Cognitive dissonance


in Politics, The environment, Writing

One of the odd things about reading The Economist recently is seeing the extent to which their commitment to reason and the impartial consideration of scientific facts is clashing with their long-held views about economic growth. So far, their considerations of how ecological issues – especially climate change – impact their core philosophy has been fleeting and confined to the margins. This article on air travel is a good example.

Imagine, however, that they played some of the ideas through. What would their next Survey on Business look like if they really accepted that mass air travel is climatologically and morally unacceptable?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan August 14, 2007 at 11:40 pm

Here is one article that shows The Economist in the process of turning the corner on their climate change position:

A bargain

May 4th 2007

It isn’t the one I was looking for, but it is temporally and conceptually related.

Milan August 14, 2007 at 11:41 pm

Here is another significant marker:

The heat is on

Sep 7th 2006
From The Economist print edition
The uncertainty surrounding climate change argues for action, not inaction. America should lead the way

Lee August 15, 2007 at 4:17 am

The Economist, for all that I despise its neoliberal fanaticism, is always worth reading as the mouthpiece of the market. Like the FT, it’s one of the few places where you can get fairly direct reportage that doesn’t try to mangle the evidence for some solely political hobby horse. All it cares about is the efficient operation of the market. As such I would actually trust the Economist to take fairly sensible positions on climate change, based on the scientific evidence and not the hype that currently surrounds the issue. Businesses actually need to know what’s happening so they can prepare for the future. If the issue is real, they want equal regulation to be imposed so they don’t lose out by expensively moving first to cut emissions before competitors do (yes, businesses do like some regulations). What the market wants is certainty and predictability – that’s why the Economist wants the US to “lead the way”. The Economist won’t take a position that air travel is “morally unacceptable”, largely because they tend not to take moral positions – their interest is in market efficiency, not people’s moral wholesomeness or otherwise (and I completely reject the idea that air travel is “morally unacceptable”, incidentally). So in short I doubt your claim of “cognitive dissonance”. The Economist will continue to be a good signal of what the market can bear. While its calculations will obviously primarily be in the interests of capital, we all stand to lose out if we abandon economic growth in favour of tackling climate change.

Milan August 15, 2007 at 8:27 am

I disagree about how the Economist supposedly does not adopt moral positions. They have clear stances on – for instance – gay rights, drug legalization, torture, and the Iraq war. Clearly, their positions can be criticized, but they are still frequently morally motivated and expressed in moral terms.

While they may or may not be ‘the mouthpiece of the market,’ I think it is fair to say that no other magazine is taken as seriously.

Rob August 15, 2007 at 8:29 am

“we all stand to lose out if we abandon economic growth in favour of tackling climate change”

Not necessarily true, even if it is true that economic growth has to be ‘abandoned’, rather than limited, in order to tackle climate change. It depends how the costs of abandoning economic growth are distributed, as well as the benefits of existing economic growth. Also, mass air travel has a different referent from air travel. Finally, although my economics is a bit rusty, I’m not sure that efficiently operating markets are generally to the advantage of capital; capital may well want an efficiently operating market in information, so it can identify investment opportunities, but capital can gain rents from imperfect markets just like any other factor of production.

. October 13, 2016 at 12:40 am

Such dezinformatsiya may seem like a mere reversion to Soviet form. But at least the Soviets’ lies were meant to be coherent, argues Peter Pomerantsev, a journalist whose memoir of Mr Putin’s Russia is titled “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible”. In a study in 2014 for the Institute of Modern Russia, a think-tank, he quotes a political consultant for the president saying that in Soviet times, “if they were lying they took care to prove what they were doing was ‘the truth’. Now no one even tries proving ‘the truth’. You can just say anything. Create realities.”

In such creation it helps to keep in mind—as Mr Putin surely does—that humans do not naturally seek truth. In fact, as plenty of research shows, they tend to avoid it. People instinctively accept information to which they are exposed and must work actively to resist believing falsehoods; they tend to think that familiar information is true; and they cherry-pick data to support their existing views. At the root of all these biases seems to be what Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-prizewinning psychologist and author of a bestselling book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, calls “cognitive ease”: humans have a tendency to steer clear of facts that would force their brains to work harder.

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