Climate Culture

Culture and consensus

Cultures do not arise via trivial processes, but via long evolved gene-culture co-evolutionary mechanisms in which anxiety, fear, guilt, inspiration, hope, and other emotive hot buttons in all of us are activated. One result is a culturally enforced consensus. Indeed many consider culture and social consensus to be synonymous. For instance when anthropologists are seeking the nature and range of a culture that they are not too familiar with (and hence do not know the ‘correct’ cultural answers to whatever questions they form as tools), it is exactly the existence and strength of a consensus via which they map the boundaries and core values of the culture. In other words, it is assumed that the social consensus essentially equates to the culture. (Such investigations are performed via the statistical techniques in Cultural Consensus Theory: wiki, slide deck from one of the originators, do it yourself CCT Pack).

Throughout our evolution as Homo Sapiens Sapiens (and possibly before), cultural consensus has been a net huge benefit, and continues to be so. The mechanisms via which it works allow common action to be achieved in the face of the unknown, an evolutionary advantage. It’s a big part of the ‘job description’ of culture to manufacture consensus. There are downsides though; a culture can become parasitical or net negative in some other way. And though instinctive ‘innate skepticism’ helps us to resist misinformation and culture overdosing, this defense can be overcome.

So, when we encounter a culture we expect to see an enforced consensus. The defensive manner in which the climate movement treats the topic of uncertainty, and the emotively imperative manner via which it promotes the certainty of imminent (decades) calamity, is how we expect a culturally enforced consensus to be operating.

Morals and the Law

Altruistic behavior emerges from group selection, specifically via ‘correlated interaction’4, and is deeply rooted in human nature. However when actually operating within a particular generation, innate altruism needs cues regarding who is in-group and who is out, what is correct behavior in this group and what is not. These cues are largely provided by culture, which therefore is not only bound up with our identity, but with our morals. And if a new culture comes along and muscles into the pack of existing cultures and cultural relationships, then it will shift the moral landscape. The wider the scope of the new culture and the deeper its social penetration, then the more the moral landscape will shift. Behaviors that were once ok may become offensive, and vice versa. Some folks may find themselves edged ‘out’ of the altruistic circle(s) they thought they were in; consequently they will not be well treated.

An important function of the law is the guardianship of morals. While cultural evolution requires the law to constantly evolve in order to accommodate resultant moral modifications, the law is also deliberately entrenched and made pretty hard to change (especially for core principles). This is so that short-term fads or cultural wrong turns or the whims of individual power-brokers do not constantly make it into law, as such would undermine the guardianship. However if a powerful new culture arises, and especially if the rise is swift (in generational terms), this will create moral pressures upon the (entrenched) law. This will happen for both net positive and net negative cultures, yet latter case is obviously more dangerous. The pressure will manifest in a raft of ways, including likely prospects such as:

  1. A systemic blind eye to law bending or law breaking that aligns to the new moral compass.
  2. Extreme clemency for those who are apprehended; maybe even a badge of honor / reward.
  3. Calls for that which is both accepted and lawful yet not aligned to the new moral compass, to be outlawed.
  4. Calls for orgs or individuals who question the new culture, to be silenced.
  5. Calls for orgs or individuals whose interests are counter to the new culture, to be subject to a penalty of some fashion (by stretching existing law or calling for new law to achieve this).
  6. In stronger cases, calls for the very system upon which the law rests to be changed or abandoned (e.g. a revolution, or calls to abandon democracy, or major schism within a religious based system / society).
  7. All of the above repeated for codes of conduct (e.g. in corporate or academic orgs, financial conduct, conflict of interests etc) as well as the main law system.

If moral pressure is sustained for long enough, the law will realign to the new landscape. Once changes start to occur, this is positive feedback that boosts the culture. However if a swift cultural rise doesn’t achieve this in time, it could break like a wave upon the law and then recede. (Note: non-cultural drivers can cause some of these characteristics, especially for conduct codes and more peripheral laws, yet not across the board).

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5 Responses to Climate Culture

  1. Michael 2 says:

    This is a main reason I have been following this topic these past few years; witnessing the birth of a new religion. It is quite exciting to watch it come together and coalesce like rocks grinding themselves into a planet.

    It won’t be exactly what anyone wants and yet it will be at least some of what a great many people want, achieving “critical mass”, a vortex perhaps that will continue to exist long after the intiating force is removed.

  2. andywest2012 says:

    Yes, a lot of social inertia has gathered, and seeing its expanding force over the years does have a certain fascination!

  3. Barclay E MacDonald says:

    I read and briefly commented on your post regarding The Denialism Frame at Judith Curry’s on April 21, 2016. Today, May 13, 2016, WUWT has a top post, Breaking: CEI Defeats RICO-20…., which I’m sure you are now aware of.

    It appears there will now be endless, specific data that you may gather in pursuit of your cultural cognition theory as it applies to Climate. The emails released appear to be a virtual treasure trove of examples of culture and its impact on reasoning for even the most intelligent of us homo sapiens. Clearly, objectivity does not track intelligence. In that context this is all very interesting to me.

    I became interested in cognition and how it applies to ideologues, generally, from the neuroscience approach. I have now reviewed your postings at Climate etc. and WUWT and see that I am missing a big piece of the analysis of which I was totally unaware, except on an anecdotal basis.

    I am wondering whether you might be able to recommend a book(s)/reading material on cognitive cognition and how it applies to the world around me, especially as it relates to the creation and actions of ideologues, generally. From Amazon I recently downloaded Culture and Cognition by Walter Brehkus. It is a miserable book to plow through. As an attorney, I have read thousands of mortgages and commercial leases, and even the fine print therein is more lucid and coherent than Mr. Brehkus’ writing. Your recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • andywest2012 says:

      Hi Barclay. I’m not sure I can help, this is a huge topic and my own approach has been synthesized from many works over many years, some of which I can scarcely recall individually now. But the direction I came from is cultural evolution and memetics, which in turn needs some understanding of general evolutionary principles. To understand the big picture of how cultural entities or cults or just strong cultural influence operates, this ‘external social mechanisms looking inwards’ approach is the best way to get the big picture, rather than attempting the opposite approach of ‘individual psychological mechanisms looking outwards’ to culture, which gets bogged down in immense detail and can quickly lose the big picture, albeit this stuff must be doggedly filled in one day. So I haven’t spent much time on the latter. Having said that, and looking at the intro for the book you mention, it is indeed a pre-requisite for cultural evolution and memetics that, as it says, ‘thinking is a distinctly social phenomenon’. A very readable work on this same theme is “Who’s in Charge” by neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga, and especially chapter 5 ‘the social mind’. Much much better than reading mortgage documents anyhow (and I’ve spent a lot of time processing software licenses, which I’m sure are similarly dull). But even accepting the principle of ‘the social mind’ at first hand, doesn’t tell you how strong cultural influence and cultural entities actually work. For that, you still need the evolutionary principles mentioned above for the big picture (and rafts of other stuff like particular bias mechanisms etc), all of which point not to dishonesty or conspiracy or hoax or whatever, but to emergent behaviors that have been with us from prehistory due to their selective advantages.

      • Barclay E MacDonald says:

        Your response is appreciated! Recommendation looks excellent! I am familiar with the author and look forward to actually reading one of his books! I will continue to follow you with interest. You obviously have me moving in the right direction.

        Thank you,


        Sent from Barclay’s IPad


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