The Story Teller in an Age of Mathematics

How one reacts to different issues of environmental governance depends on a wide range of factors from the external, clan-based ideologies to the internal intuitive functioning of the mind. Reviewing the wide range of available literature on the matter demonstrates that one may be prone to find absolutes in what is clearly a diverse and mutually inclusive range of factors.

Identifying the cause and the effect thus becomes difficult, if not impossible.

To start with the extremely external factors, we have ideologies, or memes, that are comprised of an assortment of values designed to perpetuate the ideology. In a very broad sense, the conservative and progressive families comprise of many genus and species of ideological beliefs that provide functions to perpetuate movement across generations. Each one elevates certain values to the pivotal heights of virtues to assign certain meanings to reality.

For instance, in relation to environmental governance, progressive genus tend to elevate communal / egalitarian values while conservative genus tend to elevate individualism / hierarchal values.[1][2][3] Addressing environmental governance requires an awareness of limitations only because resource availability is not unlimited and homogenous. In countering degradation before it becomes depletion, such measures come into direct conflict with the elevated values of the conservative genus, favouring key progressive values.

On the other end of the factors, when we focus on the internal, we begin to address personal risk manage. Where a threat is identified, it is measured by its perceived impact and potential of occurring against assumed sacrifices undertaken to avert the risk.[4]

For instance, climate change is undiscernible to most people; “weather can be experienced, climate is a statistical construct (consisting of trends and averages) that individuals can observe only indirectly.”[5] Not only is the change unnoticeable at the individual level, major changes are unlikely to occur within a single generation. Thus the perceived risk is rated low when compared to the large task of reducing fossil fuel emissions, which is heavily tied to all major activities of the modern economy.[4]

One could venture somewhere into the middle of these two extremes and also look into the self-interests of determined individuals and companies to undermine empirical data to support ideological preferences (eg. lingering cold war phobias) and/or to secure ongoing profits.[6][7][8]

In all cases, I feel that the conclusions drawn are limited in appeal due to their narrow focus. Ideas, values and the larger memes transcend the individual and potentially even the clan. Through what has been coined the “Enlightenment” there remains a prevailing expectation that hard facts trump wishful thinking which is clearly false in respect to noted failures in effective environmental governance. Persistent aggravated assault on unfavourable evidence has remained widespread throughout even the most secular and developed countries.

One needs only to be audience to Christopher Monckton or muse through the writing of Dr. David Evans to find evidence of unfounded conspiracies being seriously entertained by individuals who, otherwise, may have been considered highly educated and intelligent. Such work finds wider appeal which demonstrates they are not isolated to a few unstable minds.

Indeed Carl Sagan’s Demon haunted world prevails, yet the phantoms have found new forms as bankers and communists…

The enlightenment provides nothing more, or less, than the time where critical investigation through justifiable and repeatable methodology became established and finally provided credibility to ideas beyond the old world methodology enforced via orthodox authority. It was the formation of powerful ideas that could question our notions critically without empathy or fear of authority. Indeed facts cannot be wished out of existence, only ignored and we had discovered techniques to discover genuine fact.

The enlightenment did not, however, coincide with an evolution of the human brain. We are, deep down, still creatures plagued by personal projections placed onto reality. We are story tellers brought into an age of mathematics. This is a key failing to the awareness of the enlightenment.

Realising the above, cause and effect become blurred. Are we victims of the clan mentality in which our minds form or predisposed genetically to such wiring to begin with?

Perhaps it is a path of least resistance to reject risk one cannot properly identify or adequately measure against sacrifice, therefore paving the road for trumpets of denialism and myopic risk management. The cause is the effect is the cause…

It remains sensible to study human predisposition to fantasy over reality, but assigning cause and effect should be avoided. Amalgamation of such research will be far more illuminating than any one study or investigation field. We must take into account the entire spectrum from the external to the internal as basis for the human experience over empirical information if we are to make sense of such failings and endeavour to improve upon them.

We are unlikely to eliminate the urge to reject unfavourable empirical evidence, nor should we want to; it can inspire great enough scepticism to truly test its worth. Instead, the goal should be to overcome committed scepticism unable to transition from disbelief to appropriate certainty.

My suggestion would be education from a young age to discern the quality of incoming information and to test conclusions drawn empirically through scientific methodology; that is, provide children with the tool kits to be professional sceptics undertaking peer-review. While there is no expectation that they would go on to be scientists, critical scepticism is an essential tool kit within any field and within one’s personal life, including contributing more thoroughly in democratic procedures.

If we truly want the best for our children, we must wish to empower their logical reasoning to overcome our primal instincts to avoid or mystify the unknown or disliked.


[1] Progressivism Link
[2] Conservatism Link
[3] Kahan et al (2010) Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus. Journal of Risk Research. 14.2 Link
[4] Sunstein (2007) On the Divergent American Reaction to Terrorism and Climate Change. Columbia Law Review. 107:503 Link
[5] Goebbert (2012) Weather, Climate, and Worldviews: The Sources and Consequences of Public Perceptions of Changes in Local Weather Patterns. Weather, Climate, and Society. 4. Link
[6] Oreskes and Conway (2011) Merchants of Doubt. Bloomsburg Link
[7] Source Watch Link
[8] Dietheim and McKee (2009) Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? European Journal of Public Health. 19 Link

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