What Our Political Affiliations Tell Us About Climate Denial
How inside examination of our human psyche can help us stay net neutral.
It is no secret that many things have become polarized that logically should have no association with political leanings. However, the fact that they do affect so many things is important to note.
From red hats, to masks, to opening up borders, (and/or opening up commerce during a pandemic), to even lesser objects and topics like the American flag, the size of car one drives, straws, canvas bags, and plastic, itself, we swim in a mass of misinformation and malady these days.
We unconsciously choose sides, even when we don’t intend to do so.
This morning, I read in the New York Times some statistics about the election last month that were startling. The article mentions that only 20% of Trump voters really believe that Joe Biden And Kamala Harris won the election as a “true result.” We may think of these voters are diehard Trumpeteers, but that answer is too easy and doesn’t tell the whole story.
The article goes on to point out, however, that only half of those in that percentage show indications that they truly think we will watch Trump be inaugurated on January 20. This speaks to the human capacity for denial, but also an over-looked aspect of our human denial, which is that we may, or may not, truly know what we actually believe in our own minds.
To remain net neutral these days, that is, staying even when the inter- net all around you is full of trolls, politicos, and perceived foes, is a true challenge.
Our human nature versus nature
This sort of cognitive dissonance, allows that we often lean one way or another, even from hour to hour.
Except in the case of greatly polarized convictions, we don’t take hard and fast positions on any given topic, even when we think our mind is made up.
Or, if we do, we qualify those positions heavily. Polls in 2020 were not entirely reflective of actual votes because some people did change party. Others did not feel confident in telling the full truth about their votes. Some people fear disapproval, some fear loss of privacy, and some have entirely unrelated reasons.
The strongly held positions will impact a person’s political affiliation much more strongly, as they reflect values that become convictions.
Think about Christian believers of an afterlife, or people who have concluded firmly that reproductive health should be closely monitored rather than a private issue within families.
Policy and politics that lead to nowhere
Today we are largely stuck in a pandemic, social inequality, and a climate crisis, because although objective truth is more widely available today than at any given point in human history, we do not avail ourselves to it.
A few people blame social media for explaining why we are trapped in individual bubbles of knowing. But adding yet another scapegoat — although it is a compelling one that we do need to regulate for sure — does not solve the issue of our susceptibility to denial.
Instead, we should look at our human history as gullible, yet clever apes, that truly seek connections, both tribal and national, but we also desperately crave stability, order, and an end to chaos.
These are often at odds in the human psyche, because traditionally, hierarchical structures were scaffolded upon racism and sexism. People who know this are easily persuaded to seek destruction of such hierarchies. However, we seldom think that we ourselves are the deluded people who “don’t see race,” or some other sound-bite ready meme that is actually the very thing that easily can become the sound-bite that bites back.
When we think of extremists, it is very easy to think and act upon our most cherished, solidified values and convictions. Everyone hates a Hitler, right? But far right extremists, and left-wing radicals, do not comprise the majority of people. There are actual Nazis, for example, but most of them don’t worship Hitler. There are actual anti-Fa (anti-fascists advocates) but they are not a hierarchical, or rigidly structured organization.
Personal power and personal pressure
Speaking to almost anyone you will discover that they self-identify as “non-extremists.” As a psychologist, I would not be in the least surprised to learn people in the Jim Jones cult in the 1970’s did not think of themselves as extreme in their views. People who believe Q-anon conspiracy theories are the same, they just “know” they hold special truth.
But what is more surprising, I believe, is that topics like climate change stay denied, because it is very hard on a personal basis, to wrap our heads around the fact that we are doing it to ourselves.
We fail for many reasons. One is that our personal lives are already demanding our near-total attention. One is that we truly don’t want to clash with others. As a social species, we are much more inclined to not wish to offend anyone; you may note that only anonymity allows savagely polarized individuals to troll others. That said, we do notice when others do bully one another precisely because it is so outrageous.
Another fact is that climate grief is too overwhelming to face without the proper tools. We are only beginning to assemble those tools, among which are pushing much harder for green energy, green infrastructure, green agriculture, and green healthcare to prevent the zoonotic plagues like COVID-19 that are a result of our tampering with nature exploitatively — specifically in the case of the Coronavirus — in the ways in which we consume animals and perform agriculture.
Yet another tool is mindfulness, nature connection, Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) the use of Selene Allures (gravitational attractions), or natural life-line immersion therapy, mediation, and seeking reconciliation with those whose views we need to better understand.
Yet another tool is our everyday consumption habits that each and every person can embrace for personal empowerment. You may or may not have strong views on veganism, for example, but you can easily tweak what food you buy locally, with how much packaging, opportunities for recycling, and more.
And, although we can not so far control the false messages that bombard us to consume ever more, we can demand legislation which begins to address things like externalized costs (the profits taken privately that are not applied to clean up any resulting pollution, or habitat protection.)
For example, you can reduce your plastic use while at the same time staying affiliated with organizers who lobby for corporations to be more responsible. After all, the dead albatross chicks killed by plastic do not care one whit if the pollution that affects them came because of your personal choices, or corporate profiteering.
How to reject political affiliation
You may need to embrace some labels that boost your personal concept of identity. But, even if you do, never swallow the whole party line without questioning it.
The times we are in now are designed by the powers that be to divide and conquer. But those of us working on the planetary plane know that we need almost everyone to be on-board with improvements. We can do this even as we will disagree on how to get all those tech, social, and political solutions to be ironed out.
It helps, I think, to see yourself as someone who is resistant to being assigned an agenda, and to see yourself as someone who wants to help individuals with the thought in mind that if we win the hearts and minds of those we disagree with, the entire world is ours to cherish and protect.
Think of yourself as an emergency medical responder. You do not wait to see if someone is conservative or progressive in their views before you administer necessary treatments.
Another useful tool to be resistant to living in denial is constant vigilance. Please note there is a very fine line between vigilance and paranoia.
A final tool is to check in with your own prejudices, cognitive dissonance, critical thinking skills, and “baloney detection” kits. This means you will have to become aware of your own insights and observations and periodically check in to see if someone could highjack your motives for their own enrichment.
This means, basically, we must open our minds, keep them open, and every once in a while, realize that they have probably closed again, so re-open the economy of ideas!
If you can still vacillate in your opinions and think creatively, you will find you are much more resistant to political manipulations.