How deep have you dug in your heels?

  • Article by: BRANDON FERDIG
  • Updated: October 15, 2012 - 7:50 PM

Ideology seems to mean more today than in the recent past.

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Just looking at the names, conservative and liberal (or progressive), it's logical to assume that the first group is going to be more apt to resist change: change in policy, style, fashion, technology, tradition, religion, etc. Sometimes what we discover via science is the trigger for such change. So it makes sense that, at times, conservatives might also be apt to deny certain findings.

Indeed, that's the conventional wisdom.

It's why books like this are written: "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science -- and Reality," by Chris Mooney.

However, when we enter politics, another wrinkle gets introduced: ideology -- how one believes the world should be. And ideology seems to mean more today than in the recent past. People are more active and reactive, more jumpy and fearful of who gets elected or that bill getting passed or the Supreme Court deciding one way or another. In the realm of that emotion, it's revealed that ideology creates enemies of science from all sides.

I recently saw this headline from Slate.com succinctly making this very point: "GMO Opponents Are the Climate Skeptics of the Left."

GMO refers to genetically modified foods. The headline attacks progressives who rally against such food despite little evidence that it is bad for us to eat. It compares GMO opponents to the politically conservative-minded who deny evidence of climate change.

There are all sorts of other examples.

Stereotypically ...

Conservatives don't like:

• The science behind evolution.

• The science behind climate change.

• The science behind man-made climate change.

• The science showing the benefits of universal health care or any number of other government-funded programs.

• The science showing the benefits of treatment over incarceration for addicts.

• The science showing that homosexuality is not a choice (but they do then like the science showing how race and gender imprint certain behavioral attributes).

Liberals don't like:

• The science behind the safety of genetically modified foods.

• The science behind the impact one's genes has on intelligence, behavior and personality -- with the notable behavioral exception of sexual orientation.

• The science showing that the income gap between men and women is largely explained by gender roles in marriage.

• New technology that allows humans to consume at the level we currently are (Stephen Levitt, author of "Freakonomics," postulates that among this population there's an urge to see humanity be punished for what we've done to the Earth.)

There are wrinkles within this wrinkle. First, it's not exactly apples to apples, because liberals' problems with science sometimes go the other way: misusing scientific data to promote a cause later revealed to be bogus. Such scares historically have involved climate change and the supposed shortages of food, oil, forests and minerals.

This article from Reason.com introduces us to some of these wrinkles: "Conservatives Don't Care About Science. (Neither Do Liberals.)"

Second, one could go into economics. It's not as hard a science, though, so I didn't mention the shortcomings on both sides regarding the ignoring or misunderstanding of data and/or concepts such as economic growth, job creation, fair taxation and deficit spending.

Third, there are some issues such as vaccines and The Bailouts which see members of the right and left in agreement in their dissent -- albeit for entirely different reasons: concern of government reach vs. concern for corporate influence.

Whether economics, the use of science for one's own agenda, or good ol' science denial, I think it all boils down to what you're most afraid of -- afraid of change, afraid of being taken advantage of, afraid of others being exploited, afraid of being invaded -- that dictates your acceptance of truth vs. your insistence that your ideology is the way of the world.

In conclusion, people in general aren't very willing to undig their heels from the ground, even when given evidence that their ideas are wrong. My challenge to you is to recognize when you're digging in your heels at the expense of truth, for the sake of your ideology.

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Brandon Ferdig is a writer in Minneapolis.

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