An essay by Chris Mooney from Mother Jones got me thinking. I encourage you to read the whole thing, although it is a bit long for some people's online consumption. The article claims that we all basically believe what we want to believe regardless of what we are shown to the contrary.
This is not really tough to wrap your brain around. I think a lot of people's anecdotal evidence would support the claim. The open-minded liberal-thinker beholden to empirical evidence is not as common as some "liberal thinkers" would like to believe.
We've all been living in a world where men and women of credentials have been hired to refute the opinions and findings of other men and women of equal credentials for so long that none of it means much of anything any more. The often wide range of opinion (or is it really just lack of scruples?) on the part of scientists, academics, politicians and pundits causes many of us to seek solace in the soothing refrains of our preferred ideologues eager to reinforce our comfortable preconceived notions.
If there is contradictory empirical evidence, lack of evidence, or just plain old lies and spin, we select the information we want to believe and disregard the rest or twist and misinterpret it to support our beliefs. Often we are dealing with issues presented in simplistic formats that are actually much more complicated.
As presented, it can be difficult for us to understand them beyond a gut-feeling of this is wrong and that is right. When knowledgeable parties do comment it often doesn't help as they write and speak to impress rather than to inform. Subject matter experts often make the worst trainers.
Those who resist the disinformation often end up in the clichéd state of "believing none of what we hear and half of what we see." With digital image editing discrediting the "half of what we see" now too. Finding the truth or facts can be like trying to find harmony in a din of dissonance.
Perhaps avoiding the cliques of ideology to limit our exposure to narrowcasted and concentrated ideological messages is part of the solution? As the article explains, we do so love our preconceived notions, especially when reinforced by like minded media channels.
I do not consider myself politically right or left. Politically radical would probably be the best definition. I have some fiscal conservative notions, some libertarian ones and even what many would consider socialist ideals. I rarely find a touchstone of ideology that I fully agree with. Contrarian is probably the most honest label for my hodgepodge of beliefs.
I have not bought into the climate change movement completely. I do not disagree with man having an effect on our climate; but some of the solutions presented by climate change environmentalists, specifically carbon-credit schemes (which I simply view as the commodification of pollution) leave me skeptical of the broader movement.
I prefer the "old" environmental movement of "reduce, reuse, recycle", that existed before environmentalism was boiled down to debating the effects of one gas on our environment and celebrity environmentalists were encouraging me to switch to mercury-filled light bulbs.
So I would like to believe I am difficult to narrowcast, (unless perhaps a 24 hour Lou Reed channel is available). Despite my perceived resilience to being pigeon-holed I can still relate to what the article is saying and will admit some forms of rhetoric provide me with an intellectual gag-response. Neoconservative, trickle-down, market-deregulation-will-save-us-all type nonsense being the most likely contributor of an urge to upchuck. I do slam my mind shut to these notions.
With so much spin, so much concocted confusion, so many contradictory reports from partisan think tanks, less than honest scholars and "lies, damn lies and statistics", is it really any wonder we don't believe science? Is it any wonder some of us believe nothing we hear any more?
I often feel we are fed our world through a cracked camera obscura, where everything is upside down and backwards and we are left to our own (often outmatched) wits to reconstruct the proper image. In a world where temporary facts are used to counter true facts, I guess that feeling is natural.
The article claims, "paradoxically, you don't lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values - so as to give the facts a fighting chance." But I would contend that is why I slam my mind shut to the neoconservative economic blather. It simply does not match my values.
So what is the answer to the discord? Is an enlightened majority position possible? The article claims appealing to values is the way to go. At least in my own case, I have serious doubts about the effectiveness of that approach. What are we to do? Pistols at dawn? Battle of the disputing scientists? Should we all embrace the Missourian attitude of "Show Me"?
Siddhartha Gautama, (the founder of Buddhism) said: "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
I have a feeling he may have been a bit too optimistic about the outcomes of that approach.
Maybe you have to create the value system that allows the acknowledgement of the ideology you wish to encourage? Maybe that's why public education and educators always find themselves under attack?
Ah, who knows... I'm probably just suffering from confirmation bias reasoning.
first published on Christopher's website
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