The basic premise of cultural theory is that individuals can be expected to form beliefs about societal dangers that reflect and reinforce their commitments to one or another idealized form of social ordering.
That’s not an observation or academic conclusion which should be open to much debate, even though we may take issue with the benefits associated with that aspect of human nature. We form relationships and associations when we can with others whom we perceive share the same commitments, preferences, and values. We do so personally, culturally, socially, and to the extent feasible with those in our work environments.
I’m a die-hard Boston Bruins hockey fan. Not in this lifetime will I become a member of any collection of individuals who’ve associated because of their passion for the Montreal Canadiens. I will for similar reasons never be a member of any Young Republicans association or a Fox News Is The Best! Club.
The issue becomes more relevant and influential when we allow (consciously or not), those various associations and collaborations to create barriers preventing us from acquiring or assimilating knowledge, information, or perspectives which might better serve us now or over time. We’re all “guilty” of making such choices, but is there a way to appreciate that realization first, given that it is often done automatically, and then pausing for a moment or two to ask ourselves if that sole or customary way of thinking is actually our best choice?
‘Biased assimilation and polarization’ is a dynamic that characterizes information processing. When individuals are unconsciously motivated to persist in their beliefs, they selectively attend to evidence and arguments, crediting those that reinforce their beliefs and dismissing as noncredible those that contravene them. As a result of this ‘biased assimilation,’ individuals tend to harden in their views when exposed to a portfolio of arguments that variously support and challenge their views. By the same token, when groups of individuals who are motivated to persist in opposing beliefs are exposed to balanced information, they don’t converge in their views; as a result of biased assimilation they polarize.[Kahan - link above]
That this is now the political norm for policy debates isn’t open to much dispute, either. Take any topic of significance or potential impact (climate change, income inequality, gay marriage, peak oil, etc., etc.) and we see combatants on both the Left and the Right locking down into the positions they and their in-group have established as ideological beachheads, and not much is gained other than scoring snark points. The needle doesn’t move much in terms of progress or problem-solving.
The listing of issues mentioned above is only a small sampling of challenges we’ll all be facing in the years ahead. Scoring talking points for our team may have its benefits, but if that’s the game we insist on playing while ignoring what’s happening off that field, we may be blind-sided by events which a little bit of insight and wisdom would have served us better.
Perhaps a different priority might be an option?