Where do you stand on climate change? How about gun control? Are you for gay marriage or against? Wherever you stand, you probably base your positions on the facts. But something far deeper is shaping your view of those facts. Want to participate in a little quiz, to help you understand where your positions actually come from... to look in the mirror to see why you fall where you do on the culture war issues of the day? Take the Cultural Cognition quiz.
QUESTION SET ONE.
For each question, rank yourself from 1 - 10. 1 means you absolutely disagree. 10 means you absolutely agree. Write your answers down somewhere. When you get to the end of the list you'll need to add them up.
1. The government interferes too much in our everyday lives.
2. Government needs to make laws that keep people from hurting themselves.
3. The government should stop telling people how to live their lives.
4. The government should do more to advance society's goals, even if that means limiting the freedom and choices of individuals.
5. Too many people today expect society to do things for them that they should have to do for themselves.
6. People should be able to rely on the government for help when they need it.
7. Society works best when it lets individuals take responsibility for their own lives
without telling them what to do.
8. It's society's responsibility to make sure everyone's basic needs are met.
9. People who are successful in business have a right to enjoy their wealth as they see fit.
10. Taxes should be higher on the wealthy as a fair way of getting them to share the benefits society gives them.
Now add up the answers to the odd-numbered questions, then add up the answers for the even-numbered questions. Write down the totals. I'll tell you what the results say in a bit, but first...
QUESTION SET TWO
1. Our society would be better off if the distribution of wealth was more equal.
2. Nowadays it seems like there is just as much discrimination against whites as there is against blacks.
3. We need to dramatically reduce inequalities between the rich and the poor, whites and people of color, and men and women.
4. It seems like blacks, women, homosexuals and other groups don't want equal rights, they want special rights just for them.
5. It's old-fashioned and wrong to think that one culture's set of values is better than any other culture's way of seeing the world.
6. The women's rights movement has gone too far.
7. We live in a sexist society that that is fundamentally set up to discriminate against women.
8. A lot of problems in our society today come from the decline in the traditional family, where the man works and the woman stays home.
9. Parents should encourage young boys to be more sensitive and less rough and tough.
10. Society as a whole has become too soft.
Same exercise for Question Set Two. Add up the odd-numbered answers, and the even-numbered ones. Write down the totals.
Now, here's what it all means, and how it relates to the questions about climate change etc. back at the beginning. Cultural Cognition research has found that the positions we take on many things have less to do with the facts we cite to support those positions, and much more to do with our subconscious general sense of how we'd like to see society organized and operate. This makes sense in the context of evolutionary psychology, since as social animals we depend on the tribe for our own health and well-being. So it increases our chances of survival to adopt positions that agree with the group/tribe, since that strengthens our tribe's dominance in society, and our tribe's acceptance of us as a member in good standing.
Cultural Cognition identifies our views about society and how it should operate, along two continua:
Individualist ←←← →→→Communitarian
Hierarchist ←←← →→→Egalitarian.
In Quiz One, if your answers to the odd-numbered questions were higher, you are more of an Individualist, which means you prefer a society that mostly leaves the individual alone. "The Tea Party", or "Libertarian"... those are just labels for people who support an individualist "society should mostly leave the individual alone" worldview. Individualists are more likely to be climate change skeptics because the solutions to climate change require the community to act together, and that would encourage a society/government seeking the greater common good by imposing its collective will, which is not how an Individualist prefers things.
If the sum of your answers to the even-numbered questions in Quiz One was higher, you're a Communitarian and you believe more in a "we're all in this together" society where the collective is more involved in determining how things go. Communitarians are more likely to believe in the threat of climate change, because solutions to climate change would enhance the kind of 'we're all in this together" society they prefer.
Quiz Two identifies us along the second continuum, on which we are either more Hierarchists or more Egalitarians. If the sum of your answers to the even-numbered questions in Quiz Two was higher, you're more of a Hierarchist. You prefer a society with fixed class and race and economic divisions, the status quo, and the old reliable way of doing things. You're big on predictability and stability. You are more likely to deny climate change because if it's real, fixing it will certainly mean a lot of change, which threatens your stable predictable comfortable status quo-world.
But if the sum of your answers to the odd-numbered questions in Quiz Two was higher you are more of an Egalitarian. You bristle at the restrictions of class and hierarchy that the status quo and the old fixed ways of doing things impose. You want a more flexible society, and are likely to believe in climate change because the solutions mean shaking things up and breaking free of the patterns that created the climate change mess to begin with.
(For both quizzes, the bigger the gap between the sums, the stronger you identify with that worldview and the more intensely you probably old your positions on the culture war issues. The closer together the two sums are, the more you fall in the middle, and the more flexible you probably are on many issues.)
Let's wrap this up with a final quiz.
How do you think Individualists feel about gun laws?
How about Communitarians?
Individualists are more likely to oppose gun controls. That's society/government butting in.
Communitarians support gun laws. To them, more government regulation is just fine.
How do Hierarchists feel about gay marriage?
How do Egalitarians feel about gay marriage?
You got it! Hierarchists are far more likely to oppose gay marriage and the destabilizing breakdown of the traditional definition of marriage. Egalitarians are more likely to support gay marriage. To them, flexibility is good.
We label ourselves Republicans or Democrats, Conservatives or Liberals, and we argue our selective view of the evidence, on climate change or guns or gay marriages or any of the divisive issues of the day, as though our truth is the only possible truth. But our minds are not informed by the evidence. They are closed by the deep drive to conform our views to those with whom we identify, in the name of the safety which tribal unity provides. In uncertain and threatening times, this Cultural Cognition only grows more fierce, and our arguments less civil, more violent. We'd do well to learn what Cultural Cognition teaches us, and use that knowledge to temper its influence on our own views, while summoning up some respect for the underlying Cultural Cognition influences contributing to the views of those with whom we disagree. That make encourage slightly more open minds, more respectful listening instead of polarized polemics, and more compromise, without which progress will be much harder to achieve.
There is much more on Cultural Cognition in Ch. 4 of "How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts".