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Don’t let the facts get in the way of any issue
I began this opinion piece with the idea to convince you, unequivocally, that we all are sheep-shaped puppets, our wool coats zipped right up tight from our company line-tickling toes to our eyebrows, blindfolding us from reason.
We are affirmation-announcing followers, destined to bump and spin in our dizzying pack of political like-minded lackeys—a handshake here, a wink-and-a-nod there—constantly confirming our path is the right path, no matter where that path leads, as long as the path is filled with friends, filled with pride and filled with a sense of inclusion.
It’s not our fault. It’s how we are made.
We are social beings, interested in nothing more than knowing that, at the end of the day when we are tucking ourselves in, preparing for the questions that only come out in the dark, that somewhere, someone has our back; we are liked, we are loved, we belong.
Unfortunately, despite this opinion piece’s point aiming to prove our inabilities to make decisions that may rub us raw on the social grain, I’ve already convinced a number of you of your own individuality.
And to those readers, at the same time I’ve likely reaffirmed my own idiocy. Simply, you don’t believe me.
Because, in the eyes of those whose herd’s whirling trajectory rarely intersects with mine, my name announces the arrival of an opposing political view; I am disagreed with before I even start.
To those taste buds, my fruits of reason just aren’t in season.
Even if I had used a different tact, massaging my messaging with facts dipped in the essential rhetorical oils of Logos, Pathos and Ethos, the chances I would have relaxed that portion of readers into a state of receptiveness are slim.
Thing is, they don’t subscribe to my tribe.
And because our social circles differ, and our political views butt heads, and our prejudices and preconceptions about each other’s intentions are repeatedly acknowledged amongst our own ilk, the idea that we will change each other’s minds with something as simple as facts is ludicrous.
In fact, the facts when it comes to political issues only harden our resolve for what we already believe in.
According to Yale Law professor Dan Kahan, this theory is called Identity-Protective Cognition and is the reason facts don’t work to resolve politically charged disagreements.
In a recent Vox article called How Politics Make Us Stupid, author Ezra Klein sat down with Kahan to go over his findings. Last year he and co-authors Ellen Peters, Erica Cantrell Dawson, and Paul Slovic ran a series of experiments to discover if facts swayed political opinions.
According to Klein’s article, researchers found in the case of politicized issues, such as climate change or gun control, facts had almost the opposite effect, and “reasoning becomes rationalizing.”
“Individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values,” Kahan surmised.
This news we all want to impress the people we identify with isn’t really news, but it is an interesting confirmation that banging our heads and asking ourselves why those who aren’t in our camp can’t see the facts is probably not a great use of time.
Ultimately, if we spend less time worrying about making friends, we can spend more time worrying about making progress..
Aaron Bichard writes for newspapers and recycles them.