availability of more primitive data tools like books, spawned earthquakes of revolution and war. New evolutionary demands keep arriving on an ever-accelerating pace. Painful challenges lie ahead.

Just in the past generation, we’ve seen the dawn of new technical tools for establishing reality which are far more powerful and potentially destructive than anything we’ve previously faced. Since World War II humans have experimented with tools of artificial cognition and calculation which can be used to develop ever more accurate models of reality from astronomically large foundations of math and data. These capabilities helped us develop previously unimaginable medicines, scientific insights, engineering achievements, along with powerful tools of entertainment, advertising, and public manipulation.

In an evolutionary context, every tool can be a weapon. These artificial capabilities, like data analytics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality have grown so powerful as to undermine many of the capabilities we evolved to test reality. We no longer carry around inside our skulls the world’s finest cognitive engine. A homogenous, localized culture can no longer adapt fast enough to keep pace with new demands. None of us are smart enough to outwit our computers.

I Do Not Understand Climate Science. Neither Do You.

You may imagine that you acknowledge the threat of climate change because you’ve independently reviewed the science behind the issue and reached a rational conclusion from the evidence. That is unlikely in the extreme. There are perhaps 15,000 living human beings with the training, intellect and experience to independently evaluate this complex subject. Recognizing the validity of climate science says nothing whatsoever about my intellect, but it tells a story about my cultural orientation. A “belief” in climate science is a consequence of “trust” in scientists. That is not as much a rational position as a cultural setting. Yes, we trust science because its wonders gave us space flight, television and polio vaccines. Our trust in scientific expertise also gave us nuclear weapons, the Tuskegee Experiments, and – let’s not forget – climate change. Trust in science is less a rational conclusion from evidence than a cultural predilection.

Those who believe in the scientific consensus around climate change are not better educated on the subject. In fact, studies have demonstrated that denialists tend on average to have a stronger grasp of the fine details of climate science than those who accept the consensus. Ability to adapt one’s reality around rapidly developing, sometimes distressing new facts has less to do with education or information than with a flexible cultural orientation.

Identity Protective Cognition

Researchers at the cultural cognition project at Yale have described what they call “identity protective cognition.”

“The basic premise of identity protective cognition is that culture is prior to fact in the apprehension of societal risks. Culture is not just normatively prior, in the sense that values guide individuals’ decisionmaking conditional on their perception of facts. It is cognitively prior, in the sense that people’s perception of what the facts are is shaped by their values.”

Individual reasoning tends to follow cultural bias. Those with the weakest attachment to a single culture feel the least resistance to credible new information.

Faced with an incomprehensible flood of raw data unlike anything humans have ever experienced, a new and highly successful cultural adaptation has emerged. People who have replaced traditional, local cultural ties with lighter, more virtualized connections to many cultures have the greatest ability to float on a flood of data and accept potentially dissonant information. Gaining one’s identity and information from a of culture of cultures, a metaculture, breeds tolerance for ambiguity, a less defensive posture toward new data, and grants wider access to a broader pool of information.

For those with deep, local cultural ties or a powerful attachment to a set of universal religious beliefs, education only hardens their culture-based misunderstandings of science. A climate denier with the intellect and education required to grasp the fundamentals of climate research will simply be more adept at denial. More data doesn’t solve a problem that wasn’t caused by a lack of data. Climate deniers have cultural and social reasons not to accept the scientific consensus on climate change.

Picture two 30-year old adults. One finished high school and went to college a few hundred miles from home. She traveled abroad. She took a job in a large city a few hundred miles further away, and lives now in an urban neighborhood with people from a wide variety of different ethnic and national backgrounds. Through that process, that individual acquired a foothold in multiple cultures, taking in a broad range of entertainment, news and food, perhaps also mastering another language. She is more isolated from a traditional sense of community and local interdependence, but in return she benefits from a more flexible and adaptive model of reality. She lives in a metaculture.

Her high school friend went to college in their hometown. She studied the same major, perhaps even earning higher grades. Finishing college, she took a good job in the family business in their hometown. She attends the church where she was baptized. She assumes a prominent social role in many of the same organizations her parents helped shape. Despite no meaningful difference from her friend in age, education or intellect, she is likely less open to data that would challenge her cultural assumptions. Living in a monoculture, it is marginally more likely that her need to remain loyal to this culture will likely take priority over dissonant information.

Breaking Down Monocultures

Those who cling faithfully to a form of localized community we have long held up as particularly worthy and healthy, are losing ground to those who are forming more decentralized, and in some sense less warm and secure forms of community. The stronger one’s sense of commitment to a geographically centered home, family and community, the weaker one’s capacity to adapt to the information flood. “Black sheep” with weaker ties to a home or an inherited culture find themselves far better able to vet and adapt to new information, with both material and cultural rewards.

Conservatives, by the nature of their philosophy, are far more likely to live in monocultures. It is no accident that modern conservatism is defined by its “culture war.” In the US, we have not developed a version of conservatism suitable for life in a metaculture. The right is more vulnerable to fake news because their cultural identity is so narrowly defined. Data inconsistent with cherished values is treated as a pathogen, it is “fake” and therefore dismissed. Liberals are not smarter than conservatives. They’ve simply defined their identity across a broader range of cultural influences. Those who adapt better tools win. Always. A metaculture is a more adaptive tool than a monoculture.

The question is not whether metacultures can prevail over monocultures. The question is how we smooth our transition, cushioning the disruption caused by this transformation. How do we shape both local and national institutions to spread the benefits of cultural diversity while absorbing the inevitable resistance from those who feel threatened by this transformation?

Key to the spread of metacultures is diversity. Perhaps the signal global political challenge of the 21st century is developing institutions that bridge the chasm between an older world of strong, local cultures to a new order built on more fluid, virtual, diverse ties. Nations that achieve this feat will be rewarded with accelerated technology, economic prosperity, and vast new freedom.

Rep. Smith isn’t dumb or ignorant. He is loyal. By prioritizing the safety of his cherished monoculture above the evidence of science, he’s exposing all of us to unnecessary danger. Along with figures like Smith, a growing industry of fake news has emerged like a predator to feed on those left vulnerable by their monocultures. Adapting to this evolutionary demand means embracing a world of relentless ambiguity, a fluidity of existence that many may find nauseatingly unstable. Diversity is about more than the humane tolerance of others, it is an evolutionary imperative. We will master a world of looser, more diverse cultural ties, or fall behind those who do.

More reading:

From Yale Law School: The Cultural Cognition Project

From Oxford: An analysis of the impact of fake news on the far right in the US

From Microsoft: Review of a bot that can generate original images from a word prompt

Website of the MisinfoCon Project



  1. Regarding the inability to “show our work” on the path to depthy, scientific understanding of global warming, I wonder if consideration of what might occur if the scientists are wrong is a factor.

    1-Reduce petro-chem emissions, increase renewable energies.

    If we do this and the scientists are wrong, we’ll have cleaner air and less illnesses.

    2-Stop cutting down forests, plant more trees.

    If we do this and the scientists are wrong, we’ll have greater bio-diversity and the ability to discover useful plant-based medicines in the forested areas.

    While there could be negative economic impacts in some cases, I trust the large petroleos and pharmies to make sure they don’t suffer in our capitalism-for-you, socialism-for-us economy.

    It’s interesting to consider why we believe what we believe.

    I suspect the process is not linear, though, but rather soupy, a little sloppy and zigs zags back and forth on our individual historic time lines.

    Eventually each group decides the beliefs they’re willing to fight for.

  2. This is a fantastic piece, and I fully agree that practically speaking, our acceptance of science is based on no less deference to authority as someone else’s acceptance of religion, or other sources of authority. We do not repeat our own experiments. We don’t learn the complex statistics needed to form reasonable conclusions from massive data sets.

    And I also agree that we decide on which authority to follow / believe based on our culture and group. Human evolution has ingrained in us that we succeed as groups, and die as individuals. When our ancestors were in the plains of Africa, getting banished from the group meant sure death, probably in a day or two. Choosing the right group, and staying in its good graces, was far, far more important than divining “truth”, whatever that might be. If a group held a widespread delusion, it was safer to believe that delusion as well, than risk expulsion from the group for pointing out that it’s false.

    But I have 2 criticisms of your argument. First, it does not apply to Lamar Smith. He’s explained by something far easier: greed. He legislates the way he does because he’s paid to. He’s not “convinced” that climate change is false. He’s convinced that such a position is more profitable for him to espouse, and will lead to more electoral success. If his election sponsors wanted him to start advocating for green tech, he’d switch positions overnight. If a guy like Mitt Romney can “change” something as personal as his belief in abortion (pro-choice when campaigning in deep blue MA, pro-life when running for President), then trust me, Lamar Smith can and will change his tune on climate change based on the highest bidder for his legislative services.

    So what does he actually believe, in his heart of hearts? Quite frankly, who cares? I don’t vote for politicians based on what they believe. I vote based on what they’ll actually get done for me. The two don’t have to be the same.

    Second, I’m not sure if the metaculture you describe is really less of a monoculture. Thanks to the internet and social media, along with increased physical mobility, people from all segments of society can now aggregate and cluster (both physically and virtually) into self-reinforcing groups with shared beliefs. It’s no less common among so-called “diverse” groups in urban areas. It may be that right now, our group is “winning” because it happens to espouse beliefs that are more closely aligned with reality. But that doesn’t make those beliefs any less fervently held, and if/when the time comes that those beliefs need to change, I doubt it’ll be any easier than changing the minds of today’s climate change deniers.

    I’ll give you just one example: studies show that by far, the biggest determinant of your happiness is the number and strength of your social connections. That is, the more friends you have, and the more time you spend in meaningful interaction with them, the happier you are. It has nothing to do with money (beyond a basic amount needed to satisfy essentials like food and decent housing). And yet plenty of people in the “metaculture” let their social connections decay in the pursuit of career and money. Indeed, the best description I’ve ever heard of NYC is that it’s 8 million people being alone together.

    The rate of anti-depressant prescriptions and use of psychotherapy is off-the-scales higher in the meta culture areas than in the monoculture areas (although maybe the monoculture use a different drug of choice, opiates). And yet I don’t perceive a grand movement to acknowledge these basic facts of psychology and change our way of life.

    So I think mass delusion is just as easy in our culture. It just so happens that in this moment of history, the mass delusions of the other culture happen to be more damaging.

    1. Disagree
      Acceptance of science is NOT deference to authority

      The “religion of science” has a major difference – it works and can be seen to work – you don’t “defer to authority” that your car or computer works
      You test it every time you use it

      Every day you test the predictions of science – and every day they pass those tests

    2. These are great points.

      Cynicism is an interesting wrinkle and I thought about it at some length. It seems like it’s a factor in a lot of the dumbest, most extreme opinions you hear from political figures, but it doesn’t seem to operate in isolation. We seem to have a capacity to “sincerely” believe things we need to believe to prosper.

      We get a glimpse at this in the candid comments from Republican elected officials who have decided not to run for reelection. Even right wing psycho Trey Gowdy is starting to say semi-sane things now that his investment in delusion has diminished.

      Forget about politics and we start to see this all over. Think of someone who worked for a certain company, then changed employers. Ask them about the company and products while they work there and you’re likely to hear a very different story then you’ll hear after they leave. How much of that is cynical deception and how much is just the kind of innate, evolved motivated reasoning designed to keep us in line with our culture/tribe? I’m not sure what the answer is. It’s a really interesting question without a simple answer.

      I’ve seen a version of this in the religious world where I grew up. People “believe” the most outlandish things. Then when they get a different pastor or go to a different church, those beliefs pivot without any apparent acknowledgement of the prior, now-contradictory beliefs.

      I suspect that misinformation driven by true, eyes-wide open cynicism is far more rare than we think. Figures like Tucker Carlson and Ann Coulter seem like candidates for this kind of purposeful, money-driven lying. They seem to view themselves as performers and their audience as consumers. That may be true of Alex Jones as well. On the other hand, I get the impression that guys like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity just aren’t terribly clever. They feel like they’re super loyal to a set of dumb ideas that define their tribal identity.

      The notion that these beliefs are somehow faked, for lack of a better term, out of self-interest, seems like a way to protect a belief in basic rationality. I’ve known enough faith healers, for example, to recognize that people can really believe in a lot of crazy stuff. I could be wrong about all of this. Who knows the depths of a human heart. Just making guesses from available evidence.

      On the metaculture/monoculture point, I’m leaning toward some similar conclusions. People aren’t as open-minded as they often think they are. What I see in these metacultures is not so much a greater personal openness to ideas, but a lifestyle which renders it more difficult for them to hide. And despite all the talk to the contrary, I think that social media inherently undercuts our cultural isolation. That’s why people engaged in social media always seem to be self-isolating themselves – it’s an endless, futile pursuit.

      And yes, I see the occupants of metacultures as permanently uncomfortable in ways that monoculturalists don’t face. And I don’t know how much we can stand it. We’re wired to live in relative cultural (and data) isolation. This evolutionary development offers enormous power, but we haven’t adapted to it. It could kill us off before we can learn to harness it.

      1. My understanding of this post is that it is attempting to understand and explain what is happening within our society and to our cultural norms – to find a rational explanation for irrational choices and behavior of people – to understand why people choose particular types of cultural association, and to explore whether these associations are morphing into a situation that is dangerous for our democratic way of life.

        I agree that social engagement is necessary for emotional and personal health and happiness – a matter of attaining balance in life. Those who stop thinking critically for themselves, escape through Social and commercial Media, are choosing a substitute for healthy human interaction that guarantees isolation.

        At some point, each of us chooses what our values are, and, by default, what and who we believe. It does not ever absolve us of our individual responsibility to critically analyze the reasons for those choices and to accept that we may be wrong. Principle matters. It is difficult to stand up for one’s beliefs in the face of such challenging times, but boy is it important.

        Fast foward to the dilemma in which rational conservatives find themselves. They are watching what is unfolding in GOP leadership and their deeply ingrained, strong conservative beliefs are being rocked to their core. Why, are some conservatives making the decision to buck what is happening in GOP leadership and others either quietly accepting, ignoring, or supporting what is happening? This, to me, is the ultimate culture of denial and greed – the ultimate cultural isolation. I am concerned, even alarmed, about what is happening to America’s core democratic institutions, but I will fight it, and as long as enough people fight back, they will not win nor kill us off. This Republican majority has caused extraordinary harm, but they have not been nearly as successful as they could have been given their majority control of government. Why? I remain hopeful yet realistic that things will change for the better, and that great effort and awakening of those who have not been paying attention will right this ship. The large meta/mono discussion while theoretically important, really boils down to individual responsibility. Trey Gowdy has a history that I will not forget as he announces his kum-by-ya morality. The rest of the GOP rank and file, media, and those who buy their BS are outside my circle of influence and control. I have made different choices and have learned how to interact with those who share my values and those who do not. This is not isolation; this is life being lived as fully as possible in an imperfect world.

        In seeking answers to the changes you have witnessed in your party, you are also having to make significant changes in your life and your circle/culture. I suspect this has contributed to feelings of isolation that are very uncomfortable if not downright painful. Join the club.

      2. To clarify, my hope is that this piece cuts in more than one direction. Yes, by using climate change as its hinge, it acts first to explain how people arrive at and cling to patently irrational views. However, it hopefully cuts a little deeper and I think that’s what Duncan was reacting to.

        While offering some insight into the mindset of those who embrace flat-earth-ish ideas, it should also undercut our confidence in our own opinions. We are not rational creatures, in the old Enlightenment Era model. None of us. Our individual hold on reality is far more fragile than we tend to want to believe.

        Meta-cultures offer to mitigate that weakness, trading certainty and security for diversity of thought and a kind of eternal balancing act, like living your life balanced on a yoga ball – while standing on one foot. It renders greater fidelity to real conditions and greater ability to process change, but at the cost of perpetual angst. Other evolutionary adaptations, like our mood-altering drugs, may be key to making these conditions survivable for our minds. It won’t be easy.

        Less successful adaptive strategies eventually lose to the more successful ones. As more and more people adapt the means to survive in metacultures, monocultures will be doomed to poverty and insecurity. We’re already witnessing this dynamic play out as those who cling to the old model grow relatively poorer and less powerful.

        Making the new order more stable will depend on finding ways to spread the benefits of the new model in a more egalitarian way. We haven’t figured this out yet, though I suspect that innovations like extending free education beyond K-12 and enacting a basic income will play a part. We’ll see. Anyway, that’s the message I was steering toward.

      3. Chris, I think we all get the gist of what you are saying. But anthropology (and I think you have stepped into that area) never considers a specific generation, or an individual. Your readers are intelligent enough to understand that what you are talking about is upheaval, either one that fast and violent, or one that is just as much a change engine, but that takes so much longer, like erosion.

        Neither scenario plays well for this moment in time as one suggests chaos, the other the status quo represented by the puppet tyrant’s regime.

    3. At what point have deference to authority and choice of authority become so esoteric? Religion is abstract; science is not. It is fact-driven. Herd mentality influences those who do not think for themselves, who refuse to study the issues, who refuse to question themselves and their group, who choose to believe their group, their church, their party even in the face of contradictory evidence or at the very least, doubt. In a Democracy, this is “their” right “but let’s be clear: ” their collective “right” is negatively impacting my life and my world.

      In this very smart forum, we are talking about meta and mono behavior and we have just witnessed another horrible gun slaughter. If ever there was an example of “herd mentality”, this issue certainly vies with global warming denial for first place. People in positions of authority individually and collectively either say “nothing” or they deflect with: “Now is not the time to pass gun laws, or, “The FBI is at fault (yet the FBI fielded over 765,000 “tips” last year); or, we need to arm our teachers, or, we need more guns”. Why do we allow those who make these inane superficial statements to control the narrative? Why isn’t reducing gun violence a priority? Gun violence will never be completely controlled, but why are we not doing everything we can within our power to bring about the changes we can? Gun violence is more visually graphic than melting ice caps and election meddling by Russians, yet, those in “power”, are following the party line and either trivializing or deflecting blame.

      As long as we choose to follow the herd and not acknowledge the substance of serious problems, ergo, they don’t “exist”. I do not need to be the expert in all issues that are important to me; in fact, I fully recognize I can’t be. My individual responsibility is to think for myself, and lacking expertise, use the common sense and/or wisdom to handicap those who are experts. It is also my responsibility to hold accountable those who hide behind party or group. We make too many excuses for our own inaction and that of those who should be acting.

  3. I think your case aptly describes the individuals in both the mono and meta groups. I can’t make the leap when you assign those attributes to political leaders. Lamar Smith’s “cognitive capabilities” aren’t overwhelmed, he has made a rational calculation that his constituency is the mono group and decided that its easier to appease than lead.

    Instead of seizing on the logical gains a state like Texas could get from a greener power grid he has elected to support their petro-chemical economic footprint while praying they don’t turn into Azerbaijan. Thats not leadership and he understands that by abdicating the responsibility of leadership he has assured himself of a cushy gig and now retirement. He isn’t dumb or uneducated nor is he cognitively effected by a world view other than “I got mine”. I think the argument is valid in understanding folks at the grass roots level but educated political elites who play along…they are a simple story of cowardice and avarice. They use fake news and may contribute to it but they are not taken in by it.

  4. Chris, I recognize you using global warming was just a hot button example to prove your points about mono vs meta culture. I wish you would have chosen a different example, but yours works.

    My biggest issue with your essay is the underlying feeling of sanguinity. From your previous essays, I would say you know that what is happening in the U.S. is far different than what has happened before in U.S. history, though clearly not world history. But I get the feeling you are professing “this too shall pass” with comments like ” The question is how we smooth our transition, cushioning the disruption caused by this transformation.”.

    I frankly, being the doomsayer, look at all the times that the minority repressed the majority. I am sure you can come with arguments to prove the Dark Ages are nothing like what is happening today, not only in the U.S., but a dozen other countries in the past couple years (I think I listed 7 or 8 a few months ago, among them Poland, Hungary, Russia, and Philippines). But I look at Iraq, where the Hussein Shites of about 10% dominated the Sunni majority for a long long time, ostensibly with the support of U.S. military hardware.

    The same thing is happening in the U.S. today, though most people just don’t see it yet. So forgive me if I can’t look at this so objectively. The largest existential threat to the planet, and mankind, exists today in the apparatus that runs the puppet tyrant. And that group is educated, and has been exposed to all the things that should be present in the meta culture. But they choose to continue down the path of ruination for power and wealth, which I guess is their mono culture.

    We cannot wait to let them die out by natural causes. It will be too late.

    1. The Protestant Reformation eventually “passed.” That doesn’t dismiss the fact that it took a few centuries and killed off a few million people in the process. Some places came through that transformation better than others. This change, being in many ways more wrenching than others prior, might be even more destructive. It too shall pass, and there will be winners along with the calamities. The whole point of this effort is to calculate, as best we can, the ways to navigate these big pictures changes most successfully.

      1. “The Protestant Reformation eventually “passed.” That doesn’t dismiss the fact that it took a few centuries and killed off a few million people in the process. Some places came through that transformation better than others.”

        I mean, ‘this too will pass’ applies to the human race and existence itself on large enough timescales.

        What’s meaningful within the frame of reference of the human condition and our current issues is what actions individuals are taking to steer the course of what is passing and toward what we’ll pass to.

        And right now the trendlines show the global order of liberal democracy are passing toward illiberal democracy, consistently and across cultures. If we want to prevent that from happening, we have to take a stronger hand at the wheel and drive us somewhere else.

  5. Color me “literal”. I do not grasp the complex research that supports climate change; however, as a gardener, I observe my fall-blooming plants flower later, and more plants survive warmer winters. The Gulf of Mexico is staying warmer longer in the Fall which contributes to incredible rainfall levels and other major weather events where I live. When I visit friends in CO, they tell me how snowfall levels and timing are changing and how much hotter it has been for many more days. If Lamar Smith were a gardener, would he make the same observations ascribed to “climate change” as I? Is this too simple, too literal for a man like him? Could Smith have a serious conflict of interest in his climate change denial?

    I’m not sure what point is being made in this post. Clearly, each of us is a product of our culture, our values, our intellectual limitations which obviously impact our opinions, knowledge, and our personal reality. This much I know: my life is better because people smarter than me are figuring out complex ways to improve my health, my world, and that of others. They are doing it with science.

    They don’t ridicule the impact of climate change on the air, water, and land on which I live. I decided a long time ago, in matters of science, I was going to trust the smartest people in the room – whatever their politics. When 99% of scientists state that climate change and global warming are real – they don’t have to explain it to me. They have done the research and affirm changes I witness literally happening around me. That is enough for me.

    I “get” that we all come from different cultural experiences, but I am not a fan of those who continuously work to shape the means to fit the end they seek. Lamar Smith is in a position of great power and he is abusing it. The other geniuses in Congress who consider themselves experts in everything from conception to energy do not impress me. They are are dismantling the Clean Power Act – which, even if imperfect, is focused on protecting our environment. Scientists do not seek to profit off the environment. Can the same be said of today’s congressional custodians? I’ll stick with the scientists.

  6. “There are perhaps 15,000 living human beings with the training, intellect and experience to independently evaluate this complex subject.”

    Utter and total COBBLERS
    Anybody with a small amount of knowledge can easily evaluate the overall effect

    All you need to know is
    Global temperature is rising
    Global CO2 levels are rising
    CO2 is a “Greenhouse Gas” – as in it is less transparent to infra red
    The additional CO2 is from fossil fuels
    The Suns output has not varied

    The basic science is NOT COMPLICATED!

    This is exactly like “Rocket Science” – there are about four simple equations that exactly describe what is happening

    The ENGINEERING details behind Rocket Science and the detailed effects of Global Warming – YES those ARE COMPLEX

    But the overall science is simple and the only way that people can ignore it is if they are either ignorant, lying or paranoid

    It’s NOT “Trust in Science” – anybody of even moderate intelligence can learn enough science to understand what happening and to be able to distinguish the fake from the valid – with at least a 95% certainty

    1. “All you need to know is
      Global temperature is rising
      Global CO2 levels are rising
      CO2 is a “Greenhouse Gas” – as in it is less transparent to infra red
      The additional CO2 is from fossil fuels
      The Suns output has not varied
      The basic science is NOT COMPLICATED!”

      And how exactly did you reach those obvious conclusions? Please show your work and include references to replicable experiments, along with the software used for any computer modeling.

      I would say that “I’ll wait right here,” but that would BS. Even if I waited and you produced that material, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

      1. And to further that point, among that 15K there are actually a handful of fully qualified figures who look at the available data and reach a different conclusion. How do I decide that those guys are wrong and the mass consensus is correct? It’s not because I’ve reviewed the data and, based on my intellect and expertise, found the right way.

        BTW, one clue about those few naysayers – there is almost always an obvious cultural clue to explain their resistance. Freeman Dyson, for example, has religious issues with the idea. Several of the others are getting paid by oil companies. Still, without reference to information stored in culture, I have very little ability to make judgements about expert scientific data.

      2. Guys, chill, you’re both right. Chris is talking about research analysis, which very few people can do, and Duncan is talking about literal analysis, which generally literate and educated people can do. Both are forms of critical thinking.

        Rational ‘trust’ comes from the ability to critically analyze phenomena OR texts, but the problem is that rational trust is higher level than core community trust. Literacy and science are both ways of looking beyond the reality determined by community, but Chris is referencing recent research that shows community driven reality necessarily precedes rational reality.

        This means that both research analysis, or basically the ways in which we raise questions about our environment, and literal analysis, the ways in which we interpret the findings of others’ research, is going to be filtered through what’s called hegemony, which is the underlying assumptions and behaviors that define a culture.

        Leastwise that’s how I interpret this tertiary text.

      3. Chris
        I’m an engineer – not a scientist but I do know enough to understand how things are measured AND I don’t need to replicate those results myself because there are a million keen grad students who are willing and able to do that – the big rewards in science don’t go to the “me too” confirmation
        They go to the guy who looks at the current consensus and says NO – the data shows this
        So I KNOW that published temperature variation has been analyzed within an inch of it’s life – and it has passed those tests

        When somebody days something different I know enough to follow the argument – and to follow the rebuttal

        None of this is very complex!

        There are complexities when you are talking about small changes – and some of the maths to determine if a change is actually happening is a bit hard
        But that only applies when you are trying to pull a small signal out of the noise – and if the effects are that small then it’s probably not that important

        “I have very little ability to make judgements about expert scientific data”
        That is due to laziness!
        You are more than smart enough to understand what is going on and smart enough to understand the data and the arguments
        Remember if the signal is so small that it can’t be winkled out of the noise by very simple easy to understand analysis – then you can wait!
        Global warming was detectable way back in the 70’s – but it’s gone from “detectable with complex analysis” to “plain as a pikestaff”

        Now when you are dealing with subjects like economics! – then the data and the effects get hairy
        THANK GOD for the US Republicans who manage to get things so incredibly wrong that it is obvious!

      4. Global temperature is rising –
        Published measurements – LOTS of them taken by lots and lots of different bodies

        Global CO2 levels are rising
        Published measurements – LOTS of them taken by lots and lots of different bodies

        CO2 is a “Greenhouse Gas” – as in it is less transparent to infra red
        This is very basic science and was discovered well over 100 years ago

        The additional CO2 is from fossil fuels
        Isotope ratios – again basic science and the measurements have been made hundreds of thousands of times – by lots and lots of different bodies

        The Suns output has not varied
        Tracked by astronomy groups all over the world!

        The potential for error comes when only one group has the “machinery” to do a test – but that is NOT a problem with issues like Global warming

        Some of the aspects are like that – there was a twin satellite experiment that measured the mass loss in Antarctica – great experiment – the basic science was sound but we could not rely on that data until somebody else duplicated it

  7. I am living proof individuals and communities can evolve to be more culturally diverse and tolerant. Exposure to diversity makes you able to emphasize with many more different kinds of people. I am starting to travel in my old age but before that people traveled to live and work in my community from all over the country and world. That exposure even makes you tolerant to diversity and even crave it.

    We have been in global warming since the last ice age. What finally changed my mind of how much man is involved is the pace of change. It is unparalleled in speed. I have dealt with in my working past chemical matrices of great complexity. Which makes me wait for enough data to come in before predictions are made. Early predictions are often wrong.

    I think it is too late for the White Nationalist to stop where the country is heading. Their very own children will betray them as they associate and intermarry with the new comers. And nothing new here. My list of known ancestors countries covers most of Europe. My people have been here well before the Revolutionary War. My descendants ancestors will cover the whole world eventually. The countries and cultures that are doing the best are open and welcoming. I really think Trump will past. Every time this country has a fling with xenophobia we have always return eventually to acceptance .

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