Monday, October 17, 2016

Who runs the tribe

The current clown scare is a result of two rising forces in the U.S: social media, and a fear of otherness, whether it arrives in a white Mercedes or a refugee boat.
(Robert Bartholomew, sociologist, Botany College, New Zealand)

I was about to write something on capitalism and “geocide” but a colleague emailed me an interesting article and survey on climate change, not about the science of global warming but about how we “think” about it—or not. Then I came across a video, both disturbing and depressing, but tied indirectly to climate change.

The political spectacle

Reporters for the NYT followed Donald Trump for a year at his various presidential rallies throughout the United States. While this video is about the 2016 election, it could be a rally of a particular kind you might attend in far to many countries today. In fact, it conjures up scenes from the early 1930s in Europe.

Making America Really, Really Not So Great Again

Climate and beliefs

The survey shows that (1) overall opinions about climate are split along (not surprisingly to many) partisan lines and have hardly changed at all, (2) scientific knowledge does not change the opinions of climate deniers, (3) the increase of scientific “literacy” appears to change the views of Democrats but not Republicans, (4) climate beliefs are more about “tribal” beliefs, (5) most people have no organized ideology and firm opinion on issues, (6) elite views are the most important operator on public opinion, (7) tribal attachment is the most important influence not issue attachment and (8) BUT, regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, everyone likes renewable energy such as wind and solar. Go to Climate Survey to read the details.

Nature, nurture and genopolitics

Two to three years ago the word Genopolitics appeared with increasing frequency. Did genes influence political behavior? Could genetics tell us whether or not we would be on the Left or Right politically? Would it be easier to gauge if we were inclined to be Liberal or Conservative?

There was some interesting scientific research going on. Neuroscience had made some remarkable breakthrough in the last ten years or so and several tantalizing ideas spread beyond brain research. Certainly some political scientists thought they could be nearing the point where predictable patterns of behavior might be understood in light of what neuro-science had uncovered.

We know a good deal, for example, about how hormones and neurotransmitters in our bodies influence behavior. The levels of serotonin in our system might affect our self confidence and sense of worth and intensity of aggression. Some researchers believe that the release of oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” might have something to do with increases in generosity and trust.

The problem is that human behavior is complicated and not easy to describe on a flow chart. Some people have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism but never become alcoholics because of environmental factors. A psychiatrist and well respected authority on serial killers, in the course of his research, discovered he himself had the genetic makeup of a sociopath but it was the environmental factor (home life, family) that triggered a full blown monster. At some point there is a good chance we will get beyond merely uncovering “interesting” connections in human behavior and be able to identify cause and effect and replicate it over and over again.

Nevertheless, understanding human behavior, it seems to me, cannot be merely left to brain researchers and various policy wonks but all of us … if we want to succeed. If as this particular climate survey indicates, the one thing we all seem to agree upon is the value of renewable energy. Then what ought we to be doing, if fifty percent of us believe climate change is an existential threat to all of us? Who is thwarting the effort?

While Clinton's emails and Trumps' behavior may be the current American distraction (along with scary clowns), on November 9, 2016, we will be back to dealing with human behavior, which needs some serious hormonal alteration and rewiring.

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