Time for me to update on the cultural theory survey I ran last week. In all – at the time of writing - seventy people participated. Thank you.
The survey was based on testing out ways of thinking about climate change using the four paradigms of cultural theory: the egalitarian, the hierarchical, the individualist and the fatalist.
I wanted to know whether people were willing to choose between the four, which was the most popular and whether there were any interesting correlations between people’s most favoured and least favoured way of thinking. I ended up doing two posts as I quickly realised that people would overwhelmingly choose the fatalist option as their least favourite. Fatalism is often how we behave, but Western culture tends to frown upon it as an attitude, especially on an issue we are all supposed to feel passionate about, like climate change.
So, this is what we found - with thanks to Barbara to doing the collation (hope I got it right - Barbara): only four people out of seventy plumped for the fatalist option, and this included a couple of people who don’t believe in anthropomorphic climate change. Of the other three, ‘active’ paradigms both option 1, the egalitarian, with 44% and option 3, the individualist, with 39% were reasonably popular. But, interestingly, option 2, the hierarchical managed only 11%.
In relation to people’s least favoured option there was another noteworthy result. Among the two options most people backed, the egalitarians (‘we must change our lives and values to stop climate change’) were equally likely to reject the hierarchical or the individualist perspective. But individualists (‘with the right incentives human ingenuity can solve the problem’) were twice as likely to reject the hierarchical (‘it is up to government to sort the problem’) as the egalitarian perspective.
So what do I take from this, albeit on a small self selecting sample? First that there is a discontinuity between what people think and what appears at the moment to be the reality. While readers rejected fatalism and hierarchy it could be argued that ‘do nothing and wait for the authorities to sort it out’ is the way society as a whole is behaving.
Second, it seems that those who believe human ingenuity can solve the problem are particularly unimpressed by the idea of relying on government, while those who emphasise the need to change the way we think are more open minded about the potential for state action. Does this in any way map onto a more traditional left-right axis I wonder?
Of course, it may be that the answers simply reflect the way I phrased the options. So the next test is when I try the game out next week on a group of local government officers. Presumably, they will be more inclined to think governments must take the lead.
It’s been an exhausting week – already – so I can’t quite think through where I want to take this next or what might be its implications. I’ll ask my cultural theorist friends what they think. One idea is to try out the options on a less emotive issue, but asking the same people to participate? But given that people seemed to enjoy playing the game, I’m open to other ideas.
Thanks again to all those who took part.
In the final chapter of his A Way Through essays series, Anthony Painter reflects on the now from the future after the Great Ecological Crash.