Archive for June 29th, 2008

New Media, New Thinking

No matter what bad habits, negative behaviors, or problems people possess, they usually stick with them until reality becomes so bad that they are forced to change. Alcoholics have to hit bottom, credit card debtors with a real problem have to get the point where they can’t find more credit, gambling addicts lose their home and family. Up until reality forces change it is easier to blame others, blame the situation, or see oneself as a kind of victim. This is also a problem in politics.

In politics, people stick to the same policies, ideologies and beliefs they held in the past, no matter what the consequences. Democrats remained convinced governmental solutions are best, even though there is evidence that one should really be skeptical of government bureaucracy, while Republicans often believe that the market will solve all our ills, and seem oblivious to our weaknesses on the world stage.

An example is the issue of global warming. It’s easy to avoid confronting the problem by just chalking up tornados, floods, melting ice caps, record heat and consistently rising temperatures to something natural — as if we could dump massive amounts of CO2 in a dynamic atmosphere without it having an impact. Not only that, but there is a cottage industry of well funded deniers out there who will go to great lengths to argue their position, driven by a political or ideological agenda rather than science. Many aren’t malicious; they’ve truly convinced themselves that they are the ones who can see the situation clearly — even though they are usually like minded political types who are in contradiction from scientists across the political spectrum.

I witnessed that on one blog, Q & O, where the main blogger routinely scours the news for anything that might lean one to question any aspect of global warming research. He posts it as if it is a refutation of the entire theory, ignoring the numerous studies and the vast consensus that otherwise dominate. He comes up with wild claims about volcanoes causing the ice melt, and ridicules the scientific community as if somehow any rational person would reject the idea of humans being part of the cause of global warming. It’s so bad that some of one blog commentator, caught up in groupthink, said he thought it is irrational for one to actually believe scientific consensus. They are absolutely convinced are they that they’ve shot holes in the theory, which somehow the real scientists don’t see. They ignore the arguments and studies supporting the consensus and often make arguments that are anti-scientific (e.g., science has been wrong in the past so it’s likely wrong now) or post conspiracy theories very insulting to scientists, claiming, for instances, scientists just want government money and that requires they toe the global warming line.

A similar dynamic is seen from those denying evolution. You read the websites by creationists, and they have the same myriad of studies which, if read without regard to the real science, would make it appear that the theory of evolution is absolutely untenable. They have the same kind of alternate explanations, and hurl the same derision and scorn on the scientific community. Irony of ironies, both the global warming deniers and the evolution deniers try to claim the other side is driven by political bias not to accept the “true” science. Yet the consensus against them runs across the political and even religious spectrum, while the denier communities tend to be narrow, like minded folk talking more to each other than trying to really examine the vast array of data out there.

To be sure, it is possible that global warming is natural, just as it’s possible the world was created by intelligent design and evolution is misguided. It is worth looking at and considering the counter evidence. But to simply choose that which fits ones’ beliefs and grasp it while ignoring the rest or ridiculing it is outside the realm of clear thinking.

Yet while such groups stand out, they aren’t necessarily the majority. Blogs, a fragmented media, and an information revolution create the possibility to move beyond such ideology-driven thinking. And those who now use the new media the most — students — are becoming cynical about pat ideologies and seem to see through the community-oriented group think of people like the evolution and global warming deniers. Perhaps being part of this information revolution from the get go, the up and coming generation is discovering how to think across various perspectives and spectrums. They are emerging as a post-ideological generation, which I believe is a good thing. Perhaps this will yield a society that avoids the kind of battles of the 20th century, where groups divided up, were happy with labels like ‘left’ and ‘right,’ and defined some group as an ideological boogey man (socialists, liberals, conservatives, etc.) and put their group as the truly thoughtful and reasonable ones, more in touch with reality.

Anyone who traverses the new media and variety of perspectives can’t help but see just how silly such an ideology-based version of reality is. In the past, that was easy to maintain, and if one stays in a small blog world focused on ideological conflict with the other side, or talking to like minded folk, this can still be maintained. However, young people seem willing to talk across perspectives and think outside of ideological blocks. For them, the vast array of available information gives them tools to avoid that kind of ideological straight jacket.

Maybe I’m being idealistic, but if we’re going to solve the problems that are causing rising energy prices, strange weather, and terrorism, we need a generation to break out of the stale kind of ideology-driven thinking of the past. To do that, my generation can learn a lot from today’s youth.

UPDATE: I should point out that I have not taken a stand here on what to do about global warming; I’m not sure.  I think working for a culture shift is more effective than just regulations.  In fact, I think those who use global warming denial as the tactic for fighting against regulations do themselves a disservice, they’d be more effective if they’d actually talk about the problems with regulatory answers.

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