From Slate.com today, a story about smokers, with only 28% of smokers saying second-hand smoke is very harmful to others. 63% of nonsmokers think second-hand smoke is very harmful. This brings up a question…why the HELL do people “believe” what they believe?
I put “believe” in quotes, because frankly, the way people answer a question like this may differ from what they truly believe. Do nonsmokers really think all that extra smoke floating around isn’t harmful? Or…do many of them just try to convince themselves that it’s not harmful, knowing the truth, but trying their best to deny it, just so they don’t have to face the fact that their bad habits are not only harming themselves, but also harming others?
It’s amazing that an age of free information flow, where your computer or smart phone can instantly lead you to answers for practically any question you may have, that ignorance appears to be GROWING, not lessening. Granted, it doesn’t help when any quack with a computer can set up a website saying the earth is flat, or that aliens are secretly running the earth. However, just as smokers HAVE to really believe in their hearts that second-hand smoke is harmful to others, I think it has to be the same with climate change denialists, evolution denialists, or others that deny sound and well-established science.
Some right-wing wacko can listen to Rush Limbaugh or go to a right-wing “climate” site and hear plenty of “evidence” that climate change isn’t real. But even as cynical as I am, I find it very hard to believe that deep down, people are truly that stupid, that they’ll believe a Rush Limbaugh over an actual climate scientist. Life-or-death situation, if your immortal soul is in the balance…would even a right-wing wacko go with the word of a Limbaugh, over the established science? I find it very hard to believe that someone would do so.
It’s human nature to be, well…stubborn. God knows my 8-year old son can vouch for that. People are also selfish sons-of-bitches. Does Shell Oil or Exxon spend money denying climate change science, because they don’t believe it’s real? Of course not, they fight climate change science because it could affect their bottom dollar. It’s the same with an individual human being. We’re selfish, we want to live our lives in comfort and style. If some annoying piece of information clashes with how we want to live our lives, if something causes us a bit of GUILT…our first reaction is to react defensively, and dispute the information, rather than changing our beliefs. And that’s true if it’s smokers denying the danger of second-hand smoke, Humvee drivers who scoff at climate change, or even evolution-deniers who don’t want to face their own mortality without the comfort that their religion (and eternal life) provides them.
People will “believe” what they want to believe, facts be damned. As a scientist, that can be awfully damned maddening. But what’s dangerous is that this form of “personal ignorance” has become an accepted component of politics and collective thinking. There’s no way in hell Republican leadership truly believes that climate change is a hoax. There’s no way in hell Republican leadership thinks evolution is false. But they are certainly willing to use people’s own biases and personal ignorance for their own political ends. And that is even less forgivable than an individual trying to deny the danger of second-hand smoke, just so they feel less guilty about puffing away.