- A brief look at the admitted process
Generically speaking, arbitrary memes prosper most in scenarios of (genuinely) high uncertainty and high urgency. These conditions stress our thought patterns and so allow memetic word-tricks to much more easily hit their target, which is our psychological ‘hot-buttons’. These are triggers for emotive or other short-cut mental processes that bypass or modify our reason. Hitting the hot-buttons enables replication; if folks feel strongly enough, they will tend to pass on the meme. The overall process is complicated by the fact that once emotive memes get a decent spread across a population (or at least across some key domains, for example climate science and environmentalism), and especially if a bunch are coevolving within an overall narrative structure, they can alter an entire society’s perception of urgency and uncertainty, hence creating conditions that better suit their further penetration.
This simple process is the key factor in the growth of the huge social phenomena of CAGW, which wields a raft of potent emotive memes. Many of these invoke worry or fear and other negative emotions, plus an amplified sense of urgency and certainty. Some invoke positive emotions within people who are already worldview aligned; for instance via hope of a new global order conforming to those worldviews.
It is the strong emotive content which enables high replication and a wide spread. These co-evolving memes are the root cause of huge bias, even within the supposedly objective (climate) scientific community. As Lewandowsky himself says in the executive summary of L2015: “Nonetheless, being human, scientists’ operate with the same cognitive apparatus and limitations as every other person”. Absolutely. The resulting huge emotional bias in the climate Consensus is examined here at Climate Etc. A positive amplification also occurs if memes are repeated more often and from more authoritative sources, which has indeed occurred with CAGW over the years; success breeds more success.
This success of emotive CAGW memes is not primarily dependent on any truth or lack thereof they contain; it is dependent on their ability to hit our hot buttons. As Lewandowsky acknowledges when talking about the spread of emotive misinformation in this paper, emotional response is rewarded more than veracity: “But we have also noted that the likelihood that people will pass on information is based strongly on the likelihood of its eliciting an emotional response in the recipient, rather than its truth value (e.g., K. Peters et al., 2009)”. Plus with thousands of meme variants circulating around millions of people, and undergoing change as they do so, the most successful memes will tend to outcompete lesser forms and so become dominant.
So apparently against a flood of emotive CAGW memes, why have ‘pause’ memes done relatively well? Especially when they do not seem to be particularly emotive themselves. While they have not caused the CAGW social juggernaut to screech to a standstill, they do appear to have caused modest braking and they do appear frequently in the debate.
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