Towards the end of his last post, Dan Kahan worries he’s missing something important about “knowing disbelievers”:
The “knowing disbeliever” I have in mind isn’t particularly agitated by any apparent conflict or contradiction in his or her states of belief about the science on climate change, and feels no particular compulsion to get in a fight with anyone about it. This individual just wants to be who he or she is and make use of what is collectively known to live and live well as a free and reasoning person. Not having a satisfying understanding of how this person thinks makes me anxious that I’m missing something very important.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this line. Rather than not having a good explanation, I wonder if the problem is that Kahan thinks such people need to be explained in the first place. But why should people be consistent? Why even have that expectation? As Kahan himself notes, even scientists sometimes exhibit cognitive dissonance.
Perhaps we should start from the premise that everyone is intellectually inconsistent at times. Knowing disbelievers should no more need a “satisfying understanding” than amazing basketball players who can’t shoot free-throws. In sports we accept that athletic ability is complicated and can manifest itself in all sorts of unpredictable ways. No one feels the need to explain it because that just the way it is. Why don’t we do the same for intellectual ability?
If we did, we might then conduct research to account for the handful of people who are consistent all the time. Because that’s the behavior that needs explaining.